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New Quantum CEO Lerner sees a future in rich media

The former Cisco exec hopes to use Quantum's high-ingest technology and tape storage to serve a growing need in the surveillance, medical and entertainment markets.

Jamie Lerner took over as Quantum CEO this week, making him the fifth man to hold that job in eight months.

Lerner has storage experience. He joined Quantum from hyper-converged vendor Pivot3, where he served as COO. Before that, he led Seagate's cloud systems group and the cloud and network management groups at Cisco.

Now Lerner has his work cut out for him. He is the fourth Quantum CEO or interim CEO since Jon Gacek's departure in November 2017. The Securities and Exchange Commission is looking at Quantum's accounting practices going back to 2016, and its total revenue shrunk from more than $1 billion in fiscal 2007 to $505 million in 2017.

In an interview in his first full day on the job this week, Lerner discussed his plans for rebuilding Quantum around its StorNext clustered file system and tape storage. He said he sees a massive opportunity providing storage for companies dealing with rich media and video. He also said he is no stranger to turnarounds, citing his work with Cisco's network management group in 2012.

What interested you in the Quantum CEO job?

Jamie Lerner: The company has one of the longest legacies in a couple of critical areas. I think we're in the top in tape and media and entertainment. I think both those areas are really compelling from a perspective of data explosion that is primarily being driven by rich media.

If you look at the data that's growing, it's predominantly growing from these rich forms of data. It's not Oracle databases getting bigger, it's not email systems getting bigger. It's video -- video being collected off our cellphones, video coming from surveillance cameras, video coming from production, video coming from ultrasound and medical usages. And I think this company is extremely well-positioned to help people deal with that kind of data both in real time and in the long term.

Headshot of Jamie LernerJamie Lerner

Quantum's been dealing with some corporate challenges in terms of rapid succession of leadership over the past six months and some financial reporting that needs to be straightened out. How much work needs to be done to right the ship?

Lerner: There's a body of work the leadership team has to take on. But from my personal point of view, this body of work represents a huge amount of upside for our company.

I love turnarounds, because there's basically a lot of untapped potential. I worked at Cisco. There are businesses at Cisco where they literally have 85%-plus market share, and it's really hard to run a business like that because it's almost impossible to think of how to improve it.

I think there's work we can do here to build a solid financial foundation, I think there's efficiencies that can be achieved here, and there are technologies we can release quite quickly.

I think it just reeks of upside.

What do you have to do to win in the video and unstructured storage market?

Lerner: I think video is wholly unique from an architecture perspective. The ingest rate required to take video at the speed that it comes in, I would say most storage systems that were not built from the ground up for video are just not prepared for [it].

Most storage systems built for enterprise are simply not built for the size of the video. For example, deduplication doesn't do anything for video, compression doesn't do anything for video, doing snapshots and clones on huge amounts of video just doesn't make sense. Replicating video is almost non-economic because it's just so big.

You really need to build a system that knows how to handle high ingest rates, but you also have to know how to handle storing that data extremely efficiently, doing reduction techniques on that data, and then protecting that data in ways that are more intelligent than just replicating it.

Having identified these pain points, how is Quantum handling them?

Lerner: Right now, I think StorNext is known as having one of the world's fastest video ingest rates. So I think we have that one nailed, and it has a long legacy of being chosen for that capability.

I think we do a decent job with the efficient storage of that data and a decent job with the protection of that data. But I think we can do a lot better there. We're going to be making increased investments in the storage tier of our products and deep investments into the interfaces. We've got versions of StorNext that can be run in VMs and hyper-converged, so we're starting to look at more modern packaging of our architecture to lead to higher value for our customers.

You talked about tape and StorNext. Where does your DXi deduplication disk backup platform fit in your plans?

Lerner: We're proud of the technology. It has improved greatly over the years and has done really well for us and our OEM partners. We're committed to it.

I think we have to figure out where deduplication goes next. The world is wrestling with data from video, images, MRIs. The largest files that cause the greatest problem in storage don't lend themselves to deduplication. What is the next-generation deduplication technology that you would use against a video? I think there's going to be very different technologies and algorithms used.

Can dedupe ever help video?

Lerner: I think next-generation deduping is called erasure coding. For companies with large amounts of video, the technical battlefront is basically erasure coding. The linear algebra that is used for erasing data and then recreating it without using a large amount of CPU to do it, that is what next-generation dedupe looks like. Erasure coding is likely to be a big area of attention for us.

You mentioned being involved in a turnaround at Cisco. What did you do there?

Lerner: I ran the Network Management Technology Group, which struggled for many years. It had all the characteristics of a turnaround: products that had become dated, financials that weren't particularly sound, customers questioning the long-term strategy.

Within a very short period of time, myself and the leadership were able to get that on the mend and improving. It was my first real experience with a turnaround, and we were quite successful at it. I have a bit of a playbook that I hope to reuse here.

As Quantum CEO, what is your strategy for the turnaround? Will this require massive reorganization?

Lerner: I think it's less about reorganization. If I were to give you an analogy, I think what we're going to do here over the next 120 days is make a clear strategy of what we want our house to look like. We're not going to bulldoze the house or rip all the walls out. We've got to live in our house while we're remodeling it.

What are the things we learned over the last 20 years that we can do better than anyone else? Let's just focus on those things.
Jamie LernerCEO, Quantum

So what we're going to do is start with some simple projects that have a high return. And then we move on to increasingly more challenging projects, but each of these projects is moving us towards our final vision of what we want this home to look like.

We have a long-term vision that's clear, but we're walking a set of smaller steps to get there. Right now, the leadership team is putting together a set of hypotheses about what those short-term, low-hanging fruit projects are going to be, and then what are some of the more foundational, bigger projects that they are going to be growing into.

One of the most important things about this strategy -- it'd be something that uniquely only Quantum can do. What are the things we learned over the last 20 years that we can do better than anyone else? Let's just focus on those things. Let's not try to run someone else's strategy, let's not try and be someone else, let's not resell other people's stuff. Let's build a strategy that's uniquely ours, that our customers come to us for, and that we have the core intellectual property and know-how for.

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