StrongBox Data Solutions: Turning Data Into Business Assets
Floyd Christofferson, SVP - Products
Most companies believe that storing data is like stacking books on a shelf. For those with the crude digital mindset, the significant volumes of data that are continually generated are also a burden to manage, and remain a cost center. However, data is the lifeblood of every organization. The problem of how to reduce the costs of storing, finding, and exploiting the data so as to convert it from a mere cost center into assets with concrete value.
StrongBox Data Solutions (SBDS), a worldwide leader in big data solutions, helps enterprises make the quantum leap to take the pain out of data management. It combines storage resource management with intelligent data management in solutions that harness Machine Learning and Cognitive Computing in their holistic solutions.
The Montreal-based company always wanted to provide more than storage solutions. “Over many years of working with customers we saw that the storage industry’s solution to data management was primarily to sell more storage. I was a part of that industry too and was motivated to offer storage-centric solutions to data management problems. But customers didn’t want simply a more efficient silo to park their data,” says Floyd Christofferson, Senior VP of Products at StrongBox Data Solutions. “What our customers consistently told us is they need a data-centric approach, with which they can manage data throughout its lifecycle across any storage type, while also reducing complexity, risk, and costs,” says Christofferson.
The top management of the company, including CEO David Cerf, had previously been focused on the archive/curation market with StrongBox—a data archiving solution purpose-built to simplify low cost active archive storage. For years customers in large data environments across multiple industries around the world have trusted on StrongBox to securely and simply manage archived data.
But a common theme emerged among these large data environments, which made clear that simply coming up with better ways to store data was not what customers were looking for. They needed a scalable, simple solution to manage both the data and the storage resources the data is housed on throughout its lifecycle.
In 2016, SBDS acquired the StrongBox product business from Crossroads Systems, which opened a new chapter for the company, enabling it to address those common themes. Since then, SBDS introduced a revolutionary product called StrongLink, a cognitive data management solution that provides a vendor-neutral platform to dramatically simplify both data and global storage resource management for all types of data, across any storage type, from any vendor.
StrongLink leverages the power of metadata to automatically classify all data on any storage type. This enables policy-based data management across otherwise incompatible storage types and locations, including cloud storage.
StrongLink, the flagship product of SBDS, provides IT administrators a way to de-risk and simplify their storage infrastructure choices by giving them the power to select any storage type they need as part of a policy-based global namespace. This means data can be automatically placed on the storage that makes the most sense based upon both cost and performance requirements, without causing interruption to users or creating incompatible data silos.
In most cases, 70-80 percent of the data housed on typical primary storage silos has not been accessed in three months or longer. As data volumes increase, this problem only intensifies as expensive storage is used to house data that would be better stored on lower cost platforms.
StrongLink is an end-to-end solution for data life-cycle management and storage resource management
IT administrators are faced with the dilemma of deciding whether to keep the data where it is, even if the costs are high, or moving older data to different classes of storage, and dealing with the interruption to user access.
Typical storage-centric solutions available in the market try to address this problem with gateway products, or other techniques such as HSM (hierarchical storage management) solutions. The problem is that these typically lock IT architects into a particular file system or vendor.
SBDS’s solutions, on the other hand, understand that data is dynamic. Data will always outlast storage and purchasing more storage is only a short-term fix to the problem. “That is where StrongLink comes in. By aggregating metadata into the machine learning policy engine, users see all their data on any storage type as a persistent Global Namespace,” explains Christofferson. “This is a data-centric approach that enables IT administrators to optimize their infrastructure so that data is seamlessly migrated according to its life cycle, use cases, and performance requirements without users even knowing it has moved. It is the only solution in the market that leverages machine learning to enable both data and storage resource management in a unified platform that is free from vendor lock in,” says Christofferson.
The key is StrongLink’s ability to aggregate multiple types of metadata, or information, about the data into a normalized environment. This auto data classification automates workflows and virtualizes the underlying storage resources, allowing users to globally search for data no matter where it is stored. It enables IT administrators the freedom to choose the best storage type from any vendor to meet the performance or cost profiles for a given use case without worrying about needing to shift users or applications to another platform. Storage vendors offer storage as a solution to solve data management problems. And then digital asset management solutions are focused on specific data, but are vertically specific and are typically unable to manage data placement across storage silos. StrongLink unifies both these approaches, leveraging the intelligence of data itself through metadata to both manage the data as well as the storage resources needed to house it throughout its lifecycle.
SBDS has worked with many life sciences companies over the years with their StrongBox active archive solution. Customers such as the Wistar Institute in Philadelphia, Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute in California, the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in Massachusetts, the Medical Research Council in the UK, and others have been using StrongBox for years to protect and archive their research data, and significantly reduce their storage costs. Indeed, it was the input from these customers, and those of other verticals, that helped drive the design of the StrongLink data and storage management solution.
"Customers are not looking for a better storage bucket but want to simplify protection and exploitation of the data"
“In hindsight, it is clear that the storage industry has not been listening to the real problems their customers are facing,” says Christofferson. “Customers are not looking for a better storage bucket, per se, but really want to simplify protection and exploitation of the data, to know where to find it, and to have a solution that allows them the freedom to choose whichever storage platforms they need without worrying about disrupting user access or adding complexity.”
SBDS serves small and large businesses across 17 countries in Europe, Asia-Pac, and the Americas. “We deal with some of the most massive data environments on the planet.
Half of Hollywood, sports institutions especially baseball, government entities, and manufacturing companies, museums which store heritage data, oil and gas players, all of them trust us with their data,” says Christofferson. “It is our mission to ensure that they have the tools to make the best choices for how to manage it."
StrongLink is an end-to-end solution for data life-cycle management and storage resource management. It provides an abstraction layer between users and the physical storage devices that house their data, so changes to storage infrastructure have zero impact to user or application access. StrongLink can automatically migrate data from one storage type to another, or to the cloud without changing how users access their data. In addition, the system has versioning for data and metadata, as well as robust data protection and data provenance capabilities including full audit trails and point-in-time roll back for files, and file systems. In many cases, customers can eliminate conventional backup applications as a result.
Users and applications can access their data exactly like they do today, but instead of reading from a device with StrongLink they are accessing the data in a virtualized Global Namespace. But in addition, users can add their own metadata to files, to assist in project management and automated workflows. The system makes it simple for users to search for their data across all storage types in a single operation.
All the top team members of SBDS spent many years in the data industry before joining the company. Christofferson himself spent 25 years in the sector, in content management and data storage, and explains that the entire company is focused on bringing the best of these experiences to their customers.
The company follows four key principles to deliver the best value for the customer. The first principle is to let the customer or client remain in control of the data. Hence, none of the data or metadata is trapped in any form of proprietary format or vendor lock-in. The second principle is to build their platform in open architecture based on the public standards. This includes providing an open API access to all StrongLink functionality through direct application interfaces. Customers can access and share data and metadata without being troubled by any form of proprietary technology.
The third principle is to be able to deploy solutions to complement existing users and applications without impacting current user workflow. Data migration is inevitable, and should not affect user productivity. The fourth and the last principle is to deliver higher value to customers by lowering costs. SBDS’ archiving product StrongBox is well known and well received in the market for providing low-cost and high performance archiving solution. StrongBox Archive is purpose-built for open standard LTFS, and provides the economics of tape with the simplicity of a “drag and drop” filer.
StrongBox has also forged an impressive sales and marketing tie-up with Fujifilm Corporation, through their U.S. Dternity Division. The marketing and data tape recording company joined hands with SBDS to sell StrongBox alongside their Dternity Media Cloud, as a complete long-term data preservation solution.
Going ahead, Christofferson says that using a cognitive approach to data and storage resource management will enable customers take advantage of machine learning capabilities of the system. Enterprises will be looking for newer and innovative ways of deriving business value from their data, thus opening avenues for SBDS to expand its footprint.
Christofferson predicts that this trend will continue to grow significantly. “Machine learning within StrongLink can now leverage otherwise incompatible metadata types to derive knowledge from user data, enabling predictive analytics, trend analysis for storage utilization, to detect for anomalies and outliers in user or system behavior. Over time, machine-learning capabilities can be expanded to enable higher order correlations. Users will be able to start making discoveries out of their data with these correlations that would otherwise be impossible,” he summarizes.