For Nirvanix, Bliss is a Number Followed by Fifteen Zeros in a Cloud

San Diego’s cloud storage provider Nirvanix has raised eyebrows by claiming to be 200 percent faster than the great storage pioneer, Amazon’s Simple Storage Service. Cloud storage is a current hot topic many find hard to understand, but it all comes down to this: Nirvanix and similar companies store your computer’s archives on the Internet. And there is an inconceivable amount of stuff getting archived. Exactly where it gets stored has sometimes been a bit nebulous, which may be part of the reason why it’s known as storage in the cloud.

Nirvanix has five distributed nodes—in Japan, Germany, New Jersey, Texas, and in Southern California—which can archive 20 petabytes (PB) of data. (Unlike Google’s own enormous data centers, Nirvanix leases its space from companies that operate data centers.) A byte is the basic unit of measuring data in computers. One petabyte is approximately one quadrillion bytes, or a one followed by fifteen zeros. If a two-hour-movie is about five gigabytes, that means one petabyte would be enough data storage for 200,000 movies. Facebook’s 10 billion photos are said to be 1 PB. And it has been said that Google processes about 20 PB of data each day.

Jim Zierick

Jim Zierick

What comes after petabytes? “Oh, that I don’t know!” laughs Nirvanix CEO Jim Zierick. “The beauty is that it is infinitely scalable. There’s no reason why we can’t have hundreds of nodes around the world.”

Almost everyone has a storage problem, and the amount of computer data is growing explosively. At the same time, hardware and bandwidth gets cheaper. As a result, companies and many individuals are finding it necessary—and less expensive—to shift their data storage to the cloud. Nirvanix has an advertising campaign that says “The Box” (storage server) is dead and “enterprises must abandon archaic devices and embrace the new storage paradigm.”

The new storage paradigm, of course, means the cloud, and the name Nirvanix alludes to the heavenly state of highest spiritual attainment. The company’s slogan is, “We manage your storage, so you can manage your business.” In the world of scalable computer storage such peace of mind comes at an average price of $20,000 and a 24- to 36-month contract.

The company was founded in San Diego in 1998 as Streamload, which was among the first companies to offer an Internet storage service—a ‘box’ storage service. This part of the business was renamed MediaMax and spun off in 2007, while the existing company was renamed Nirvanix. Five months ago, the company’s board named Zierick, the former CEO of Aspyra and LogicalApps, to replace Patrick Harr. Nirvanix has received funding from Intel, and initially it got $12 million from Mission Ventures, Valhalla Partners, and Windward Ventures. Last month, Nirvanix raised $5 million from existing investors. Zierick says, “We’re hoping that our business will continue to grow and we will need more capital perhaps next year, but right now it’s very solid.” The company has 35 employees.

“The market opportunity really is large,” Zierick says. “I hope we are a billion-dollar-company in five years. But I’m a realist. IPOs are challenging and a lot of companies like ours end up being acquired. We’re just going to do the right thing for the shareholders, and if that’s an IPO, that’s great.”

He says the current economy is actually surprisingly good for them. “Part of our story is that we can help the enterprise to save money. Our customers typically see that the amount of data they need to store continues to grow, their budgets are flat or shrinking, and so they are very open to looking at us as a new opportunity. We have a model that allows them to pay as they go rather than have a big capital expenditure on storage boxes. That fits very well with the uncertainty in today’s economic environment. It’s nice to have something like a storage which is so central to what a company is doing…”

While Zierick was explaining all this to me yesterday during the Red Herring North America 100 conference, we were interrupted by Sajai Krishnan, the CEO of Cupertino, CA-based cloud competitor ParaScale. He came to our table, gave Zierick his business card, and said “I’ll personally want to send you four terabytes.” “Anytime!” answered Zierick. In the rivalries of the cloud storage world, could it be that dark humor is measured in units of 1 followed by 12 zeros?

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