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May 3, 2021

Cohesity Plots Data Biz Expansion from a Backup Base

Alex Woodie

(Joe Techapanupreeda/Shutterstock)

Cohesity, ostensibly, is a backup and recovery company. That was the first flag planted by its CEO, Mohit Aron. But that’s just a starting point, as the company, which was recently valued at $3.7 billion, has its sights set on expanding its offerings into the wide open expanses of hybrid data management. Where it will end up, however, is anybody’s guess.

Aron founded Cohesity in 2013 to address the data silo problem that was beginning to impact enterprises. The company had a specific term for it, according to Chris Wiborg, Cohesity’s vice president of product marketing: “mass data fragmentation.”

“This is where you’ve data in the data centers, but increasingly you have it at the edge,” he says. “You also have it increasingly in clouds. And so how do you effectively get your arms around all that and address some of the challenges in managing that large volume of data.”

Once you have visibility into the data, the most obvious business solution to build is backup and recovery, Wiborg says. The company has 2,300 customers, most of whom use Cohesity to back up anywhere from a few terabytes to petabytes worth of data residing in every system imaginable: relational databases, ERP systems, NoSQL databases, Hadoop, SaaS applications, and desktop productivity apps.

“So we’re best known for, and lucky enough to be a leader in the Gartner Magic Quadrant, for backup and recovery,” Wiborg says. “But we don’t stop there. That’s act one, if you will.”

The Platform Play

With its Helios platform, Cohesity competes against a host of other vendors in the global backup and recovery market, which will be worth about $12 billion in 2022, according to Markets and Markets, including Veritas NetBackup, Dell EMC Avamar, Rubrik, and Veeam, among others.

According to Wiborg, Helios is differentiated through features like its high compression and data de-duplication rate, as well as “instant NAS restore” functionality, which allows a customers’ file system to be restored nearly instantaneously. The ransomware epidemic is helping to drive interest in backup and recovery, he says.

Cohesity can offer features like instant NAS restore largely because it built its offerings atop a distributed file and object storage system, called SpanFS, Wiborg says. The SpanFS file system, which speaks S3, NFS, and CIFS, gives Cohesity a platform upon which it can take its offerings in new directions.

The trouble with trying to market the distributed file/object system is that nobody really wants to buy a platform, Wiborg says.

“That’s what makes my job interesting,” he tells Datanami. “You have a platform, but nobody buys a platform. They buy solutions to problems. We think we can take a lot of those problems that show up today in the form of various workloads–data protection, file and object services, disaster recovery, security, and analytics–and you can bring them together in this platform that helps you manage your data across them.”

Cohesity leads with backup and recovery, but it’s branching into adjacent areas, such as security (with its ransomware offering) and regulatory compliance. Does an auditor need to know exactly what data you had stored at 2 a.m. CDT on Tuesday, October 3, 2017? Cohesity’s archival functions can tell you.

The company also offers a marketplace for third party software providers to sit atop the company’s platform. This gives Cohesity the ability to backup data from legacy systems, like IBM System z mainframes.

And as a result of its strategic collaboration with Amazon Web Services announced in late 2020, Cohesity is now giving customers to option to store data backups directly in AWS S3. That can not only be used as a way to migrate data to the cloud, but it gives customers the opportunity to take advantage of all of the AI and analytics services that AWS offers. The fact that Amazon.com took an undisclosed stake in the company last year reflects the interest that the e-commerce giant has in Cohesity.

The Future

The SpanFS file system is the company’s “secret sauce,” as it underlies all of its solutions, which are available as software subscriptions for on-prem servers, in the cloud, or as a managed service. Customers can also access the file system directly and use it to serve data to production applications, such as its radiology services customer that uses it to store radiology images, or the customers with large contact centers who store audio recordings of telephone calls using SpanFS.

Cohesity CEO and founder Mohit Aron

However, don’t expect Cohesity to become a general-purpose distributed file or object storage system any time soon.

“We don’t want to be in the arms race to have the best IOPs number. There are people who are really good at that,” Wiborg says. “We’re not going after cheap-and-deep stuff, like the object guys do. They’re all about, how can I shave pennies off the storage that you have in huge, high volumes. We’re really trying to hit that middle market between the high performance and the cheap-and-deep options, where there’s a huge opportunity.”

Some customers will understand the value in Cohesity’s underlying architecture and see its use for other data solutions, but that’s also not a guarantee and it’s no way to generate interest. Instead, the company is banking on providing clear and easy to use solutions to well-understood problems, like backup. Only when the company has experienced enough customer success will having an underlying architecture provide the “escape velocity” to break out of the backup and recovery market, Wiborg says.

“In some ways, think of backup as a great way to get your arms around the data that’s out there that you own,” Wiborg says. “The question is once you start to amass that center of gravity, what else can you do with it?”

To understand where Cohesity will go in the future, it’s worth taking a look at what its founder did in the past. Before founding Cohesity, Aron was the co-founder and CTO at Nutanix, where he was given the nickname “father of hyper-converged infrastructure.” Prior to that, Aron was at Google, where he was a lead developer on the Google File System.

With that kind of technological background, it seems unlikely that Aron will be content with peddling around the backup and recovery market forever. Just as Google parlayed a drop-dead simple user interface for a straightforward concept–Web search–into a trillion-dollar data behemoth, it seems like there is a path for Cohesity to morph its position in backup and recovery into something more.

The big question, of course, is what that will be. Wiborg hinted at some possible directions that Cohesity will soon be announcing–Managed ransomware services?  Automated data discovery?–– but would provide no specifics.

“There are a lot of folks [who] don’t even know what they have,” Wiborg says. “Stay tuned as a platform and where we go in helping them with that problem.”

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