EqualLogic founder on succeeding in a crowded industry

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication (Leonardo da Vinci)

Seven years ago, in the early spring of 2001, Peter Hayden, Paul Koning and I collaborated on an idea that eventually became the Dell EqualLogic PS5000 Series family of iSCSI storage arrays. Little did we know how far that idea would take us.

We took a hard look at the storage industry and saw an opportunity: storage was complicated and based on a model that was struggling to scale as the need to store ever increasing volumes of data continued. It was clear that the trend towards consolidated, networked storage eventually would be a mandate for data centers everywhere in companies of all sizes.

But SANs were hard (most still are). Hard to install, difficult to manage, a nightmare to expand – and costly. They also were hard to buy, since without a magic decoder ring you didn’t know what you needed. So we set out to simplify networked storage, and make it easier to buy, install, manage, and grow. It sounds as good now as it did then.

Our philosophy, and ultimately the EqualLogic product architecture, evolved out of our analysis of and utter disdain for the mind-numbing inefficiency of traditional storage systems. Interestingly enough, we realized that the key shortcomings in storage system design centered around fundamental problems that already had been solved in other segments of the IT industry – namely, data networking and operating systems. It quickly became clear that adopting the same conceptual solutions to solve the corresponding problems in storage were not only feasible but also would result in a far-reaching improvement of storage operation – not to mention the quality of life of thousands of IT managers.

We went one step further and decided to remove the Chinese restaurant menu approach to buying storage that was the norm for the storage industry by including all of our storage management features bundled in the array at no extra charge (no license keys – ever).

One of the things we are most proud of is our excellent customer service. We knew early on we could only be successful if our customers were successful; for this to happen, they needed know that we are partnering with them to make their data center work. We took an approach that even if the issue being reported wasn’t with the PS Series storage, we’d work with the customer and other vendors to get it resolved. We measure success by happy customers.

So did we ever imagine becoming part of Dell and its mission to simplify IT? Well, maybe once. But, mostly, we stuck to our knitting and built a business together with some of the most talented and driven engineering, marketing, and sales professionals I have had the privilege to work with. By the time we were preparing for our IPO last fall, we were a leader in iSCSI SANs – the fastest growing segment of the fastest growing segment of the IT industry. EqualLogic had achieved strong growth and profitability, and customer surveys indicated a 98 percent satisfaction rate with 96 percent of customers stating that they would recommend EqualLogic storage solutions to others.

So what’s changed since we joined Dell? The biggest change is scale. We have much broader market reach. We also have access to a large, well-oiled distribution channel. Dell is just as passionate about simplifying IT as EqualLogic was. Now we can now work together to solve a broader set of customer problems. Our core hasn’t changed because we all have the same commitment to innovation that serves customer needs. We are still having fun changing the storage industry, and we still measure success by happy customers.

About the Author: Paula Long