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New Infinidat CEO discusses storage transition

Ex-Western Digital exec Phil Bullinger replaces founder Moshe Yanai as CEO of storage vendor Infinidat. Bullinger says Infinidat surpassed 6 exabytes under management last year.

Phil Bullinger's history in enterprise storage dates back to his stint as vice president at LSI's Engenio storage unit in the late 1990s. NetApp acquired the Engenio systems in 2011, and Broadcom now owns the LSI technology by virtue of acquiring Avago Technologies in 2014.

Bullinger's latest gig is CEO at Infinidat, which sells hybrid arrays designed around hard disk drives with a small dose of flash and neural caching network. Infinidat InfiniBox allows customers to access storage in NAS mode or SAN mode via a Container Storage Interface plugin to support virtual applications for cloud-native apps.

Bullinger takes over for CEO Moshe Yanai, who launched the Infinidat storage system in 2015. Yanai, 70, remains as Infinidat's chief technical evangelist.

Bullinger arrives at Infinidat from Western Digital Corp., where he ran the hard drive maker's storage systems division. He jumped to Western Digital in 2017 after heading up Dell EMC's Isilon business for four years. Last year, Western Digital exited the storage systems business abruptly, leaving Bullinger a man without a division to run. Bullinger declined to comment on Western Digital's strategic direction.

Infinidat execs Kariel Sandler and Nir Simon last year served as co-CEOs, with Bullinger officially taking over Jan. 6. Joining Bullinger's executive team is new CFO Alon Rosenshein, who served in the same role at project management software company Clarizen. We spoke with Bullinger days after his new appointment.

You're heading up a pretty significant organizational transition. How much familiarity did you have with the Infinidat InfiniBox storage system before coming aboard?

Infinidat CEO Phil BullingerPhil Bullinger

Phil Bullinger: As a fellow traveler in enterprise storage for many years, I've seen the reputation Infinidat has with many mutual customers where I've worked. The Infinidat storage product is recognized highly by the analyst community and in the enterprise customer space as being uber-reliable. Up close, I've been impressed that it delivers a petabyte-scale primary storage platform with very consistent performance that is not dependent on the performance of underlying media. That is the innovative idea on which Moshe Yanai built the company, and the implementation has resonated really well. I responded to this opportunity because I know the product is solid. If you have a solid product, there's going to be a good team behind it.

Although it predates your time at Infinidat, how did the company fare during the pandemic?

Bullinger: We've all seen too many pictures of viruses over the last year. It was a challenging year for global economies, large enterprise companies and individuals. But through the year, Infinidat seems to have executed really well. We don't disclose revenue, but we saw a lot of momentum. From a customer perspective, we saw 24% growth in petabytes stored year over year. I don't want to publicly state this yet, but we crested a pretty big milestone in total petabytes among our installed base. If we can get into a new account, we've got a great batting average at closing deals. Once we land an account, it almost invariably leads to more storage footprint, because Infinidat lends itself to multi-workload consolidation.

Where is Infinidat storage growth coming from?

Bullinger: Our 'expand' play has been very strong. Our largest verticals are financial services, cloud, IT and telecom. There is relentless growth in primary mission-critical storage for data that has to be always available. We had four consecutive quarters of growth in 2020, and the fourth quarter especially was very large in terms of year-over-year compares. The other exciting thing is how well the company executed on P&L. It's profitable with a positive cash flow. On top of strong funding, including a round we closed last summer, we are in position to execute well in the year ahead.

You said Infinidat is profitable. As a private company, how much can you elaborate on revenue?

Bullinger: I don't want to get into the details, but it's not a 'one and done' thing. The company has [reached] a level of revenue margin and Opex investment [to provide] a profitable model that is sustainable. Our plan in 2021 is to expand Opex and invest in certain areas of the business, while remaining committed to profitable growth through the year.

How is Infinidat adapting its storage for the cloud?

Bullinger: First, let me say I am not trying to punt on that question, but this is my first week on the job. And I've got a pretty lengthy roadmap review coming up. But the Infinidat platform is fundamentally built around the idea of sovereign, secure on-premises storage. That doesn't mean we don't have a cloud story. We recently received Amazon Outposts validation for the InfiniBox platform. Our customers run Amazon's cloud-based application stack and compute with InfiniBox to sweep up on-prem sovereign storage and seamlessly integrate it with cloud workflows. Most of the innovation on Infinidat is in the Neural Cache software cache layer. The innovation path going forward will be less about the physical hardware platform and more about the software environment that surrounds it.

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