Top Ten Storage Networking Stars

Our picks of the Top Ten most influential people in the storage networking industry

August 23, 2002

21 Min Read
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Grab a cold beverage, crack your knuckles, and settle into a comfy chair. OK. You're ready for Byte and Switch's newest Top Ten list a ranking of the most important and influential people in storage networking.

Sure, any brainless schmoe can name his or her Top Ten favorite movies of all time. But hardly anyone can name a Top Ten list of all-time great storage networking stars. Well, shame on you. We can, and we did.

Not just any old biffer who's ever bought us a drink [ed. note: hint, hint] gets a place on this list – oh, no. There are rules to be followed. Please read them carefully before you rush to submit your own list that only obeys half of them. And if you do send us your list, try not to include yourself, eh?

The rankings on our Top Ten Storage Networking Stars list (we were going to call it the "Top Ten Movers and Shakers" but somehow that just sounded so... 1951) are based on the following criteria:

  • Rule No. 1: Proven Track Record – Self explanatory.Rule No. 2: Current Influence – With customers, Wall Street, and the industry at large.

    Rule No. 3: Vision for Storage Networking – In other words, addicted to it and not about to retire anytime soon.

    Rule No. 4: Rules Subject to Change – We can introduce a new rule whenever we feel like it.

To all those on the first list: Congratulations. But hold on, Mr. Hot Stuff. Like our Top Ten Private Companies list, we won't be able to resist dabbling in it from time to time, so don't get too comfortable. Should anyone on this list slip up, we will boot them off. If we discover things about them that don't add up, they're history.

There are a few folks who nearly made it, until we realized they are probably the very executives their companies' PR firms would have nominated. These people belong in our Missed-the-Cut Bucket for now. It's possible they will redeem themselves and make it onto the list, particularly if someone on the current Top Ten puts their foot in it.Here, for your reading pleasure (click on a name to read the full write-up):

Table 1: Top Ten Storage Networking Stars





Naoya Takahashi



H.K. Desai



Fred van den Bosch



Kumar Malavalli



Dave Donatelli



Steve Duplessie

Enterprise Storage Group


Larry Boucher



Dave Hitz

Network Appliance


Geoff Barrall



Clint Vaughan

Salomon Smith Barney




Bob Muglia


Linda Sanford


Mark Cree


Gary Bloom


Ziya Aral


Paul Bonderson


Mark Lewis


Figure 1: Naoya Takahashi

In tip-top form – and by far the No. 1 Star on our first list – is Naoya Takahashi, president of the disk array business at Hitachi Ltd. (NYSE: HIT; Paris: PHA) in Japan.

Mr. Takahashi, 53, has been in the disk array business and working for Hitachi since 1973. What this man doesn't know about disk arrays isn't worth knowing.His claim to fame is the Lightning 9900 series of arrays, which, within two years of being launched, gained more than 25 percent global market share. This rocks for two reasons: First, the product is truly a breakthrough in design, thanks to Takahashi and his engineering team; and second, that market share figure cuts right into EMC Corp.'s (NYSE: EMC) wallet, forcing the incumbent to be competitive or lose business.

We were fortunate enough to catch up with Takahashi (with the help of a translator) on the phone this week to ask him how he felt about this achievement. True to Japanese culture, he was extremely modest. He said there were many more steps still to take, including "harmonizing the different functionalities of storage management software across the enterprise."

Will Hitachi now give EMC a run for its money in software as well as hardware? "We are engaging other vendors – Veritas Software Corp., Oracle Corp., and more – to help us," Takahashi said. Watch this space.

We asked Takahashi if there were any other business achievements he was proud of. "We have 45 percent market share of the disk business in Japan," he says. "It is more than anyone else."

[Ed. note: He is too cool for words.]

Figure 2: H.K. Desai

Next on our list is H.K. Desai, president, CEO, and chairman of QLogic Corp. (Nasdaq: QLGC). When Desai took over in 1995, QLogic was entirely focused on SCSI components.

Fortunately for QLogic, Desai early on saw the shift to storage networks. He's since turned the company into a leading supplier of Fibre Channel host bus adapters and switches and, perhaps soon, iSCSI adapters. Desai has forged a strong relationship with Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), which could pay off handsomely if Cisco makes good on its promises to tear out a piece of the SAN market. In any case, QLogic has also been seriously out-executing the competition (see QLogic Keeps Hot Streak Alive).

We like the fact that Desai, 56, is an engineer. He's not faking this stuff. That technology-rooted perspective informs the company's "Fibre Down" strategy, predicated on the theory that FC HBAs will eventually get embedded directly into servers and systems as silicon. On this front, too, QLogic is well ahead of the pack.

"As an engineer and somebody at the center of the storage networking storm, he understands the transition to ever-tighter integrated silicon design," says Clay Sumner, analyst with financial firm Legg Mason Inc. "That understanding is a key part of retaining key engineering talent for embedded systems design – and that is critical to the company's future."Our only complaint is that H.K. talks too damned fast – we sometimes have trouble keeping up with what he's saying! Our guess, though, is that he's not going to slow down any time soon.

Figure 3: Fred van den Bosch

Coming in at No. 3 is Fred van den Bosch, who has been steering Veritas Software Corp.'s (Nasdaq: VRTS) technology direction since he joined 11 years ago. At the time, Veritas had just begun its transition away from hardware (it used to sell minicomputer systems, competing with the likes of Stratus Technologies International) and setting out on a path to become the world's largest independent storage software company.

Today, van den Bosch, Veritas's EVP of product strategy and new product initiatives, manages an elite group of 60 engineers who are creating the company's next generation of software. He meets with virtually every startup in the storage software space and is a key influence on which Veritas may (or may not) end up buying.

Van den Bosch, 55, also developed Veritas's view that storage intelligence will move into intelligent devices in the network – a shift, he says, that will change the way Veritas sells software. "We may have a different set of partners," he says. "We may work with integrators who combine our software with commodity hardware and deliver that to customers. That has an impact on how we sell the products and interact with partners in the field."Bill North, storage software analyst at IDC, who worked with van den Bosch at Veritas for three years, says he is certainly one of the great visionaries in the storage software business. "He can focus that vision so it directs new product initiatives where they need to go two years from now," North says. "That's an incredibly valuable asset."

Also in his favor: He's Dutch!

Figure 4: Kumar Malavalli

The resident Fibre Channel expert on our list is Kumar Malavalli, 59, one of the original architects of the FC specification and the man responsible for guiding it through the quagmire of standards bodies. Anyone willing and persistent enough to take on this challenge deserves a medal in our book – or, at least, the No. 4 spot on this list.

Not only is Malavalli adept on the technical side, he can also spot a decent business opportunity when he sees one. Crosspoint Venture Partners approached him in 1995 to help found Brocade Communications Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: BRCD), which he did with considerable success. Malavalli is currently advisor to Brocade's chairman and CEO Greg Reyes on all matters relating to technology strategy and product direction at the company (see our recent interview with him).Malavalli, not content with just one multimillion-dollar market leader under his belt, is also an angel investor in a bunch of up-and-coming storage networking startups. Plus, he’s got his fingers in a few biosciences and genetics pies, too, as a partner at Pulsar Ventures.

(Hmmm, maybe that explains where all his energy comes from? He's actually 89!)

He's also in the middle of organizing a Storage Networking Summit to foster the development of storage networking capabilities in the Asia/Pacific region. The market for storage networking technology will grow in the double digits in this region, Malavalli believes, particularly in China and India. The first conference will be held in Bangalore from January 20 to 23, 2003, and is targeted at IT executives and professionals who have deployed, or are at the planning stages of deploying, storage networking in the region.

Figure 5: Dave Donatelli

Dave Donatelli, coming in at the No. 5 spot, has managed to surprise a few people.Last November, EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC) CEO Joe Tucci put Donatelli – at 37, one of the younger members on our Top Ten – in charge of Hopkinton's crown jewels. As EVP of storage platforms operations, Donatelli oversees every aspect of the development and sales strategy behind EMC's Symmetrix, Clariion, and Celerra storage hardware systems.

One former EMC employee says she was at first befuddled when Tucci handed Donatelli the reins of the unified hardware platforms group. He has an MBA, not a computer science degree, which went against the grain of EMC's culture. "Dave was the M&A guy for a long time and is definitely more of a business type than a technology type," she says. "But it seems like he's making the right moves for the hardware group."

Others think Donatelli's skills are especially well suited for this point in EMC's lifecycle. "Seems to me the time is right to worry about taking costs out of the platform at all levels, and he's got to be considered a good dude to manage that," says Steve Duplessie, founder of Enterprise Storage Group Inc. and an ex-EMC employee (who's No. 6 on our list, by the way).

In less than a year Donatelli has made changes that look commonsensical but required challenging some entrenched modes of behavior at EMC. Previously, the Symmetrix and Clariion groups were run as separate fiefdoms. Donatelli got rid of that balkanization, combining the R&D groups for both hardware platforms. That means EMC's storage systems will benefit from common HBAs, device drivers, and management tools. "It sounds easy," Donatelli says, "but it took a fair amount of focus and effort to make sure we could go to customers with an integrated capability."

Lest you think he's merely a bean counter, Donatelli does exhibit a sharp sense of where storage hardware is headed. Won't the actual storage devices become less intelligent – and, thus, of lower value – once more intelligence migrates to the network?On the contrary, he says: It's an additive equation rather than a zero-sum game. "All storage functionality really started on the server – volume management, replication, optimization, backup/recovery, and so on. As EMC became successful by moving this intelligence to storage devices, customers added it to what they already had... While this was happening, storage functionality on the server hasn't gotten any 'less intelligent.' We have no reason to expect things to be different when intelligent storage networks evolve."

So far, so good. Now let's see how intelligent that prognosis turns out to be.

Figure 6: Steve Duplessie

When Steve Duplessie, the 38-year-old founder and senior analyst at Enterprise Storage Group Inc., talks about a storage company, it's either a blessing – or the kiss of death. No. 6 on our list, Duplessie has the unusual ability to cause companies to alter their strategies with just a few pointed remarks.

He started his career in the storage business in 1986, as a hard-charging sales rep at the then-brand-new EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC). Basically, he was a punk. "I was one of the a-hole arrogant, overly aggressive sales guys everyone knows and loves," Duplessie says.In 1993, he founded Invincible Technology Corp. (the name was picked to mock a guy named Vince, who Duplessie felt screwed him on a previous deal), which developed high-capacity, fault-tolerant network storage systems. He sold Invincible to Procom Technology Inc. (Nasdaq: PRCM) in 1998, with unhappy results. "They instantly pissed everyone off, so everyone left within months," he says. In November 1999, Duplessie started up a consulting firm to cater to the storage industry.

At just the right time, it turned out. The storage market started to boom, and VC money was pumping into dozens of startups – each one of them eagerly seeking Duplessie's guidance and validation. He's only too happy to demolish passionately held assumptions in the process. "Believing your own bullshit tends to get people into trouble," he observes.

Now, Duplessie says, there is definitely a "storage bubble" that is heading for a shakeout. "Unfortunately for ESG, we think that, of the 225 storage companies we track today, that number will be 125 in a year. It's Darwinism, which is OK by me, as long as it doesn't go so far that little guys don't try to play – they are the real innovators."

Of course, Duplessie has his detractors. A rival analyst accuses him of being skilled mainly at self-promotion, and that he essentially sells his quotes to the highest bidder. "I call him The Squid, because no other creature on Earth pisses as much ink," the analyst grouses.

Bah! That's just sour grapes. Duplessie is on our list because every single storage company out there cares what he thinks – and he'll stay on it for as long as that's true.

Figure 7: Larry Boucher

Larry Boucher sits at No. 7 on our list, if for no other reason than because he's the perfect bridge between the past and future of storage interconnection technologies.

Boucher, who spent his first 12 years in the business in IBM Corp.'s (NYSE: IBM) Storage Division in San Jose, Calif., is credited with inventing SCSI (Small Computer Systems Interface) – the dominant technology used to connect external storage directly to servers. He founded Adaptec Inc. (Nasdaq: ADPT) in 1981, which became the dominant supplier of SCSI-based products to the market.

Today, the 59-year-old Boucher is CEO of Alacritech Inc., a company he founded to tap the expected surge toward IP storage with iSCSI, which extends SCSI commands over IP networks.

Boucher, still a hard-core engineer who can drill down to the bits with the best of them, is also a Deep Thinker about computing and storage. He believes Alacritech is positioned to benefit from the merging of CPU, network, and storage technologies. "As little as seven years ago, the center of gravity of computing was the CPU," he says. "Now, 90 percent of data on disk drives never has an interest in going to a CPU... So in just a couple of years we're driving the convergence of the backplane of the switch and the computer. The CPU is just one more peripheral around the backplane of a switch."How does that relate to Alacritech, which is basically making faster Ethernet adapters tuned for storage? Boucher says as the computer chip set (the glue that connects an Intel processor to the rest of the world) and the network processor chip set (which accelerates protocol processing) merge, Alacritech's Ethernet-based technology is going to be essential. "At 10 Gig, the processor can no longer do protocol processing. The backplane is going to be running multiple 10-Gigs of TCP/IP, and if you want to do that you need our technology."

Of course, that vision assumes, among other things, that InfiniBand rather quietly shrivels up and dies. Also, we should note that Boucher's previous endeavor was Auspex Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: ASPX), which pioneered the concept of NAS but failed to match the booming success of Network Appliance Inc. (Nasdaq: NTAP).

So we'll see if his vision of the future of storage vis-à-vis Alacritech pans out. If the company zooms into the early lead of the iSCSI market in the next year or so, Boucher will undoubtedly move up the list.

Figure 8: Dave Hitz

Next up is David Hitz, 39, founder and executive VP of engineering at Network Appliance Inc. (Nasdaq: NTAP).Actually, the credit for correctly spotting the gap in the market for a way to provide heterogeneous file-based storage to multiple different operating systems does not go to Network Appliance, as most people think. This prize must go to Auspex Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: ASPX).

Who? Exactly.

We can thank Network Appliance for commercializing NAS technology and creating a multibillion-dollar industry. In other words, technology clout alone doesn’t cut it on this list – or any of our lists, come to think of it. Business acumen is a must.

Hitz started out at Auspex, but for one reason or another he was being held back over there and quit to do things his own way. It worked out, and he's credited with being one of the driving forces behind NetApp's considerable achievement to date.

He's not done yet. He believes NetApp's new block-based storage subsystem and integrated caching products (coming in the fall) will increase the company's addressable market four or five times, as well as contribute to higher margins for the company.Watch for this message over and over from Network Appliance in the coming months: "CIOs like to worry about business problems, not technology," Hitz says. "Our goal should be to let them build and manage network storage infrastructures without having to worry about the evolving technical details of NAS and SAN."

An admirable goal. Will he help NetApp achieve it? We shall see.

Figure 9: Geoff Barrall

Holding tight at No. 9 on our list is Dr. Geoff "Golden Boy" Barrall, CTO and cofounder of BlueArc Corp.

He's not just a pretty face. In addition to holding a PhD in cybernetics – which is beyond cool – Barrall, 33, has already founded a bunch of companies: VCI Systems, Network Alliance, Palomino Networks, and BlueArc.The only one of these not to work out was Palomino, which failed due to a lack of funding caused by U.K. VCs not appreciating the value of technology companies, he says. (Palomino had one of the world's first functional Fast Ethernet switches.)

We should also mention at this point that Barrall designed what industry benchmarks prove is the world's faster NAS server, by moving all the key protocols into hardware (which is what BlueArc sells). It's really his main contribution to the world of storage networking technology.

The rest of his companies are going great guns, from what we can tell. In between building robots and founding networking companies, Barrall was also responsible for key aspects of the design of the following companies' U.K. networks, among others: GM, BMW, and Rudolf Wolfe, the largest metal exchange in Europe.

Barely old enough to shave, Barrall is clearly on a roll!

Figure 10: Clint Vaughan

Not all Wall Street analysts are evildoers, and, given the high levels of interest on the Street for storage stocks right now, we’ve decided to pick just one of the species who we believe is setting the tone rather than following it.

Clint Vaughan, 33, senior storage analyst at Salomon Smith Barney, takes the No. 10 spot.

In December 1999, Vaughan’s group wrote the industry's first white paper on "Understanding Computer Storage," referred to for a while by the industry as "The SAN Book."

In it, Salomon predicted that the bulk of storage would become networked – at a time when many thought this either wouldn’t happen because of high costs or that it would be a niche market. The white paper also said that SAN and NAS would converge (which seems obvious now, but was crazy talk back then), and that Fibre Channel would dominate the storage landscape for the foreseeable future.

The firm also correctly anticipated the emergence of IP as a storage networking technology, and Vaughan is closely watching the entrance of Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) into this market. Despite, in our opinion, his excessive optimism on Brocade Communications Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: BRCD), he's well aware of the pressures on this company and isn't afraid to ask tough questions.In no particular order, here are the folks we considered putting on the Top Ten – but, well, didn't.

Bob Muglia, senior VP of Microsoft Corp.'s (Nasdaq: MSFT) Enterprise Storage Division: Microsoft is surely, at some point, going to make a big strike in the storage software market. Everyone's afraid of Microsoft, still the most powerful software company in the world. But Muglia hasn't demonstrated he's a player yet. We suspect he's biding his time up in his Redmond aerie, waiting for the right moment to send his troops swooping in like those winged monkeys from The Wizard of Oz.

Linda Sanford, senior VP and group executive, IBM Storage Systems Group: She's a professional manager and a formidable competitor. But IBM's storage strategy has been inconsistent. Big Blue appears to be in retreat on iSCSI; Shark is still playing catchup to EMC and Hitachi on the technical front; and its Storage Tank project is still a moving target (or, even, an empty vessel into which you can pour your own meaning). Is she "all mouth, no trousers"?

Mark Cree, general manager of Cisco Systems Inc.'s (Nasdaq: CSCO) storage router business unit: The one-time CEO of NuSpeed has been swallowed up in the Cisco maw. And now, pretty much all of Cisco's attention will be on Andiamo – so where does that leave Cree? Plus, he's being sued by a former employer. Bad karma, man! (See Cisco Sued Over NuSpeed.)

Gary Bloom, CEO of Veritas Software Corp. (Nasdaq: VRTS): He commands the largest company in the most strategically key sector of the storage industry. But underlings say Bloom is straight from the Larry Ellison school of inflexible, hard-assed management. Which isn't necessarily all bad. But what's his vision for storage networking?Ziya Aral, chairman and CTO of DataCore Software Corp.: Is his idea the Amiga of the storage networking world? It's a nice product. But we wonder how big this market is, exactly. Moreover, DataCore's in-band approach seems to be on the wane in favor of more scaleable out-of-band virtualization.

Paul Bonderson, cofounder and VP of strategic development, Brocade Communications Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: BRCD): We hear that he's the brains behind the Fibre Channel switch juggernaut. Fine. Good. Well done, Mr. Bonderson! However, we also hear from a Brocade insider that he's "no longer really around the office." Um... sounds like ol' Paul is phonin' it in. Not that there's anything wrong with that. But it keeps him out of the Top Ten.

Mark Lewis, CTO and EVP of new ventures, EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC): In a very influential spot, but his credibility is still questionable right now. Six months ago, when he was VP of storage marketing at Compaq, he was telling customers EMC stood for "Expensive, Monolithic, and Closed." He has long way to go to prove EMC isn't. And we have to wonder: Could he change his mind again in another six months? (See EMC CTO Makes His Entrance

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