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New X-IO Technologies CEO eyes improved ISE stability, IPO

New X-IO CEO Bill Miller talks about adding features to ISE storage, taking the company public and sticking around longer than his predecessors.

In what has become a frequent occurrence, X-IO Technologies has a new CEO. Last week, Bill Miller became the 10th CEO at the Colorado Springs, Colo.-based storage vendor since 2001. Miller had been on X-IO's board since October 2014 and became chairman in February.

Miller has run his own venture capital firm since 2008, but is best known in the storage world as a founder and CTO of service provider StorageNetworks, Inc. from 1997 to 2001.

He replaces Brian Owen, who spent 13 months as X-IO Technologies' CEO and will remain on the board. Miller also revamped his executive team with new appointments, including Bill Alexander as CFO, Mark Zeller as vice president of North American sales, Ellen Rome as vice president of field enablement and demand generation, and Diamond Lauffin as chief of channel strategy.

SearchStorage spoke with Miller about his plans to turn X-IO's core ISE product into a complete storage system rather than only an engine. Miller also said he wants to build X-IO into a large public company.

Why was the CEO change made?

Bill Miller, CEO at X-IO TechnologiesBill Miller

Miller: Brian convinced me that I was better suited, in terms of geography and experience, to run the company than he was. Brian had been commuting from Boston, and he really didn't have a long background in the storage industry. He actively recruited me [to become CEO] for a while.

I'm in Colorado Springs, and I had been full-time here since stepping in as executive chairman in February, and it seemed the right thing to move into the CEO role.

Do you have a new strategy for X-IO Technologies?

Miller: We've been evolving our strategy. When I showed up as an adviser a year ago, I looked at the company's core assets. I'm impressed with the technology core of the company, the core product, the engineering team [and] its IP portfolio. But looking at its go-to-market strategy, I felt some changes needed to be made. I made recommendations about shifting the positioning of its products and making changes in the go-to-market team beginning last year. We've been on a consistent path for nine months to evolve the company's positioning in the market. This is another step in that path.

What's the new strategy?

Miller: The company's technology is great at performance and reliability at scale. ISE, or Intelligent Storage Element, is a great product for OEMs and somebody who wants to make that part of a larger system, either at [the] system level or data center level. It would be great as part of a converged infrastructure with software layers that they want to put on top of ISE.

But it's not a traditional storage system. A lot of analysts wanted to position ISE as a midrange storage system and gave it low marks for not having many features. Well, the team here never thought of it as a storage systems product. They named it Intelligent Storage Element, so it's an element or a subsystem of a bigger system. It works great in software-defined environments with VMware in virtual data centers. It's a great product for doing things like data protection and DevOps at the virtualized data center level and not at the storage level.

Unfortunately, that's not a big enough part of the market yet. I believed we needed to take ISE and wrap the full feature set around it to go head-to-head against emerging vendors like Nimble, Tegile [Systems] and Tintri. We're going to evolve the underlying hardware product to make it more competitive in the hyper-converged space, potentially as an OEM partner and maybe a competitor against people like Nutanix, SimpliVity and Nexenta [Systems]. Our flash product, with features wrapped around it, becomes a strong enterprise flash competitor against people like Pure [Storage].

So, you're changing the core ISE product?

Miller: We've been doing the work that's required to make the product the way that people want to buy it. I make the analogy that we've been a builder of great engines that are highly reliable and highly performant. We wanted people to buy the engine and build rest of the car around it themselves. Our customers have been kit builders -- people who have enough IT staff and want to buy products from VMware and use OpenStack with ISE underneath that. But most of the market still wants to buy the whole car. They want [to] pick a car with a great engine, but that also has the body, the driver instrument cluster and steering wheel and brake system. They want to drive the car off the lot that day, and have all the features you would expect in a car.

Will you find OEM partners to finish the car, or build new features yourselves?

People say this is a company that always had great stuff. One guy told me, 'It's kind of like the Olympic ice skater that was going to do the triple-whatever and fell down, and did that over, and over, and over again.'
Bill MillerCEO at X-IO Technologies

Miller: The OEM market is not the core of the strategy. We're going to finish the cars and sell cars. We're going to wrap the enterprise capabilities and feature set around ISE, and bring to [the] market a line of products that compete well against people like Pure, Nimble and Tegile -- and obviously, EMC and NetApp.

We have [a] product like that in the hands of early adopters today, and you'll be hearing a lot more about that soon.

Are you mostly adding software features to ISE?

Miller: Yes. We will no longer be missing the stuff [that] the analysts say we have been missing.

Will we see these new products by end of this calendar year?

Miller: A lot sooner than that. They're right around the corner.

What's the financial situation like at X-IO?

Miller: It's amazing how committed the investors have been to a company that has had great raw potential unrealized for so long. People say this is a company that always had great stuff. One guy told me, 'It's kind of like the Olympic ice skater that was going to do the triple-whatever and fell down, and did that over, and over, and over again.' I don't know why. I do know there's a great core here. Investors are committed to making that see the light of day. They've invested a lot of capital that has not produced great results for them. But when I talked to the board about stepping into this role, I made it clear I was going to need access to the kind of financial resources that all the emerging competitors in the space have. They agreed to a program that will allow me to do that.

Sounds like you'll be looking for more funding.

Miller: We have two current VCs: Oak Investment Partners and FrontRange Capital Partners. I'm already engaged in having conversations with outside sources of capital. With all the changes and shifting going on in storage, there's a horse race to build new leadership in the market. There's a lot of opportunity now. I expect that with the team we've assembled, our core capabilities and our roadmap, we'll see a lot of interest from outside investors.

X-IO Technologies has gone through frequent CEO changes over the past decade. Do you think the company needs a CEO to stick around at least four or five years to right the ship?

Miller: I'm going to right the ship really fast, then get the engines cranking on it and get it moving. I come in here with the intention of putting this company on a path to establish a leadership position in the emerging storage and hyper-converged space. I, like every company, I run to be on a path to go public. I will put X-IO on a path to go public, and we're going to run the company that way. I want to grow a big, multibillion dollar company in the space.

Peter Bell and I started Storage Networks in 1997, and took it public in 2000 with a $16 billion peak market cap, 600 employees and lots of customers. I know how this is done.  I'm here for the duration.

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