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The Birth of Wasabi Hot Storage: First Year in Review

Those of you following my blog already know that Jeff Flowers and I founded five companies together, including Wasabi, since 1980—all of them reasonably successful. It’s the dream of every entrepreneur to create something of lasting value that somehow changes the world for the better. In that regard I am more excited about Wasabi than any of our previous companies. Even Carbonite, where we created over 1500 jobs and recovered millions of lost business records, family photos, and countless other irreplaceable files, seems like a niche compared with the potential of Wasabi.

Fundamentally, Wasabi is changing the way people think about storage and it is starting to unleash a wave of innovation. Any time the price of something drops by almost an order of magnitude, all kinds of things become possible that were unthinkable before. Take Internet access as a recent example. It wasn’t long ago that I accessed the Internet using AOL dial-up. It was so slow that you could sit and watch for a minute or more while a simple JPEG appeared line by line on the screen. Who would have imagined that a decade later nearly every home would be watching high-definition movies over the Internet? Services like Netflix and Amazon were unimaginable in the beginning.

The amount of data that we need to store has grown 50 times in the last 10 years and is projected to grow another 50 to 100 times in the next 10. With billions of connected devices like cell phones, watches, thermostats, cars, jet engines, surveillance cameras—and even your fridge, all generating a constant stream of data, the demand for cheap, fast, reliable storage seems to lie at the core of everything. Like electricity or Internet bandwidth, storage has to end up as a standardized utility that underpins and enables nearly every innovation in information technology.

Dave Friend and Jeff Flowers

How We Got Started

Back in 2015, my genius longtime business partner Jeff Flowers came to me with an idea for a new storage architecture that he thought could provide far superior price and performance to anything that had come before. With a team of engineers, many of whom had been with us through several ventures, Jeff developed what is now Wasabi—a radical and bold new approach to storage.

Most programmers never have to think about how bits are physically written to a disk drive. They simply hand that task off to Windows, Linux, MacOS, or some other operating system. To achieve the price and performance advantages of Wasabi, Jeff’s team had to learn how to grab hold of the heads on those disk drives and place the bits on disk according to the algorithms they had developed, not just conform to the way Linux, Windows or others would do it.

The results have been spectacular: cloud storage that is 1/5th the price of first-generation cloud storage like Amazon Web Services S3, Microsoft Azure Blob, or Google Cloud Storage—and six times faster. All while achieving 11 nines of durability and a time-to-first-byte (TTFB) of less than 15 ms, which is 10 times faster than Amazon’s TTFB specification.

The May 2017 Launch

Launching a new company is a team effort. My job as CEO has focused on putting the right team together and making sure that they have the financial resources to do their jobs effectively. I believe that the best predictor of future success is past success. For Wasabi, I wanted to hit the ground running with a management team full of experienced professionals, all of whom had to have stellar track records in other successful startups. We don’t have time for on-the-job training. When you’re up against Amazon, Google, and Microsoft, you need an A-team. With our track record of prior successes, we were lucky enough to be able to recruit such a team.

Soon the world will know about Wasabi hot storage

We launched Wasabi hot storage in May of 2017, expecting that a couple dozen companies would give us a test drive in the first month or two. Within a couple of weeks, we blew past 200 companies and had to deploy additional capacity just to keep up.

At first there was a certain amount of understandable skepticism around our price and speed claims, but we posted the scripts for our performance test suites on Github and encouraged people to run the tests themselves, which many did. With our reputations as successful serial entrepreneurs, we have had little trouble raising capital to support our growth. And the numbers have been up and right every week since launch. The platform has performed flawlessly. As an engineer myself, I am in awe of what Jeff’s team has created.

A Product that Requires Little Explanation

If you know what S3 is, you know what Wasabi is. It doesn’t require much explanation because Amazon’s already done a great job of educating the market. This has made the sales job pretty simple. Every day someone is thinking about moving their data to the cloud. If they know about us and our price/performance advantage, they have to consider us. As one early customer said about Wasabi, “It’s like somebody offers you a round-trip plane ticket to Paris for $100. How can you refuse?”

By making Wasabi 100% plug-compatible with Amazon S3, we achieve two things: 1) if you know how to use S3, you know how to use Wasabi, so we don’t have to educate anyone; and 2) we promote the idea of standards and fight the vendor lock-in that customers so despise.

Early Findings and Insights

One interesting discovery has been that our early customers are far more likely to be switching from in-house storage to Wasabi than migrating storage from another, more expensive cloud storage like Amazon. As I have written in another blog, the total cost of in-house storage is roughly the same as the two to three cents per GB per month that Amazon charges for S3. So that might explain why the vast majority of all data is still stored in-house. However, that might be starting to change because going from in-house storage to Wasabi can chop 80% of storage costs. You can store a petabyte of data with Wasabi for less than just the maintenance on a petabyte of Dell-EMC storage gear, for example.

Team Wasabi wins the Future Unicorn Award at MIT’s Start-up Spotlight Event

Another interesting finding is that as the price of storage drops, people no longer bother trying to clean up their storage – it’s not worth the time and effort. To me, this signals that the amount of stored data in the world might explode even faster than the experts predict. Furthermore, we’re seeing data being stored that otherwise would have been immediately discarded. Customers say that they might find that data to be useful someday for analytics, and as the price of storage drops by 80% or more, the decision swings in favor of keeping everything.

What’s Coming in 2018

First off, we’re building additional data centers and enabling geographic replication. As I write this, we’re finishing up our West Coast data center build-out in Portland, Oregon. Once this goes live, our customers on the west coast will have faster uploads and downloads and less latency. And those customers who require multiple copies of their data stored in different geographies will be able to have automatic replication and failover between our Oregon and Virginia data centers.

We are currently scouting locations in Europe and expect to be live there in late Q1. We’re getting ready for GDPR! And speaking of standards, we just got CJIS certification (for police and other law enforcement uses) and our HIPAA certification will be announced in the coming weeks. Medical imaging will be a great market for us.

Secondly, since Wasabi is just raw storage, solving the problems of our customers means more partnerships with application vendors. We’ve certified over 100 products, ranging from file-sharing apps to video content management systems to backup and disaster recovery solutions. Ideally, any product that needs to store data in the cloud should work with Wasabi. During 2018, you’ll see a steady stream of partnerships with a wide range of SaaS vendors and service providers. Our focus will continue to be on ways to make Wasabi more accessible, easier to use, and even higher performance.

Our Brand: What We Stand For

We are 100% committed to being the lowest-cost, highest-performance cloud storage vendor. Wasabi is dedicated to always being the best choice for cloud storage. Nobody will be faster or cheaper or more reliable. That’s our commitment to the marketplace.

Not a Bad First Year!

We recently had our second Wasabi holiday party. Even though Jeff is from Georgia and can still put on the good ol’ boy accent, he lives in what is probably the most white-shoe old Yankee town in New England—Marblehead. We had a great time there at the yacht club, looking out over the picturesque harbor. It gave me an opportunity to reflect on the incredible contributions of each Wasabi team member, from the brilliant engineers who created hot storage to the marketing people who get the word out, the sales folks who help our customers get started, and the ops team that keeps the data centers humming. And of course, thanks to the thousands of users who are already on the Wasabi bandwagon. We’re so excited about what the new year will bring, and wish you all the best in your business ventures.

 

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