Pillar Data is more than just Larry’s company

Pillar Data Systems has been plugging along with its unique storage solutions that seamlessly unite SAN and NAS. The company is noted for being one of Oracle billionaire Larry Ellison’s pet projects.

Ellison poured in more than US$300 million of his own money to start Pillar Data back in 2001.

But all that changed in August of last year when it unseated rival NetApps at NASA.

NASA’s Solar Data Analysis Center wanted to change its NAS for something that was more agile. According to NASA, the set of arrays from Pillar Data made it easier for the organization to study the sun.

Being selected by NASA put Ellison’s brainchild on the industry’s radar screen.

Ellison’s vision for Pillar Data was to do something different for the storage industry. He hired Mike Workman to run the company and together the two hatched a strategy where the storage system is defined by the technologies that are applied in a particular configuration to solve the storage problem.

The other part of the plan was to become an alternative to rivals EMC and NetApp.

Dave Zimmer, vice president, worldwide channel sales for Pillar Data, said the company positions itself as a different choice to larger, more entrenched companies that have been in the market for years.

“We are different because we looked at the mistakes they made and learned from them. Before we wrote even one line of code at Pillar, we met with hundreds of prospective customers and asked them what they expected from an enterprise storage solution,” he said.

What Workman, Zimmer and other Pillar executives heard was that the market was looking for an alternative that was easier to manage and less expensive.

Pillar Data’s flagship product is called Axiom and while most of the company’s sales are around Oracle applications, it can handle many other applications such as Microsoft Exchange and VMWare.

Last year, Pillar Data achieved 68 per cent of its overall revenues through the channel. The company still has a direct sales force, but Zimmer said the strategy going forward is built around a coverage model that would expand Pillar Data’s footprint.

Pillar Data has developed a sales training program and process, a sales compensation model the company hopes will drive specific sales behaviours, a marketing pipeline generator for improving the sales cycle and solution selling and an automated sales quoting system in support of this strategy.

“Pillar also employs channel sales managers (CSM), who are regionally based in North America and Europe. The CSMs are compensated to drive indirect selling behavior – indirect revenue achievement and development of indirect opportunities for the channel. The Channel Sales Managers also are rewarded for developing channel partnerships around Pillar selling,” Zimmer said.

Pillar has recruited and authorized 105 VARs and supports them through five distributors worldwide.

Part of the channel plan for 2008 is to expand the company’s presence in Canada. Zimmer said currently there are a number of partners that service Canada, but he is always looking for more.

“What differentiates us is that we can offer our partner and reseller community the ability to deliver a SAN- or NAS- centric approach. Our Pillar Axiom is designed to seamlessly accommodate SAN, NAS or both, with complete access to the same storage pool. We are very selective in who we work with and in order to participate in our Channel program, partners must meet specific requirements including contributing to Pillar sales and training programs, participating in a formal quarterly business review and planning meetings with Pillar executives,” he said.

Pillar Data was at first an enterprise vendor, but as of 2006 switched gears and is targeting branch offices and SMB.

Zimmer believes that channel relationships will be critical for the success in the SMB market.

“Axiom is ideally suited to help support consolidation, while also serving the needs of the Remote Office Back Office (ROBO) workforce,” he said.

Pillar Data also introduced an entry level product, called the Axiom 300, that is specifically meant for the channel and departmental storage for SME.

“The Axiom 300 has been packaged to ensure simplicity around selling, buying, and installing – single SKU bundles providing the channel with an easy way to sell, an easy way for customers to buy, and an easy way for service providers to install. This product has enabled Pillar to establish a footprint with the Axiom family and position the reseller for follow-on sales and add-on options,” Zimmer said.

For 2008, Pillar Data is looking to grow its channel business to beyond 70 per cent.

It also wants to market disk drive technologies as they become available to the market – 750GB, 1TB SATA disk drives, 300GB FC drive and introducing a new set of professional services offerings, the Pillar Pulse suite of services.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Paolo Del Nibletto
Paolo Del Nibletto
Former editor of Computer Dealer News, covering Canada's IT channel community.

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