Avere Systems CEO views data storage from the cloud | Crain's Pittsburgh

Avere Systems CEO views data storage from the cloud

Data-storage company Avere Systems has joined Amazon Web Services as a participant in its Public Sector Partner Program.  

The partnership recognizes Avere’s ability to provide and support cloud computing services for government, education and nonprofit organizations including NASA, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Library of Congress, says Ron Bianchini, CEO and co-founder of Avere Systems.

It also affirms the company's role in the ever-shifting enterprise data storage industry, Bianchini says. For the last eight years, Avere, which operates out of a warehouse on Pittsburgh's North Side and employs 110, has captured the attention of the computer-storage industry, generating headlines in trade publications and a buzz in Silicon Valley.

But this most recent acknowledgment comes during a period of upheaval and layoffs in the computer storage industry. For instance, California-based NetApp just announced another round of layoffs. Avere's Bianchini recently talked to Crain's Pittsburgh about the company work and recent trends in enterprise data storage.

What does it mean that Avere is a partner in the new AWS program?

Being nominated to the partner program is recognition of the work we’ve done in the past and what we want to accomplish going forward. For our government customers like NASA Ames [Research Center], we have helped them in their transition to the cloud. This research division collects a lot of scientific data, most of which has been kept in their facilities. Avere has made it easier for NASA to move a portion of this data to the AWS cloud.

More and more companies are paying for computing resources and storage on demand from tech giants like Amazon and Microsoft, which has resulted in massive layoffs for data storage companies like NetApp. How does Avere stay nimble and in the game?

Business decisions today are being made more and more with data to back up those decisions. Companies, large and small, are dealing with this. Building a data center to house all that data is very expensive. Companies can’t afford to do that. More and more are looking for cloud solutions that give them the ability to scale up resources, analyze large amounts of data and power it all down.

Companies are also concerned about keeping their proprietary data off-site, but they want it to be readily available. One of our customers, Teradyne, is an example that shows how we work with companies to move data very slowly to the cloud, in a hybrid fashion. For smaller companies, like our entertainment client Eight VFX that makes television commercials using cloud resources, we provide the scale of the cloud at a price they can afford.

The entertainment business is a niche. Avere has worked with special-effects production studios on many Hollywood films in recent years. 

Entertainment is a great business for us because the work they do is project based. We give companies the ability to move massive amounts of data back and forth from the cloud and turn it off when they don’t need to save money and provide agility. By using our cloud-bursting capability, they only pay for what they use.

You’ve received some other lofty accolades recently.

We have. One of the things we’re proudest of is Google named us Technology Partner of the Year 2015 because of the work we’ve been doing in helping our enterprise companies to adopt the cloud.

Some more big news is we now offer support for the Microsoft Azure cloud. We already work with Amazon AWS and Google Cloud Platform. Our intent is to give our customers access to the cloud of their choice.

Don’t these companies – Amazon, Google, Microsoft – compete against one another for cloud clients? Does it create a conflict when you help these competing entities to access their respective clouds?

We don't care which cloud they adopt. Companies need to go with the best deal they can get. We want to be Switzerland. We encourage our customers to go to our cloud providers and strike the best deal that they can.

These are tumultuous times for enterprise cloud storage companies.  Avere continues to thrive.  

The big thing we did differently here at Avere was we listened to our customers. In the beginning, it was all about the transition from “flash.” We’ve continued to listen to the customer, and we kept hearing that the cloud was coming. By 2014, we knew companies would have to shift to the cloud. It was all about a pivot to the cloud. I think what you’ll find among traditional data center customers is their ability to pivot to the cloud will determine how well the company does. They will have to focus on that and make that transition well. That’s the lesson that I’ve learned in listening to customers. At first, it was all about flash; then it was all about the cloud. There are serious concerns regarding availability and security that will have to be resolved. There are solutions to each, but nothing that 100 percent alleviates the concerns.

How safe is the cloud?

I do think it’s safe if done the right way. We’ve seen as many security breaches in corporate America as we have in the cloud. Cloud engineers have taken it seriously from the get-go. There’s a high level of encryption. Many enterprises are getting caught flat-footed because they’ve realized that there are so many ways to break in. Physical security is not enough.

What risk do companies face from hackers here and abroad?

When Avere stores data in the cloud, it’s at a very high level of encryption. If someone breaks in, all they’d see are opaque tokens, a term for the encrypted gibberish. They’d need access to the keys to understand what they’re seeing. We spend a lot of time on key management. The only way a hacker can turn this gibberish into something useful is to have the keys to unlock it.

Do you recommend storage in the cloud for personal use?

We hear a lot about the hacking of celebrity accounts. I relate that back to the way commercial businesses should be handling security. The cloud is as secure as the key management. As long as a password is secure, the information is secure. That’s how you maintain the security of your information in the cloud.

What do you tell your children about passwords?

I tell them to change them frequently. Don’t use dictionary words. Don’t share them with anyone. Multiple words strung together that don’t mean anything are the best. I also recommend using a password management system that works the same way as our customers’ key management systems. Use a personal password management system.

December 6, 2016 - 10:31pm