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Nexenta: The fastest-growing storage start-up ever?

NetApp is a bully-boy, says new storage kid

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CeBIT: Nexenta is the fastest-growing storage start-up ever, based on customer growth, according to its sales and marketing veep, Jon Ash – faster even than NetApp in its early days.

Nexenta, which provides the Open Solaris and ZFS-based NexentaStor software storage O/S, was founded in 2005 by Alex Aizmann and Dmitry Yusupov. There was $500,000 seed funding and $6m was raised from a couple of venture capitalists. The company though, is owned by its employees. The first products were shipped in 2008 and there are now around 3,000 commercial deployments and 1,000 customers.

The 2,000th commercial deployment was achieved in 2010, and Nexenta reckons this growth rate is unprecedented in the enterprise storage market. The company also grew revenues 385 per cent from 2009 to 2010. Nexenta says approximately 330PB of capacity is managed by its NexentaStor, with over 100PB in commercial deployments.

Nexenta products are sold by hardware vendors, software developers, systems integrators and resellers. The company includes Compellent as a partner, with Compellent's filer head for its SAN storage arrays using NexentaStor. However, Dell has bought Compellent and Dell also owns the scale-out NAS technology developed by Exanet. Will the Nexenta NAS head continue?

Ash said: "Dell has spent a year and half working on Exanet. It has to make a choice between Nexenta and Exanet. We are growing so fast we can't keep up with demand. We grew 500 per cent last year. Who has the best product?"

We have heard speculation that that Dell may be adding an Exanet NAS head to its EqualLogic arrays.

Nexenta, the cloud

NexentaStor starts from an 8TB licence and customers can ramp up to 25PB. Ash said: "The biggest deal we did last year was Korea Telecom, [which has] the fastest cloud on the planet. Yes, I think we scale out. Cloud has been a great spot for us."

He says Amazon S3 cloud storage is available for 15 cents/GB/month. Any cloud storage service provider (SP) has to look at using commodity storage to beat that price: "If an SP buys NetApp and supplies cloud service based on it's products, they're looking at more than 15 cents/GB/month. So SPs have to look at commodity storage."

"Customers are fed up paying $3,000 for a $300 disk drive. NexentaStor is software-only. The SP can buy hardware, the drive array, from a Nexenta-suggested reseller or use Nexenta. We can run inside a VM if you want to. We're just another application. Why the hell are customers buying NetApp?"

NetApp and Oracle

Clearly Nexenta is very aware of NetApp's presence, and it doesn't like NetApp's behaviour, specifically over ZFS. Last year NetApp and Sun had a legal IP-infringement spat over Sun's ZFS which, NetApp said, infringed WAFL technology at the software core of its FAS arrays. They were headed to court when Oracle bought Sun and NetApp's legal foe changed from a comparative monkey to an 800lb gorilla.

Oracle and NetApp settled but the terms were not revealed. Ash speculated that maybe there was a threat made by Oracle of it not certifying NetApp hardware if NetApp didn't settle the dispute.

During the dispute, NetApp lawyers sent threatening letters to Nexenta and other ZFS users, saying they should think about stopping selling ZFS-based products because NetApp could sue them for patent infringement in the future. Coraid, for example, received such a letter and abandoned its ZFS-based product.

Ash said NetApp hasn't withdrawn those letters. He said: "It's bully boy tactics. … None of our customers ever raise it anymore. We can support the entire stack top to bottom – we have ownership of all the code or its open source code.

"Some key kernel guys left Sun and joined Nexenta. Open Solaris had some proprietary code in it. We were concerned a little about Oracle demanding a licensing fee for this. So we rewrote those proprietary pieces and put them back into the community via the Illumos organisation. Going forward it will take Open Solaris as a true open source project."

Nexenta is feeling bullish and thinks it can carry on growing because its software is the way cloud storage providers and others can free themselves from storage hardware lock-in. It believes cloud storage economics are driving customers its way and that train has an awful long way to go before it runs out of steam. ®

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