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IBM storage GM Walsh leaves Big Blue for startup ChaosSearch

IBM recruited Ed Walsh in 2016 to revive its flagging storage division. Analysts credit Walsh for prioritizing all-flash and cloud data services. Now he’s heading to ChaosSearch.

IBM storage boss Ed Walsh is returning to the startup world, marking the second time in seven years he has left the mainframe and storage systems vendor. Walsh left his post as IBM storage general manager to become CEO of ChaosSearch, a startup that does log analysis for cloud-based data.

IBM has not publicly disclosed Walsh's departure, although it notified employees in an internal memo last week. Walsh confirmed his departure in an interview with SearchStorage, saying it was a difficult decision, but he is looking forward to his new job.

Ed WalshEd Walsh

Walsh left IBM six months after Arvind Krishna was appointed IBM CEO. Krishna has emphasized cloud services and data management as key drivers of IBM's overall growth. Walsh said IBM was "really supportive" of his decision to move on, and he was not pushed out. "I'm leaving with warm regards," Walsh said.

IBM hired Walsh as its storage general manager in 2016. It marked a second go-round for him at IBM. IBM acquired Storwize in 2010, a primary storage compression startup where Walsh served as CEO. He became a vice president of IBM Storwize until leaving in 2013 to become CEO at Catalogic Software.

"I'm leaving IBM storage in a very good position," Walsh said. "I was hired four years ago to bring them back to a leadership position. They weren't growing, profit was a challenge, they were on their heels, in distant third place [in market share], almost fourth.

We revamped IBM's entire product offering. Now you see revenue growth and storage is profitable for IBM.
Ed WalshOutgoing GM, IBM Storage

"We revamped IBM's entire product offering. Now you see revenue growth and storage is profitable for IBM. We went from four-year product cycles to two-year product cycles. I think [that puts IBM] ahead of what Dell EMC and Pure are doing. They are set for sustainable, profitable growth."

Changes in IBM's market approach

Walsh arrived at IBM while the vendor was in the midst of a five-year storage revenue slump, marked by sharply declining hardware sales. Although IBM bounced back in 2018, earnings have been uneven lately. However, IBM (up 4%) was one of only three major storage vendors to grow global revenue during the first quarter of 2020, at the height of the global pandemic. Huawei (18%) and Pure Storage (8%) also posted gains, according to data from IT analyst firm IDC.

IBM does not provide a specific revenue for its storage. It reports earnings in four broad categories: cognitive solutions, global business services, cloud technologies and hardware systems. Storage is lumped with its systems business, which also includes enterprise servers and mainframes.

Analysts credit Walsh with helping to shape IBM's strategy for all-flash storage and hybrid cloud products.

Steve McDowell, an analyst with Moor Insights & Strategy, said Walsh helped IBM marry the attributes of the IBM Spectrum Scale parallel file system software with IBM storage hardware.

"He brought a vision and an execution discipline. He's turned IBM storage into an execution machine," McDowell said.

When Walsh took over, IBM's lone all-flash product included the remnants of Texas Memory Systems' RamSan SANs, which it acquired in 2013. IBM RamSan technology is now known as IBM FlashSystem, the flagship brand for all its non-mainframe enterprise storage.

Walsh was the first storage executive specifically brought in to run the IBM storage group, said Eric Burgener, a research vice president of storage at IT analyst firm IDC.

"If you look at where IBM was in cloud five years ago versus where it is today, things are very different. Look at the IBM Cloud Satellite they announced earlier this year. That provides a lot of the unified control plane capability that gives enterprises the foundation for a good hybrid cloud strategy," Burgener said.

"Five years ago, IBM had one flash system, but almost all the other storage products it sold were geared HDD designs. Now, they've moved to the forefront of the NVMe arena [as] an early entrant in NVMe over Fabrics," Burgener added.

What's next for IBM storage?

One of IBM's big moves recently was its $34 billion acquisition of Red Hat, which provides software-defined storage that works on standard industry servers. However, storage was not considered a major part of the IBM-Red Hat deal.

IBM has not disclosed how, or if, it plans to replace Walsh. McDowell said customers with IBM storage will want to pay attention to the direction that new CEO Krishna takes the company.

"The role of the systems and storage team … it's going to be interesting see where that lands," McDowell said.

Walsh said IBM is working through "a good list of candidates" for his replacement. "I'm sure they're going to find a really good executive," he said.

He would not say who is on the list, but IBM storage CMO Eric Herzog is considered a candidate for the job, according to several industry insiders.

Walsh: 'Hard to leave IBM,' but no hesitation

At ChaosSearch, Walsh replaces founder Les Yetton as CEO, although Yetton will remain on the board. Walsh said he has known ChaosSearch founders Yetton and CTO Thomas Hazel since they started the company in 2016, and has been impressed with their technology, which he described as "good hard fundamental technology that really helps." The Boston startup uses cloud object storage to build an analytics engine.

"It was hard to leave IBM, but I didn't hesitate at all because of what they have at ChaosSearch, and their innovative way of going about it," Walsh said. "You just put it in the Cloud object storage, and we'll take care of everything else. We'll give you an index. Just search it or query it. And we can do it at scale."

Before joining IBM, Walsh built a reputation for selling startups to large vendors. ChaosSearch is his fifth CEO job. He sold early data deduplication vendor Avamar to EMC for $165 million in 2006, server virtualization software vendor Virtual Iron to Oracle in 2009 and Storwize to IBM in 2010. Walsh's most recent CEO position was at data protection software vendor Catalogic Software, which remains a privately held company.

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