Hyper-converged platforms have been red hot of late. Because of this, the number of solution providers has increased significantly. In addition to Simplivity and Nutanix, two of the best-known vendors today, Cisco, VCE, HP and others have recently jumped into the market.
Another solution provider that got its start in India and is on the verge of entering the U.S. market is 8kpc. I recently had the opportunity to interview the company’s president and CEO, Ram Appalaraju, who you may recognize from his stints with Cisco (where he was a vice president) and Enterasys (where he was a vice president and CMO) as well as his advisory work with the ONS. Below are details of the interview:
Zeus: What is 8kpc, and what does the company do?
Ram: 8kc is a startup company focused on disrupting IT infrastructures in the areas of scalability for IT workloads at a dramatically low price point. Our products are flash-based hyper-converged appliances that pack a lot of performance for applications. Our appliances are designed to deliver half a million IOPS at a consistent sub millisecond response time. We focus on customers’ business needs in several areas, including, managing data explosion and delivering very high application performance—and, most importantly, at breakthrough prices.
In addition, we are delivering an innovative architecture for entire business application workflow. We have deployed solutions that include analytics, large-scale data management, virtualized desktops, geo-fenced remote offices and hybrid cloud enablement with [Amazon Web Services] AWS, all in a single customer use case.
We are currently focused in the Asian market, starting in India and in the process of expanding further.
Zeus: How has hyper-convergence impacted IT?
Ram: IT systems have forever been designed in silos in the open systems era. Disparate systems came together at customer sites and make it a customer responsibility to integrate, deploy, optimize and manage these disparate systems.
While the central theme of hyper-convergence is operational simplicity, that isn’t enough of a reason for customers to adopt it in a large scale. I have talked to several CIOs who are interested in several simultaneous needs. I call it “multiple ANDs”: high performance, AND high scalability, AND address skills issue, AND predictable scalability, AND wallet friendly, AND etc. A vast majority of hyper-convergence solutions in the market today address only one or two of the needs and therefore have been only in niche applications.
For hyper-convergence to be integral to IT transformation efforts, the architecture needs to support entire workflow at measurable cost benefits while significantly improving capacity and productivity. The architecture, when implemented correctly, has the tremendous upside to enable agility at any scale, especially to market segments that do not have deep IT skills or processes.
Zeus: How has hyper-convergence changed over the past few years?
Ram: Over the past several years, I have seen converged systems largely address systems configuration and operational simplicity. However, these converged systems are often accompanied by 100-page design guides for configuring applications to be deployed. Over the last couple of years most hyper-convergence vendors have focused on solving storage scaling and data management issues and delivering ease of use. Going forward, I expect to see demand for high performance and scalability continue to evolve and become important criteria for hyper-convergence adoption in enterprises and mid-markets.
Zeus: What gaps exist with current solutions that gave 8kpc an opportunity to differentiate itself?
Ram: Hyper-convergence is still in its infancy and has tremendous potential to become the platform for IT services. However, I see several vendors are delivering solutions for storage scaling at high prices. At 8kpc, we are focusing on the end-to-end needs of application workflows, such as extreme data scalability, high IOPS performance, consistent very low latency, high end-user experience and, most importantly, at a low price point. These are all the areas we intend to differentiate.
Further, we are innovating to develop synergies with public and private clouds so that our hyper-convergence solutions are key components of enterprise IT architecture. As an example, we competed with other vendors for a [virtual desktop infrastructure] VDI solution recently. Most of the competitive offerings were priced at $300 to $400 per user. Our solution was at less than $75 per user while delivering outstanding performance and scalability. I believe there is a ton of opportunity for us to innovate further to deliver higher performance and drive per-unit consumption price down.
Zeus: Why start in Asia Pacific and why India? Most companies start from the U.S.
Ram: Pretty much all the vendors introduce new products in the U.S. and Western Europe and often treat Asia-Pacific as an opportunistic market and discounting their way to win deals. The reality is Asia has become a strategic IT market with high growth potential. Asian countries are uniquely positioned to drive technology needs for ultra-scalability both for dataset sizes and number of users accessing information in real time.
The digital business-driven opportunities in Asia are exploding. I have met several CIOs in Asia who are accelerating their efforts to step out of the traditional back-office IT image and deliver services to a large number of millennials who are very digital and data/analytics savvy.
As an example, only 16 percent of revenues worldwide are attributed to digital initiatives across all verticals in the world. And that number is the same for India as well in 2015. However, in India over 70 percent of the population is less than 30 years old and driving the need for digital services across all verticals. I see a huge opportunity to deliver affordable IT solutions where ultra-scale and simplicity matters.
Zeus: When do you see entering U.S. markets?
Ram: We do have plans to enter U.S. markets in a few quarters and are working towards that goal. I believe strongly that globalization does not mean forcing a single solution across the world just by translating data sheets. Each region has sweet spots on business needs, workloads and user experience expectations. My goal is to enter the market with a high-value differentiated offering. Stay tuned.
Zeus: What are some other trends in new data centers?
Ram: Software-driven everything is leading data center transformations. Commoditization of IT is truer now than ever before, and it’s just starting. There is increasing decoupling hardware and service deliver platforms in all aspects of the data center. At 8kpc, we are innovating to assure customers to obsolescence-proof their investments by ensuring the past works with the future. Our software-abstracted highly scalable architecture is designed for next-generation data centers. Customers want a single architecture to optimally run workloads, such as real-time analytics, scalable databases, high-performance apps, and mobility and interactive applications. That is the Holy Grail we are all pursuing!
Zeus: Can you talk about the changing nature of IT skills?
Ram: One of the areas 8kpc is focusing on is to disrupt typical skills needed to implement, optimize, scale and manage IT workloads. Even in India enterprises are finding it increasingly difficult to find IT skills. The situation is even worse for mid-market customers. I’m seeing customers that are looking for IT solution specialists than IT staff who have point vendor-specific specialties. I foresee the need for vendor-specific certification will decline. Our goal at 8kpc is to enable a very small team of generalists to be able to manage complete workflows.