VMware's Scott Davis vMotions to a virtualization storage startup

In this Q&A, VMware's former EUC CTO Scott Davis says why he left the virtualization giant for a CTO position with a virtualization storage startup.

Scott Davis' reign as CTO of VMware's end user computing group ended in January following a management upheaval, and now more change has come with a return to his former title, at a company on the opposite coast.  

Davis had remained with VMware as a strategic advisor but left the virtualization giant this week for Infinio Systems, Inc., a Cambridge, Massachusetts-based storage acceleration startup that launched its first beta last year. The company's Infinio Accelerator, recognized as a finalist for best new technology at VMworld 2013, is a virtual appliance that uses server memory to reduce I/O traffic burdens on central storage, and prevent storage bottlenecks that plague VMware virtualized data centers.

In this Q&A with SearchServerVirtualization, Davis answers questions about the recent executive shakeup at VMware, his new found home with a budding company, and how he plans to deliver virtualized IT shops from their network attached storage bottleneck problems.

You spent the better part of a decade at VMware, working in recent years to grow its end user computing division (EUC). This year the company actually impressed people with Horizon 6, and the AirWatch acquisition. Why leave at a time when VMware EUC has hit its stride?

Davis: I spent the past four years as CTO of end user computing, and when I joined it was … in the $20-30 million range. Over my tenure, with innovations and strategies, we grew it tenfold. I had started thinking of what to do next, and when they brought in the new management team, a new GM, it was a good time for me to do something else. …

Scott Davis Scott Davis

I've been involved with a mix of startups and I was the founder of Virtual Iron -- which became the basis of Oracle VM. So I was looking for something new and interesting, and was intrigued with startups again. There is a lot of innovation going on.

I could have founded something new, but I wanted to join somebody that had a disruptive technology, a version 1 product in the jumpstart phase, and found Infinio. I'm intrigued by what they have, and that's why I've made this change.

The sudden move out of the CTO role at VMware came as a surprise to a lot of people, and some speculated that you were pushed out due to personality conflicts with Sanjay Poonen. What's the real deal with Kit Colbert taking over as VMware's EUC CTO?

Davis: Sanjay came in as the new GM -- he was actually the fifth GM during my tenure as EUC CTO -- and we talked things over. We get along fine, no personality conflict. When I stepped down as CTO, I continued to do special projects for Sanjay -- I drove the Google relationship around DaaS, which we had worked on for years.

I wanted to join somebody that had a disruptive technology…that's why I've made this change.
Scott DavisCTO, Infinio

There's no animosity. There is a whole new team in EUC now, and Sanjay has certainly executed on the big acquisition of AirWatch for VMware. There isn't much more to say.

You said it was time for a change, but you are in a CTO role once again, only for a different company – one with a product that competes with VMware's View Storage Accelerator.

Davis: There are a lot of differences there, so I wouldn't call it a competitor. I was the original inventor of the View Storage Accelerator; I hold the patent. It is a de-dupe cache, but it is a static cache – you have to build a manifest of your image, and it's used explicitly for one problem; VDI boot storms. Infinio is a dynamic, distributed cache, which may not sound like a big difference, but the difference is actually huge.

Infinio isn’t just for VDI; it accelerates a variety of different workloads, and does so dynamically. So we don’t consider View Storage Accelerator a competing technology, though I can see why you'd ask that.

As for me [being in another CTO role], it is my natural skillset -- I've been CTO of many things.

Infinio is a startup with this one virtualization storage product. How is it different -- and better -- than storage accelerators already available [from companies including Avere Systems and PernixData]?

Davis: One of the things that attracted me to Infinio isn't technology at all; it is their business model. What I've learned from VMware and other companies is you need to make it really easy to consume your products. Infinio is a pioneer in what I call software-defined storage services, which is all about delivering software that is not disruptive.

There is a sea change that's happening in the storage industry -- there are a ton of startups out there; it has become very crowded. Whether talking about all-flash arrays, converged infrastructure, hybrid arrays or server-side acceleration -- what almost all of them do is disrupt your environment, because you are buying something new and have to migrate your data and workloads to the new hardware, and you have to modify your operational procedures to use that new hardware.

Infinio is just a piece of software that you install, and if you dare you can even install it live -- not that I'd recommend that, but it's fun to talk about. And it's not a new data store -- it can be easily added to an existing workload for acceleration.

The other cool aspect is the distributed content aware de-dupe engine…it dynamically identifies common content and delivers it, using small amounts of memory.

Going back to your analogy earlier about View Storage Accelerator, used for boot storms on a single ESX server, picture that style of technology run dynamically and being cluster-wide. Some of our early customers are having great results using Infinio with VDI.

People commonly undersize VDI storage … and the proof of concept will work fine. But it will stall when they roll it out, users will complain, there will be issues due to boot storms. …When Infinio's software is added to the hardware, end users get a better experience. 

How do you expect this technology to change the way people buy and consume storage in their virtualized data centers?

Davis: Using server side resources -- computer-side operating systems, virtualization -- has always been about applying abundant resources to solve the bottlenecks of scarce resources. By applying memory, which is in abundance in the virtualized world, we are able to solve the storage performance problem. …

What I see going forward here is the ability to seamlessly, as a service, apply server memory to solve storage problems. You'll see us adapt this engine and apply it to broader storage platforms and broader workloads, and to other things than just storage acceleration. Things like de-dupe, data encryption and various cloud technologies. For cloud to advance, particularly hybrid clouds in data centers, there needs to be efficient mechanisms to access data associated with the allocations.

So expect us to advance into various areas using our core technology. …

Infinio is venture-backed, so the company's path is either an IPO or acquisition. … Scott, VMware could one day acquire Infinio. You could come full circle.

Davis: [Laughs. Does not comment].

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