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Meeting the Challenges of Modern Data Center Infrastructure with SoftIron HyperCloud – Futurum Tech Webcast Interview Series
by Steven Dickens | September 6, 2022

On this episode of the Futurum Tech Webcast – Interview Series, host Steven Dickens is joined by Phil Straw, CEO of SoftIron to discuss the launch of their new product, HyperCloud.

Their conversation covered the following:

  • An overview of the current challenges for organizations trying to deploy private cloud
  • A look into HyperCloud and what makes it unique
  • How HyperCloud will positively impact organizations and
  • HyperCloud’s key differentiators

If you’d like to learn more about HyperCloud, read the Press Release on SoftIron’s website. Be sure to subscribe to never miss an episode.

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Disclaimer: The Futurum Tech Webcast is for information and entertainment purposes only. Over the course of this webcast, we may talk about companies that are publicly traded and we may even reference that fact and their equity share price, but please do not take anything that we say as a recommendation about what you should do with your investment dollars. We are not investment advisors and we do not ask that you treat us as such.

Transcript:

Steven Dickens: Hello. Welcome to The Future of Tech webcast. I’m Steven Dickens, and I’m joined today by Phil Straw, the CEO of SoftIron. Hey, Phil. Welcome to the show.

Phil Straw: Hey. Thanks for having me.

Steven Dickens: So thanks for joining us. We’ve got to know the SoftIron team over the last few weeks as you guys have briefed us. Some exciting things planned, but first off, let’s just get an introduction who are SoftIron? What do you guys do? And tell us just a little bit about them and maybe position your role first.

Phil Straw: So I’m Phil Straw. One of the co-founders of SoftIron. I’m currently CEO, and we’re just in the process of launching a product called HyperCloud, which is the first technology, I believe, that really allows people to build clouds with a technology as opposed to by composition of collective multiple parts together and really building it by brute force.

Steven Dickens: That leads to my first question. You mentioned there by composition rather than by brute force and building the piece parts. What are some of those current challenges for organizations trying to deploy a private cloud?

Phil Straw: I think it’s exactly that, which is if there’s one lesson that we can learn from the big, public cloud guys, what they’ve done is almost an immaculate conception. It’s just amazing to watch. The big lesson that we can learn from those guys that it’s so ridiculously obvious that you almost ignore it is that they’ve developed infrastructure that you can’t even see, that you can consume by swiping a credit card. And so often, we even see people use public cloud beyond what is really obvious for public cloud or even, I’d say, healthy for public cloud, but they use it because they can continue to consume it without having to pay the taxes of actually running an infrastructure. And so what’s really interesting is the market now is realizing that that’s not necessarily a utopia to use public cloud. It’s really amazing, and nothing’s going to replace public cloud. It’s a phenomenon, and it’s amazing.

SoftIron uses public cloud for various things, and we’re not going to stop. So clearly, what we’re doing is something different. And I think what people are struggling with is, how can I get an equivalent thing to public cloud where I can consume it without having to take the burden of running my own infrastructure but own it myself and solve problems that should appropriately be solved different ways by a combination of public cloud and private cloud or some hybrid combination or in situations where it should be just purely private, like sovereign cloud entities? That’s a very different thing.

Steven Dickens: Mm-hmm. You mentioned hybrid cloud, and I think you’re starting to touch on this, but what makes HyperCloud so unique? You guys are launching it. What’s the uniqueness there?

Phil Straw: So as a company, we’ve spent 10 years in semi-stealth building this cloud product, doing various different other things along the way and tens and tens of millions of dollars of, essentially, founder financing to build this company a different way. The whole of SoftIron is very different than what you may see anywhere else in Silicon Valley or in other aspects of technology. What makes us different is we’ve taken a very reductive and holistic approach to solving the problem to the extent that in solving the problem, we didn’t just go top down. We didn’t just add another stack of software on top. We’ve not created a library or even a professional service. We’ve truly tried to do the classic Silicon Valley thing. So often when companies change the world or change industries to multi-billion dollar effect, they take a technology, and they apply it to a problem that changes all of the rules.

And that’s what we’re doing here with the idea of private and hybrid cloud, is we’ve truly created a technology, which I believe is reductive as opposed to supplemental, that embraces the whole of the problem, of how a private user would have the same experience as, say, an Amazon or a Azure or any public cloud experience where they consume infrastructure but they don’t have to run infrastructure. And that’s a very, very, very big statement. And to do that, you have to do it in a very pure and holistic way. And that encompasses both manufacturing at some level, hardware, software and not just building the cloud entity itself but operating it and living with it. So when you live with a cloud, you go through upgrade cycles. You go through events of maybe hardware fails. Maybe something goes wrong. Those things have to be incredibly resilient, or you’re really back to running your own infrastructure.

And the extent to where the industry is today and the technological components that are in place, the only option anyone has, including all of the big public cloud guys, is you have to compose a cloud from elements of technology that are 15, 20 years old, like storage, networking, compute, that are discrete islands, that work individually as islands, not holistically as clouds. And they’re not cloud components. They work and exist independently. If you solve the problem properly, probably, and in the case of HyperCloud, those components won’t even work in isolation. So it won’t work as a computer. It won’t work as a network alone. It won’t work as a storage component alone. They only work altogether.

And so we spent 10 years building what is essentially a reductive and holistic technology that is really meant to build clouds. And so what it really enables everyone to do is the big public cloud guys have hyperscale. By definition, they are hyperscalers. And so they have armies of people running around, composing these clouds and running these clouds and making it consumable, sorry, at the front. But if you really want to change the world and you really want to change how you do this, that you have to have a technology. And if you want, I can give you an example of industry classic, Silicon Valley classics that are very orthogonal to what we are doing but are identical in the sense of using technologies as an enabling factor.

Steven Dickens: So it sounds like you’re at an inflection point. You see a ability to disrupt. What impacts that going to have? How does it bring that value? Say it more simply. How is this going to make lives easier for those people looking to deploy private clouds?

Phil Straw: It really comes back to the thing I said just slightly earlier, which is about the lifecycle of living with infrastructure. So the pain points that usually come from infrastructure, the failure points that usually come, where things get awfully stressful living with this stuff is that you upgrade certain elements of infrastructure. And they’re adjunct to other elements of the infrastructure, so you upgrade the networking to a different software version. You migrate storage. You have hardware failures. Whatever it is that happens in an infrastructure, it’s the living process of dealing with that that really is the hard reality. It’s not getting it to work. There are many ways to build a cloud, but there are awful ways to live with a cloud. And so our goal is very purist, which is you shouldn’t have to deal with the infrastructure. And we really mean that. And so everything is very holistic. The hardware is meant to work with the software. The network and the compute and the storage are meant to work together. They actually won’t work independently. And so as a result, you have this very extreme, very opinionated way of things being interoperable and also being able to be removed, added, incrementally grown, upgraded individually with no downtime, with no pain. And that’s a very, very difficult problem. It’s never been done even by the hyperscalers.

Steven Dickens: Well, it’s interesting you mention that, and I’m going to take you there next. I can see the appeal of that for a CIO and a CTO and an ops team looking to deploy a private cloud. But as you mentioned earlier, the hyperscalers by their very nature have got armies of people who do this stuff, and they’ve got very opinionated ways of how they’ve built those architectures. Do you see the service providers also using HyperCloud maybe for a regional or a sovereign deployment? How do you see that panning out?

Phil Straw: We already have discussions and I think orders from service providers. I do see that we’ll have an engagement. I think what’s interesting is when you bring a technology that enables you to build clouds in a very natural way and then live with them, I think what’s interesting is that it allows people, not hyperscalers, who also happen to be service providers, to exist in an ecosystem of serving their customers. And I think it’s very interesting, and there are some of the conversations we’ve had. It democratizes the ability to provide a cloud as maybe even a public service like the big guys, but a scale that allows you to do it economically and practically and live with it and provide good service to customers that doesn’t require hyperscale. So I think this word is often overused, which is it democratizes the use production of cloud for service providers that aren’t at hyperscale.

Steven Dickens: So this could be a managed service provider. Could be a regional provider. We’re not potentially talking about the AWSs and Azures of this world, we’re maybe talking about those tier two and tier three. Would I be understanding that right?

Phil Straw: Yeah. And people in certain markets, like healthcare, media and entertainment, where there’s maybe something that the hyperscalers have no incentive to provide other services that are adjunct but very necessary for that industry. They don’t necessarily have time to have the context, the sensitivities, the different kinds of anatomies that you want to see in cloud. It’s one size fits all. And what’s interesting about this democratization and being able to produce clouds naturally that don’t require hyperscale is that you get these regional and local sensitivities that are more attuned to giving customers what they want rather than force feeding them the generic meal.

Steven Dickens: It doesn’t have to be one size fits all. You can be a bit more granular about how as a service provider you can offer those services.

Phil Straw: Exactly, exactly. And I think we’re seeing that play out. The conversations that we’re in are naturally going along those lines and very purposefully so. We knew that this was likely when we built the technology, so this playing out nicely.

Steven Dickens: So I can see how you’re different from a rack of servers. I can see how you’re different from independent storage and networking and having to stick that together yourself. We’ve obviously seen an evolution of that with hyperconverged infrastructure from the likes of a HPE, a Dell or a Cisco. We’ve also seen the hyperscalers moving on-prem without posts and satellites and various extensions of their public cloud offering. How is this different to what else is available?

Phil Straw: What I would say is all of those things are an indication of market demand. So people do hyperscale because it’s a very convenient way of getting some level of virtualization and some level of storage that is built in an integrated and consumable way, but it’s not a cloud. And the reason it’s not a true cloud is you can’t scale the different elements of the anatomy, the storage and network and the compute and et cetera, in independent ways. And so you buy a package deal. You buy an agenda. You buy something that is amazing. It’s not illegitimate, but it’s distinctly not a cloud in the sense that you would consume a public cloud vendor on your own terms on your own turf. That doesn’t happen. The same thing with, for example, Amazon Outposts. People buy that because they want to consume it more on their own terms and on their own turf. But you buy something that really comes as your local one size fits all. It’s on the Amazon terms, and you build infrastructure into something that you really can’t escape, so freedom, flexibility, even the way pricing is done. So I believe in a world where you buy a cloud and you should be able to consume it to the extent you can consume the whole thing. And it shouldn’t really affect your bill. You should be able to own that, truly own it. And that’s not happening today, and that’s wrong.

So all of these things are an indication that people don’t necessarily want to use public cloud. They want something else. But if it’s not a reference design, if it’s not something from a public cloud vendor that gets you local premise but you still have to pay whatever, you have to pay for that particular thing and all of the terms and conditions that come with it, if it’s not hyper-converged, which doesn’t really allow you to go elastically scale or even live with the infrastructure in a comfortable way, it’s more convenience, it’s not solving the market demand. What needs to happen there is a technology. Technology is needed by the market to actually properly do this because there are people that want… We have conversations with people where they want exabytes of data or many tens or hundreds of petabytes of data and many thousands of compute notes. And you can’t do that with hyperconverged, and you can’t really do that with an Outpost. So just naturally where you end up is you snook it eventually. And so what I really see when I look at those things is very encouraging because it maps exactly to what our customers are telling us.

And when they see the technology, they also confirm that this is exactly solving the problem that we really have, which is we want all of these things but we’re not hyperscalers. We don’t run around providing infrastructure. We have a business to run. We have real applications to build. We have real things that we want to present and serve to our customers. Our job is not to reboot computers and run around making things upgraded. That’s not what we do. And I don’t want to pay for thousands or hundreds of people to do that. And the offset function of even doing it at a small scale is perhaps satisfied by hyperconverge, but you get to some level of scale, a minimal level of scale, and there’s really no answer. So we see market movements too from some of the big players providing professional services and wrapping cloud with essentially a service offering where you consume the infrastructure as opposed to buy it.

And that’s also not an answer, in my opinion. It may be an answer for some, and that’s good for them. But for the whole market, it’s not an answer. It’s equally expensive. It’s equally fragile. And you are ultimately displacing control and ownership of your cloud to a third party. So you’re not consuming it on your own terms on your turf and truly owning that cloud. And that’s also a problem. So here we get back to someone needs to produce a technology that enables people to truly do this. It’s really a technology that liberates people into their own clouds.

Steven Dickens: If I’m summarizing there, you’d see those converged offerings and those Outposts and satellites as a confirmation of demand, but they’re version one or maybe even version two solutions. And you see SoftIron and HyperCloud as version threes and fours of the same trend.

Phil Straw: Yeah. I could agree to that. Yeah. Where those solutions are truly a match for the customer, that’s great. We are not here to fight the world. If that’s truly a solution for certain people, that’s great. But I think I pretty much have confirmed at this point that there is a wider market that’s not served, and that’s an indication of a demand.

Steven Dickens: Mm-hmm. So as we’re starting to think about wrapping up here, Phil, what are the key takeaways? Maybe summarize what are those maybe top three takeaways that we should be thinking about here. If people were only to watch this segment and somebody in your social media team might splice it up, what would be those three takeaways?

Phil Straw: I would say that clouds need to be a thing that are consumable and available for people on their own terms on their own turf. And that’s not possible today because all clouds are composed from discrete technologies, and then you have to live with that. So without hyperscale, you’re not really free. You don’t take it on your own terms. You take it on someone else’s terms. And that’s only going to be enabled by technology, and that’s the basis of HyperCloud. That’s the first point.

I think the second point is that people are using public clouds where it’s not necessarily the best answer given that there’s a thing like HyperCloud or something that can solve the problem technologically. So they use it because they can consume it. They know it’s super expensive. They know it’s not on their own terms, and they know they’re locked in. But they use it because it’s convenient and they can consume it, which brings us back to the first point I mentioned.

And then the third thing is it’s about time in industry that someone acted. We’ve lived with public cloud and private cloud technologies that are inadequate for about 15 years. And we’re building clouds from things that are 15 years old, discrete computers, discrete networking and discrete storage. And I think we can do better as a tech industry. And it’s about time that someone moved, and it’s an industry classic Silicon Valley classic that you rearrange all the rules. You create multiple billions of dollars of value. You enable channels and armies of people to serve customers better, again, on their own terms with a technology. And so launching HyperCloud is a culmination of 10 years of private work that has been a passion that has been driven by tens of millions of dollars of founder financing because, frankly, industry that we have in tech is not even capable of manifesting something like this through normal financing channels.

It’s a heroic effort. Now, I’d like to sort of thank publicly the team at SoftIron for the things that they’ve done, the stubbornness that they’ve had. If I were in charge of the marketing department, I would say our strap line as a company would be the most stubborn computer company in the world. And the reason that we’re doing that is to get out there with this technology, change all of the rules, create all of that value, but ultimately serve people that don’t have the tools where they can truly own it themselves. And that’s the change.

Steven Dickens: And I think something as disruptive as this, people are going to want to know more. They’re going to want to find out more. I think the stubbornness and opinionated view that you guys are bringing to market, those are probably negative words, but I understand why in this case they’re positive. Where can people find out more?

Phil Straw: You can go to our website, softiron.com, or you can just call us. Get in touch with us through all the normal methods. We’re friendly and house-trained. And we actually are doing this to try and help people, to get out there and show people a different way. And it is different, and so that’s a change. That’s often a thing that requires conversations and communications and clarity. So just call us. We love to talk to people.

Steven Dickens: And, Phil, this has been a fantastic conversation. I see you guys genuinely at an inflection point in where the industry is. I think there’s a lot of lead indicators that are saying that the industry’s looking for this type of technology from the exposure that I’ve had. I think you’re taking a very, I won’t say stubborn, I’ll say opinionated for you around how to solve the problem. And I think that’s a very good thing. So thank you for joining us. It’s been great chatting. I don’t think this is going to be the last time we talk, hopefully. I think there’s going to be many more updates to watch the success. So thanks for joining us on the show, Phil.

Phil Straw: ‘Til I see you again, thanks a lot. Thanks for having me.

Steven Dickens: Thanks a lot.

 

 

About the Author

Steven Dickens is Vice President of Sales and Business Development and Senior Analyst at Futurum Research. Operating at the crossroads of technology and disruption, Steven engages with the world’s largest technology brands exploring new operating models and how they drive innovation and competitive edge for the enterprise.  Read Full Bio.