Skyport CEO On Disrupting Nutanix, VMware And Palo Alto Networks With Its 'Software-Defined Data Center In A Box'

Data Center Disruption

Skyport Systems is set to grow sales by more than 300 percent in 2017 year as businesses are displacing competitors with the startup's cloud-managed hyper-converged infrastructure platform.

Leading the data center disruption for the Mountain View, Calif.-based startup is Art Gilliland, who spent a decade as a top executive for Hewlett Packard and Symantec before joining Skyport in 2015. Skyport SkySecure is a secure hyper-converged system that runs and protects businesses-critical applications. The offering fully integrates hardware, software and services components to simplify the assembly, deployment and operations needed to manage servers.

In an interview with CRN, Gilliland talks about how his startup will disrupt vendors like VMware and Nutanix, as well as Skyport's 100 percent channel strategy. "When a channel partner brings us into an account, they will get 20 percent of the revenue from the customer for the rest of that customer's license," he said.

What is Skyport's strategy to disrupt the data center market?

Customers want [data center solutions] to look and feel like cloud. So when you buy a server or a hyper-converged solution today, not only do you buy the server, but you then deploy the software to manage that server. You buy VMware and put VMware on the server, and then you deploy the server. Then you deploy the management service of VMware called vCenter. And if you want security, you buy a firewall or virtual firewall. Then you buy the management software for that firewall. What we said was, 'That's crazy.' In the future, customers are just going to want to have the infrastructure and they're going to want all that service – just like at Amazon -- where you don’t deploy anything. You essentially log into the user interface, click a couple of buttons to tell it what configuration or services you want and they just exist. That's what we built with our cloud management service. Essentially, we're that software-defined data center in a box that is completely managed by the cloud.

Who are your main competitors?

The IT budget [spent on Skyport] comes from segmentation firewalls. If you acquire our product, you're not buying segmentation firewalls – firewalls that isolate or micro-segment the workloads you're trying to run. Because we're a compute platform, you also don’t need compute or storage elements of it. So you would see replacement of hyper-converged players, you'd see a replacement of the physical server and virtualization player.

So would you replace a Palo Alto Networks?

We have displaced some of that stuff. It's really about saying, 'I was going to buy a bunch of these firewalls or virtual firewalls to segment-up these applications, but if I use Skyport, I don’t need to do that. So I could use that budget here.' It's a combination of firewalls and the infrastructure compute because you don’t need those two [separately]. So it could be a Palo Alto Networks, a VMware and a Nutanix -- we would basically combine all those three capabilities into one system.

Can you give a real use case where you've displaced a competitor?

Because we have security embedded, one of the application types that people use us for are what they would call their critical IT infrastructure tools -- things like Active Directory or DNS -- those types of tools that have to connect to everything but are very difficult to protect, secure and isolate. So when you're going to re-platform Active Directory, you are looking for a physical server, or in this case, it was a converged server because the customer was a Nutanix customer. They were going to put firewalls around it. Instead of buying those servers, then deploying and managing all the security and creating encryption and all of that stuff, the customer bought our systems and re-platformed those applications. In this case, it was Active Directory and DNS in their 35 locations essentially using our technology and managing that entire landscape with one interface. So they have 35 different locations. They use our platform to centrally manage all of those different locations and ensure that special applications have the same policy and same infrastructure in all those locations.

Can you give us an example of a use case where you've replaced multiple competitors?

This major global manufacturing company had a bunch of manufacturing sites connect to region hubs, what I would call micro-data centers. So those regional data centers connect all the way back to their main corporate data centers. This company has gone through a transformation starting at the beginning of this year, where about 15 percent of their applications have moved to Amazon. So their core data centers, while they still host about 40,000 applications that connect to these regional hubs, they're also now connecting regional hubs into Amazon. That networking challenge, that segmentation challenge, is very difficult for them. What they have been doing over time is replacing HP infrastructure, VMware, Palo Alto [Networks] in those branches and re-platforming those branches on Skyport.

So what did Skyport provide to this global manufacturer that made it leave HP, VMware and Palo Alto Networks?

What they can do now with us is host those applications and tightly control what network connection each of the applications have. They can route the Amazon-connected apps to Amazon. They can route the core data center applications only to the core data center, and they can remotely manage all of these sites from a single infrastructure, a single interface through our cloud platform. So they are not having to VPN-connect into their South African site or their Brazilian site anymore because they can do that through the cloud.

If I'm a channel partner, why should I start selling Skyport?

Two big reasons why channel partners should love to sell Skyport. First, we are a 100 percent channel company. We don’t sell direct. We only sell through partners, so they never need to worry about a deal being taken.

From a financial perspective, when a channel partner brings us into an account, they will get 20 percent of the revenue from the customer for the rest of that customer's license. We sell a subscription service. The more you sell, the larger that revenue steam becomes and you're not having to resell it every year. Once it's in, you're just collecting the stream of revenue and able to build capabilities around it.

What type of customers are buying Skyport?

Companies that are between 2,500 employees and 10,000 employees. They tend to be very hybrid cloud-oriented, meaning they not only have their own data center but are using Amazon or Azure because that connectivity between those two is a sweet spot for us. These customers are security-minded, but they typically have distributed locations. They not only have their core data centers, but have multiple locations they have to be able to span across. So that remote management is the real key for them.

What does sales growth look like in 2017?

We've been selling for two years. Our growth this year is going to be above 300 percent. We've more than doubled our customer base. But the thing that's really important is that existing customers are expanding on Skyport. So not only are we growing customers, but our existing customers are also expanding significantly.

How does Skyport differentiate on security?

Security is really hot today. In our case, there's two things important around security. One is, if you're going to be cloud-managed, you have to actually be able to prove both sides of that connection are valid and clean. So you can't be cloud-managed without having a real understanding of how to do that level of security and secure connection. That's where a lot of our intellectual property is. Then because you have that trust, you can add a lot more functionality in security around the workloads. That level of security that we have at the edge is going to be critical in making the edge successful in the future.

Talk about security at the edge.

You're going to be distributing these systems all over the place, so you're not going to have enough human resources in all these locations to build everything. A couple things need to happen: You need to be able to ship them everywhere, you plug them in and give them power. Then that system needs to prove that it is who it says it is. So part of the Intel technology we use is some of their authentication chips that are built in to the server. That server can then measure itself and tell you that it is exactly what you expect it to be. We use that technology to communicate to the cloud system, and through some pretty fancy crypto technology, the cloud service can prove that you are connecting to the right service. So now what you have is a verified and secure connection between the server and the service that is driven by a lot of technologies we've integrated with Intel … You don't have to have anybody locally doing that.

How are customers using Skyport on the edge?

One is in remote locations. So [we provide] true edge compute that is either consolidating data from manufacturing sites or helping to do analytics closer to where the data is being collected. That's one way, this IoT edge.

The other way customers are using it is to re-platform their DMZs. The DMZ is built with a bunch of messiness and pretty old in most places. We give customers a platform for virtualizing and modernizing their DMZ. Part of the way we do that is there's no management plane, that's all in the cloud – so you don’t have to harden VMWare vCenter or harden any of the management infrastructure to be able to run outside the firewalls. We basically have inside each box a logical 40-GbE firewall, so you don’t need segmentation firewalls, external firewalls – the server itself protects itself and protects the workloads.