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Xiotech in spin transplant

New CEO means new marketeer

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Comment Incoming Xiotech CEO Alan Atkinson has replaced Xiotech's head marketeer with an IBM recruit.

Xiotech is the vendor that made a huge marketing noise in 2008 about its Emprise modular array consisting of sealed canisters of drives, with Intelligent Storage Elements (ISEs) being used instead of Xyratex, LSI or Dot Hill-sourced storage enclosures. Users never need to get inside the ISEs, which are self-healing and operate for five years or more, tolerating any drive failures en route.

The technology is unique to Xiotech and came courtesy of Xiotech buying Seagate's Advanced Storage Architecture group, led by technologist Steve Sicola. The $40m funding came courtesy of a private investor group led by Seagate chairman (and now CEO) Steve Luczo.

At the time, Xiotech's CEO was Casey Powell and he was looking - to put it into corporate speak - to 'take Xiotech to the next level' with this hopefully game-changing ISE technology. However, the storage array game carried on pretty much unchanged. The big suppliers pressed on, new wave ones like 3PAR, Compellent and Pillar forged ahead, and poor Xiotech was left behind.

August this year saw a $10m Xiotech funding round, despite 1,500 plus Emprises having been made between June 2008 and June 2009. It was apparent then that Xiotech wasn't self-funding and development cash was needed. The money would be used to bring "complementary new products to market in early 2010."

Apropos this, STEC has revealed that Xiotech has qualified its solid state drives (SSDs).

In early October, Powell stepped back from the CEO position after the investors found a replacement - Alan Atkinson.

Atkinson and his trusted chief strategy officer sidekick Jim MacDonald quickly decided that Emprise technology was terrific and decided that ASA technical head Steve Sicola was a diamond technologist rock star. According to their view, the reason customers weren't buying Emprise in droves was down to poor marketing, not misguided engineering and company strategy.

Mike Hoch, the VP in charge of marketing, left the company in October. He has now been replaced by Brian Reagan, who gets SVP status and will look after both marketing and business development.

Reagan was previously at IBM, being the global strategy and portfolio executive in its Business Continuity and Resiliency Services division. He was, Xiotech says, a primary voice in IBM’s cloud strategy (maybe we should think "aha!" at this point) and joined IBM as part of its acquisition of Arsenal Digital Solutions. Before then he was at EMC.

In the obligatory pleased-to-join quote, Reagan said: "Xiotech has technology with the potential to revolutionise the industry, a strong customer base as its backbone and rock stars throughout its staff ranks. We’re going to crank it up a few notches and make some noise out there, and along the way I think we’re going to surprise a lot of people about how competitive we are and what kind of company we can be."

We can expect Steve Sicola to be paraded around, giving out potentially trenchant opinions on why other suppliers' modular storage array technology is, well, broken.

The real marketing job is positioning Emprise against competing dual-controller arrays and it seems the tack chosen is to say the controllers in such arrays are doing work that is better done by storage virtualising hardware and software. The competing products suffer from fat controller syndrome. If you make the storage elements underneath the controller more intelligent, then you can slim the controller down and push more array control functionality higher up the stack.

In Xiotech's view there needs to be a thin controller to look after the Emprise storage elements, but overall array virtualisation and data protection functions are properly done at the application/system server level. If you have a highly-intelligent storage virtualising IBM SAN Volume Controller you don't really need highly-intelligent virtualising storage controllers behind it.

Xiotech would say that you need more than JBODs (Just Bunches of Disks) behind it, but not a full-fledged virtusalising storage array controller. It might say you need a way of scaling out the storage behind the head and some kind of ISE federalisation or aggregation might appear. There might even be some kind of API or virtualising front end-storage back end interface made openly available.

Is this going to fly? There have to be clearly-perceived benefits to the storage virtualising hardware and software entities in the stack when they operate with Emprise instead of with EMC arrays or NetApp's or whoever. That means appreciably better performance, significantly reduced cost, faster storage provisioning, easier management, much lower lifetime service costs, and so on.

There has to be a valid storage function/performance scorecard on which Xiotech is number one and everybody else a long way behind. So far there isn't - not a valid one in a customers-are-going-to-spend-money sense. Xiotech has to convince people that its technology is better than the competition and worth buying.

Customers may well agree that a 5-year warranty is good but not enough of them have opened their cheque books. A 5-year warranty is a buying decision support feature, not a buying decision decider and that's what Xiotech needs, a decider weighted in its favour.

There is a relationship - an OEM relationship - between Xiotech and Symantec. The latter's FileStore virtualising network-attached storage (NAS) head works with Huawei-Symantec, Fujitsu and Xiotech arrays. We should expect developments in the Symantec-Xiotech relationship to be announced fairly soon.

We reckon here at El Reg that the business development side of Reagan's work is pretty important. Xiotech has to raise its marketing volume around new products but it also has to leverage some kind of ecosystem, possibly OEM-related, that can strengthen its channel to market.

The buying decision decider Xiotech needs looks likely to come from relationships with suppliers of virtualising storage heads, with maybe a cloud angle, as well as from improved Emprise technology expected early next year, all of which will be leavened with a beauty parade of Xiotech's technical rock stars. It's going to be fun. ®

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