Host of Hacker Noon Founder Interviews
What's your background, and what are you working on?
I’m Satyam Vaghani, Senior Vice President and General Manager of IoT and AI at Nutanix. I joined Nutanix in 2016, when they acquired PernixData, a storage virtualization software company that I co-founded and served as CTO. I started my career as an early engineer at VMware and went on to become Principal Engineer and Storage CTO. I have a Master’s degree in computer science from Stanford and a Bachelor’s degree in computer science from Birla Institute of Technology and Science, Pilani.
At Nutanix, I lead product and business for an edge computing stack and IoT application platform that enables people to build and operate new-generation, AI-based IoT apps across planet-scale edge infrastructure. We’ve generated revenue across retail, manufacturing and telecom verticals, and across the world.
What motivated you to get started with this IoT initiative at Nutanix?
Nutanix is on a mission to make computing invisible everywhere. A key aspect of that mission is to be on the lookout for major shifts in where computing is deployed and why it is so.
Towards the end of 2016, many Nutanix customers made it obvious to us that we will see an explosion in the number, significance, and complexity of computing deployed in the real world -- at the edge -- at airports, hospitals, retail stores, factories, oil rigs, autonomous cars and drones, close to 5G base stations, and so on. Analyst reports concluded the same -- that by 2020, we could potentially see 3 orders of magnitude more devices and 40 times more data being created at the edge than all the public and private clouds of the world combined. This was an interesting problem to solve for many reasons…
For one, nobody has solved it (although many people are trying). We like such broad, category-creating challenges. We’ve done it once already back when Nutanix was founded. We made and then led the market for hyperconverged infrastructure. While that business chugs along, it is time to build something spectacular again.
Secondly, the edge is a major shift in compute paradigm. Computers in public and private data centers often serve “human-oriented” use cases -- we care about email, working on spreadsheets (yeah, right!), surfing the web, and social media and so on. Computers on the edge most-often serve “machine-oriented” use cases -- the edge at a factory processes real-time machine telemetry data to further optimize those machines, and so on. The operating system and services for machine-oriented computing, and distributed across 100s or 1000s of edges has to be fundamentally different from the operating system for humans. This is an interesting design problem.
Finally, we often marvel at the grandeur of computer systems we have created so far. Now, imagine creating computer systems that need to process 40 times more data than all of that.
What went into building the initial product?
We spent roughly two months researching the market and devising the product strategy, another three months designing the product and the next 15 months creating 1.0 via a series of agile sprints. In parallel, we ran a beta program with the Global 2000 customers across a variety of verticals to validate our approach and patch any unforeseen gaps in product requirements. At the time of shipping 1.0, we had people using it in production.
As is typical with these things, we had a very aggressive schedule and we were very tight on staffing. One key learning from the journey was that the product team achieved a much higher level of productivity because they were almost always directly involved in a customer beta and hence felt naturally motivated and clear about our purpose, timelines, and goals.
Are there any specific industries you’re focusing on right now? What are some of the most interesting use cases for IoT you have seen?
We focus on retail, manufacturing, smart cities and telecom. In retail, customers often tend to leverage us to create new experiences like cashier-less checkout systems. Manufacturing is all about factory automation, predictive maintenance of factory machinery, and automated product quality inspection. Smart cities are an amalgamation of retail and manufacturing design patterns with added complexity layers around privacy, scale, data governance, etc. Finally, telecom is about modernizing the communications edge, and potentially monetizing it in light of upcoming 5G applications.
How have you attracted customers and grown the initiative?
One clear source of traction is our existing 13,000 odd Nutanix customer base, and more specifically, the 800-900 of Global 2000, government and service provider customers. The Edge, IoT and AI offering is a natural step in their journey with Nutanix as they grow beyond private datacenter based use cases to multi-cloud use cases and workloads incorporating new concepts like micro-services based application architecture and AI-based data processing.
What's your business model?
I won’t go into details for obvious reasons. But a few things that stand out doing the IoT and Edge business are that there is a marked lack of industry-wide statistics in this space to plan or measure one's success against the industry as a whole. This is not surprising because we are still in the process of making the market. However, it makes revenue and resource planning much harder. The relative nascency of use cases makes product planning much harder too.
What are your goals for the future?
Unlike a business where one sells CRM software or databases or storage systems, this is a business where the requirements from your product vary highly by vertical. What a retailer needs from this product is dramatically different from what an oil and gas services company needs or automotive manufacturer needs and so on. Our main goal is to understand each of these markets much more deeply so we can tailor our product and business to the market. A related goal is to train our employees to have deep empathy for the “customer-business-downwards” way of relating and selling to our customers, as opposed to the more frequent “vendor-technology-upwards” way.
What's your advice for entrepreneurs who are just starting out?
There are many things that come to mind, but I’ll share two:
One, if this is your first go at entrepreneurship, chances of success are higher if you focus on a product and market that you already know very well. Entrepreneurship has been romanticized around having earth shattering ideas that no one else thought of. But a majority of startups and entrepreneurs are about the disciplined pursuit of a market that they are rightfully good at addressing. Yes, we all marvel at the occasional AirBnB or Slack or Facebook, but one must realize that the chances of that happening are the same as the chances of Tom Brady winning at Wimbledon on his first attempt.
Two, don’t do it for the money. The challenge and requirements of the entrepreneurship journey are not to be trivialized. Do it for the stories you want to live to tell, and the people you want to tell them with.
Where can we go to learn more?
Visit www.nutanix.com/products/iot to learn more about Nutanix’s Xi IoT initiative, and to start a free 10-day trial to experience the IoT application development in a cloud environment.
You can also follow Nutanix IoT on Twitter.
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