Wasabi is a cloud storage provider that only sells to the channel in Europe. It marks them out from other storage vendors who have mixed models. For Wasabi, it means that they can choose what storage model they want to offer and focus on delivering the best solution possible.
The company has seen data in EMEA grow by over 80% this year, twice as fast as the rest of the market. It boasts 60,000 customers via 14,000 partners globally, making it a significant player in cloud storage. To understand more about Wasabi, Enterprise Times editor Ian Murphy caught up with David Boland, Vice President, Cloud Strategy at Wasabi.
Working with the big data centre vendors
Wasabi doesn’t own its own data centres. Instead, it chooses partners in the regions it wants to work with. Boland said that Equinix and NTT are the two partners it has chosen for its build-out to date.
Interestingly, there are only two countries, Japan and the US, where Wasabi has multiple locations. This raises some interesting questions, such as failover strategies and the challenge of geo-locking of data for compliance reasons.
According to Boland, the company is responsive to customer demand for additional locations in the countries/regions it is already located. He commented that the company needs enough demand from customers to warrant building out additional data centres in a region. The question it always asks itself when expanding is a second data centre in an existing region or entering a new region.
To that point, in 2024, Wasabi already has plans for new regions and building out additional storage in existing regions. The UK is going to going to be next to see a second data centre
With NTT and Equinix, Wasabi should have no problems in building out wherever it wants, as they are two of the largest data centre owners in the world.
Balancing storage costs for customers
The explosion of cloud storage over the past decade has thrown up two major problems. The first is the transaction tax that has blown holes in a lot of customers’ OPEX models. The second is that a large number of providers massively oversell storage in the expectation of how customers will consume it. How is Wasabi avoiding both of these?
Boland is very open about the problems that transaction costs create that customers don’t think about. Although it might be a tiny fraction of a cent per transaction, few customers have any idea of how many transactions they will use. It can create a significant bill shock. Not charging per transaction, says Boland, “is why customers come to Wasabi. They want to keep their costs down and optimise spend.”
He goes on to cite the example of an AI analytics customer doing object recognition. They scraped the internet for 80 billion pictures. Boland pointed out that the transaction costs in AWS would be $30,000 over the 5 years the customer has been active just for importing the images. Any other work would have been worse.
On the issue of oversell, he commented “Wasabi sells on a pay-for-what-you-use (‘Pay Go’) model. We do over-subscribe our storage but build out petabytes of storage in each data centre in anticipation of the storage coming to us. The salesperson’s job is to then fill that storage. Once a customer establishes their baseline, after pay-as-you-go, they move into a standard monthly price.”
The PAYG storage pricing that Wasabi offers is just $6.99 TB/month. It gives examples on its website of savings, claiming it is 80% cheaper than Amazon S3 while also being S3 compatible. The latter is important for a lot of organisations and applications.
What use cases is Wasabi seeing?
One thing that is evident on the Wasabi website is that it has already begun to adapt to specific use cases and build storage appropriately. One of those is its Surveillance Cloud. It stores data from body cameras and other surveillance devices. Interestingly, it is a major driver inside the EU for storage demand.
Surveillance is a very storage-intensive market, and there are increasing privacy and compliance rules around it. Organisations such as casinos are very mature customers in this space, so what is Wasabi seeing? Is this end-user-led or partner-led?
According to Boland, “SMEs are the least mature as they often don’t know how much storage they will need. This is where the channel partners come in, as they understand the issue more than many customers. This is the value-add that our partners deliver, but we all work together.”
Those partners that Boland refers to often have their own offerings and use Wasabi as the storage behind their applications. It means that they have a good understanding of video surveillance and the uses that customers will make of the data. That includes facial recognition and anomaly detection. The latter is interesting, and Boland gave the example of how prisons use it.
“In anomaly detection, the software will be watching for unexpected movements. A prisoner who, when walking past a fire extinguisher, suddenly reaches up. He might be putting something there or taking something away that someone else has left there. It allows guards to stop everyone and search for contraband or even weapons.”
Other use cases
There are several other use cases that Wasabi supports. Among them are Hot Cloud, NAS and Backup and Recovery. The Hot Cloud Storage offering is a single tier of low-latency, object storage. This underpins many of the uses that customers have, from archive to backups and general-purpose cloud storage. It also underpins the NAS storage use case, where customers can use it for hot or cold storage to free up local storage or support remote working.
Interestingly, much of the data that Wasabi sees is not database or analytics data. Boland commented, “90% of customers are unstructured data, 10% semi-structured. 0.01% moving to a structured database or vector database. Vector databases are becoming increasingly used. Distributed vector base is the next generation.”
The use of the cloud for backups and archive has been one of the big drivers for over a decade. All the key backup vendors in the market look to cloud storage today. But managing that can be difficult. It is all too easy to just let that storage grow, and much will depend on the backup model, such as daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, or yearly, that an organisation uses. It will also depend on compliance and applications.
Boland says that organisations are being much more controlled about how they store that data. “Older versions are usually deleted somewhere at the end of a data life cycle. They can be object-locked or bucket-locked for a specific period of time if needed. At the end of that period, they are unlocked, and the account manager can delete them.”
When asked about compliance for data retention and deletion Boland replied that this was something that its partners dealt with.
Immutability and encryption
Wasabi talks on its website about data being immutable. We asked Boland what that meant.
He said there are two levels. Object lock and immutability. When data is put into a bucket, it is immutable for a specific period of time. On an object basis, each object has a timer applied to it. Immutability means not altering/encrypting/deleting it. Software applications apply policy to personally identifiable information (e.g. health info) before it gets encrypted and goes off to storage.
One challenge that many SMEs find with their cloud data is dealing with GDPR and the Right To Be Forgotten. They often find it hard to recover and delete data. That is because their application providers mix their data with other customers when doing a backup. It makes it almost impossible to retrieve individual pieces of data. However, because Wasabi operates at an object level, its partners should be able to allow that through the object lock option.
When talking about encryption, Boland said, “Once it gets to Wasabi, we put the encryption on top of it.” For those customers who already encrypt their data through their storage apps, it means that data is double encrypted. Should Wasabi have a breach on its servers, attackers would have to break two levels of encryption, Wasabi’s and then the customers, before accessing data.
Compliance is always a challenge as the goalposts are constantly being moved by regulators, and every country interprets compliance differently, even in the EU. Additionally, countries add to compliance with geo-locking, creating a problem when building out storage across Europe.
From Boland’s perspective, it is down to partners and customers to deal with compliance. It provides a platform for applications to sit on but cannot be responsible for the end-user compliance requirements. That doesn’t, however, mean that Wasabi is not protecting customers.
The company is currently going through FedRAMP certification in the US, and that will increase the security and protection of the underlying platform. It is also going through SOC-2 compliance in its Equinix data centres. Boland says that Equinix currently owns that compliance, but Wasabi is looking at SOC-2 Type II audit compliance. That would significantly boost its compliance credentials.
Storage needs compute
Storage is not an island. It needs compute. As a storage only provider, how does Wasabi ensure that its customers can get the fastest possible access to data?
Boland says that part of its storage location decision is also predicated on its compute partners. He commented, “Wasabi is in the early stages of CPU. If we are physically close to those compute services, it’s better. The closer you are to the pipe, the better it is.” That closeness is being delivered by Wasabi’s partners, says Boland. “Sushi Cloud is very flexible and nimble. It can spin out compute wherever their customers ask for it.”
A lot has to do with accessibility to real estate and who customers want as a compute partner. There is increasing evidence that companies are building their own large language models (LLMs) as they look for great machine learning and AI benefits. But that means having access to GPUs and vector databases. When will Wasabi consider GPU-as-a-Service to support those use cases?
According to Boland, “Vision relies upon as-a-service partners. Wasabi is storage-as-a-service, so needs to partner with compute-as-a-service providers.” At present, Wasabi has no GPU-as-a-Service partner, and Boland avoided being drawn on when that would happen.
Enterprise Times: What does this mean?
Wasabi has built its business quietly and through a pure partner play that is aimed at enterprises and SMEs. It makes it an exception in the cloud storage market, and that is no doubt adding to its spectacular growth at the moment.
Over the next few years, it will be adding more locations to existing regions and adding in new regions. It is also working with it application partners to make sure that their applications are located as close to the storage as possible. That ensures the fastest possible access to storage and will open up newer applications such as generative AI and machine learning on the data that it holds.
What will also continue to play into its model is the refusal to levy a data movement charge. It not only lowers the OPEX for large enterprises, but makes it a much more affordable platform for SaaS providers targeting SMEs.