A flexible friend

Editorial Type: Interview Date: 03-2017 Views: 1,298 Tags: Storage, Flash, Strategy, Channel, QSAN, Origin Storage, CMS PDF Version:
QSAN's Technical Sales Director Stefan Ferrari updates Storage magazine editor David Tyler about the company's newest highly affordable all-flash offerings

David Tyler: Our last issue included a very positive review of your XCubeSAN XS3226D product: were its conclusions - affordable high performance all-flash, essentially - in line with the company's current product messaging?
Stefan Ferrari: With our newest systems we are geared towards the all-flash market, as well as a hybrid approach which we see as helping us to fill a gap in the market. There is an issue around the level of performance that users need, and the number of spinning disks that they need to deploy to get that performance. As we near the point where SSD alternatives are genuinely affordable, we think that will be a significant 'crossover' moment.

Our main approach is therefore two-fold, because we need to be seen as a vendor that is able to supply a product for multiple use cases and purposes. We don't want to be perceived as solely in the primary or secondary data storage markets. In primary storage, the key requirements now are speed, lower latency, and high performance for often virtualised environments - so, a range of increasingly heavy demands. In secondary storage the push is towards ever-higher volumes, and so we see larger and larger drives. There is a disparity then between the primary and secondary market, and we believe we are addressing both sides - uniquely - with our latest offerings.

Our new 26-bay products, which can be 2.5" form factor (as reviewed recently) can be configured as an all-flash - thus 'all-singing, all-dancing' - SAN. If you want to, you can then attach a JBOD to it, with say 24 x 8TB or 10TB hard drives in there, which gives you a big bulk store area for your secondary storage. It's a true all in one solution approach.

DT: You describe your approach as unique but the flash market is crowded - perhaps overly so - at the moment, so how do you differentiate the QSAN solution?
SF: QSAN is perhaps not currently as well known as some of the 'big boys' of primary storage - the likes of HPE, Nimble, Pure - who, to be frank are generally perceived as too expensive for secondary storage. We are coming at it from the opposite direction, as users who have been using us for secondary storage are increasingly realising that our systems are actually capable of far more than they might have originally realised. The new 2.5" systems are crucial to that expansion into primary storage, of course. Our 26 bay offering is literally the first of its kind, we were proud to be the first to design 26 bays in a 2u form factor like this.

Looking at the storage market in general, spinning disk is still growing, but at relatively low rates year on year. With SSD and all-flash, you can see growth more in the region of 150% a year - there is no question that the market is swinging irreversibly towards all-flash. For that reason alone it was vital for us to come up with a product that could fulfil both of these market requirements - hence our SAN can include a very large SSD array and a large quantity of spinning disk.

A lot of people have a preconception that a SAN is a very expensive thing that they probably can't afford. So they might decide to go down the NAS route instead; but when those users start to talk to the industry and it comes out that they need to use iSCSI, that they're using it for virtualisation, at that point the resellers and distributors will often stop them and say 'Actually, you might want to look at QSAN.'

Once they start to price it up, the benefits frequently outweigh any price differential. So we are competing almost daily with the likes of HPE, Nimble, Netapp - and a part of the conversation there is around dispelling these preconceptions of the affordability of a SAN compared to a NAS.

DT: I know the channel is hugely important to QSAN - what feedback have you had from partners on the new product offerings?
SF: Our partners are totally on board with the strategy we're pursuing. CMS work very closely with Micron and WD as well as Kaminario who have an all-flash solution of their own, and Origin are close partners with Seagate which gives them access to all their SSDs and HDDs - but Origin is also a SSD vendor in its own right and makes its own OEM SSD products. CMS have historically done a lot of NAS business but they too are seeing customers saying they need that additional performance - and that is exactly the gap that QSAN can fill.

DT: If flexibility is such a major part of the proposition for QSAN, does that make it easier or harder to say who your target market is?
SF: At the moment we are equally focused on SMB, SME and enterprise: because of the flexibility of our modular system approach, users can choose the setup and connectivity options that work for them. Some might only need 1GB, some 10GB, some Fibre Channel, or even a combination of all of them, in a full hybrid system.

That said, it is also increasingly important for us to be able to talk to potential buyers on a solution level that understands their business, not just talking about storage. We can approach a customer in partnership with a reseller and spec the entire solution, not just focusing on how many terabytes they might need. In applications such as surveillance, for example, we have a deep understanding of the likely configurations, the servers being used, and so on, such that we can be far more proactive in suggesting likely growth rates and upgrade paths based on the systems in use.

It is a particular strength of the staff at QSAN that we can help users get an overall picture of the whole project, not just the storage elements. And we try to do that with every single sales situation: every time someone comes to me and says they need some storage, my first question is always "OK, what are you actually doing with it?"

There is no one-size-fits-all solution, we have to work in partnership every time to get the best tailored system for the customers' needs. And it is working. We have customers who are buying a solution from us and then as the business grows, they can easily adapt the system to grow with them. It is so flexible that we can go into literally any market and any size of business with the same product offering.
More info: www.qsan.com

"A lot of people have a preconception that a SAN is a very expensive thing that they probably can't afford. So they might decide to go down the NAS route instead; but when those users start to talk to the industry and it comes out that they need to use iSCSI, that they're using it for virtualisation, at that point the resellers and distributors will often stop them and say 'Actually, you might want to look at QSAN.' Once they start to price it up, the benefits frequently outweigh any price differential."