9 enterprise storage start-ups to watch

9 enterprise storage start-ups to watch

Young storage companies are innovating products that range from storage arrays to mainframe storage management to cloud storage and more.

Credit: Dreamstime

As the enterprise edge expands to include semi-permanent remote workforces, Internet of Things (IoT), and a range of applications like artificial intelligence (AI) and M2M, they generate torrents of non-stop data that must be stored indefinitely and be available in near-real-time to users and applications.

Legacy storage architectures are failing to keep up with both data growth and user/application demand. While storage innovation is pushing more workloads into the cloud, many start-ups have found that the average enterprise is not yet ready for cloud-only storage.

Legacy architectures and applications are experiencing extended shelf-lives due to tight IT budgets, and many enterprises still prefer to keep certain workloads on-premises.

As a result, storage start-ups are finding ways not only to accommodate legacy infrastructures, but also developing storage systems that deliver the latest benefits of cloud-based storage to any deployment model.

The nine start-ups featured here are developing everything from NVMe disaggregated storage platforms to storage management software for mainframes. Their founding teams earned leadership experience at the likes of Dell EMC, IBM, Juniper, and Pure Storage.

Collectively, they have raised more than US$750 million in funding, a figure made all the more impressive by the fact that it includes one start-up that has not yet disclosed details about its funding.  


Year founded: 2015
Funding: US$12M
Headquarters: Longmont, Colorado
CEO: Tod Earhart, former director of firmware development for Micron Technologies

What they do:
Develop flash storage software for cloud data centres.

Burlywood’s flagship FlashOS is storage-controller software. FlashOS analyses application behaviour at the flash-controller level and tunes both SSD performance and features to fit each application. It enables enterprises to deploy whatever underlying storage architecture they wish, including cloud storage, all-flash arrays, and hyperconverged solutions.

Competitors include: Incumbents like Intel, Samsung, and Western Digital, as well as such start-ups as Apeiron, Qumulo, and Zadara
Customers include: None named.

Why they’re a hot start-up to watch: Burlywood is targeting the control plane of storage, developing software that accommodates legacy architectures while paving the way to modern, hyperconverged ones. The start-up has enough early funding to seek out early reference customers, having secured a US$10.6M Series A in late 2018. CEO Tod Earhart gained management experience in the industry at Micron and Western Digital.


Year founded: 2016
Funding: US$310.9M
Headquarters: Santa Clara, California
CEO: Pradeep Sindhu, former served CEO and Chairman of Juniper Networks

What they do: Fungible develops processors, software, and storage clusters that, together, enable enterprises to build hyperscale-like data centres.

The Fungible DPU family are Systems-on-Chip (SoC) processors designed to overcome what Fungible says are the two biggest challenges in scale-out disaggregated data centres: 1) inefficient execution of data-centric computations within server nodes and 2) inefficient interchange of data among nodes.

Fungible’s flagship product, the F1 DPU delivers 800Gbps processing and implements the entire storage, networking, security, and virtualisation stack. Fungible’s TrueFabric software, a large-scale IP-over-Ethernet fabric protocol, is integrated into the chip. The company says it provides full cross-sectional bandwidth with low average and tail latency, end-to-end QoS, and congestion-free connectivity.

This enables disaggregation and pooling of all data centre resources at scale. TrueFabric is interoperable with TCP/IP over Ethernet, ensuring that a data-centre spine-leaf network can be built with standard off-the-shelf Ethernet switches.

The Fungible Storage Cluster (FSC) is a storage platform based on the DPU and composed of scale-out NVMe over Fabrics (NVME-oF) storage nodes. A disaggregated storage platform, the FSC implements a separation of storage control planes and data planes. The platform is designed to enable cloud service providers and enterprises get hyperscale performance out of their data centres.

FSCs are the foundation of the Fungible Data Centre (FDC). The FDC is an on-premises, turn-key solution comprised of pre-configured racks of disaggregated compute and storage servers powered by the Fungible DPU and managed by Fungible’s Data Centre Composer (DCC) software.

Competitors include: Dell EMC, Liqid, Nebulon, NetApp, and Pure Storage
Customers include: Los Alamos National Laboratory

Why they’re a hot start-up to watch: Fungible has raised a massive amount of funding--$311M--and they target a similarly massive opportunity, the hyperscale data-centre market.

In 2020, Fungible acquired the assets of Cloudistics, a cloud-software platform start-up. With a strong leadership team that served in senior executive roles at Juniper, Apple, Pure Storage, and Qualcomm, among others, Fungible is in a strong position to compete in the hyperscale cloud-service-provider market and open up the adjacent on-premises enterprise market.  


Year founded: 2014
Funding: US$54.2M
Headquarters: Kfar Saba, Israel
CEO: Eran Kirzner, who formerly served as VP Software and Solutions, Enterprise Storage Division for PMC-Sierra

What they do: Develop NVMe over TCP software-defined block storage.

The latest version of their storage software, LightOS 2.1, is an NVMe/TCP scale-out, disaggregated storage solution designed to perform like local flash.

When installed on commodity servers in large-scale datacentres, LightOS 2.1 automatically optimises for I/O intensive compute clusters, such as Kafka, Cassandra, MySQL, MongoDB, and time-series databases. Each storage server in the cluster can support up to 64K namespaces and 16K connections.

LightOS 2.1 also supports containerised environments like Kubernetes that require large-scale clusters with persistent and durable storage for rapid node migration, workload rebalancing, or recovery from failure without copying data over the network.

Competitors include: Ceph, Excelero, Fungible, Pavilion Data, and Pure Storage
Customers include: Finanz Informatik Technologies Services, AMPD, and Equinix Metal

Why they’re a hot start-up to watch: Lightbits Labs has all of the right ingredients--solid funding, strong senior team, early customer traction--to compete in a tough NVMe market. The start-up has raised more than US$54M, and has named customers.

The founding team’s pedigree is also a mark in Lightbits’ favor. CEO and co-founder Eran Kirzner gained VP-level experience at PMC-Sierra and Wintegra. Co-founder and Chairman Avigdor Willenz co-founded Annapurna Labs, which was acquired by Amazon in 2015, and co-founder and Chief Scientist Muli Ben-Yehuda served as chief Scientist for software-defined datacentre vendor Stratoscale.


Year founded: 2016
Funding: Undisclosed but said to be working on its second round of funding.
Headquarters: San Francisco, California
CEO: Peter Thompson, previously VP of emerging and developing markets for DataCore Software

What they do: LucidLink develops cloud storage.

LucidLink’s Filespaces is a cloud-native file service intended to deliver NAS-like performance from cloud storage that is delivered as a service. Filespaces gives enterprises the ability to run file-based workloads on object storage and Azure Blob.

Designed to address business needs around storing large data sets and accessing them over distance, Filespaces creates a shared global namespace that acts like NAS even though the data is hosted in the cloud. LucidLink says that it is able to do this by reducing the traffic between applications and remote storage, thereby eliminating distance and latency issues. Performance is further optimised by data prefetching based on a proprietary, adaptive algorithm; parallel TCP streams; local write-back caching; and in-line compression.

Rather than relying on synchronisation, LucidLink streams data on-demand directly from the cloud as needed by the application. The single source of truth is kept in the cloud. Frequently accessed data is cached locally. Since data streams directly to and from the underlying object store, LucidLink eliminates the need for a gateway. Additionally, LucidLink provides file capabilities like direct read/write access from the cloud, immutable snapshots, user access control, and global file locking.

Competitors include: Panzura and Dropbox
Customers include: Torti Gallas and WebMD

Why they’re a hot start-up to watch: Security and performance have been two major sticking points for many enterprises that are considering expanding their consumption of cloud storage. LucidLink’s ability to securely stream cloud data at NAS speeds allows them to offer a unique service that cuts into the US$20-billion NAS market.

Recent surveys such as one by the University of Southern California have found that knowledge workers will expect flexibility to work remotely, even after the COVID-19 pandemic recedes. Since LucidLink securely streams data between the cloud and any object store, enterprises can deliver a uniform experience to both on-premises and remote teams, even when working with data-intensive applications. Finally, the start-up has a marquee named customer in WebMD.

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