The Goliath of Big Data Meets Its David
Entrepreneur's New Year’s Guide
For many businesses in 2012, Big Data is a fact of life. The phrase has infiltrated our conversations for a reason: the increasing complexity of the world, and the increasing sophistication of our methods for analyzing it, are yielding enormous amounts of information. The challenge has become how to manage these extremely large data sets, on the order of hundreds of gigabytes or more, in a cost-effective way.
The founders of a new Silicon Valley business-to-business startup, Peaxy, think they have the answer. By eliminating dependence on a certain brand of hardware or generation of server, Francesco Lacapra, 63, and Manuel Terranova, 42, intend to to free client data from individual silos -- groups of servers that isolate information sets from each other. (Related: The Biggest Trends in Business for 2013.)
By allowing the data to mingle freely in a single "namespace" composed of many servers, they say, you can glean insights from multiple blocks of data. Terranova gives the example of car manufacturers that need to marry proprietary engineering data with customer feedback in order to build accurate predictive models for vehicle maintenance problems.
Lacapra is masterminding the Peaxy architecture as a veteran of infrastructure and data storage companies such as Olivetti, Quantum and BlueArc. Fresh off a $2.5 million seed round, the co-founders discussed their early-stage venture. An edited version of our conversation follows.
Entrepreneur: What's your vision for Peaxy?
Terranova: Both of us are absolutely determined to build something that will leave a lasting infrastructure in the world of data storage. Fundamentally we're talking about highly distributed file storage and data management. Data management is where we're going to want to go over the long term.
Entrepreneur: What is the pressing problem that your architecture solves?
Lacapra: If you buy one of the products from one of the large companies, they can give you a box, or a bigger box, or a bigger box, but what you end up with is a bunch of different boxes that you have to manage individually. With our system, you can just add more and more to the same pool of devices as you go, and you still manage the system as a single entity, even though it is made of many pieces, which can grow and increase their size as you grow. You have the ability to grow indefinitely.
Entrepreneur: What sort of pain point does your product address for businesses?
Terranova: When you talk to the CIOs and CTOs and chief architects of Fortune 100 companies, you realize their storage dilemma is primitive. They're firefighting; these are people who are trying to move large pieces of data just so that they can run their companies. That's a classic problem that we heard over and over and over again. That's a problem the Peaxy architecture can solve -- with thousands of nodes that aggregate data under a single namespace.
Entrepreneur: What are your funding and revenue model like?
Terranova: We want to buy ourselves at least another 90 days before locking ourselves into a revenue model. Building this company is like the gestation cycle of a baby elephant. This is a two-year process. It takes time to do it right. It takes time to convince a Fortune 500 company to trust you with its data. And we wanted investors who understood that. We want to build a lasting legacy for the industry. You don't celebrate the raising of money as a startup. You celebrate the quality of investors you were able to bring in.
Lacapra: We are not offering a service. We are offering a technology and product that can provide those services for you.
Entrepreneur: What are some challenges you're facing?
Terranova: Turning our technology into a product is a huge challenge. Our architecture is broad, and determining what features to put into the product from day one is a difficult decision. Technology is one thing, but commercializing it in a way that gets it mostly right is a different matter entirely.
Entrepreneur: When will your product launch?
Terranova: No later than the first half of 2014. The early mover advantage closes at that point. We want to beat that, but that point for us is the must-do. So you conclude you have to have the beta release by May or June of next year. And to do that, you need to have the alpha release by mid-January 2013.
Entrepreneur: What do you have up and running now?
Terranova: The pre-alpha version is running. We have a 32-node cluster running in our lab, and we do industry-standard benchmark tests off of that cluster, and we give potential customers the published results of those tests. And we are seeing an order of magnitude better performance [than current industry-standard products].
Entrepreneur: What does Big Data mean for the world?
Terranova: We are just at the beginning of this revolution. It's going to take years of storage and data management for people to realize its magnitude.