Right place, right time

Editorial Type: Interview Date: 2019-09-01 Views: 1,227 Tags: Storage, Strategy, Cloud, Channel, Data Centre, SAN, Infortrend
Following an impressive range of wins and runners-up at the 2019 Storage Awards, Infortrend's Tony Howard catches up with Storage magazine editor David Tyler

David Tyler: This year's Storage Awards could hardly have gone better for Infortrend: Storage Product of the Year is a huge one to win of course, but you also came away with the Cloud Enabler of the Year trophy, and were runner-up in Hybrid Storage Vendor of the Year. How much does it mean to your business to win this kind of approval from the market?
Tony Howard: It reflects the growth we're seeing not just here but also for instance in Germany where we're winning awards: our GS Series, the Cloud Connect offering, is now our fastest growing product. Getting Storage Product of the Year, though - that really feels good!

As a company we've been around since 1993 but sometimes it has felt like no-one's heard of us - brand awareness has been an issue in the past. We're almost like a start-up with 20 years history! I joined about a year ago, and it feels like we've really come a long way, from being almost unknown to being an award-winning brand. It represents a massive step forward for us as a business and as a brand in the market.

DT: Can a win like this alter market perceptions of a company like Infortrend?
TH: I think it's fair to say that some of the data centres and OEMs that know us may have had a view of us that we have been 'cheap and deep' - as an Asian manufacturer we have been perceived as being a product that can be scaled out a long way, while being cheaper than the Tier 1 firms. One of the things we've been working hard to get across in the last year is that we are actually much more than that - and the cloud connectivity is a great example of that - it means we have data services in our product portfolio. People are increasingly seeing that our product is not just cloud connect, it also includes tiering, as well as policies for moving infrequently used data, for example.

Auto-tiering has been a feature for us for some time in our block-based product, and a couple of years ago we released our unified product - SAN and NAS in the same box. We're an always-on company, there's no single point of failure. To succeed in that space today you have to add more data services, in terms of entry level things like replication perhaps, and then more sophisticated functionality as well. And this is all messaging that we've been getting across only relatively recently in the marketplace.

DT: What is the ultimate strategy for the business then from here?
TH: The intent is to be viewed as a solutions company: one of the problems with storage is that it is essentially a 'target' for data to be moved to. The "big boys' table" is all about operating systems, networking, hypervisors etc., and as we become more solution-oriented we should become more a part of that broader decision making process.

If you take cloud, because as you mentioned we won an award in that area, it is now solidly a part of our ecosystem and we couldn't ignore it if we wanted to. As a hardware company it would be easy to complain about a horrible unfair world where everything scales to the cloud, but it really isn't like that. Cloud doesn't offer the benefits of on-premise: high performance, high levels of security and so on. Rather than being 'anti-cloud' we're very much about working with it to add more value - and that's the approach that's winning us these awards.

DT: How important are industry partners for Infortrend at this stage of the company's development?
TH: To stand alone as a tier two company trying to grow rapidly can be very tough, so finding the right alliances is increasingly important to us. We're looking to work with people like Milestone and Tiger, and going to market with them with certified products and shared case studies or whitepapers, which helps give us a lot of focus. We're running some workshops in conjunction with Tiger later this year, and initiatives like this help our credibility in the market, and help to change that perception that I mentioned earlier of storage as being just a data target.

We've already done numerous joint bids with Tiger to the channel and the end user community, as well as doing lots of work with the likes of Veeam in terms of certification, again with a view to making ourselves a better option for them to recommend and/or to work alongside in terms of specific solutions. We're doing similar things in the surveillance space with companies like Milestone - not just certifications but also making sure we're seen as being part of their community.

We're working closely with some of the large hardware firms as well as you'd expect, like Seagate and Toshiba, and those relationships are very important to us of course as they are big global brands.

DT: Can you tell us any specifics about products that are in the pipeline right now?
TH: Here and in the US we're looking at a 'solutions centre' approach, testing and certifying products and configurations - the US operation is a bit more advanced in this than we are in Europe, as they have the people in place and have been on that journey for a bit longer than us.

We've a product due out later this year, the CS Series, which is a scale out and scale up offering. This will add increased numbers of CPU nodes to all the things that we've already been doing very well for a long time on the storage scale out side. Again this will be a unified (SAN and NAS) product, no single point of failure, always on. This is a whole new space for Infortrend to be seen in. Hopefully all the work we've been putting in on our brand awareness, our alliance programs, and our solution approach will all put us in a good position to be considered in this new space.

DT: It sounds like everything is coming together for Infortrend right now: market changes, your own strategies, and the enhanced brand awareness of the recent award wins?
TH: It may be that we're heading into the 'perfect storm' at the moment for us as a business: some of the other tier two companies appear to be drifting away for various reasons; not least that it can cost a lot of money in R&D and marketing to be in this space. Some of these companies just don't have the turnover, the traction, to continue - we've all seen the acquisitions and the issues that some firms are having. This, combined with our evolving approach, could work in our favour - personally and from a commercial perspective, Infortrend feels like a really good place to be at this moment.
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