A Q&A with StrataCloud CEO Brian Cohen. The Atlanta-based startup, which offers enterprises a unified IT infrastructure management solution, announced a couple of weeks ago that it has raised $2 million in Seed funding from investors Hallett Capital and BLH Venture Partners. The company was founded earlier this year after the team acquired the assets of Reflex Systems.
SUB: Please describe StrataCloud and your primary innovation.
Cohen: StrataCloud provides a unified infrastructure management solution for virtual, converged and cloud environments. Our primary innovation is through our data-driven architecture, which delivers a single, granular view of operations with the situational intelligence required to optimize our customers’ IT infrastructures. It simplifies and automates infrastructure management, allowing customers to make intelligent, validated decisions that speed deployment, optimize performance, right-size capacity, and increase IT productivity.
SUB: Who are your target markets and users?
Cohen: We currently sell to mid- and large-sized enterprises. Within the enterprise organizations we typically work with IT and datacenter operations. We have also had success selling to service providers who specialize in IaaS (Infrastructure-as-a-Service) and hosting services based on VMware.
For our Virtualization Management Center product line specifically, we also target organizations with as few as 30 VMware hosts all the way up to customers with a few thousand hosts, and for our Converged Infrastructure Management solution, we work with companies that are implementing specific converged infrastructure solutions or are looking to create tighter convergence with the systems they have in place.
SUB: Who do you consider to be your competition, and what differentiates StrataCloud from the competition?
Cohen: We have two different markets that we play in, each with their own sets of competitors.
First is our VMC (Virtualization Management Center) offering, which addresses virtual infrastructure management of VMware infrastructure. We typically compete with VMware vCenter Operations Manager, and to a lesser extent with VMTurbo. What distinguishes us from others is that VMC is built on StrataCloud’s unified, data-centric architecture, which provides the most granular and accurate visibility into what’s happening across customers’ virtual infrastructures, and the situational intelligence to manage it as a unified system.
Our Converged Infrastructure Management solution addresses those companies that have implemented converged infrastructure and want to speed deployment and manage the infrastructure in a unified way. Converged infrastructure management is still an emerging market, with no clear competitors. One of our key attributes that buyers will find attractive is that we have built our solution to be platform and hardware agnostic, offering customers more flexibility and no vendor lock in.
SUB: You just announced that you’ve raised $2 million in Seed funding. Why was this a particularly good time to raise funding?
Cohen: Our VMC product is generally available and in production with 40-plus customers worldwide. We wanted to accelerate our investment in sales and marketing to drive revenue and grow market share.
Our Converged Infrastructure Management solution supports converged infrastructure, which is a rapidly-emerging market. Gartner projects that the converged infrastructure market will reach $6 billion by end-of-year.
SUB: How do you plan to use the funds, and do you have plans to seek additional outside funding in the near future?
Cohen: We will be using the additional funds to accelerate sales and marketing and to fill out the team with key hires in all areas. We plan to raise additional capital in 2015.
SUB: What was the inspiration behind the idea for StrataCloud? Was there an ‘aha’ moment, or was the idea more gradual in developing?
Cohen: During the past year, customers have expressed interest in implementing a Software Defined Data Center (SDDC). The concept of SDDC allows use of generic hardware to fulfill application and user-specific requirements, dynamically provisioning the data center for each task.
The concept is compelling, but there are no robust management tools, which is an essential ingredient in realizing SDDC’s potential. We devised a platform from which organizations can define their IT requirements through applications and then dynamically provision the infrastructure to support them—that’s the glue that holds SDDC together. We first saw this as we watched our VMware customers benefit from a subset of this type of platform and realized that extending it to support all infrastructure, including servers, storage, networking, and hypervisors, was what was really needed.
SUB: What were the first steps you took in establishing the company?
Cohen: StrataCloud is a focused recap of an existing business. We kept what was working for the business, including engineering and the company’s high value customers, and placed more emphasis on sales and marketing, which required more attention. We built out the team with new leadership and we made sure that everyone was aligned with our mission and goals.
SUB: How did you come up with the name? What is the story or meaning behind it?
Cohen: When coming up with our company name, it was important to include our employees as part of the process. We also wanted to ensure that the brand would reflect our vision moving forward. Our company history was rooted in managing the virtual layer of our customers’ infrastructures, but along the way we have continued to see our customers’ needs continue to evolve and mature.
The enterprise is moving toward a model for IT in which all elements of an organization’s infrastructure, including networking, storage, compute, and security, are delivered as a service. Oversight of these components requires a deep understanding of virtualization management and the ability to extend that knowledge to the management of new and different infrastructure. It’s in this area of converged infrastructure management where StrataCloud sees its future—managing all of the layers of infrastructure. The ‘strata’ in our name represents these layers of infrastructure.
SUB: What have the most significant challenges been so far to building the company?
Cohen: First, we made sure that everyone is on the same page to maximize teamwork and results. It is vital that everyone is speaking the same language. We must also have clearly-established roles and responsibilities so that everyone understands how they depend on others and set expectations accordingly.
SUB: How do you generate revenue or plan to generate revenue?
Cohen: We are working with our customers to identify areas for expansion of our existing footprint within their organizations. For new business, we sell direct and are also rolling out a program to leverage channel and alliance partners as distribution points for their customer ecosystems. To support our selling efforts we are aggressively ramping our lead generation programs to increase awareness and drive sales.
SUB: What are your goals for StrataCloud over the next year or so?
Cohen: We have several goals as we look forward. First, we want to multiply our customer base by 10x and build a partner network. We are also planning to deploy our Converged Infrastructure Management solution to potential customers. And finally, we are seeking to close a significant funding round that will help us further capitalize on the momentum that we are building.