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Xiotech CEO is ready for a fight

Beating EMC with products that are easy to use, and taking the company public are at the top of Casey Powell's plans for Xiotech.

Within hours of starting the job as CEO of Xiotech Corp., Casey Powell, who replaces Alain Andreoli, is already rolling up his sleeves. Driving between meetings, he talked to about his plans for the company.

SearchStorage: You were previously CEO of StoneFly Networks, but not for long. What happened there?

Powell: I was there for nine months but it was only supposed to be six. I was brought in to take a look at them, see what they could do and to help hire a CEO. That's what I did.

SearchStorage: Before StoneFly, you were cofounder and CEO of Sequent Computer Systems. Sequent was offering an alternative to older, more expensive mainframe computers. Is there a similarity between what was happening in the server market with Sequent and what Xiotech is trying to do in the storage market?

Powell: The big guys in Xiotech's market are a lot harder to beat. The momentum of the market is not with Xiotech. People don't think of us first. But when we have a chance to compete, we do very well.

SearchStorage: EMC is entering the SMB space where Xiotech plays. How will you deal with this?

Powell: EMC is a very big company and very successful in the enterprise. But the customer profile in SMB is very different to enterprise. I would rather meet them there than in the enterprise.

SearchStorage: Are you going to move up market?

Powell: We can go there. But our focus is on SMB.

SearchStorage: What is your edge over EMC?

Powell: We have similar technology to EMC. The advantage we have is that our product is easy to use. That's where our focus is. Also, our customer base is more loyal than EMC's. A loyal customer base doesn't come from just a good product. It requires a cultural commitment to the customer that they get taken care of.

{To support his point Powell mentioned a story about Joyce Meyer Ministries, based in St. Louis, Mo., that recently switched out its EMC Clariion arrays in favor of Xiotech.}

SearchStorage: After a decade of trying to compete with the top tier computer makers, Sequent was eventually bought by IBM. It was a classic example of the struggles faced by smaller computer companies with good technology going up against the marketing muscle of the giants. Xiotech faces the same challenge against companies like EMC, HP and Hitachi Data Systems. How do you plan to tackle this problem?

Powell: It's a difficult problem. The question is how to create distinction without being the giant on the block. We won't be successful if we try and do everything better than EMC. We will focus on more partnering in vertical markets -- particularly health care, government (military) and education.

SearchStorage: It's no secret that Xiotech is looking to go public. Will we see an IPO in 2005?

Powell:No. Is it possible? Anything is possible. The important thing is to put the company on the right track. That's why I am here. It has to be a solid company producing profits. There haven't been many IPOs lately, so I am proud that we are going that way. But the market has to be right. There are many factors…

SearchStorage: Will Xiotech be profitable in 2005?

Powell: That's the goal. I took Sequent to a billion dollar run rate, and that wasn't big enough. Not getting big enough fast enough, that's one of the things you always have to be concerned about.

SearchStorage: How many customers does Xiotech have?

Powell: About 1,350. But I don't care how many customers you have, it's about solid profits.

SearchStorage: Right, right. Show me the money. {We got that part.] So what about storage users then? What do you think their most pressing issues are right now?

Powell: In our market space, abstracting complexity, is important. It's affordable now, but we've got to make it easier to use. Typically, the easier the technology is to use, the harder it is to build. Companies that don't have large IT departments, or time or people really need this.

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