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VMblog's Expert Interviews: SwiftStack Talks Multi-Cloud Data Management, Cisco Partnership, Machine Learning and More

 

Businesses are modernizing - gathering more data, and building new applications that are cloud-native, while looking to leverage data both on-premises and in public clouds.  They are starting to invest in or considering machine learning and AI, and have a strong desire to be more flexible and do more within existing budgets.

Those businesses engaging in this modernization will want to leverage on-premises and public cloud resources to meet business goals and should be looking at multi-cloud data management.  Hear what Don Jaworski, SwiftStack CEO had to say.

VMblog:  You were first on the SwiftStack board and then later joined as CEO.  How did that come about?

Don Jaworski:  Joe Arnold (SwiftStack Co-Founder) and I worked together at a prior company. As Joe was involved with large cloud deployments at telcos, he reached out to me with a demo and ideas that became the origin of SwiftStack. I initially helped him and the founding team with fundraising. It was fun working with the team through this process, and once they were up-and-running, Joe and the initial investors invited me to join the board. This was a great way to remain close to both the project and team.

The initial focus for SwiftStack was in the OpenStack community, providing an enterprise-grade storage solution for large data sets in private clouds. When SwiftStack realized it needed to expand and address the needs of data-intensive enterprise workflows, additional experience was needed on the team and I joined as CEO. Since then, we now have a great mix of both cloud and datacenter DNA, which allows us to optimally address our customer's needs. They are moving to a cloud architecture, while also needing legacy workloads to be properly handled, and our team has expertise to assist in both.

VMblog:  SwiftStack started over six years ago.  What is the biggest change you've seen since delivering a solution to SwiftStack's first customer?

Jaworski:  In the first few years, most of the demand from SwiftStack was to assist customers in their efforts to build a private cloud while managing large data sets. Many customers wanted an infrastructure service, behind the firewall, resembling Amazon Web Services. While progressing down this path, many realized the complexity of this approach, and were re-considering the benefits from their investment. At the same time, they also had teams developing and running applications in the public cloud, resulting in a fast growing set of apps and data both on private and public infrastructure.

The biggest change I've seen during my time at SwiftStack is the desire to bridge these two worlds, where businesses can best leverage the data being generated and stored, regardless of its location. These businesses have become more practical in how they think about "cloud", and are now taking steps to enable applications and data to run and live where there is a best fit, without losing access and meeting their requirements. With these new multi-cloud architectures, it does not matter which side of the firewall the data is generated-it can be leveraged anywhere. New analytics techniques and machine learning is a reality, extracting significantly more value from data to benefit the business.

VMblog:  Your homepage says "Multi-Cloud Data Management."  Is "multi-cloud" just the new buzzword for all stuff sold into the datacenter?

Jaworski:  To us, "multi-cloud" is something much more than that. It is true that some vendors are using this term to show they're modern with little to no capabilities behind it. However, the reality is that applications are being written to be mobile, where they live in multiple clouds, public and private. But how do you manage the data?  How is it accessible?  Moving data between clouds is expensive.

Data access needs to be universal across multiple clouds, only moving the data when the business needs require it. The same goes for services, as different clouds continue to differentiate themselves, customers want to leverage a native service, even if it's in a remote cloud. We are focused on enabling this today, and moving forward providing deeper insights and policies to help manage the data across clouds. It's a view of a very portable world, where customers can move their workflows, or parts of their workflow, where it best helps them move faster, lower costs and innovate in a way they can't today.

VMblog:  Once a business gets to the public cloud and starts using resources there, what do you feel will be the next step forward?

Jaworski:  Businesses will start becoming more aware of the unique services across public clouds, and how both their applications on private and public infrastructure can leverage these services while accessing data in both worlds. Public clouds are starting to differentiate themselves with unique and native services. Customers will start doing things to best leverage their public footprint.

Initially, this approach may be for less data-intensive applications. When the customer wants to use this approach for data-intensive workloads, they will change the way their data is managed allowing these services to be leveraged without moving large datasets. The customer wants this to be automated and policy-based, while improving the process by leveraging application metadata. These are difficult problems to solve, but the benefits will be great.

VMblog:  What advice would you give a company who wants to move to the cloud but is struggling to find a path forward?

Jaworski:  First, take a step back and determine what you are trying to achieve. Is there a need to move faster, have more elastic infrastructure, or leverage applications and data already deployed in a public cloud which are disconnected from your workflows on-premises? Once the goals are understood, figure out incremental steps that can be taken towards a multi-cloud architecture.

For example, some of our customers are initially optimizing by simply archiving some data into a public cloud, with the eventual plan of further utilizing it. Now, instead of archived data to cold storage, it can be leveraged by a cloud application. It can be easily accessed, processed, and analyzed using elastic cloud resources. So start with something simple instead of trying to lift-and-shift an entire workflow to the public cloud. If some of our customers tried to do everything at once, they would not be nearly as far along as they are today. Their success to date is based on an incremental approach.

VMblog:  In what markets is SwiftStack finding continued success and why?

Jaworski:  We are finding success in markets and applications that are data-intensive-spaces such as medical research, autonomous driving, connected cities, media, and gaming. They are leveraging modern analytics, machine learning, and AI techniques with their datasets because it's critical to their businesses. They all have the need to leverage large amounts of data today to be successful, and are leading the way. As we move forward, more industries will adopt these approaches in managing and utilizing their data. Some industries need to utilize data more than others, but I feel strongly that all eventually will need to be data-driven to be competitive.

VMblog:  You've talked a lot about your partnership with Cisco.  How has that played a role in SwiftStack's overall go-to-market strategy?

Jaworski:  A successful and long-lasting partnership is one where both parties get something meaningful out of it. We strive to bring new and unique workloads to Cisco's platforms by leveraging our SwiftStack software on Cisco systems. At the same time, we are significantly more competitive because of Cisco's footprint, relationships, and trusted-advisor status inside businesses we're targeting. The support of Cisco behind a complete data management and storage solution is huge in initially gaining customer confidence. We are both focused on providing a great service to our joint customers throughout the life of the engagement.

Cisco has a very strong, strategic footprint in the field, which includes superior technical talent.  As we move forward towards more advanced cloud architectures, SwiftStack is just one component of Cisco's multi-cloud portfolio. Today, Cisco can help customers take the right steps forward, much like we discussed earlier, and similarly to what Cisco did with the network in previous generations.

VMblog:  How do you lead a small, privately held company like SwiftStack to compete against long-time vendors like Dell EMC, IBM, and NetApp?

Jaworski:  As a small company, we have to be very focused. While we don't have the resources to go after as many opportunities, an advantage to being small is our ability to be closer to our customers. We can understand what they need from us, direct our focus, while we move fast to deliver it. Many of us have worked at large companies. They have an enormous set of resources that results in heavyweight and cumbersome processes.  As an example, getting customer feedback and applying it to the product development cycle can take years before the customer sees the result. While small teams like us can turn it around in weeks-tackling customer challenges quickly, if not everyday. With our smaller resource pool, we need to be judicious in doing things that really make a difference for our customers.

It's no surprise that our partnership with Cisco is a huge advantage in battling incumbents in a customer environment.  Even though the customer is attracted to our approach and product, some see working with SwiftStack, or any small company, as a risk. Having Cisco standing with us and supporting the customer goes a long way to building customer confidence.

VMblog:  As we follow your company, what's the next marker of success for SwiftStack?

Jaworski:  Regarding our focus on multi-cloud solutions, it's early, but we're seeing growing traction with data-intensive workloads leveraging more complex techniques like analytics, machine learning, etc. As our customers continue to experience success with these new architectures, we can leverage their successes in helping more companies and additional industries do the same.

Certain industries are leading data-intensive, multi-cloud architectures today, while we are just starting to see other industries go down a similar path of modernization. In the next year to year-and-a-half, we will begin to see these architectures become more standard. Our active participation in these new, more "mainstream" projects will be our next level of success.

VMblog:  If you could name one characteristic of a company who should definitely talk to you and your team at SwiftStack, what would it be?

Jaworski:  A business who is modernizing-gathering more data, building new applications that are cloud-native, looking to leverage data both on-premises and in public clouds, starting to invest in or consider machine learning and AI, and have a strong desire to be more flexible and do more within existing budgets. Businesses engaging in this modernization want to leverage on-premises and public cloud resources to meet business goals.

The best applications and services will leverage the most amount of data. I've talked a lot about data-intensive applications, but I believe that successful applications moving forward will need to be data-intensive. This does not need to be 100s of petabytes of data. We are seeing customers make transformational use out of just 100s of terabytes. This will be universal, and we welcome companies who feel the same to reach out to us.

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Don Jaworski is the CEO of SwiftStack, a leader in data management and storage solutions that leverage both private datacenters and public clouds. 

As CEO, he brings more than 30 years of product, engineering and executive management experience to SwiftStack and leverages this expertise to chart the company's continued growth strategy. His career includes past executive positions with NetApp, Brocade, Ipsilon Networks (Nokia), and Sun Microsystems (Oracle). Don received a B.S. in Computer Science from Bowling Green State University and an MBA from Santa Clara University.

Published Friday, August 03, 2018 7:36 AM by David Marshall
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