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Q&A with John Thompson, Virtual Instruments CEO

While CEO of Symantec, John Thompson took the firm from $600m to $6bn. CBR asks him why his next move was to head the networked storage and virtualisation player Virtual Instruments, and whether he has similar ambitions for the firm that he did for Symantec.

By Jason Stamper

What was it was about Virtual Instruments that got your attention and made you want to join the company?
I have been an investor in Virtual Instruments for, I guess about a year and a half now. My initial interest was I thought the team was working on a very significant problem for most large enterprise users. That prompted me to invest. As we worked our way through the year, year and a half or so, it was clear that the team that had been assembled was a very good team and I had an opportunity to apply the experience that I have gathered over almost forty years in this industry and I thought it would be helpful to the team. So when investors asked me to do that, I jumped right in.

Virtual Instruments CEO John Thompson

You talk about the opportunity here. It seems to me that the current focus – the management of virtualised environments in servers and storage – is a fairly niche part within the broader systems management sector. Is the plan to stay very niche in this virtualisation space or do you think over time it is likely that Virtual Instruments will grow beyond where it is today?
We think the problem that we are addressing is important to customers. But, more specifically we think our approach to that problem is unique. The larger systems management vendors in that space tend to approach it from the perspective of software only, yet we think this problem requires your having an ability to tap into the physical layer, not just the abstraction layer of the software above that.

But CA Technologies and others have recently come out and said that they are going to tackle this virtualised infrastructure as well. Most enterprises these days have some kind of systems management technology from one of the big four. Why aren’t they just going to go with those vendors to manage their virtual assets as well?
I think the reality is we approach this challenge much differently than any of the four that you just mentioned. Each of them is a large, heavy, monolithic software player. We happen to approach the problem from the perspective of a combination of hardware and software. It is very focused on the specific issues of scan and virtual infrastructure optimisation. So we don’t bring all of the baggage, if you will, that the more established players do.

As you say the hardware element is obviously an important part of your stack. Are we talking about using appliances in your solutions?
I think you could certainly dub them as appliances, but they are very purpose-built. They have a set of TAPs [traffic analysis points] that allow you to attach into the physical layer and then we have an aggregation box, if you will, that takes all of that data that comes in from the particular TAP and gives you the ability to do real-time analytics.

I wonder if you could pick one of the good examples of a customer that has seen benefits from your technology?
Well, one of the most significant ones is perhaps one right there based in the UK, and that is Unilever. It has deployed Virtual Instruments capabilities in a couple of its data centres. What it has seen is an ability to do real-time traffic analysis of its SAN environment and to make modifications that improves, essentially, the performance.
What Virtual Instruments technology does is give you better clarity through this instrumentation and therefore the ability to do real-time performance enhancements that make applications run better.

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I think most people would say you did more than a reasonable job at Symantec! Do you think Virtual Instruments is as big an opportunity?
Symantec addresses a much broader set of markets than VI does, and so I don’t see this company getting to be $6bn. But it addresses right now a $1.5bn addressable market over the course of the next five years. So if we kept our fair share of that, I think the hallmark for VI will be the criticality of this technology for large enterprise buyers and the growth rate we would expect to accrue from a very, very rapidly growing market. The company has been in place since 2008. We grew it 100% the first year. We will grow it nearly 100% this year. So if we continue that I think we can all be quite proud of the accomplishments of VI.

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