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The man who found Atlantis: 14PB of storage, flashy models and Moore's Law

Chetan Venkatesh talks business

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Interview Chetan Venkatesh is the latest subject in Willem ter Harmsel’s interview series. As the founder of Atlantis, he provided a great background to Atlantis.

Following on from the interview with the now ex-CEO Bernard Harguindeguy, I had the pleasure of speaking with the CTO of Atlantis, Chetan Venkatesh.

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Atlantis founder and CTO Chetan Venkatesh.

Willem ter Harmsel (WTH): Can you run me through the genesis of Atlantis Computing?

CT: I can. I’ve been an entrepreneur most of my life and started Atlantis in 2006. I spent a lot of time in the data centre, storage and Infrastructure space. I was keen to to explore the software that was on the server side to do something intelligent with storage.

We had Moore’s Law deliver twice the horsepower at half the cost. I was inspired to create a storage model that took advantage of these increasing CPU cycles and RAM on the server side.

I wanted to bring data services like de-duplication and compression, that require a lot of CPU power, right next to the application. It turns out that this is a hard idea to implement in practice. It took us almost three years to complete the first version of the product and we launched in 2009.

Solution, where's your problem?

We ended up with an interesting dilemma; we created a solution to a problem that nobody really had. Added to that, many customers felt very uncomfortable that we were using RAM as a storage tier and associated lots of risk with that.

I was lucky to be speaking to a lot of companies that were experimenting with VDI and in need of a lot of I/O that we could deliver. Another reason VDI ended up to being a natural place for us to start was that the risk of using non-persistent RAM for often times non-persistent virtual desktops was perceived to be low.

Fast-forward six years and we’re now at about 460+ customers and more than 500,000 licences in production. We actually deliver more than 14 PB of storage today, which is quite a substantial amount.

About two years back, we found that customers were using our product for production databases. One client was running an Exchange database for 5,000 users on our product. We realised our customers were slowly taking the mental leap of using RAM as storage.

The idea behind our latest product Atlantis USX is to build a fast and intelligent software layer, that creates the storage the application requires. We pool and abstract all the resources already present in the data centre. On top of that abstraction layer now create the virtual volumes that could completely represent the type of storage the application needs.

Our goal was to offer the customer intelligent storage policies, by offering four storage models. You can essentially tell the USX layer which applications should land on the local, NAS and SAN layer, all from a policy level. We offer a virtual storage layer that abstracts the storage beneath it, in the same way that VMware vSphere completely abstracts and virtualises the server hardware beneath it.

WTH:The notion of using RAM was quite a tricky one in my mind. Have you encountered problems with the initial ILIO product?

CT: We realised that using RAM was a sensitive issue; that is why we first focused on the non-persistent VDI use case. We slowly moved to persistent desktops as soon as our confidence grew.

By 2011 we had a fully baked persistence product. Actually 65-70 per cent of our licences are persistence-based. That is both because technology has matured, but also because it is hard for customers to run stateless, non-persistent desktops with the number of applications they use.

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