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Former EMC exec Atkinson becomes Xiotech CEO

Beth Pariseau, Senior News Writer
Xiotech Corp. today named Alan Atkinson CEO, replacing Casey Powell. Atkinson is the former CEO of WysDM Software Inc. and had served as vice president of the Storage Software Group at EMC Corp. after EMC acquired WysDM

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in 2008. Powell will remain on Xiotech's board of directors.

In an exclusive interview with SearchStorage.com, Atkinson laid out plans to extend Xiotech's ISE platform into a "cloud-ready, virtualization-ready platform" and build out its sales channel. Along with the change in CEO, Xiotech closed a $10 million funding round and secured an additional $10 million line of credit in September.

SearchStorage.com: Your background with WysDM and EMC was in storage management software. Why a hardware company like Xiotech and why now?

Atkinson: If you go back in my history, I did a whole lot of stuff with hardware back when I was with Bell Labs and when I was at Goldman [Sachs], I worked with people like Kumar [Malavalli] at Brocade, a lot of the early Fibre Channel people. Actually at Storage Networks I was into the hands-on hardware and software side, both sides of the fence. So, obviously with WysDM we took a turn down the software path and stayed there with EMC, but I have actually done both sides of things.

All that being said, if you really look at where the exciting IP is here at Xiotech, it's around the ISE product, which is really firmware, right? It's really the code that the guys have cooked up that allows us to not only get better utilization and better reliability but also drive a lot of cost out, and that was what was really compelling. So, fair enough comment on the hardware side but I think it's a little grayer than that.

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SearchStorage.com: I understand that you have worked within other large organizations but as far as the chief executive, WysDM was a relatively small company. How will you make the transition to heading a larger organization with Xiotech?

Atkinson: I've run similar sized or possibly larger organizations within Goldman Sachs and actually at Storage Networks as well, but of course I wasn't the top of pyramid, I was a senior vice president [SVP], which is a little bit different. I think if you look at from WysDM to EMC, I actually had more people as well and I was the general manager of the business there. But I'm not going to lie. It's an exciting challenge and a step up in terms of [responsibilities], and as you fairly point out, this is a somewhat larger company to be CEO of. Again, not trying to equate the SVP role with the CEO, but I think it's actually a fairly natural progression particularly if you look at Storage Networks. I had a similar number of employees, and if you look at the size of the company overall, I think that will be a better comparison if you're trying to see how you get to this point.

SearchStorage.com: The press release announcing your new role emphasizes your goal of helping Xiotech "realize its full potential" in the storage market. What does that mean, specifically?

Atkinson: We have, in my opinion and I think probably the industry's opinion, some of the top storage people in the industry here and I think we've been a little bit quiet. I'm talking about people like [chief technology officer] Steve Sicola and [VP of technology] Rob Peglar, and I think we need to get more awareness of what we're doing and more thought leadership in the field to exploit what we've got.

SearchStorage.com: Do you see the company getting into new markets or will you continue to build on the ISE product?

Atkinson: ISE is the center of what we're going to be doing. You're not going to see us go out and do something that's totally different from that. ISE is a platform that's got a lot of room to run and a lot of things can be done with that. One of the chief reasons for coming here was looking at what that product offers and what that architecture does. On the product side, the answer is, no, you're going to see a lot of iterations and enhancing and making that more robust in terms of functionality and those type of things, density and all the usual—price points, those types of enhancements.

As far as markets go, what I would say is you'll see us continue to focus on where we are, but you're also going to see us make more noise in the enterprise space, and grow those markets out. It's more of what we're doing but also trying to get a little more awareness with some of the big guys out there, and we'll also be knocking on a lot of the OEM doors.

SearchStorage.com: Technically speaking, what's the next step for the ISE self-healing storage technology?

Atkinson: I think what you'll end up seeing there -- without announcing anything I'm not allowed to announce -- is that with the hardware, you keep turning the crank so you get higher density and better performance. I think you can take that as a given across any product line that's active. But I think you'll see us do some things on the software side. So to go all the way back to the beginning of your interview, we'll begin to provide management control functionality in very unique ways that leverage what the ISE can do. Away from the traditional FAT controller plugged into a FAT switch, that's a more -- how should I say it -- cloud-ready, virtualization-ready platform for where we're seeing things go in the industry right now.

SearchStorage.com: We've been hearing a lot about object-based storage interfaces for cloud storage . Is that an area of interest for you, or does Xiotech already have any offerings around that?

Atkinson: This is again an area where we haven't made as much noise, but the device has actually got a pretty sophisticated brain inside each one of the ISE components and you can actually tune things according to application. So one of the things that I think will be compelling as we begin to talk with OEM partners and some of the integrators is that it's very easy to make ISE have the personality that you want it to have for the overlying application. Whether you want to call that object-based storage or whether you want to call it a Web Services interface, or whether you want to call that just a very rich API, I'll leave that to the reader, but we have that ability, which is actually fairly unique.

SearchStorage.com: You've mentioned OEMs and integrators a couple times here. It sounds like building up your channel is a priority.

Atkinson: I think that's a fair statement. I'm a big fan of the channel. But we're not going to stop doing the other things we do either. A big priority for me, quite frankly, is building sales – and I don't mean sales force, I mean getting out there and having people think about Xiotech as a top-of-mind solution when they're building their virtualization environments, when they're building their cloud environments or, frankly, just when they need sophisticated storage at the right price point.

SearchStorage.com: What's your outlook on Fibre Channel over Ethernet? And does Xiotech have any plans to offer that technology?

Atkinson: Those are separate questions, although they have the same answer. I'm very bullish on Fibre Channel over Ethernet [FCoE]. I'll point to some of the rumbling you're beginning to hear out of the switch vendors as to which way that market is going. I think it's a natural thing if you just think about how ubiquitous Ethernet is, that's not surprising that that's going to be--I hesitate to use work dominant -- but pervasive technology. As far as our plans, I think it would be safe to assume that not only are we taking a hard look at it, but we're pretty enthusiastic about it.