WekaIO expands addressable market, partner opportunity, with Kubernetes CSI plugin

WekaIO’s high performance file system has primarily sold to universities and very large enterprises with AI initiatives, but they see the new plug-in as helping address AI initiatives more broadly in the Fortune 2000.

Ken Grohe, WekaIO’s President and CRO

Campbell CA-based WekaIO, which makes high performance scalable parallel file storage for data-intensive workloads, has unveiled a new Kubernetes Container Storage Interface [CSI] plugin to let customers to easily deliver Container-as-a-Service  functionality with the Weka File System. It makes it easier to run containerized workloads in AI solutions and stateful applications like MySQL, Cassandra, and MongoDB. That in turn will make it easier for customers outside WekaIO’s base in High Performance Computing [HPC] to use their offering, and expand the opportunity for channel partners who are WekaIOs sole route to market.

WekaIO emerged from stealth in 2017, with an exceptionally fast parallel scale-out file storage solution which focused in particular on AI-related demands of the HPC market, with universities and AI-intensive industries like Big Pharma being key initial customers.

“For AI, you need a fast GPU, a fast network, and a fast parallel file system,” said Ken Grohe, a 25 year EMC veteran who has worked in the startup market the last few years, and joined WekaIO as President and CRO in June. “If you don’t have all three, you don’t get the speed you need for your AI initiative. One of our pharmaceutical customers got their pill to market a quarter faster because of our parallel file system. That’s important, when it costs them $3.2 billion to get the pill to market. We won the IO500 fastest HPC file system performance for the last two years, and this year we are number two behind Intel, but the year is not over.”

WekaIO posted 600% growth in 2019, with Grohe crediting a change to the company’s Go-to-Market model as a key reason for that expansion.

“Imagine an HPC company who changed its Go-to-Market,” Grohe noted. “We’ve always been known as the fastest file storage system, and it’s all software, but the problem with software-defined storage has been the delivery vehicle. It can only thrive if you figure out a delivery vehicle. We have done that through relationships with OEMS – agreements with all the major server chip makers and device makers, as OEMs, customers and investors. Dell, Lenovo and Hitachi Vantara all OEM us. We also also OEMed on SuperMicro BigTwin. We are in the HPE Complete program, and about 20-40% of our revenues go through HPE. They are also a customer. – NVIDIA is a customer and a huge investor, and they are our best partner. Cisco is an investor in us as well.

“We have grown 600% because we get in on the early stages of AI products, because we are brought in by server and GPU vendors,” Grohe said. “Server vendors can’t do HPC with regular product. They bring us in for key deals. We are the wild card.”

Grohe noted that when COVID emerged, making it harder to sell in the traditional way, they spun up on AWS and are now hostable there.

“AWS is only 5% of our business, a small part, but it helps deal with COVID limitations,” he said.

Grohe said that the new Kubernetes CSI plugin will be important in expanding WekaIO’s business outside of HPC by making it much easier to address shareability, performance, and portability challenges around containers in stateful environments, and giving more flexibility in how and where containers can be deployed.

“Before, they would write a script or connect through an API, and now they write once to a container and it allows integration,” Grohe said. “It means less time in the sandbox and more time in production. If we only sold to universities, we wouldn’t need this, but it is important in letting us sell to corporate America. So it is very transformational for us in expanding in the Fortune 2000 space. For some customers it is critical. Some segments of the U.S. government wouldn’t have bought us without this.”

Grohe also noted that the enterprise market for AI related solutions is the one part of that market that continues to be reliably strong.

“There is broad demand in the enterprise to create a competitive edge around AI initiatives,” he said. “The only people spending money these days are AI initiatives or life sciences. Pharmas aren’t AI companies but they have AI initiatives. This is a  time to revenue advantage for them. AI is very similar to ERP in the mid 90s. If you didn’t do it, and your competitors did, you fell behind.”

WekaIO sells entirely through channel partners, and Grohe said the new announcement significantly expands their opportunities.

“Some partners might not know Weka, or they may think we are HPC only, but this will expand our enterprise market,” he stated. “Before, if they weren’t selling to big universities or very big enterprises they weren’t interested  in us. But this lets us sell to the Fortune 2000 around new funding of AI initiatives – and we don’t go direct. Because we use the OEM SKUs, every one of our deals goes through a VAR. We pass the leads from enterprise scientists to the VARs. Partners like Trace3 love us, because we give them leads, and they can still sell the server vendor SKU. Now the VAR isn’t fighting with the big OEMs. Everyone gets paid.”

Weka software with the Kubernetes CSI plugin is available now.