The Perfect Pivot

If you’ve worked in venture capital funded companies, invested in them, or simply surfed the news of the VC space on the Internet, you’ve likely come across the “pivot.” It’s a wonderful euphemism for “we had no idea what we were doing, so we’re completely reworking our strategy.”  Maybe you’ve heard of the famous company Odeo, or maybe not… but you’ve certainly heard of Twitter, the name change that accompanied their legendary pivot. Probably one of the most exciting aspects of the startup world is imagining what the future will look like and then imagining a way to influence it. Sometimes it’s more like seeing the wave of the future everyone else is missing and trying to catch it first.  In either case, from the get-go, you can’t get rid of a nagging fear that we’ve got this thing all wrong.

At Scality, we decided about 10 years ago that object storage was one of those waves and we had plenty of ideas about how to influence it. In many ways, object storage is just a ripple on the tidal wave of the digital transformation, but none of that was so obvious 10 years ago. It was in 2006 that EMC and IDC went to work publishing the first of their great series of Digital Universe studies. Their predictions over the years have been proven and re-proven, but we must admit that we humans are still not very adept at perceiving things that progress exponentially. For storage, 161 exabytes was the total volume of digital data predicted in 2006, 4.3 zettabytes in 2013, and over 16 zettabytes in 2016 with predictions in the range of 10x additional growth by 2025. The predictions of the growth of data weren’t bad, but they didn’t have much to say about the power of mobile data, the influence of the cloud, and the rise of big-data, IoT and machine learning. Today, mobile traffic on the internet exceeds 50% of all internet traffic, and as-a-service platforms of all stripes are where the digital transformation is taking place.

Looking back, we realize that we got one part of the equation exactly right: storage at scale. Naming a new startup is a challenging exercise, but today the name we chose rings true, and we have no plans to pivot that. When we went to work designing our technology, we set aside any notions that would limit how big a single platform could grow. Bill Gates has been quoted (probably unfairly) as saying 640KB is enough for anyone, and we didn’t want to create a storage platform that was a few years from being ridiculed for being too limited in capacity. With a number of platforms in production managing 10s of petabytes and over 100 billion objects managed on a single platform, with no end in sight, we know that scale is here to stay. So with the most scalable object storage platform on earth what is there to pivot at Scality? The always on nature of today’s mobile user base requires resilient, highly available, no down-time ever kind of storage, but that too was part of our DNA, as was the belief that the software-defined everything revolution with standard hardware platforms was here to stay.Pivot turning while staying in place

The hardest thing for us to predict was where the larger IT world was headed. The statement that “IT doesn’t matter” from Nicholas Carr’s provocative 2003 paper in the Harvard Business review left us in a quandary: believing in the cloud and the transformation of computer infrastructure to a utility that’s sold like electricity is a hard sell to IT people who have built their careers on their highly specialized skills. It’s akin to what it must have been like selling cars to farriers back in the day, but automobiles have replaced horses, and clouds are replacing traditional IT, be they private, public or hybrid.  So, our pivot has been a pivot of embrace, an embrace of this rapid transition. Embracing the fact that our customers must have choice in the rapidly changing landscape, they must be able use old file system protocols, use new object protocols, deploy infrastructure in-house, leverage public infrastructure and, importantly, use them all at the same time.  They must be able to experiment with new things, and so we’ve embraced open-source initiatives like the Scality S3 Server (now part of Zenko) to help. There’s more to come; there has to be. Improved security, automated data management, powerful distributed search, sophisticated choices in geo-distribution of data and more open-source components are just a few of the things we’re working hard to make possible.

What is the perfect pivot? Unless you are playing Nintendo Smash, there probably isn’t a perfect pivot, but we are convinced that keeping our basic DNA intact by providing the most scalable, reliable, software-defined object-storage platform while helping our customers handle the digital revolution, letting them manage the choices they must make, and not forcing them to make strategy choices they don’t want forced on them, is a good start.

Follow me on Twitter @baslking

Photo credit: Nintendo and Smash Bros.

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