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Interview with Shmuel Shottan, CTO of BlueArc

by Hu Yoshida on Sep 8, 2011

Hello Shmuel, welcome to the Hitachi Data Systems family. The industry certainly knows who BlueArc is today. Can you give us a short history of how the company began and how BlueArc distinguished itself in the competitive NAS space?

BlueArc was founded in the UK in 1998 with the aim of overcoming the bottleneck between the Storage Area Networks and the compute clients. Both Fibre Channel SAN fabrics and Ethernet fabrics have increased in speed, thus making traditional servers inadequate for delivering and sustaining the required bandwidth. BlueArc started with a blank sheet of paper, embarking on the mission to design the best possible architecture for a NAS appliance. The first generation was introduced in 2001 and was targeted at throughput, the rate of data movement through the system. The second generation system was introduced in 2004 and became the undisputed leader in IOPS, the rate at which individual protocol requests can be processed. The File System is the heart of a NAS appliance. The revolutionary approach introduced in 2004 depicted a fully featured core file system leveraging the fine grain parallelism enabled by using FPGAs. The 3rd generation was introduced in 2009, and added multicore which allows running of storage applications as well as core NAS functionality. The 3rd generation leverages the low CPU utilization (which is a result of the NAS offload) to become the foundation for running applications in proximity to data while maintaining NAS performance.

We have enjoyed a lot of joint successes together, but BlueArc has had many successes of their own. Can you share some of those successes and some of the use cases that attracted these customers to BlueArc?

The common denominator describing BlueArc’s successes is accelerating the customer’s applications. Common to all success stories listed, is the requirement to feed data to the compute grid at wire speed. For the sake of brevity I will not describe the various workflows and data sets for the following deployments, except to mention that all run on a large compute grid connecting to storage over a 10GB/sec Ethernet backbone switch, and for all of them “time is money”. Furthermore, reliability and enterprise features and robustness are key to those customers. The verticals in which BlueArc had much success are:

  • Genomic Research: Merck, Monsanto, Cold Spring Harbor
  • Oil and gas Exploration: Chevron, Sclumberger/Western Geco
  • Movie Rendering: Weta Digital, Sony, Double Negative

My personal favorites are the movie rendering studios. Those are best described as “scene factories.” During my visit with Weta Digital in New Zealand following the release of Avatar, I was impressed with the most amazing data center. Serving all the 4,000 server blades (40,000 cores), and multiple thousands of submitted jobs per night – over 10 Gigabit Ethernet – are the NAS storage racks from BlueArc.

In use cases such as these, the load on the storage system is enormous.  BlueArc NAS systems handled over 8GB/sec, while maintaining 24X7 high availability. (Unlike some other HPC batch processes, CGI rendering is made up of multiple individual rendering task which cannot be check pointed, thus failure is unacceptable). Thus the definition of the data center as a “scenes factory.” Anecdotally, a minute of Avatar equates to 17.28 GB. Multiply that by the length of the movie which if I remember correctly is 2 hours and 45 minutes.

BlueArc is recognized as having great technology. However, as we know in this industry it takes more than technology to be successful. What else do you think are keys to BlueArc’s success? What should HDS strive to preserve?

Thanks Hu for asking this question. Any successful company is indeed more than its technology. At BlueArc we have established a culture that combines intensity, passion and fun. The culture is indeed key to BlueArc’s success. We understand the purpose for our existence. We believe in winning as a team and maintain a sense of urgency. Our culture could be summarized as follows:

  • Team > Individual
  • Data > Emotion
  • Speed > Perfection
  • Clarity > Sensitivity
  • Intensity, Passion, Fun
  • Accountability to Results

Over the last several years I have worked closely with HDS, made many friends and learned about HDS’s culture. I have no doubt that BlueArc’s culture will integrate with Hitachi’s guiding principles of Wa, Makoto, and Kaitakusha-seishin

Over the last 5 years, we’ve built a great relationship together and many of our customers have been urging us to come together for some time.  What do you see as the customer benefits of yesterday’s news?

Thanks Hu. I cannot resist quoting the cliché of “1+1 > 2”. If ever that quote has a valid meaning, it is indeed this acquisition. BlueArc’s technology is all about the file system, and it leverages a SAN back end. What better than to integrate it with world class leading storage technology. Over the years I learned to focus on the “weakest link.” Many recovery, robustness and reliability features were added to the file system over the years to compensate for subpar storage. In all installations where the storage is HDS’, the built in reliability has been fantastic.

The specific benefits to the customers are:

  • A common service and support path
  • A single pane of glass for management
  • A complete end-to-end suite of products including many applications
  • Future tightly integrated products leveraging both the storage technologies and the file system technologies
  • The “peace of mind” derived from the combined reputation and industry reputation for excellence

Shmuel, thank you for your support as we continue to build upon this successful relationship. I can’t tell you how happy I am to welcome you and all our new colleagues into the Hitachi family. As our friend Michael Hay mentions in his blog post, the melding of our IP and talent will greatly accelerate our progress.


Shmuel Shottan is senior vice president and CTO of BlueArc (part of Hitachi Data Systems), the leading provider of scalable, high-performing network storage solutions. He is responsible for developing and advancing BlueArc product innovation. Previously Shottan served as senior vice president of Product Development of BlueArc. Shottan joined BlueArc in 2001.

Mr. Shottan has over 30 years’ experience in the research and development of hardware and software, and in engineering management for firms ranging from start-ups to Fortune 500 companies. Prior to BlueArc, Mr. Shottan was senior vice president of Engineering and chief strategy officer for Snap Appliance. Earlier, Shottan held executive positions at Quantum Technology Ventures and Parallan Computer. Previously he held senior engineering positions at AST Computers and ICL North America.

Shottan holds B.S. degrees from the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology in electrical engineering and computer science.

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Comments (1)

Shmuel Shottan on 08 Sep 2011 at 5:06 pm

Dear Hu, Thank you for your kind words.
I sincerely appreciated the opportunity you’ve provided me to share with your readers the heritage of BlueArc.
I am excited to be part of your team and the Hitachi family. I am looking forward to contribute towards our mutual vision.
With your permission, please allow me to share a common experience I share with Hu. Both of us were discharged with the rank of Captain, from the Marine Corps and the Army. SEMPRE FI, Always Faithful!

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