I’ve known Murli for 20 years and love how he marries strategy and deep technical domain knowledge.
This conversation is extremely technical, and you’d get a precise view of what’s happening in the storage industry as a player like Pure Storage tries to move up the stack and acquire a startup like Portworx.
Sramana Mitra: Let’s start with some introduction. Tell us a bit about your background as well as the two companies that you are currently involved with – one through acquisition and the other one that you have sold.
Murli Thirumale: I have been in the Valley for over 30 years and I have known you for almost all that period. Just a brief history about myself, I did an engineering degree and then followed it up with an MBA.
I then came right to the Valley and worked for HP for 15 years. I also worked in some traditional businesses in wireless and telecom. I worked as a GM for 10 years. When HP split into two companies, our business didn’t fit either of the Agilent business or the computer side of HP. They spun that business out and sold it.
I then started my startup journey. I’m into three startups so far. The first one was a security appliance company that we sold to Citrix. The second one was a storage company that we sold to Dell.
This latest one is in the container data management space. It’s related to storage but is higher up in the stack. It’s called Portworx. We grew quite well last year. About a month ago, we sold it to Pure Storage, which is a $2 billion company. They are pretty well known as a disruptor in the storage world having gone public on the strength of their all flash array where they were a pioneer.
Since then, they have broadened into a number of other storage product lines. Most recently with the acquisition of Portworx, they are announcing their intent to also move up the stack into an independent set of software businesses that complement their storage product line.
Sramana Mitra: I remember that we did your entrepreneur journey story when you were doing Ocarina which covered the first two companies. Now, we are doing a Thought Leader in Cloud Computing story on your third company which is great because we can always refer people back to reading more about Ocarina and what you were doing before this one.
Just as a side, one of the things that you said in that original story is that one of your mantras in doing entrepreneurship is SDBS – sell, develop, build, and sell. It was catchy enough that I still remember it.
It is very much what we practice in the 1Mby1M. First, go to customers and figure out if you have the right pain point or not and whether your push to solving it is resonating with customers. Don’t start building a product before you do that exercise.
Just with that context, what was it that you saw in the market and what are the trends of the ecosystem? What is the backdrop in which you did Portworx and what is the situation on the Pure Storage side? What are the trends and what does the ecosystem look like on that side that made this acquisition happen?
Give us a bit of historical context as well as forward-looking context on the trends and the ecosystem.
Murli Thirumale: Let’s step back a bit. The last 15 years have been about the data center infrastructure turning into an on-demand infrastructure. It’s basically the data center infrastructure being cloudified. The cloud has taken over and is reigning supreme.
There are still some old data centers on-premise, but even those are being turned into a cloud model. The cloud, after all, is not so much of a place anymore. It’s an experience and an operating model. That’s been going along. I think it still has a few more years to go, but largely, it is well understood and fairly well implemented across IT.
The action has moved to two areas that people compete with technology. Almost across every industry now in the last five to six years, there has been a revolution of using applications and data to win. I think we are a part of that transformation.
There are two parts to that. There is the app and the data itself, but it starts with the applications. There has been a flood of new applications that have been deployed. Each one of our personal lives has been transformed by things like Netflix, Uber, or mobile payment which turns your phone into an ATM. These changes have been happening alongside in the enterprise world as well.