Executive vision: NSS CEO rides wave of NAS growth

In this continuing series of interviews with the CEOs and top executives of major storage companies attending the Merrill Lynch Storage Technology Conference in Santa Barbara last week, searchStorage talks to Brad Clemmons, president and CEO of Network Storage Solutions (NSS).

A provider of network attached storage (NAS)-based solutions since 1996, the company is just beginning to see the demand for NAS devices reflected in its bottom line. As head of a privately held company, Clemmons would only say that NSS "revenues are climbing like crazy." The Virginia-based company made two major announcements this month, which to Clemmons signals NSS's growing presence in the NAS market. Two weeks ago, NSS launched a new line of NAS devices dubbed ProStor. And, just a wee ago, it announced Hitachi would provide NSS customers with a comprehensive, global service program.

Clemmons said that when he took over the position of CEO in May of 1998, it was his goal to get the technology out into the marketplace and validate it. The company already has committed investors and recently nabbed another $10 million in funding.

What are its limits?
Typically, when you get into areas of expandability and scalability,the question becomes, when does it stop being an appliance? What makes it an appliance is the function is was made to do. There are other features of an appliance, but I don't think they necessarily define an appliance. If you look at other appliance that may exist, you've got range of things. You say that NSS can offer its NAS products for about 50% less than its competitors. How?
Part of our strategy is to utilize Intel architecture as our hardware components. Because it's manufactured in bulk, it's driven the cost down. By marrying our NAS operating system (which is what provides the value) up to that hardware, we get a real advantage over companies that are designing and developing their own hardware. It serves to keep out costs lower. You recently announced a partnership with Hitachi. What are the details of that arrangement?
Hitachi will be providing our customers with multiple levels of service. Now we'll have service people everywhere. Hitachi has a reputation of being a first-class service provider. We've got a number one provider of service to support our products. This is hugely important to us. How were you serving your accounts before?
We were providing service, but only in certain geographic locations, but not to everyone and not globally. We wanted to be able to give our customers more to chose from. Now, there's a whole family of maintenance offerings to choose from. We now have a comprehensive plan. How on earth does a company get away without offering maintenance or service agreements?
We are reliable. Service was not an issue. Service, if needed could be done at leisure. Because we always provided backup, it is not as critical at certain sites. Will you charge more?
Only in that they're getting more comprehensive levels of service. You mentioned you were beginning to target the graphic prepress market. Is this a new market or just new to you?
Graphic prepress includes the folks that do add layouts and magazine graphics, for example. Traditionally, they've always used lots of storage because of the graphics. I?m sure it's highly targeted by other vendors, but it's new to us because graphic prepress is a Macintosh environment primarily. So we didn't want to go in that space until we knew we had a product. Now, we work with a company that makes a software product that enables a Mac device to talk to us. We'll be officially announcing a product soon. Both your lines of NAS products, Thunderbolt and ProStor, are storage appliances. Where to you see the growth potential of storage appliances?
I think there is a growing market for all types of storage appliances whether they're file services, cache apps or whatever. A storage appliance is a device designed to serve one function. It's a dedicated purpose device. It should be something you take out of the box and it runs. It shouldn?t be difficult to implement. Analysts say that a key differentiator in the NAS market will be how easily the product becomes a solution. What do they mean by that? Are they talking about implementation?
They may be looking from a solution sales point of view. A lot of companies try to be all things to all people. NAS can be horizontal. We said we're growing rapidly, but were not IBM. So we decided we had to pick vertical markets and settle on an expertise. We concentrate in areas like media streaming, ISP and graphic prepress where we have domain expertise. We know what to offer these segments and what's needed for a fast and effective implementation. We're not limited to those areas, but we've got a targeted program for our sales team to go into the market spaces. Are you looking into partnerships with other companies, in addition to Hitachi?
Certainly. We're talking to makers of virus scanner technology, for example. Where companies have technology that we find beneficial?we'll partner with them to bring it into our systems. Is there a battle raging between NAS and SAN technology?
There was in the past. I don't think so much today. The general consensus is that each one has benefits. We're seeing companies today that want to leverage both in their storage architecture. They're taking NAS head-in technology and using it to access consolidated SAN back end.

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