Pillar CEO Talks Roadmap

2006 plans call for Fibre Channel drives, an IP SAN, 4-Gbit/s, and a midrange box

April 19, 2006

3 Min Read
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Pillar Data didn't quite meet expectations in its first year of shipping products, but CEO Mike Workman says the guy bankrolling the company understands its challenges better than most.

Pillar has 87 customers, a bit shy of the internal projections set when it finally got its Axiom 500 systems out the door last year -- after nearly four years and $150 million in funding. (See Pillar Leaves Post At Last.)

"I think we had higher expectations, which were not well founded," Workman said with a chuckle in recent interview with Byte and Switch. "The nice thing about being a startup is you're not burdened by the shackles of past success, because you don’t have any."

Actually, the burden of expectations surrounding Pillar comes from the resources Oracle founder Larry Ellison has poured into the startup. But while others are quick to point out how much of Ellison's money Pillar has spent, Workman says his boss is just as quick to notice how far the engineering team has come with its ambitious integrated NAS-SAN system.

Workman says he received no pressure to stray from the original product plans, even when that meant falling behind schedule. Even after shipping for nearly a year, Pillar's platform is a work in progress. So far, the Axiom 500 is SATA only. Workman expects systems with Fibre Channel support this summer, as well as 4-Gbit/s support and a midrange box that will include an iSCSI option."We decided we would stick with our principles," he says. "Once you get something in concrete, it's hard to tear it apart. If you go down a tributary off the main river, you might never get back to the main river.

"We sat down with Larry and said, 'It's hard, lots of codes, lots of enterprise code, serious stuff.' We spent six months testing once the code was done. Larry looked at what we were doing and said, 'It's hard to believe you have done what you've done so far.' He has an appreciation for enterprise stuff. Everybody else said, 'What the hell is taking so long?'"

Ellison's continued patience may be necessary. Pillar is still at least a year from breaking even, Workman says. And though customers generally give the Axiom high grades -- particularly for cost and management ease -- the startup is picking on the big boys of the storage world. (See Pillar Aims for Knockouts.)

"It's tough to develop one platform that goes against a lot of products all in the same box, with the same storage platform and same management software," Workman says. "We do go directly against just about all the products from EMC, IBM, HP, Hitachi, and NetApp. Well, we don't go against the [low-end HP] MSA 1000 and [EMC] Clariion 300... yet. We'll have a whole new box coming out for the midmarket."

That will be the Axiom 300, expected to roll out in late summer. It will be a smaller system, and Pillar's first whack at iSCSI. Unlike most of the major Fibre Channel vendors except for Network Appliance, Pillar has high hopes for iSCSI. Workman sees iSCSI as a lucrative market once 10-Gbit/s Ethernet gets down to the right price."When 10 GigE comes out, that's when I think iSCSI will take off," Workman says. "There will be a serious challenge between FC SANs and Ethernet SANs then."

— Dave Raffo, Senior Editor, Byte and Switch

Organizations mentioned in this article:

  • EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC)

  • Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ)

  • IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM)

  • Hitachi Data Systems (HDS)

  • Network Appliance Inc. (Nasdaq: NTAP)

  • Oracle Corp. (Nasdaq: ORCL)

  • Pillar Data Systems Inc.

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