The Day Storage Went from Dumb to Smart (or Paula Long’s Secret Finally Revealed)

I was introduced to Paula Long the CEO of DataGravity about the same time I arrived at a16z (nearly four years ago). Every time a new storage deal was pitched to us, I would call Paula to get her thoughts. Given my own background in storage and systems software, I was blown away at Paula’s depth and knowledge in the space. Not only did she articulate every technical nuance of the project we discussed, she had an uncanny feel for what was likely to happen in the future.

Paula casually rattled off every company doing similar things, price and performance of solid-state storage, file systems, volume managers, device drivers, block interfaces, meta data, NAS, SAN, objects, and security. It was enough to make my head spin, yet she analyzed every situation with a clarity that I had never seen before. I had known Paula as the founder of EqualLogic (her prior storage company acquired by Dell for $1.4 billion in 2008), but her insight and wisdom about everything storage far exceeded that of anyone I had met. When she came to me with her own ideas for a new storage company there was no hesitation. Betting on Paula would result in something really special. In December 2012 we invested in DataGravity.

When we talked about DataGravity in those days, Paula would tell me how the real future of storage was unlocking the information residing in the gazillions of files and terabytes of unstructured data that organizations store but never use. She articulated that most other storage companies were in a race to zero; chasing the faster and cheaper angle, with their solid-state storage and incremental innovation. “Table stakes,” she would say. “DataGravity is going to do something never done before. We are going to unlock the value of storage. Storage is the obvious place for intelligence to be surfaced.” This all sounded great, but – even with my background in the space – I never fully appreciated what Paula had envisioned. She had a secret.

Today, DataGravity is unveiling the world’s first data-aware storage system. The system is quite simply revolutionary. We saw a demonstration of the system’s capability at a board meeting a few months ago, and that is when it all came together for me. This was not some incremental system that everyone else was building, but an entirely new way of managing storage and information. I left the board meeting thinking that all storage systems in the future would have elements of the DataGravity concepts. It was truly new thinking.

This was not some incremental system that everyone else was building, but an entirely new way of managing storage and information.

The secret sauce DataGravity brings to the market is making dumb storage smart, all in a single system. DataGravity is both a primary storage array and an analytics system combined into one. The combination — without any performance or operational penalty — means, for the first time, that organizations can use their primary storage for file storage, IT operations, AND analytics at the point of storage. “Data-aware” means indexing and giving storage intelligence before it is stored. Instead of having dedicated and expensive secondary systems for analytics, operations and data analysis, DataGravity does it all in one place.

DataGravity is about to change the way we think about storage. From the demographics of data, to data security, to searching and trend information, the system will unlock an entire class of capabilities that we have not yet begun to comprehend. For example, imagine knowing when a file is being written or corrupted, before it is accessed. Or being able to identify subject-matter experts in an organization based on who is writing the most content on what and when. Or determining data ownership and control and correlate this with active or inactive employees. All this from a “storage” system.

So here we are today at an amazing inflection point in the history of storage. Twenty years from now, we’ll look back at this day as the day storage went from being dumb to being smart. The day that transformed the way the world stores its information. Just as Paula predicted, and just as Paula knew.