At the OpenStack Summit in Vancouver earlier this year, there was one small booth in the that was quietly going about its business. Staffing the booth was Jim Liddle, CEO of Storage Made Easy, a UK startup in the enterprise file sharing and synchronization (EFSS) space. That there is a company in the EFSS space that isn't based in Silicon Valley is enough of a shock, but the fact that, unlike the big names in the space (Box, Dropbox, Google Drive and Microsoft OneDrive) SME isn't leveraging the public cloud for its storage makes things interesting. The fact that they were at the OpenStack Summit, an event that is all about private and hybrid cloud, meant that a chat with Liddle was in order.
SME recently rolled out a new version of its product that aims to give individual users free access to OpenStack-hosted EFSS product. With over 40,000 downloads to date, and despite an incredibly busy EFSS space, it seems there is interest in yet another solution. SME's existing SaaS service has a modest, but still significant, 300,000 users split between the U.S. and the EU. Answering the concerns of those who worry about where data is domiciled, no data is shared between either location, and accounts on either are mutually exclusive.
The personal offering, something of a teaser to get people interested in enterprise services, has seen over 50,000 downloads in the few months since it was launched. This is interesting since the deployment model (allowing personal users to run their own federated cloud service) runs somewhat counter to the orthodox view, which is that the only place that there is a need for private cloud (if there is one at all) is in the largest enterprises with particular requirements for compliance or location of data. That over 50,000 individual consumers want to wrangle their own infrastructure to run a file-sharing product is an interesting reflection on the reality of the broader customer base.
That said, the personal product isn't SME's primary focus. Rather, it has built itself some credibility, especially within the OpenStack ecosystem. SME is integrated with a number of OpenStack distributions and ecosystem products: Mirantis, Swiftstack, Ceph, and also directly for deployment via Glance on OpenStack compute. Not only this, but, in an attempt to cover all bases, SME can be deployed on Xen, KVM, Hyper-V, and VMware, not to mention onto bare metal via automated scripts.
Indeed, part of the reason for SME to push out a free, downloadable version of its product is to transition users from its own SaaS product. SME is focused on the enterprise opportunity, and by giving away its software for personal use, many of those 300,000 or so consumer users will, if the plan works, start hosting their own SME software. Of course, this likely flies in the fact of what is the most probable scenario, and I can envisage a future in which SME drops its hosted product altogether to focus on installable software only.
And that is a big opportunity. SME has a number of direct enterprise customers, as well as service providers, using its software to deliver their own EFSS products - examples include cBeyond (now Birch Communications) and Veritext in the U.S.,the South American Telco Tigo, and Genie in Israel.
It feels to me that the service provider angle is the biggest opportunity for SME - the plethora of public cloud EFSS vendors (Box, Dropbox, Microsoft, Google) covers the customers who are happy on the public cloud, while a host of private cloud EFSS solutions (Egnyte, Accellion, etc.) do the same for the private cloud. But for service providers wanting to create their own solution, it generally falls to building their own via open source components. SME believes it can deliver on this opportunity more quickly and easily.
It strikes me that SME's opportunity is real, but also has some natural constraints in terms of size. I don't imagine SME ever becoming a billion-dollar business, and I suspect Liddle is more than happy with that. What it will do is continue to grow and to offer its various customers a solid and reliable solution. There's nothing bad in that.
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