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Interview Is big data and big storage biz Quantum finally moving away from its hardware business to the cloud?

This question was raised by a statement from Henrik Rosendahl, Quantum's Cloud Solutions SVP:

Quantum is transitioning its business from being a predominantly hardware-based, on-premise data protection provider to turning into a cloud-based managed service provider … We are on the forefront of changing … data protection for enterprises from a predominantly on-premise exercise to a [situation where] more and more predominant part of it's going to be cloud.

Cue some consternation from elsewhere in Quantum and amongst its customers and partners. Henrik however, was focussing on one thing only. We asked him a series of questions to ferret out a broader picture of what Quantum is up to and where it is going.

One fact to emerge is Quantum's view of how much protected data should reside in a customer's premises, with Rosendahl saying this: "We recommend customers have a full copy of their data on premise, either physically or virtually."

That obviously signals no move away from hardware.

Our Q+A session was conducted by email. Rosendahl's answers have been published in full.

El Registero: In general how does Quantum, a seller predominantly of hardware and software data protection and file management products, view the cloud?

Henrik Rosendahl: The cloud is enabling customers to transform their infrastructure and cost model, but they need new solutions to help them get from point A to point B. The cloud is changing the way customers are buying, and it’s a real threat to legacy approaches like simply throwing more spinning disks at the problem. All of this represents a disruptive opportunity for companies like Quantum. We can help solve key customer challenges and apply our technology to provide private cloud capabilities that extend to the public cloud.

We enable customers to back up locally, on-premise, as well as to the cloud, with products that offer a lot of benefits, including an average 15:1 deduplication rate before replicating across the WAN, a very strong replication engine that eliminates the need for WAN accelerators or cloud gateways, both physical and 100% virtual options, and the unique ability to keep VM backups in native format.

So the fact that we’re delivering cloud services doesn’t change the core of our business – in the case of Q-Cloud the change is where the hardware resides and who ends up selling the solution to the customer. Ultimately, it will be customers that determine how quickly things move from hardware being deployed on both sides to it just being part of the cloud back-end.

El Reg: Quantum has started up its own Q-Cloud service. What is the state of this initiative and how is it progressing?

Rosendahl: We started as a cloud provider with Xerox early last year, initially focusing on leveraging our DXi deduplication and vmPRO virtual data protection technology in a managed service model sold by them. Then we launched our own branded cloud-based backup service, Q-Cloud, last August. This service is available in the US and UK, and we’ve seen interest from cloud providers in setting up similar services across Europe and APAC. We’ve also introduced a service in Canada via a relationship with BlackBridge Networks, which now offers backup and DR cloud services based on our technology.

We’re also seeing a lot of interest from MSPs who are developing BaaS for their customers. These MSPs want to offer differentiated solutions that break the status quo, and they are looking to integrate best-of-breed technologies. This is a great fit for Quantum, a natural extension of our partner program, and a key area of focus as we move forward.

El Reg: What is the general road-map for Q Cloud?

Rosendahl: Our roadmap focuses on three primary objectives:

1) enabling MSPs with innovative technology to expand their services,
2) expanding the use of virtual appliances for on-premise copies of data, and
3) broadening our cloud offerings beyond backup and DR to include archiving, using next-gen object storage technology.

In the first two cases, it’s about enhancing our DXi and vmPRO offerings, as we’ve done with our new DXi V4000 virtual appliance, a software-only solution that protects up to 360TB assuming an average 15:1 dedupe ratio. One use case for the DXi V4000 is an edge-to-cloud solution, where the V4000 is deployed at multiple sites and replicates directly to Q-Cloud or an MSP’s cloud, freeing up on premise storage capacity and bandwidth.

As for offering cloud-based archiving, this is about extending our Lattus object storage technology. This would enable customers to take advantage of what we call a forever disk archive -- an extremely durable, scalable and cost-effective disk solution that’s self-migrating and self-healing.

I would also add that with StorNext, archived data can be moved to the most cost-effective repository within a cloud and managed according to lifecycle requirements. This way the tiers effectively become an SLA, and customers can direct data to the protection method and cost point that makes the most sense.

Finally, we’re working to support cloud interfaces like REST across our product portfolio, and we’ll give our customers a choice of buying our hardware and software to build their own cloud, subscribe to ours, or contract with a cloud service provider.

Whether through Q-Cloud or MSPs, our vision for the cloud is to offer a range of service levels, which are capable of addressing a wide variety of recovery time and cost requirements depending on customers’ specific data protection, retention and access needs.

El Reg: How will Quantum balance its developing activity as a managed services provider (MSP) with being a hardware and software seller?

Rosendahl: As I mentioned previously, customers will ultimately determine how quickly things move from hardware being deployed on both sides to it just being part of the cloud back-end. But however this evolves, we have software technology that lends itself well to physical, virtual and cloud delivery models and puts us in a good position to meet customer requirements.

We can offer customers the flexibility of purchasing hardware and software or subscribing to services, whether from us or our partners, without having to defend an entrenched, high-cost and high-priced business model. Obviously we have a deep history of delivering disk and tape solutions, but we’re taking a holistic approach to data protection that includes cloud. Cloud appeals to customers that value agility, and who want to convert CAPEX to OPEX so they can nurture and grow their business without large up front capital investments.

And when it comes to partners, they want to deliver their own cloud-based services as well, often in different geographies. We want to enable as many partners and service providers as possible to leverage our technology.

El Reg: Will Quantum cloud-based data protection services be integrated with or co-operate with its customer on-premise hardware and software data protection products?

Rosendahl: Absolutely. That’s the power of working with a company like Quantum. We have years of experience working with customers to meet their data center needs and are extending this expertise to the cloud. Our hardware and software technology that sits behind Q-Cloud and third-party MSP offerings already integrates with and complements customers’ existing backup solutions in a number of ways.

For example, in the case of our DXi deduplication appliances, they support any backup software as a NAS, VTL, or OST target. So, we don’t force customers to change the backup software they already know (and paid for) to use our dedupe.

We also have vmPRO to protect VMware environments, which complements customers’ existing backup software.

El Reg: Where does Quantum consider the best place is for the necessary cloud gateway system technology needed to send data to and retrieve data from the cloud?

Is this best done with new products or by developing Quantum's existing on-premise equipment? Should an on-premise cloud storage gateway cache recent data for fast access to it?

Rosendahl: To answer your last question first, we recommend customers have a full copy of their data on premise, either physically or virtually. We have our own appliances for that – the DXi Series - and we support customers who have other products for that, whether it’s another deduplication appliance or cloud gateway. Most cloud gateways will retain some data on-premise, but we recommend having a full copy of your data on-premise as a best practice for data protection and recovery, regardless of whether you’re using a gateway or a Quantum product to do it. Of course, we believe we provide an advantage through the strength of our deduplication and replication technology.

While on-premise gateways provide flexibility in terms of supporting cloud storage from multiple vendors, they aren’t typically designed for retaining a full copy of the data on premise so they aren’t great for recovery. Also, with a gateway the customer is responsible for integrating their backup software with whatever cloud solution they choose.

El Reg: Does Quantum see the cloud as another storage tier for use in its StorNext file management suite of products?

Rosendahl: Yes. StorNext can automatically move data to online primary disk, object storage or tape, and cloud would be another tier. As I mentioned earlier, in the case of object storage, we see an opportunity to provide a forever disk archive using our Lattus technology.

Rosendahl's statement, "We recommend customers have a full copy of their data on premise, either physically or virtually," is quite distinctive. We can see the restoration speed advantage here, but question whether this is going to be viable in the long-term, given data growth predictions.

Apart from that, Quantum is clearly in a happy, stable marriage with its hardware. Long may it be so. ®

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