Destroy to create: How one CEO innovates in object storage, open source


While VMworld 2016 is now in the rearview mirror, some major partnership announcements emerged from within the conference halls. One such announcement partnered cloud and object storage company Scality, Inc. with hosting and Internet infrastructure provider OVH. This new go-to-market team-up will provide enterprises large and small a solution to handle large-scale storage needs.

This partnership is just latest in a string of pioneering ventures at Scality since it opened its doors in 2008. To explore the company’s impressive growth and market strategies, SiliconANGLE recently spoke to Jérôme Lecat, CEO of Scality.

Storage solutions, value proposition and open source

Q: Scality was the first time you’d managed a company seeing five-times growth on an annual basis. Tell us about that.

Lecat: We’re an enterprise software company that allows customers to create a storage cloud for public service, consumer service or SaaS service, as well as private cloud. The kind of technology is object storage; the properties of object storage is that it’s extremely scalable. Many customers store videos, documents, images, emails … billions of pieces of data. Tens of billions — scalable.

We started because we saw that Google was using this ability to store so much data to provide links to users, that more people would want to do this, and enterprise IT would follow consumer IT. We’ve now got over 100 customers, a really good presence in Japan (10-person office there), and sell to top telecom providers, as well as some of the largest banks in the world. We’ve raised a total of $93 million since inception.

Q: How are you different from the competition?

Lecat: We’re very focused on serving the needs of the enterprise. We support in-house systems and leverage what they’re using. We provide much better performance, because from day one we decided that, although object storage is one of the cheapest options, it must perform.

Q: Server in a container — how is this a unique opportunity for the open-source community? What are some use cases?

Lecat: Open sourcing is really interesting — the ability to put your creation out there to add, comment or criticize. I always struggle with open source in the fact that to finance such a level of innovation you need a revenue stream. This is very difficult with open source.

There is an option to provide services around maintenance, but this feels weird. We finally found a way to reconcile this and launched a product that’s both awesome and doesn’t kill the revenue stream. Scality is good for large scale, but we didn’t have anything for small scale. So, we produced a really good small-scale product, taking all the learnings from the previous six years, and made it open source.

What’s fascinating is how people interact with it. Things move much faster … and it allows you to innovate much faster. I don’t think that the economic viability has been complete solved yet.

Opportunities for innovation

Q: Where are you seeing/anticipating fresh opportunities for innovation?

Lecat: So many places — definitely applying machine learning. I see a lot of potential in how this is going to change the way we work. For example, today’s doctors are focused on diagnosis and finding the cure. This will soon be better done by machines. I’m invested in a company doing this, for cancer, for example. But there’s still a role for the doctor — to have a relationship with the patient and ensure they change their lifestyle to address the illness. Many are self-inflicted by lifestyle.

Same for the teacher — the one who has the knowledge. Now everyone has the knowledge (access to Google). The teacher will structure and transmit the knowledge. Not that they’re going away, but that their role is changing.

There’s another area where I see tremendous innovation — the food chain. There will soon be 10 billion humans on earth; some 20 percent face hunger. I think we will fix this in the next 20 years — raising farming of flies; they make larvae, and we can process that and make food to feed fish. And fish feed humans. This process is much more efficient in terms of the food chain than are cows.

The next big problem is housing. 3D printing will be able to provide cheap housing in remote places.

All this will be such a big change. It will change relationships between people and how we relate to work. One thing I get frustrated with in Silicon Valley is not enough people thinking about these problems — there is a lack of thinking for what we can do in society. People should be thinking about making people feel useful in society. When people stop feeling useful, they do bad things.

Q: What is the current landscape for investment and funding in open-source cloud?

Lecat: What Docker is doing — you really wonder why this wasn’t invented 20 years ago. We now have made Docker our standard distribution for software. I definitely see Docker playing a bigger role in cloud. We see disruption in the hypervisor market. Not sure VMware is as much an advisory as it was in the pre-Docker world.

Everything is moving toward open source because people want more control.

The creative process

Q: What’s your creative process for innovating and market disruption?

Lecat: Don’t be attached to any specific idea. Really be open to being wrong. In technology and art, to know what’s been done before. Intuition. Seeing that something’s possible, and in doing it, not being attached to an idea, especially the first idea. Be able to destroy to create.

Specifically in technology, one thing that’s changed over the past 10 years is the forefront of technology is in the consumer Internet than the enterprise. The first wave was led by military usage (Census Bureau); the second wave led by the enterprise (created the database as we know it); but the current wave is led by Google, Facebook, Amazon, smart phones with cameras — it forced the development of new technology.

As part of this creative process, knowing that something’s possible drives this. For us, when we started in 2008, we could see Google had done something no one had done before. From this knowledge, with hard work and a process where you’re not attached to your ideas, you can get to the creative process.

Q: What is one important way computing can save humanity?

Lecat: I don’t think that computing can save humanity. I do think that several technologies together, including computing, but also 3D printing, advances in gene therapy and renewable energies, will make our lives much better and could eradicate hunger in the world.

But, we need every human to feel full, or satisfied in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, to allow our aggressiveness to be sublimated and express itself in a way that is different than oppressing or killing other humans.

Q: What is the most surprising or unexpected way you use the cloud for work or otherwise?

Lecat: I use a handheld security beacon when I go kitesurfing, which allows me to give alerts and share my exact position anywhere in the world!

photo credit: Cubo azul via photopin (license)