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December 08, 2008

This is an exclusive interview by BackupReview.info
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http://www.casdex.com

with Mr. David Barley, CTO of Casdex, Inc.

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Photo: David Barley

1/ Please give us some background information about your company, such as how it was founded, by whom, how long have you been around, where your headquarters are, how many branch offices you have, etc.

Founded in 2006, Casdex has offices in Thousand Oaks, CA and Palo Alto, CA.  We are also actively working to open offices in the NY area and Norway.

Having come from the enterprise space, we understood the need for compliance archive systems to meet various industry and government regulations.  If you’re a large shop with considerable IT experience, offerings from EMC and NetApp make sense – but where do smaller firms turn?  Hence, Casdex: we seek to offer a service-based platform that enables firms of all sizes to easily meet their compliance and general archive requirements.

2/ Is your customer base primarily in the US, or is there a significant international presence as well?

While our focus to-date has been the US market, Casdex has begun to actively engage in customer acquisitions in the EU.  As with any firm moving into new markets, we are ever mindful of the importance of maintaining the highest levels of customer satisfaction and data safety while we pursue new markets and regions.

3/ How many employees do you have and how big is your R&D department?

Casdex is a 20-person firm, with roughly half of our staff focused on R&D directly.

4/ What are your top selling account packages, and why are they enjoying so much success?

Our base service offering has continued to be successful.  For many of our users, it amounts to simple piece of mind.  Their data is stored in an easy-to-use system that enables compliance and ready access to data.

We have begun to break into a number of larger firms with our scanning/digitization services.  Paper records are everywhere, and while there are plenty of firms that will simply “scan” in your documents, what do you do with them afterwards?  Digitization combined with our Casdex Archive platform allows these larger firms to reduce their reliance on paper, speeding up data access and freeing valuable space in offices and warehouses.

5/ What makes your company and its service different from others?

You can purchase hardware-based platforms from EMC or NetApp, and even smaller firms such as Nexsan; but all you get is a hardware platform – you still need software and an IT staff to implement, manage and service your archive.  Casdex is an all-in-one approach.

6/ One of the biggest concerns of online backup users is data security and privacy. How have you addressed those issues?

Our Casdex Archiver platform was designed to meet the strictest compliance regulations in the industry.  Of utmost concern for certain regulations, such as HIPPA, is privacy.  All access to your archive is controlled with usernames/passwords.  As also should be expected, all communications channels are SSL encrypted.

Data security is of paramount concern for any storage platform, especially an archive that is intended for long-term preservation of records.  Security has two faces:  on one hand, a good security measure must prevent unauthorized access to your data, but must also provide ready access for authorized users.  At Casdex, we ensure anytime access to your data through a network of data centers.

7/ How has the online backup business evolved in the past few years, and how do you see it further evolving?

Over the past several years, online services in general have exploded.  Online backup providers have become quite common and provide a much-needed service to the market.

Let’s be honest: at the end of the day, backup and recovery systems lack sexiness!  We have systems that allow very “thin” communications across the wire, advanced data de-duplication technologies and clients and agents of every sort.

What’s missing? I’ve spent much of my career consulting for large multinational corporations, and ultimately, it was not some new backup strategy that improved efficiency or reduced costs – it was rethinking everything!  What do we back up?  What do we archive?  How long does this data need to be around and how readily accessible does it need to be?

Data classification is part technical and part human.  The technical side has a ready assortment of tools available, including clever backup systems, storage systems with built-in replication and archive tools.  What must change, however, are the people.  Embrace the appropriate solution for the data at hand.

8/ What kind of growth rate have you been experiencing? And what is your expected growth rate for the next few years?

In the first six months of our initial service offering, we have doubled our capacity under management.  We expect this trend to increase during the remainder of the year, especially with several new contracts about to go live.

9/ Whom do you consider your main competitors? And why?

This is difficult, as Casdex is a service provider focused on archive, whereas the majority of the market is selling hardware.

On one hand, you have the EMC Centera and NetApp platforms.  These tend to cater to the large enterprise, but are simply hardware platforms requiring additional software to function as an archive system.  On the lower end, you have Nexsan Assureon platform, but again, this is a hardware play requiring software to truly be useful.  Each of these systems has its merits, but carries significant costs, especially from a service and support perspective.

One thing is for certain is that the archive-as-a-service market is about to get crowded.  A number of players are moving into this space.  Some are tweaking existing backup solutions and trying to create archive platforms, while others are creating new tools from scratch.  Regardless, this is an interesting segment, and I’m just glad we got a head start!

10/ Large companies like Microsoft and Google have started to offer online storage solutions. Do you fear them? How can you compete with such formidable adversaries?

I tend to view offerings from large OEMs such as Microsoft and Google as enablers for other business to offer unique products and services.  Look at Amazon’s S3: it did not kill the online storage market, but rather enabled a number of firms to offer everything from backup/recovery services to general disk storage.

When larger firms move into your particular market or niche, it is foolish to think “Game Over!”  I see these moves as being complementary to our business strategy.

Take archival services for example: at Casdex, we focus on the small to medium business market.  This is a market often overlooked and ignored by large OEMs.  At Casdex, though, we see an underserved portion of the market that represents over 25M small businesses in the US alone.

11/ Are there any new products/services you are developing that will soon be available?

We just finished a new service launch and have begun offering digitization services alongside our archive platform.

For a little spoiler, I can share that we are about to launch a new product line in conjunction with a large imaging device company.  The announcement should be within the next quarter, so keep your eyes peeled for it!

12/ Where do you see the online backup market heading?

I hate to say it, but I think the market is about to plateau.  There are so many players attacking almost every vertical.  What I think will begin to happen is specialization.  In this world, one size does not fit all.

From legal to healthcare to construction, each industry has its own tools and platforms that it needs to succeed.  Our tools and services must adapt to meet these business needs.

13/ Which companies are your main sales partners globally?

It’s still a little early for us.  We are in active negotiations with two OEM venders.  Hopefully in the next two quarters, you’ll begin to see Casdex technology embedded in these vendors’ products and being sold by their sales staff.

As for a global presence, we are working with a few companies in Norway.  If it makes sense, we may have a presence in the EU in the near-term.

14/ What is the amount of file you backed up in your servers?

We manage several archive instances based on our Casdex Archiver service.  We went live with our platform in Feb ’08, and since then have been managing about 12TB of data.  Outside of our Casdex.com offering, we provide customized archive services for several large enterprise customers.  Today, we manage 4 of these instances, with an expected growth of about 10TB per instance in the coming year.

15/ Do you feel that Google will dominate the online storage market?

I sincerely doubt it.  If they manage their storage as well as their free email service, I’d be nervous!  Let’s be realistic: free or low-cost services are great, but in our world, data is an asset.  The quality of the service must match the value of our data.

16/ How does your proprietary technology compare to the proprietary technology of your main competitors?

I cannot speak too much about our technology.  By the time this article is published, we will have 7 patents for our Archiver platform, so we are very excited about that.

17/ What’s the most regrettable mistake that you or your company has made in the past?

We chose early on to focus solely on the legal market, which resulted in restricting our marketing and sales efforts to a small portion of business in the US.  As a result, we also restricted our web portal and service offerings as well.  This hindered our sales efforts in a big way, causing us to lose out on many potential deals.

18/ How would you handle that mistake if you were given a second chance?

Small firms need to remain focused to stay alive in our fast-paced world, but reducing our market was a poor strategy.  Since changing focus, resigning our web portal and marketing materials, we have secured contracts with 6 large customers!

19/ In the future, say five years from now, do you think the cost of online storage will remain as it is today, or will it go significantly cheaper (for example, to back up a 1 GB file)?

Storage for the sake of storage will obviously drop.  Cost per GB, density, everything gets better and better.  As to online storage services?  It’s pretty tough to compete with $90 terabyte disks drives available at your local Fry’s Electronics!  Services and offerings that provide adjunct technologies to generic storage serve as a driving force to user acceptance of online services.

20/ For those of us who need clarification, what exactly IS cloud computing, in your terms?

“I recently wrote a short article for eWeek that discusses this same topic.  As I see it, cloud computing may sound like a pie-in-the-sky phenomenon, but despite any initial impressions you may have about it, the technology is one phenomenon that has not only landed but has also firmly staked its claim in the future of computer technology. After all, what industry exists that does not employ some form of cloud computing – be it software as a service (SAAS) applications, basic e-mail, or data storage and archiving services?
Indeed, cloud computing is here to stay.

From major corporations to small, independent consulting shops, successful companies understand the critical importance of securing and safeguarding their data against loss due to natural disaster or human error. No doubt we have all witnessed or heard of the tragedy of a computer crash, flood or fire destroying not only equipment but also an entire enterprise. Cloud computing allows companies to avoid such catastrophes by backing up and archiving their data online through a third-party provider. The benefits of this technology are numerous, ranging from business security and legal compliance to simple, yet priceless peace of mind.

As with any service provider, however, security, privacy and availability are critical to success.  Placing your digital assets in the “cloud” may streamline your business and save on costs, but what happens if your provider goes under?  For Casdex, that is not a concern; we have created a trust that enables our service to be available for 6 months should anything happen to us!  How many firms are truly digital, with all records having an electronic form being suitable for digital archiving? Not many.”

21/ What do you see as the greatest challenges facing your company today? And what are your biggest accomplishments so far?

Time, Time, Time!  We are in a rapid growth mode.  Our challenge now is to stay focused and continue growing our team.

We launched our Casdex Archiver service in February.  In our first year of service, we are already managing over 20TB of data!  I’d say we had a very successful launch.

22/ What are the key competing technologies and what are some of the advantages you offer over the competition?

When we talk archive platforms, several technologies are critical: auditability, content verification and authenticity, access controls and group-ware features, and accessibility.

For any system, knowing who did what and when is important.  Everyone has access controls, but what about full audit trails for all activities, even authorized cases?  Data storage takes many forms; for an archive, especially a compliance-driven archive, auditability is critical.

Another key advantage is data verification.  You have a contract you want to store at Casdex today.  You need to go to retrieve it 10 years down the line, how do you know it’s the same document?  Our audit system lets you know when it was stored, by whom, the retention and access policies assigned to the document.  But our redundant hashing system, which checks the data four times before it is stored and periodically after it is stored, ensures your data is intact and valid.

23/ Can you tell us about your servers, please? Where they are located, how many backups you perform, if server room is controlled for humidity, temperature, and whether there is backup power?

Can you really call it a server room without proper environmental controls?!  All of our datacenter space is appropriately controlled for environmental, fire suppression, etc.  Additionally, access is limited with various security layers, from simple cabinet locks to more sophisticated biometric access controls.

Our networks are provided using multiple providers to ensure anytime access.  Power is provided via separate grids with battery and generator backup systems.

While we are capable of running our service on a variety of hardware/software platforms, we deliver our production service on Sun Microsystems enterprise-class equipment.

We do not use traditional backup systems per se.  Our platform was designed from the ground up to integrate a number of redundancy features.  Data always exists in multiple locations at once, which includes all user-stored data, including metadata, account information, etc.  Data movement within our service utilizes redundant checks to ensure that data integrity is maintained from the customer’s computer to our storage centers.

24/ Any other news about your company you care to share?

We recently announced a 5-year contract with Baja Fresh, and in the next 2 months, we expect to be able to announce 5 more contracts of similar size!  Plus, as I mentioned before, we are 1-2 quarters away from announcing some interesting OEM relationships.

25/ In the past few years, many small companies and even some banks, such as Wells Fargo, have started offering online backup solutions. Do you think that the online backup market is getting crowded? What do you have to do to stand out of the crowd?

Crowded?!  The market is certainly crowded, to say the least.  Do a simple search for online backup or online storage, and it seems as if everyone is offering something.

Why are we unique?  Casdex is not about simply storing backups or your basic storage services.    We offer a solution for your data that does not change, executed contracts, HR records, accounting records. This type of data must be stored in specialized systems.  We offer that above and beyond the basic backup.

26/ On a personal note, tell us about your life: married or single, children, your hobbies, where you get your inspiration, and whether you will be around in this business, say 5 years from now?

I am married with two children.  As for hobbies (except data storage of course), you can often see me bobbing off the coast of Catalina Island trying to land that BIG fish.

27/ Now that we know about you, we want to ask you about us. As you know, BackupReview.info is the ONLY website providing information about the top 25 online backup companies on a monthly basis. We have more than 400 backup companies listed in our directory. We have been in the online backup information since 2004. How can we improve our website and its services?

I’d love to see some actual end-user commentary.  We’ve all tested various products and services in our lab environments, or even more in-depth evaluations in production environments.  But what about two years later?   How are companies living with these technologies?  I’ve seen some platforms work great until you reach that xxx backup or image stored!  Then all hell breaks loose.

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