Nexenta: The Next Steps

What do you do with a problem like Nexenta?

Nexenta. Some of you will remember this company from two years ago. It was the darling of Silicon Valley, the fastest growing storage start-up since NetApp. It could boast double and triple-digit year-on-year growth. And so on. So, what happened?

Two years ago, you could not walk into a conference, VMUG, or other tech meeting without being aware of Nexenta’s presence, but now it seems to have all but disappeared. This is a company that has a very good product and an excellent value proposition. It offers ubiquitous storage at a reasonable cost and with good performance. It has no hardware lock-in and provides very easy performance and capacity upgrades. And it evokes no worries about reaching a capacity peak and having to completely replace your array with a bigger and better model; just keep growing it, and replace your controller head. This is easy, because the servers are only standard x86 servers.

Nexenta’s disappearance seems to have coincided with the departure of its CMO, Bill Roth. After this, the company has seemed to distance itself from the virtualization community, at least in Europe. It has ceased showing at and attending VMUGs, for instance. This could simply mean that it has decided its focus should be in another direction, perhaps big data, but I see no evidence of its participation in conferences and seminars that are focused in that direction.

Nexenta still appears to be a well-funded company, having received $24m in Series D funding in the spring of 2013, which bought in interim CEO Mark Lockareff. At the same time, incumbent CEO Evan Powell moved to the position of CSO (Chief Strategy Officer), and  this could have caused a power split. Powell had been CEO for a long time, since Nexenta was founded, and the company no longer seemed to have any direction, a ship without a rudder, so to speak.

So, fast forward to September of 2013, when yet again there was a change of CEO, from Lockareff to Tarkan Maner.  This time, Powell left the company. Hopefully Tarkan can start to make an impact on the board and on Nexenta’s future direction.

There is no argument: Evan Powell did a good job as CEO. He was at the helm for the bounty years, including several triple-digit growth years, and he moved Nexenta quickly up the storage hierarchy. However, by 2012 the slowdown was starting to become apparent, there was an increase in customer dissatisfaction, and the service support team did not ramp up quickly enough to handle the massive growth in supported arrays. Further, delays in bug resolution laid additional pressure on a stretched team, which was focused on a major rewrite of the core NexentaStor OS, migrating from OpenSolaris to Illumos.

So, what can Maner focus on to resolve these issues and return the company to its former position? Here is a list that I think would go a long way toward achieving that:

  • Focus on getting Nexenta Core 4.0 general availability.
  • Get the SRA for VMware SRM out the door. This is very important to enterprises for their disaster recovery plans and another tick in the box for vendor approvals.
  • Once those two are sorted out, then move to product improvements.
  • Get a six-month minor release cycle running, make small but regular improvements, and read up on DevOps.
  • Reopen a dialog with the community and bloggers; they are some of your greatest assets.
  • Get your support teams fully staffed and trained up, and become more focused on customer satisfaction. It really isn’t all about sales.
  • Storage is a growth business. NexentaStor is a class product, and Nexenta Systems can again become very relevant in this space. Its offering is compelling enough, and when the support matrix is in place, it really should sell itself. It has a ready and willing reseller network. However, do not just rely on your OEM deals. Remember, they often have other storage offerings that are much more lucrative to their shareholders and investors.
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