Nebulon comes out of stealth with server-based enterprise storage that scales well past HCI

Nebulon, whose founders have strong connections to 3PAR, which HP bought back in the day, is unveiling what they see as the first real innovation for server based storage  since HCI was introduced. The Go-to-Market will be through server OEMs and their channel partners.

Fremont CA-based Nebulon has emerged from stealth, with what they term Cloud-Defined Storage – on-prem, server-based storage managed by the Nebulon cloud. The company, whose founders have pedigrees from enterprise storage vendor 3PAR, says that their architecture allows it to overcome the limitations that have capped hyper-converged infrastructure [HCI] to defined use cases, and can scale to manage large clusters running mission-critical applications.

“A big challenge today is that so much of the world remains on external storage arrays for service levels and availability,” said Craig Nunes, Nebulon’s Chief Marketing Officer. “HCI was a great step forward to evolve the world in a more server-based approach, but there are restrictions, like OS choices, and application density per server because 20% of the socket has to run the data services. We provide a way to get the service levels these organizations need for mission critical apps, in a form factor that doesn’t consume memory or network and which you can manage across the enterprise. We also enable that management with a self-service approach in provisioning and maintaining infrastructure, much like the public cloud.”

Nebulon’s Cloud-Defined Storage technology really has two elements – on-prem and cloud. The on-prem is the Nebulon Services Processing Unit [SPU] a PCIe-based storage engine installed inside the customer’s application server, where it is attached to the internal server SSDs much like a RAID card.

“Like a RAID controller, it can serve both local and shared storage,” Nunes said. “It also provides all essential enterprise-class data services such as compression, encryption, deduplication, erasure coding, snapshots and data mirroring from the SPU.

The cloud management control plane runs in two of the big hyperscale data centres.

“It scales into the tens of billions of metric objects, while an individual server might have tens of thousands of metric objects per hour,” Nunes said. Since it’s in the cloud, it supports any server operating system or hypervisor and requires no software on the server, so doesn’t use CPU and memory there.

While Nunes said Nebulon scales well beyond HCI, they don’t see HCI as true competition.

“The real competition is the incumbent arrays,” he said. “There is adjacency in the market for us and HCI. HCI nails VDI, and you can have fast 4-node clusters for VSAN, but for something with more scale you will go crazy trying to manage dozens of clusters and automate them across an entire enterprise. So we are a good fit for customers who have disqualified HCI as a replacement for their arrays, and who are looking to find a way out of 3-tier architectures, but haven’t found an answer yet.”

While Nebulon is a data centre solution, and these haven’t generally fared well during the pandemic, Nunes said that they have seen scenarios where the current environment makes them more attractive.

“What’s going on out there is forcing some things that might help a young company like us,” he said. “There is cost pressure on all companies, and it’s IT who gets hammered first and hardest. It’s a good time to look again at a server-based approach without HCI tradeoffs to support mission critical apps.

“In addition, when you are constrained in the locations you can be in, the more you can automate and the more you can drive remote management as part of your infrastructure the better,” he added. “We are a cloud that controls on prem servers. We had a conversation with a company in Madrid in April at the height of their lockdown. They couldn’t get to their data centre, but cloud-based storage they could run from their home offices.”

Out of the gate and in their proof-of-concept stage, Nebulon is doing all their demand creation and technical selling themselves, which is no surprise. But their route to market, even out of the gate, is market is 100% through server OEMs, and their channel partners.

“We have three of these server partners initially – HPE, SuperMicro and a third that will be announced a few weeks after the launch,” Nunes said. “We will work with the channel partners of these major server vendors. Those partners don’t need new contracts with us. We run on the contracts they have with existing server partners. This is just a server option for them. That’s the big news for the channel here, that this flows through their server relationships.”

There will be three classes of channel partners.

“One will be resellers looking to bring their clients new and interesting ways to help them with digital transformation,” Nunes said. “This will keep them in the cloud conversation, even though we are on-prem. In addition, with an HPE reseller who had sold HPE storage, and where the customer moved from that so they no longer had a storage relationship, this gives them a way to talk about additional storage, and gets them back in the storage conversation.”

The second group will be larger solution providers like WWT and Presidio.

“They construct infrastructure for their large clients,” Nunes said. “Now, they make little money on the infrastructure; their margin is in services. With our approach we bring margin back to those transactions.”

The third group, companies like SHI, CDW and Softchoice, is one that Nunes said Nebulon will pursue later.

“Arrays don’t flow through them so well, but those sales can be transformed into what we call a RAID Card motion, with the SPU replacing a RAID card. HCI made great progress through this channel because its easy to sell. This is also easy. It’s just a server option for those volume sellers.”