CEO of TrueSAN Networks outlines CloudBreak

With the arrival of its revolutionary CloudBreak storage management operating system, TrueSAN Networks in San Jose, Calif., became one of only two storage software vendors to offer the multiple functionality of storage data management, SRM (storage resource management), virtualization, and system monitoring, all through a single interface. The company's founder, president, and CEO, Tom Isakovich, took time out recently to chat with InfoWorld Senior Writer Dan Neel about the success and challenges of CloudBreak as well as the current state of the storage industry and his take on the competition.

Q:Who do you see as TrueSAN's biggest competitors right now?Well, there are sort of two sides to our solution and we don't see anyone addressing both sides. In one sense, we are a single tool for all of your storage management needs. But the other side of our storage operating system is the idea of providing storage virtualization to these so-called software functions that reside in the storage network, rather than in an array or in a host, therefore making those software functions available to any vendor's product. Today we don't see anyone who's done as comprehensive a vision for storage management.

Q: Which competitors are on which front?On the universal storage management front our biggest competitor is probably a vendor like EMC or Veritas. On the virtualization front, it would probably be the Compaq VersaStor approach. So the top three competitors we see are EMC, Compaq, and Veritas.

Q: What is the biggest challenge facing storage administrators today?I think the challenge facing the storage hardware market today is a classic case of over-capacity, and what has been a faster-than-normal commoditization of parts of the business, particularly in hardware. Today, customers are in the driver's seat when it comes to negotiating pricing with vendors because customers today don't necessarily need to buy new storage capacity. They are looking at the capacity they bought over the last three years during the Internet boom and finding out that they are using maybe only thirty or forty percent of their storage effectively. So they are not in a very big hurry to buy new capacity. Instead they are trying to find software that enables them to better utilize the capacity they already have as well as reduce the people cost of managing all this stuff.

Q: Storage hardware prices are low now as vendors sacrifice margins to close sales, but should customers be concerned about prices going back up?The customer demand for capacity has not been there, and as a result the margins for vendors have just gone down dramatically. Once hardware margins are lost, it's very tough to make them go back to the same levels they were at. I believe hardware margins will go up a little bit later this year as the capacity glut is resolved, but will it go back to where it was? I doubt it.

Q: As a pure-play storage software vendor, how does TrueSAN have an advantage over hardware vendors such as EMC and Compaq?The storage system vendors have migrated very quickly to higher-margin software to help them augment their financial success. The challenge there is do customers really view storage system vendors such as EMC and Compaq as credible suppliers of open management software that's designed to work across vendors? I think that's a stumbling block a lot of the storage array vendors are facing when it comes to selling an open storage management solution. They are selling a lot of software that works with their arrays, and that's always been a successful business for them, but the customer demand is towards open, and that comes from an ISV -- such as TrueSAN -- traditionally.

Q: Is there a downside to bundling multiple software tools into a single storage management operating system such as CloudBreak?In our model we actually built everything. CloudBreak is all home-grown TrueSAN technology that has been built from the ground up to work together. All of our intellectual property has been built from the ground up to work in an integrated fashion. The alternative approach is a lot of OEM deals with a lot of point products, then attempts to bring all those together. But we have not seen that work in the marketplace ever as a solution that customers get excited about, because the integration isn't natural. Where in our case, it's all home-grown so it is very natural integration.

Q: What about the performance of the individual software tools when bundled together as one?Now, in terms of "do we have the same level of depth in each of the categories?" - that's a good question. I think the answer is clearly that it's going to be very, very tough to have every last feature in each individual category. I think our goal is to have about eighty percent of the critical functions in each category. And there is an eighty-twenty rule that most customers will be happy hitting on that eighty percent. The twenty percent that we don't have when we announce general availability we will work in, filling those holes over time. But the thrust of the message is that the integration benefits are significantly greater if all the pieces are built from the ground up.

Q: What's the big trend in storage today?I think today the big thrust is around open technologies. If anything is happening in storage today, it's a desire to keep network environments open and multi-vendor in nature. It increases the competition inside the enterprise, and that ultimately drives a lower cost for the customer. An independent software provider's solution allows them to bring something of a democracy into the way they purchase new hardware and new software because they have a greater selection of vendor options to choose from.

Q: What's the near-term outlook in storage?IT spending is going to continue to be tight. Customers are going to be selective about new technologies they invest in. They are going to look for very rapid and recurring ROI. Very compelling ROI statements are needed for customers to bring in new technology, and as a result, it's making the IT buying environment for some storage startups tougher because their technologies might be limited in focus and the ROI potential is not compelling enough to get an administrator to get their CFO to buy off on it. So there will be an emphasis towards broader and more compelling solutions for ROI.

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