Interview

AITech Interview with Charles Fan, Founder, and CEO at MemVerge

Modern applications are generating bigger amounts of data that need to be processed at a faster speed. How is Charles bringing in this change in the data space?

1.Charles, please tell us about yourself and the legacy that you’ve created.

I’ve been an entrepreneur and innovator in data center infrastructure for more than 20 years. At the first company I founded, Rainfinity, we created a file virtualization product called RainStorage. Rainfinity was subsequently acquired by EMC. While I was at EMC I founded the EMC R&D Center in China. Later at VMware I founded the VMware storage business unit and led the creation of the Virtual SAN or vSAN solution, a leading software-defined storage product that grew into a billion-dollar product. The most recent company that I founded, MemVerge, is revolutionizing data centers by unleashing the true potential of memory, or what we call Big Memory Computing

2.Give us a brief overview of MemVerge and how it came into existence.

Modern applications are generating bigger amounts of data that need to be processed at a faster speed. The existing storage architecture can no longer meet this need. We predicted that there will be new memory hardware innovations both in media and in interconnect that will enable a new memory-centric infrastructure. We started MemVerge to be on the forefront of this trend and create the software necessary to enable this new architecture.

MemVerge delivered the industry’s first commercial memory virtualization software, Memory Machine, which provides a number of industry breakthroughs such as memory tiering, pooling, and snapshot-based in-memory data management.
This makes a number of things possible including replication, roll-back, autosave, thin clones, and instant recovery.

3.What are the core values upon which the organization is built? What are its vision and mission?

Our vision at MemVerge is that all applications will one day live in big memory. Our mission, the way we get there, is to open the door to Big Memory Computing through our Memory Machine software. 

When we started the company, I wrote a memo about our “OPEN culture” consisting of the following traits: Original, Positive, Externally-Driven, Now, and of course Open. Let me elaborate. The memo observes that all of us at MemVerge come from different backgrounds but are attracted by a startup culture. 

First, our startup culture is Original. We are here to invent, not to copy, not to follow the status quo. We aim to be original, to deliver to our customers unique values not available from others before.

Second, we are Positive. We strive to change the world and have fun doing it. With a supportive working environment, our goal is that every MemVerge employee wake up every workday morning in a good mood, and they can’t wait to go to work.

The third trait is Externally-Driven. This means customers guide us. We will create innovations useful for them. Despite the presence of internal demands, we prioritize external demands from customers and partners, and we encourage everyone at MemVerge to be an advocate for our customers.

The fourth trait, Now, is built on the recognition that larger companies have infinitely more resources than we do, but we have speed on our side. We have a sense of urgency in everything we do, so whenever possible, we shorten execution loops, reduce dependencies, and optimize for speed. 

Perhaps most important is the umbrella trait of a truly OPEN MemVerge culture. We strive to ensure open communication, so that everyone is free to speak their mind. In technical discussions everyone is equal and may the best idea win. All perspectives are welcome and will be considered in the decision-making process. With this OPEN culture, we will be on the same MemVerge team, working together towards the same goal.

4.Tell us more about MemVerge’s distinguished product suite. What makes MemVerge different from its competitors?

MemVerge Memory Machine Cloud Edition and MemVerge Memory Viewer help our customers solve their immediate memory challenges. As the industry’s new Compute Express Link (CXL) interface gets ready for take-off, Memory Machine and Memory Viewer are also the first memory auto-tiering software suite to support CXL. Working with our hardware partners, we have taken the first step towards CXL pooled memory.

Memory Machine Cloud Edition uses patented ZeroIO memory snapshot technology and cloud service orchestration to transparently checkpoint long-running applications and allow customers to safely use low-cost Spot Instances. Organizations can reduce cloud cost by up to 70%. Over time, Memory Machine Cloud Edition will form the basis of an infrastructure cloud service enabling applications to run across a multi-cloud environment.

Memory Viewer software provides system administrators with actionable information about DRAM, their most expensive and under-utilized asset. The average utilization of DRAM in hyperscaler data centers is approximately 40 percent, and the cost of memory is half of the cost of a server. As the world enters the CXL era of peta-scale pooled memory, better visibility into the health, capacity and performance of memory infrastructure will become indispensable. Memory Viewer topology maps and heat maps provide system administrators new insights into their memory infrastructure. We provide Memory Viewer free for download

5.What is the most exciting part and the most intimidating part about being an entrepreneur? What are the major challenges that you face while bringing your vision to reality?

Being an entrepreneur gives me the opportunity to follow my passion, and let my creativity fly.  And if I am lucky, that creativity will enable technology that makes people’s lives better. Seeing our labor bringing smiles to our customers is one of the best feelings in the world.

Let me share one example. At MemVerge, our in-memory snapshot technology can accelerate genomics workloads, and help our customers find cures to diseases faster. What used to take a couple of weeks to run, will now finish in a couple of days. That is exciting!

At the same time, starting your own venture is very challenging, and can be a humbling experience. When I started my first startup, Rainfinity, we ran into a wall when the internet bubble burst in 2001. Our customers evaporated, and our partners disappeared. Our investors were all hit hard, so the company was in an existential crisis. Two of our best engineers and I started working on a new product concept: storage virtualization, which is completely different from our previous product. The three of us started talking to a lot of customers, and raced with time to create this product to solve their pain point. In nine months, we got these customers onboard right before we ran out of money, and the company survived. 

6.What qualities do you think are essential to make a good leader and entrepreneur? How do you approach your role as a leader?

It may sound obvious, but the ability to think is a critical quality in a leader. People in a technology field can go a long way if they can have an opinion, a perspective, and a vision of things beyond the average person. I enjoy thinking about things and having an opinion on where the world of technology is going.

The second quality is the ability to connect with other people. You must have a natural tendency to connect with your employees, your colleagues, your customers, your partners, and your investors. As an introverted person, I’ve had to work somewhat on this.

Finally a strong technical background has helped me a great deal. I have my fair share of weaknesses but having a strong understanding of technology has been a good trait in my industry. At MemVerge, we have built a product team of people with a very deep understanding of the technology in our space. Their depth of education and technical knowledge has allowed them to tackle tough challenges. This deeper technical background has allowed MemVerge to blaze trails beyond “me-too” products and take us where no one has gone before

7.What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs and enthusiasts aspiring to venture into the industry?

Make sure you have a deep understanding of the market you are entering. When I founded Rainfinity, my role was primarily as a technical founder, and I did not have a strong concept of the market size for our solution. Our first product was a cool technology, and it was successful, but its market potential was limited, and so our success was limited as a result. It’s easy to focus on how cool your technology is, but the size of the market is really important, especially for technical startups

8.How do you plan to scale the growth of MemVerge in the coming years? Can you give us a sneak peek into the new projects that are currently in the pipeline of your company?

We are ramping up with software solutions that are addressing the emerging Compute Express Link (CXL) interface, which will be a true game changer to computing as we know it. At the same time, our Memory Machine Cloud Edition is finding new ways to help customers reduce their skyrocketing cloud cost

9.Being a leader, what tech trends do you think will shape the future of the industry?

CXL is a huge one. It’s an open standard for processors, memory expansion and accelerators and it will be a true game changer for data center architecture and enable truly disaggregated and composable infrastructure. This new technology has been embraced by industry leaders including Intel, AMD, ARM, Samsung, SK Hynix and Micron.

This new memory landscape opens a completely new world of opportunities for MemVerge and our software to address. Just as Fibre Channel enabled storage area networks for the first time, CXL has the potential to enable memory fabric, and our strategy is to develop MemVerge software solutions to expand, tier, pool and share memory over this fabric.

10.How do you spend your downtime? What hobbies do you enjoy pursuing?

I enjoy playing badminton and table tennis and watching the 49ers and Warriors!

Dr. Charles Fan

CEO and Co-founder, MemVerge

Charles Fan is co-founder and CEO of MemVerge. Prior to MemVerge, Charles was the CTO of Cheetah Mobile leading its global technology teams, and an SVP/GM at VMware, founding the storage business unit that developed the Virtual SAN product. Charles also worked at EMC and was the founder of the EMC China R&D Center. Charles joined EMC via the acquisition of Rainfinity, where he was a co-founder and CTO. Charles received his Ph.D. and M.S. in Electrical Engineering from the California Institute of Technology, and his B.E. in Electrical Engineering from the Cooper Union.

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