Futuriom Q&A: Mohit Aron

Mohit Aron 2

By: R. Scott Raynovich

Mohit Aron has become one of Silicon Valley's stars. As they say: Once you're lucky, twice you're good. One could argue that Aron is working on number three of his success stories -- first as an early employee at Google, second as the Co-Founder and CTO of hyperconverged (HCI) infrastructure pioneer Nutanix (NTNX), and now as the Founder and CEO of Cohesity, a maturing startup that has cracked a new market for webscale infrastructure for secondary storage. 

Aron, who holds a PhD in computer science from Rice University, left Nutanix before its Initial Public Offering (IPO) in 2013 to start Cohesity, when he suspected that secondary storage could be adapted to a similar software-based, "scale out" model, which has driven the model for HCI, which integrates servers and storage in cloud infrastructure. The HCI market is growing fast and is being pursued by many players such as Cisco (CSCO), Dell EMC, Nutanix, and HPE (HPE). Cohesity is looking to do what Nutanix did for HCI in secondary storage. 

The secondary storage market is where enterprises store non-production data -- which can include backup, archiving, DevOps, and analytics data. Some believe that this storage market is even larger than the market for storage market. IDC estimates the market size for secondary storage to be about around $20 billion. The market is also highly fragmented and filled with a mixture of legacy technologies, making it prime for disruption. Cohesity is expanding its approach, with the announcement that it will also handle file and object storage

Cohesity has backed up its hype with some numbers. The San Jose, Calif.-based company announced sales growth of 600 percent in 2017, with hundreds of enterprise customers on the books. Top named customers include Alliance Health, CVENT, Manhattan Associates, AutoNation, UCSB, and XO Communications, among others. 

Recently, Futuriom founder and Principal Analyst R. Scott Raynovich sat down with Aron in Cohesity's new San Jose headquarters for the Futuriom Q&A. Read on to find out how secondary storage may be the next place to become hyperconverged. 

Futuriom: Cohesity is focusing on virtualizing secondary storage, which seems a natural progression from your background in hyperconverence. How did you discover it before anybody else?

Aron: I’ve been on this journey since I did Nutanix. Nutanix looked at the data center and asked, why does it have to be this complex? Compute, networking, and storage was all in silos. That was the primary storage solution. You say, what else is there that is in data center?  Well there is everything that’s non-production. It’s all fragmented. You have to buy everything from a different vendor. Can’t we consolidate everything?

I draw the analogy to the smartphone. You used to carry around a flashlight, calculator, e.t.c. Now it's all in a smartphone. If you apply the same concept in secondary storage you could have success. 

The problem is when you bring multiple silos into one platform. This one platform has to be very scaleable. It has to scale like Google. There aren't that many companies that have done that. 

Futuriom: So why are you one of the few startups looking at this problem?

Aron: Secondary storage is unsexy. [It's hard to get] somebody from Stanford to work on something that’s boring and unsexy. Even though it’s a big market, people don’t automatically [get interested] in this. It’s the poor backup admin. That’s why the problems are more acute. Also, VCs [venture capitalists] had already burned their fingers trying to build a scaleable solution with Nutanix copycats. And the VCs were scared everything was going to the cloud.

That all turned out to be wrong. We’re embracing on-prem [on-premises infrastructure] and the cloud. The notion that that it's on-prem or in the cloud, it’s wrong. Just like in the real world you need houses and rentals. There is value for both. The best products bring the best of both worlds. From that notion, there’s the philosophy of bringing the best of both worlds. 

The VCs [venture capitalists] didn’t put money into other companies for these reasons. If I were a VC I would not fund other companies to compete with us. 

Futuriom: Your new COO, Rob Salmon, says the market is even bigger than he originally thought.  

Aron: Yes. He was an early guy at NetApp [NTAP], a very successful company. From [the beginning] of NetApp, there weren't many incumbents, storage was new. In several years it became a billion-dollar company. At NetApp, within years of selling, he didn’t see the kind of logos [customers] that we are seeing. He didn’t see people bringing in million-dollar deals. Even at Nutanix, in the first two years we didn’t see this kind of business. We didn’t have this many big customers. We had smaller mid-market customers. We didn’t have two of the biggest banks in the world looking at us. Every quarter we have 40 percent growth in the customer base. That’s why he thinks the opportunity is much bigger. Data grows exponentially each year and we need better ways to manage the data. 

Sometimes boring is very big. Then boring becomes sexy. 

Futuriom: So when a company is growing this fast, what’s the most difficult part of managing this growth? 

Aron: Every company has its own story. The quality of the people is always a concern. We’ve grown 40% since September. [Editor's note: This interview took place in January.] We’re north of 300 people now, approaching 400 — at that rate making sure the people coming in are high quality is very important. Great people are always in high demand. They are kept happy elsewhere. Our success is because of our people. The second big challenge is to assimilate them, to tell them what the culture is. We need to let them know how we operate, to train them. That is a challenge. 

Other things that keep me up at night -- every company and product has a time window. If you don’t leverage that window, it closes for you. I think about what am I going to think about in six months and say, "Why didn’t I think of that six months earlier? Should I be hiring somebody now?" Those are the challenges. Minimizing the mistakes. 

Futuriom: What are the core elements of your culture?

Aron: Everybody needs to understand your core values. There are some companies where there are 20 core values, but we have fewer so that you can remember. It's RADIO. That is "R" for  respect. "A" for attitude -- keeping a positive attitude. "D" is for deliver. "I" is for integrity -- I don’t tolerate politics and backstabbing. "O" is obsession — our customer obsession. 

We also have some other guidelines — be humble and keep learning. 

Futuriom: What adjacent market do you see Cohesity going into? What’s the next phase of integrating storage and virtualization?

Aron: In my mind, the data center has become very complex. It needs to be consolidated. You shouldn't be the jack of all trades. You should be master of one at a time. Try to be the best at one thing, then move on to being the best at the next thing. The first thing we were best at was data protection. Then we have some on the rest. The next adjacency is file and object storage. It’s yet another silo. That’s an adjacency. [Futuriom recently wrote about Cohesity's launch in file and object storage.]

Why is your backup infrastructure just sitting there as an insurance policy? Why don’t we do more with it? How does it make sense to spend billions on an backup infrastructure, and then have analytics and other silos into the side? You can pull in file services and object storage. They might do that in a silo. Why not consolidate that on one data protection system? We say, cut down on the cost of the insurance. 

Futuriom: Nutanix was a nice run. Do you still stay in touch with your teammates there? 

Aron: We are partners with them. There is a lot of momentum. The whole problem is with the whole data center. There is a natural partnership. We displaced legacy solutions that are just silos.

Futuriom: Thanks for your time.

Aron: Thank you!