Seattle-based Qumulo Raises $40M for Modern Data Storage

It’s about the water, not the bucket. The money, not the safe. And for Qumulo, a Seattle startup that’s just raised $40 million, it’s the data, not the storage.

Qumulo—founded in 2012 by early employees of enterprise storage provider Isilon Systems, which was acquired just over four years ago by EMC for $2.5 billion—is part of a new generation of enterprise IT infrastructure companies growing up in Seattle. They’ve attracted lots of capital in the last three years.

Qumulo’s Series B funding round was led by Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (KPCB). Previous investors in the company’s $24.5 million Series A round, including Highland Capital Partners, Madrona Venture Group, and Valhalla Partners, also joined this round, as did Sujal Patel, Isilon’s founder.

Patel, KPCB partner Wen Hsieh, and Madrona’s Matt McIlwain are joining Qumulo’s board of directors.

So what is Qumulo up to with all that capital, besides paying its staff of 90 and counting? The company has kept a tight lid on its specific plans. Co-founder and CEO Peter Godman shared more in an interview last week, but was still coy, saving the details for a broad product introduction planned later this year.

Godman

Godman

Let’s start with the context. The rapid growth of data in the 21st century—created by individuals, devices, sensors, business transactions, large science experiments, and seemingly everything else—is well known. “We live in a virtual world. The stuff of the virtual world is data. And we never, ever throw data away,” Godman says.

Enterprise storage in the last decade—when Isilon came up—was about helping companies manage hundreds of terabytes and then petabytes of storage. Vendors provided large businesses bigger and bigger buckets—often in the form of proprietary storage servers and other expensive, custom hardware that quickly filled to capacity—but they haven’t been very good at helping people understand what’s inside the buckets, Godman says.

“The next decade we believe is really about helping people store billions and trillions of files, and manage them, and understand exactly what they have,” Godman says. “Managing lots of storage and managing lots of data—they’re really different problems.”

Data management, he says, means being able to answer questions about how and why an organization’s data is growing, where it is, who’s using what, what can be put in the cloud, what can be backed up?

“All of these questions are very complicated to answer, and people spend a lot more time answering them now,” Godman says.

A large organization wouldn’t tolerate spending tens or hundreds of millions of dollars on something like gasoline without a clear statement of accounts describing where it’s located and how it’s used. “Yet, we’ve found that that’s largely the status quo” in data storage, Godman says. “Either people invest a great deal of their own labor into starting to understand their data footprint, and how it’s getting used, or they don’t know.”

The company’s software-defined, network-attached data storage system takes advantage of commodity hardware and the availability of NAND flash memory—the stuff in USB drives and mobile device memory cards—at large scale and lower cost, he says. While flash memory has enabled high-performance storage applications over the last five to 10 years, Godman says there’s an opportunity now to use it to make data management easier.

And, as is expected today, the software is ready to run in any computing environment, and can scale-up to handle the largest data storage needs.

“Now our architecture is based entirely on commodity hardware,” Godman says. “That means our software will be able to run on appliances, inside virtual machine instances, inside cloud instances, et cetera.”

Godman says Qumulo conducted upwards of a thousand interviews with potential customers before bringing a product to market, and continues a tight focus on customer feedback today. The company ships a new version of its product every two weeks, incorporating feedback and feature requests from customers. “The right way to do it is to as quickly as possible lock yourself in to really tight iteration with people that have a problem that needs to be solved, and use that interaction as a way to precision-guide the trajectory of the company to building something people care about,” Godman says.

Qumulo—a name Godman and his co-founders Neal Fachan and Aaron Passey came up with in about 30 minutes—is a riff on the Latin cumulo, meaning stack or heap. It’s an apt metaphor for storage. It also refers to cumulonimbus clouds.

A group of customers has been using Qumulo’s software for about six months and one customer has been using it in production for more than a year, Godman says. The network-attached storage market is more than a $10 billion sub-segment of the broader $65 billion enterprise storage market, and has traditionally been dominated by the likes of EMC and NetApp, he says.

Qumulo fits into a category Godman calls intelligent infrastructure, forming part of the foundation for what Madrona’s McIlwain describes as an emerging “dataware” technology stack. This is a combination of technologies—many of them being built by startups in Seattle—that enable things like context-aware consumer apps and real-time business analytics.

This category of IT infrastructure for large organizations is a relatively new thing in Seattle.

“I don’t think we had as strong a case to make as a market for enterprise infrastructure technologies” until the rise of Isilon and F5 Networks, as well as work Microsoft has done in the last 15 years and, more recently Amazon, with AWS, McIlwain says.

Now, with next-generation businesses like Qumulo, Igneous Systems, and ExtraHop being built by people who gained expertise in the previous wave of companies, as well as the continued work of established players—EMC has a major Seattle presence thanks to continued growth here after the Isilon acquisition—this infrastructure category is gaining momentum. “That’s a really exciting development,” McIlwain says.

If Qumulo has one challenge, it’s breaking through the noise and hype in the data storage industry, McIlwain says. “There’s a lot of people in storage that make claims and I think there is a much smaller set of companies that actually can deliver on their claims,” he says. “We’re highly confident that Qumulo is already delivering on their claims.”

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One response to “Seattle-based Qumulo Raises $40M for Modern Data Storage”

  1. r fish says:

    Hope they come up with a great new way to skin the cat because I don’t know how many more vendors the storage market can handle at this point.