ClearSky aims to break the speed barrier for cloud storage

August 25, 2015, 4:01 AM UTC
ClearSky founders Lazarus Vekiarides and Ellen Rubin.

Cloud storage is great for holding onto data that isn’t needed for fast, interactive applications. But for jobs that need near-instantaneous data access, the lag time incurred in moving data to and from a distant site—whether it’s a public cloud or a plain old data center—has proven a huge obstacle.

Boston startup ClearSky Data thinks it can solve that problem with its proposed Global Storage Network that will tier customer storage, putting key critical information close to the customer’s key applications, less critical data at a “point of presence” site within about 120 miles, and less time-sensitive archival data at the least expensive public cloud provider of the customer’s choosing. Initially, it is supporting Amazon Web Services S3 cloud service, but will support other public clouds down the road.

“We’re putting front-end edge cache that sits wherever their apps are. It handles the security, is highly available and integrates with VMware (VMW),” ClearSky co-founder and CEO Ellen Rubin told Fortune. Typically, hot data is the 10% or so of corporate information that needs to be constantly and quickly available for updates, queries and reports.

ClearSky is applying the Akamai (AKAM) approach to data storage, Rubin said. “We’re using the Akamai model with the goal of having less than 2 milliseconds of latency from points of presence,” she said.

Akamai is a pioneer in content delivery networks, or CDNs, that make internet experiences much faster and more palatable by putting popular content close to likely users. That way you don’t have to wait 30 minutes for your Netflix movie to stream from some site 10,000 miles away. Because as magical as technology can seem it cannot break the laws of physics, and if the content you want is in China, well, you’re going to have to wait a good long time for it. The same logic applies to your Word documents or inventory reports.

ClearSky’s managed service would handle what data goes where and ensure security on a per-gigabyte-per-month fee basis.

ClearSky is starting out with data center capacity in Boston, Philadelphia and Las Vegas and a new co-location deal with Digital Realty Trust to expand its presence in the U.S. It plans to expand in Europe next year.

ClearSky itself will manage that network so that IT staff needn’t worry about where their data is, Rubin said. They also can be assured that the data’s life cycle is being managed securely.

In a prior life, Rubin co-founded CloudSwitch, a highly-regarded cloud appliance startup that was acquired by Verizon (VZ) in 2011. ClearSky co-founder and CTO Lazarus Vekiarides is a veteran from EqualLogic, a pioneering storage startup that Dell bought for $1.4 billion in 2007.

Rubin said the service will compete with the NetApps(NTAP), EMCs(EMC) and Pure Storages of the world by parlaying commodity hardware, public cloud economics and its own software smarts for managing the life cycle of the data and provisioning the networking and other resources as needed.

For IT shops that don’t want to buy and manage a ton of local storage arrays or the gateways needed to move storage from on-premises to the cloud, this could be an attractive pitch if it works as advertised.

“People have been trying to do this for years but the reason it hasn’t worked is that networks weren’t fast enough to handle latency for transactional storage,” said Steve Duplessie, senior analyst for Enterprise Strategy Group. Now companies like ClearSky, that don’t have an expensive hardware legacy to protect, can use commodity hardware and layer software for redundancy and management atop that.

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