Inside the Power of Cross-Functional Innovation
by Eugene Kim – Senior Director, Intellectual Property
There’s a common misconception that innovations come just from engineering. However, it was a cross-functional team from engineering, product management, support and marketing that created Nimble Protection Manager (NPM). One invention from NPM, “Unified Management of Storage and Application Consistent Snapshots”, has resulted in a patent for Nimble.
When Nimble was a scrappy, young start-up six years ago, a cross-functional team came together consisting of Ajay Singh (product management), Dan Leary (marketing), Rod Bagg (analytics and customer support), and Varun Mehta, Vikas Gupta, and Hector Yuen (engineering).When not designing Nimble’s business cards or the Nimble logo, this team collaborated and conceived the NPM, which was one of the first customer-visible features.
The problem they confronted was that serving data and protecting data were traditionally performed by separate systems. The management of data protection in an application specific manner was also traditionally performed separately from the provisioning of storage. Ajay Singh recalls that Nimble’s initial positioning was converged storage and backup. With snapshots a key part of the new data protection strategy, how could Nimble make snapshots easier to use than traditional snapshot solutions? The inventors realized there was an opportunity to unify and simplify the provisioning and protection activities that most storage and application administrators need to perform.
The inventors (left to right): Varun Mehta (Nimble co-founder), Ajay Singh (VP of Product Management), Vikas Gupta (Sr. Dir. of Engineering), Rod Bagg (VP, Analytics and Customer Support), Dan Leary (VP, Corporate Development, Solutions and Alliances), and Hector Yuen (Software Engineer).
Seeing this opportunity, this cross-functional team invented a technique that unifies and simplifies the act of provisioning storage for an application and protecting storage in an application consistent manner. NPM agents would be installed on each application server. A centralized management daemon running on the Nimble Storage array would then control the agents for the scheduling and replication of snapshots. The data provisioning and protection activity was simplified to use pre-configured application protection templates for applications such as email servers, databases, virtual machines and file servers.
Besides overcoming the technical and business issues, even obtaining the patent was a challenge in itself. The US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) recently opened a Silicon Valley regional office, and Nimble’s appeal of the related patent application was the very first in-person appeal hearing to take place at the Silicon Valley USPTO. Ultimately, the Nimble team and our outside counsel at Ascenda Law (Tarek Fahmi and Jonathan Tsao) succeeded in the appeal.
Congratulations to all the inventors for their creativity, and for proving that innovation can truly be a cross-functional effort.