Private cloud use grows, and ZeroStack wants to help spin them up

ZeroStack CEO David Greene discusses the accelerated growth of private clouds, why companies are turning to them, and the role ZeroStack plays in their deployment.

Private cloud use grows, and ZeroStack wants to help spin them up

In June, private cloud infrastructure provider ZeroStack hired David Greene as its new CEO. For those of you who have followed the networking space closely, you may recognize Greene as the chief marketing officer of a couple of companies that were pioneers in their respective industries. Most recently, he was at Aerohive, one of the first Wi-Fi vendors to embrace a completely controller-less model.

Prior to that, Greene was CMO of Riverbed. Riverbed certainly wasn’t the first WAN optimization vendor, but the company was responsible for evangelizing it and making it a household term (at least among IT circles).

+ Also on Network World: Public vs. private cloud: Why the public cloud is a real threat to security +

Now, Greene is trying to catch another wave, as ZeroStack is one of the first companies to offer an easy-to-deploy solution that enables businesses to quickly deploy a private cloud.

ZeroStack offers a converged infrastructure platform, so customers can stand up a private cloud in a fraction of the time it takes to assemble all the parts themselves. Its vision of “self-driving clouds” marries private clouds with machine learning so the platform can adapt as customers’ needs change.

I had a chance to talk with Greene about his motivation for joining ZeroStack and what customers should expect. 

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You’ve had a lot of success with networking companies in your career. Why make the jump to a cloud company?

Greene: Aerohive and Riverbed would certainly fall under the umbrella of networking vendors, but the cloud as a core is part of their strategy. Riverbed came to market as a vendor that optimized traffic over private WANs because that was the big problem at the time. When I joined the company, the cloud had become a big part of our customers’ strategy, and the mission changed to simplifying cloud adoption and accelerating traffic everywhere.

david greene ZeroStack

David Greene, CEO, ZeroStack

Aerohive was a wireless LAN vendor born in the cloud era. While the access points were on premises, the management of them is in the clouds. HiveManager masked all the complex stuff and gave administrators an easy-to-use portal. ZeroStack has a similar model where we provide the data center infrastructure for customers to build a private cloud but keep the management and control in the cloud. 

Public cloud adoption has certainly skyrocketed, but it’s not for everyone. In fact, many of ZeroStack’s customers are companies that tried one of the infrastructure-as-a-service platforms and decided to switch to a private cloud to get the cloud-like experience, but with greater control and security. As the demand for private cloud grows, ZeroStack will need to mature as a company, and I felt my experience with Riverbed and Aerohive would serve me well here. 

A number of vendors play in the private cloud space. What attracted you to ZeroStack?

Greene: The value proposition of ZeroStack is similar to both Riverbed and Aerohive in that the solution is fast and easy to get deployed.

While there is tremendous interest in private clouds, deploying the infrastructure to build a private cloud remains somewhat of a mystery to most organizations, as it can be time-consuming, complicated and fraught with complexity. We demystify the entire process by providing a single, converged platform that customers can deploy quickly and start enjoying the benefits of private cloud immediately. We have an excellent cloud-managed portal, so our customers get the public cloud experience, but with the ability to leave the infrastructure on premises.

I’m expecting we’ll see accelerated growth in private cloud deployments over the next few years, so it seemed liked perfect timing to join the company.

It’s interesting you say you’re expecting to see private clouds accelerate growth. It’s not like the concept of private clouds is new. What’s changed? Why now?

Greene: I don’t think anyone would argue that customers want a cloud-like experience to drive their digital transformation initiatives. The cloud delivers a level of rapid scale and elasticity that IT has never seen before. Now that organizations have gotten comfortable with the concept of clouds, they’re starting to understand the strengths and weaknesses of public clouds.

One issue is that public clouds aren’t always cheaper. If your application has been “lifted and shifted” to the public cloud, it may have some inefficient processes or other issues that drive up CPU utilization and cost. One of our customers moved an application to Amazon without rebuilding it to be cloud native and got stuck with a $60 million bill from them. This was a mid-size enterprise, so for their budget, this was a huge cost to absorb. Public cloud costs can be very unpredictable, and private clouds bring that predictability back.

Data sovereignty is another issue that is driving organizations back to private clouds. Regulated industries need to be very concerned about where their data is stored. Many countries mandate that certain types of data must never leave the country or local region, and the fact is that with public cloud services, it’s difficult if not impossible to know where the data is. The only way a company can be assured they are meeting data sovereignty requirements is to roll their own private cloud and manage it themselves.

Lastly, as the world becomes more DevOps- and micro-services-focused, companies are looking to integrate their cloud deployments with the popular operations frameworks like Elastic Box, Morpheus and Terraform. There are over 50 application templates or blueprints in our integrated AppStore. We think about ecosystems and have integration with public clouds like [Amazon Web Services] AWS, virtualization platforms like VMware and through OpenStack APIs many storage systems like Nimble Storage and Nextena Storage. And in all cases, we make that process simple.

I’m surprised you didn’t say security was a driver. Isn’t that a driver for private over pubic?

Greene: I’d like to sit here and tell you it is, but that concern is more perception that reality. I’m not going to sit here and tell you that a customer that runs ZeroStack is more secure than Amazon or Microsoft Azure because it’s not true. Those companies have state-of-the-art security and can match the best enterprises. Private cloud gives you greater control over security, but it’s not inherently more secure. 

The private/public cloud debate shouldn’t be about security; it should be about application development because software is driving the world. If you’re a bank working on a new customer-facing application and need tight control on where to build it and where the data resides, and this creates a competitive advantage, then you’re better off in a private cloud environment. For other applications, public cloud services may be ideal, but systems of differentiation should be on private clouds.

We’ve bantered back and forth talking about public versus private. My research shows that over 80 percent of organizations will want a hybrid cloud. Is that something ZeroStack can accommodate? 

Greene: We agree with your research but take it a step further. What customers want is to have a hybrid, multi-cloud environment where their private cloud can interoperate with multiple public cloud providers.

One of our customers, an online university, is using us for private cloud along with three public cloud providers. They run many of their workloads in the private cloud setting but then burst to public clouds when they need excess capacity. Having a choice of public cloud providers means the school can optimize for performance, cost or anything else.

Any final words of wisdom for the readers? 

Greene: There’s lots of great technology out there, and it’s often difficult to tell whether vendor A has a better box than vendor B. The fact is they’re probably close to equivalent.

In this digital era where companies need to move quickly, a key criterion for evaluating vendors is ease of management. Understand, I don’t mean simple management — IT individuals still need the same broad range of capabilities they have always had, but the vendor should be willing to do the work and mask much of the complexity from the person using the tool.

Whether they choose our solution or not, push [the] vendor hard into providing systems that are fast to deploy and easy to manage. Historically, that has won out over any other technical difference.

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