FalconStor launches major reboot with FreeStor horizontal converged data services platform

Left for dead in many quarters, FalconStor re-emerges with a new platform aimed at flash and hybrid storage vendors, MSPs, and a VAR channel which it acknowledges needs to be won over again.

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Gary Quinn, FalconStor’s CEO

FalconStor celebrates its fifteenth birthday this week, and is marking the occasion with the introduction of FreeStor, a new horizontal software-defined storage platform that brings together and updates FalconStor’s existing services which had been sold as point products, and supplements them with new services.

For FalconStor, this product launch is a rebirth of sorts. The company has an unenvied reputation of having had good storage virtualization technology at a time when its market was still struggling. When that market did take off, the Tier One players considered it so important that they developed their own technologies, so had no need for FalconStor to provide it. Along the way, the company had some legal problems, fired their CEO, who then committed suicide, and saw much of its technology lose some of its sheen as the rest of the market caught up to, and in some cases passed them. FalconStor became less visible, with some of their own partners thinking they had gone out of business.

“The company has definitely been through some interesting times,” said Gary Quinn, who became FalconStor’s CEO in 2013. “What we are announcing new is a horizontal converged platform of all our data services that have been point solutions, all updated and modernized.” The result, FreeStor, provides migration, continuity, protection, recovery and optimization for any storage environment through a single management interface, with an attractive pricing model.

“We are really converging everything back into a single platform,” Quinn said. “This is what FalconStor had originally, but OEM relationships forced them to break it apart. So we wound up selling point solutions like enterprise backup software, virtualization, and disaster recovery with snapshotting. We wanted to get into a spot that’s a lot more relevant and hot, and FreeStor puts our foot in the water on software defined storage. It is a heterogeneous offering, and can be installed on pretty much any server.”

FreeStor starts with FalconStor’s existing IPstor unified data management platform, with flash, hybrid flash and private cloud capability added, but it’s rather more than that.

“We completely rearchitected the core engine, to create a horizontal storage pool to which we can apply 15 years of data services,” said Tim Sheets, VP of Global Marketing & Enablement at FalconStor. What FalconStor terms its Intelligent Abstraction core provides a massively scalable storage hypervisor, which, along with a data services engine and automation, optimizes storage resources regardless of type, connectivity, brand or speed into that horizontal storage resource pool. It can be provisioned to physical or virtual applications, along with common, unified data services across that pool.

Four core use services are provided – data migration; protection and recovery; optimized backup and deduplication; and always-on capability, in which FalconStor’s clustering technology, which was previously active/passive, is now active/active. It is all linked by centralized management, with a new GUI with enhanced REST API for monitoring, reporting and configuration.

“The old products weren’t the easiest to manage or report on, and that is all changed with FreeStor,” Sheets said. The REST APIs will also be publicly available. New services are also on the FreeStor road map, with inline block-based dedupe coming in May, and file-based dedupe later in the year.

“It can scale up to 128 FreeStor storage servers, so the scalability is very large,” Sheets said. “Because it is completely optimized for flash and SSD, the IOPs keeps up with their performance. IOPs performance is up significantly from before, to over one million IOPs. Similarly, latency has dramatically dropped down to the 130-150 ms range.

“The SSD guys don’t want us slowing them down,” Sheets said.

FalconStor is introducing a simplified licensing model it believes to be flexible and removes high costs on renewals for the customer. FreeStor has an annual subscription model, in which at the end of the year the customer determines how much storage is under management for the year ahead, and the pricing is based on that estimate. If it turns out to be too low, FalconStor doesn’t recoup the excess capacity.

“We could be leaving some money on the table, but considering where we are, that this is really our second coming-out party, I think it’s the way to go,” Quinn said. “We are looking for as much flexibility as possible.”

“We do have the data of the prior year’s use, so the customer assessment isn’t likely to deviate significantly from that,” Sheets pointed out. All the data services are included in the price, and software upgrades are free.

The go-to-market strategy is threefold – SSD and hybrid flash OEMs; service providers and MSPs; and the VAR channel, in that order of priority.

“We are looking to hitch our wagon to the SSD and hybrid flash guys, especially ones with no software stack or whose software is not enterprise class,” Quinn said. For newer hardware vendors who don’t have the same level of software services as an EMC or IBM, this puts them in a more competitive position.

“For instance, vendors today do dedupe very differently, and we leverage across all these environments,” Sheets said. “Some newer flash guys don’t let you turn their dedupe off, but we can turn it off for them, so customers can right-size their services and investments.”

The second market is a new one for FalconStor, MSPs and service providers, as FreeStor will help them move data into their cloud and provide common data management services.

“In the past, we didn’t have something to offer a service provider, because the platform product was too rigid and they couldn’t extract information out of it,” Quinn said. “Now that we have a more friendly technology to use, we want to get this market on board. It can be private labelled, so the name FalconStor doesn’t need to appear at all.

The third go to market route is FalconStor’s traditional VAR channel, especially those who sell infrastructure-as-a-service. While Quinn sees this as a good professional services opportunity for them, especially given the openness of the API set, he acknowledged the channel has been burned somewhat by FalconStor in the past, and most will want to see evidence of success before they are prepared to invest in FreeStor.

“We have to get validation for the technology, and credibility in the market,” he said. “The flash manufacturers are the easiest way to get to market first, followed by the service providers. As the channel sees the first two come on board, they will see we are back.

“If we are successful in signing up the hardware guys and the service providers, we expect channel adoption by the end of the year, Quinn said. “We haven’t done a great job with the channel the last five years. The products were getting long in the tooth, and we had some other issues. Some people even thought we weren’t in business any more. We have to rebuild that. We have to get these other partnerships in place, and prove ourselves first.”