Interview: Quantum's Belluzzo free to tout Linux

Rick Belluzzo, former president and chief operating officer of Microsoft Corp., took over as CEO of ailing Milpitas, Calif.-based storage vendor Quantum Corp. in September. Belluzzo spoke with Computerworld about his first three months in a job where "Linux" is no longer a dirty word.

Q: What was morale like when you showed up at Quantum, given the concurrent layoff of a third of the company's workforce?People were kind of tired and a bit stunned. The company's had an unusual background, but it's always been viewed as a place that was good to people. Morale in our industry is quite low. I'm not sure we're any worse off than others -- maybe we're better off. But what was most important was to deal with any confusion, any malaise of energy.

Q: An unusual background in what way?We were a hard-disk company, that was our culture and our background, and we sold what was the largest part of our business [to Maxtor Corp. last year] and invested in what are slower-growth businesses: the tape business, and trying to transition from that to something that's higher-growth [tape automation and data protection appliances]. Those are transitions that are really hard for employees.

We said we were going to break even this quarter and be profitable next quarter, and there's been a huge amount of energy to get there.

Q: Where is that energy being directed now?Going forward, we see ourselves focused on data protection, which is a variety of businesses that are about the way customers back up, restore, archive and deal with their basic critical management assets, their information. We think there's a lot of opportunity there; there's a lot of change under way. There's more of a mission-critical view toward data protection. These things are increasingly important, given some of the events that we've seen in the world over the last year.

It's an area where IT people are the most frustrated. It's the most labor-intensive, the most error-prone part of their IT operations. And increasingly, it's a big part of people's budgets. Storage has certainly grown on the radar screen, but even data protection now is viewed as something people need to think about, moving forward.

Q: Is continued growth through acquisition a strategy of yours?Not necessarily. I would rather think that the way we consolidate here is through great execution. We continue to gain position; we had lost position, and now last quarter and this quarter we're gaining some share back.

Q: To whom had you primarily lost position?HP [Hewlett-Packard Co.] and IBM Corp. in the LTO [linear tape-open] space.

Q: When you joined Quantum, you told us that Bob Muglia, who heads Microsoft's storage effort, had suggested you get together. Did that ever happen?We are [meeting] next month. We're going to sit down and talk about where Microsoft is going and where we're going, and identify the points of connection. Bob and I have talked a couple times, and they're coming up with some ideas. I'm not sure where that's going to go. If we can find a way to work together, that would be great. The initiatives we're talking about all need to work well within Windows and SQL Server and a variety of environments that they certainly could help us with. Anytime you can get Microsoft's marketing machine and sales efforts supporting what you do, given our limited go-to-market resources compared to Microsoft's, that's something that would certainly be desirable.

But most of our products have been Linux-based. When you do an appliance today, the obvious answer is to take Linux. It's a very good operating system for those kinds of products.

Q: So are you more of a believer in Linux now than you were when you were at Microsoft?I wasn't a believer in Linux at Microsoft -- I couldn't be a believer at Microsoft. But Linux is clearly the biggest competitive challenge that Microsoft has ever faced. It's unlike anything before -- there's not a company behind it. It's very elusive, in a way. I don't think Linux is going to be successful as a desktop replacement. But Linux is going to surround new appliances and new segments, and really affect Microsoft through prevention of Microsoft from moving into new segments effectively.

Q: Would you consider yourself a Linux advocate now?I consider myself an advocate of whatever allows us to achieve our goals most effectively. And today, for us, that certainly is Linux because it's free; it has a good modular design; you can modify it to meet your needs. There is nothing else that can meet our needs like that.

Do you think Linux will be an obstacle to an effective partnership between Quantum and Microsoft? If Microsoft gives us a better idea and a better alternative, we could change. Our customers, by and large, don't really care what the operating system is. That's what's different about an appliance -- the customer really doesn't care what the components are.

Q: When you announced you were leaving Microsoft last April, there was a lot written in the press about friction between you and CEO Steve Ballmer. How much of that was accurate?If you're familiar with Microsoft's culture, my style is very different from Microsoft's style. Some people at Microsoft said that was really great, and other people said, "Gee, this guy is kind of a funny guy." I'm less confrontational. I'm more win-win, working with people, working with partners. People outside the company liked working with me. For example, if someone raised the subject of Linux, I didn't jump up and scream. I said, "Talk to me about why you like Linux, and let's talk through this." That was a different approach than the norm. There are many, many cases like that. I don't know if it created strained relationships; it just really marked the difference. Sometimes that's really good, and sometimes it can be a difficult situation.

Q: Users appear to be more willing than they had been in the past to put more of their mission-critical apps on Linux, in some cases replacing Microsoft. Is that the road you see companies taking?In that case it's not Linux that's the threat, as much as the layer of software that's being built above that, like [IBM's] WebSphere and some of these other new tools and new development environments that basically can interact with virtually any technology below it. That, then, allows for the operating system to be less relevant. So in that environment there's Linux and WebSphere vs. Microsoft, which is Windows from top to bottom.

So that's the debate: Is Windows going to grow into a broader application development environment, or is IBM going to be successful with something like WebSphere? Microsoft has a lot of work to do to make Windows as powerful and flexible as the combination of Linux and some of these other tools.

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