Hang around the Qumulo office long enough, and you’ll certainly see someone whizzing by on a Razor scooter. The two-wheelers are spread throughout the 16th floor of the Century Square building in downtown Seattle, existing in part to help employees move about the office more efficiently.
“We installed an interior circuit of painted concrete,” said Qumulo CEO Peter Godman. “It’s a way of encouraging people to move further afield.”
Moving fast is symbolic of Qumulo itself, from the way the enterprise data storage startup iterates its software every two weeks, to the amount of funding it has raised in just three years of existence.
Qumulo today announced a $40 million Series B round led by Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, which pushes total funding past $67 million. The 90-person startup has spent the last three years in super stealth mode, but Godman revealed a bit more about the company’s DNA in an interview with GeekWire.
At its core, Qumulo has a mission “to be the company the world trusts to store, manage, and curate its data forever.” Its software not only gives customers a place to put their data, but also offers a top-down view of how, why, and where that information exists.
Godman explained how large companies doing everything from decoding genomes to building computer chips are using and storing more data than ever. To organize and secure that information, the easy solution is to simply buy more and more storage — a nice trend for storage vendors, but not so much for customers spending thousands of dollars each time their data capacity maxes out.
“One by one, every company in the world is going to confront this onslaught of stuff that, by default, they don’t throw away,” Godman said. “That’s a big problem.”
Qumulo aims to not only provide a way to store data, but to actually help companies understand where the consumption of resources is coming from and learn why, in fact, so much data exists in the first place.
“Think of it like an electricity meter,” Godman said. “It’s one thing to know how much electricity a building is consuming, but it’s another thing to know how that breaks down between offices, data centers, and so forth.”
Rather than just purchasing more storage, Qumulo also helps its customers figure out what to do when they’ve maxed out on data capacity. Godman used another analogy of someone who has run out of space on his or her laptop and spends hours figuring out what unneeded programs or files can be removed.
“This is labor intensive and complicated,” he said. “Imagine that laptop scenario and multiply the complexity and pain by 1,000 — that is the large-scale file storage consumer scenario.”
Godman met his fellow co-founders, CTO Aaron Passey and VP of Engineering Neal Fachan, at Seattle-based storage startup Isilon Systems more than a decade ago. The engineers ended up being the primary inventors of several Isilon products, and all shared a passion for building data storage technologies.
Before EMC acquired Isilon for $2.25 billion in 2010, Godman, Passey, and Fachan had already left and gone their separate ways. But two years later, the former colleagues reunited to form Qumulo. At the time, the founders didn’t even know exactly what to build, but knew there was a data storage problem that needed a solution.
“The company wasn’t based on a founder vision for the perfect technology,” Godman said. “It was based on a founder vision about how to figure out what the right thing was to build.”
Even without a clear idea of what it would eventually create, Qumulo managed to raise a $2.3 million seed round in April 2012. The company spent the next 18 months conducting extensive market research with end users of data storage. It was during this time when Qumulo realized that while data storage problems were being solved, there was another issue arising. These companies had what Godman called a “data scalability problem.”
For example, they started asking questions like, “What was my data like six months ago?” or, “What data do I need to back up?” or, “What is driving my data growth?”
“The question of what’s inside that data starts becoming a much, much bigger question than the question of what you’re containing the data in,” Godman explained. “The problem of how to actually manage hundreds of trillions of digital assets is a bigger problem now.”
With a concrete business plan, Qumulo quietly raised another $24.5 million in November 2012. It used that funding to grow its team and build new technology that could help companies mange their data footprints with software that ran entirely against commodity hardware.
“The future of storage is really in software,” Godman said. “The trick is to make software work really, really well against the kind of hardware you’ll see in all these different operating environments. That’s what we ended up building.”
Qumulo has yet to officially “launch” to the public, but has offered its product to a select group of customers for the past five months with a “really positive initial response and a flawless operational track record,” Godman noted. That convinced the company to raise more money, hence the $40 million round announced today which the company said serves as “validation.”
“We’re pretty much hitting the gas on our go-to-market efforts,” Godman said.
Godman credits the initial success in part to his team’s ability to update its software not once a year, not once every six months, but rather once every two weeks. This strategy helps tighten the interaction and feedback loops with customers and addresses concerns as fast as possible.
It’s a different approach to the typical development cycles that many traditional tech companies follow.
“People say the old way of building software is like artillery — you choose all the angles, fire a shell, and wait 15 seconds to see if it worked or not,” Godman explained. “Our idea is to build heat-seeking missiles where you can course-correct every two weeks along the way. You can do a much better job of hitting your target.”
Godman said that Qumulo does not have much direct competition. He did note DataGravity, a startup founded by the entrepreneurs behind EqualLogic, which launched less than a year ago. But while DataGravity is focused on small-to-medium-sized businesses, Qumulo has customers with “very, very large numbers of files and a very large footprint,” Godman said.
As far as competing with EMC Isilon, Godman said there is certainly overlap with two companies involved with storing large amounts of data.
“But we are a company taking on a new problem with completely new technology,” he added. “We look much more like a software-as-a-service company versus a traditional infrastructure company. We have an emphasis on very rapid iteration and tight integration with our customer base.”
The $40 million Series B round also included participation from existing investors Highland Capital, Madrona Venture Group and Valhalla Partners. Madrona was also one of the earliest investors in Isilon.
Qumulo also announced that Sujal Patel, founder of Isilon, has joined the company’s board, along with KPCB Partner Wen Hsieh and Madrona’s Managing Director Matt McIlwain, who also sat on Isilon’s board up until its sale to EMC.
“We’re excited to have led the investment in Qumulo’s latest financing,” Hsieh said in a statement. “When you combine this level of experience, talent and technology, you get a very disruptive outcome that will re-shape the future of enterprise data storage.”
With a rock-solid team in place and more than $60 million in funding to work with, Godman and his executive team — many of whom have worked in Seattle for decades — are bullish about the opportunities for Qumulo.
“Matt McIlwain always says that Seattle has two of the top seven technology companies in the country,” Godman said. “More than anything, we’d like to make that three of the top eight.”