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October 29, 2010

‘They’re gonna keep throwing data at ya’: Q&A with Phil Soran, CEO of Compellent

CBR talks to the boss of SAN supplier Compellent about data, growth and ROI

By

Compellent CEO Phil Soran

You claim to be the fastest growing SAN vendor in the world and your marketing literature has a lot of claims around that. Isn’t this all hype?
It would be if we didn’t have the figures to prove it and the acknowledgement of people like Gartner that we are doing very well. I co-founded this company eight years ago [Soran was an IBM storage salesman before founding another storage start up before Compellent called Xiotech that he sold to Seagate] and we have grown now to 2,100 customers worldwide, 450 employees, our last quarter, which was profitable, showed us on $150m run-rate and we’ve been public in fact for three years on the New York Stock Exchange.

Forbes magazine has just called us the third fastest growing US technology company, and so on. Our products are used by among others the FBI and Heineken, while Saavis chose us as primary supplier on storage for all of its data centres. So my ambition is to make Compellent the next billion dollar storage company.

Don’t you think the ultimate trends in storage mitigate against such growth? Isn’t storage getting to be more and more a commodity item?
It’s true that the cost per Gigabyte is going down, sure. But the amount of data the CIO is being asked to deal with isn’t going away, far from it. The message to the technology leader is that they’re gonna keep throwing this stuff at ya and you have to have efficient processes in place to deal with that.

So you’re performing well, though of course you’re just not anywhere near the size of any of your major competitors yet. And of course your famous seventeen quarters of growth dipped for the first quarter of 2010.
But it’s not just about sales growth – we are a technology leader too. Our Fluid Data platform was built to maximise overall system efficiency and to deliver performance and cost savings to our customers through the intelligent and automatic tiering of data. Compellent customers can simultaneously benefit from other functions, such as thin provisioning and snapshots, as well. In fact, the way the competition tries to deal with us is that they tell customers that they can deliver more based on their size and scale, but even then they do give us leadership.

I find that a bit doubtful, but OK. What do you think Compellent ‘leads’ in, storage technology wise?
We have consistently led on all the major innovations in this market, from integrating with primary storage, thin provisioning, automated disk tiering to flexible volume allocation. We pioneered and in fact patented automated tiered storage and have the only solution that dynamically migrates data at the block level to the optimal storage tier based on frequency of access, for example.

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In English, how can all that help me as a customer?
We say – and can prove – that we can cut your storage budget by at least 50%. We can do that by better integration, automation, improvement of under-utilisation o hardware by 60 to 70%, making data more available and so on. For us, it’s a matter of helping you cope with a lot of changes in storage architecture as a matter of persistence, not fork-lift truck replacement.

Strong claims. What can you offer in the way of proof?
In just two recent UK engagements, for instance, the London Borough of Hillingdon and a financial services company called Credit Market Analysis, we saw a 45% reduction in disk space requirements and a £500,000 annual spend through the need for unnecessary disk purchases, reduced management and power costs, respectively. Power savings are also usually very good – Hillingdon is saving $10,000 in annual power costs by migrating infrequently accessed data from high-performance Fibre Channel disks to less expensive, energy-efficient SATA (Serial Advanced Technology Attachment) storage.

You’ve also said that the market hasn’t heard enough about you – possibly because you only sell through the channel.
My aim for the next 12 months is to start changing that round; we took a year to get to our second 1,000 customers and I think we can get to the next thousand much quicker by upping our market awareness, yes.

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