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Quantum CEO looks to modernize data storage platforms

Quantum continues support of legacy tape, NAS and disk, but its products are now 'software-defined and hyper-converged.' CEO Jamie Lerner says its SEC probe is winding down.

Jamie Lerner took over as Quantum Corp. CEO in July 2018. Lerner arrived to try and right the ship following an accounting probe by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. SEC regulators say former Quantum executives reported revenue earlier than allowable. The investigation roiled Quantum's stock price and prompted delisting by the New York Stock Exchange, which helped trigger a shareholder lawsuit. Quantum since has started the process to restate the revenue and align it with the proper reporting periods. Quantum executives involved in the "unhealthy practices" were fired, Lerner said.

Quantum sells ActiveScale object storage, F-Series NVMe arrays, DXi backup appliances, ruggedized R-Series, VS-Series video surveillance systems and Xcellis workflow storage. The vendor also sells Scalar series of tape systems and the StorNext file system, which is designed for high-performance media streaming.

Before becoming the Quantum CEO, Lerner spent nearly two years as COO at hyper-converged vendor Pivot3. Earlier, he oversaw product development of cloud systems and software at Seagate Technology and Cisco Systems. He said 40-year-old Quantum remains a stalwart in data storage, although he said the vendor is trying to reinvent itself. Quantum is trying to stamp its products with familiar branding: cloud consumption, hyper-convergence and software-defined storage. We spoke to the Quantum CEO about his vision for the company.

Why did Quantum land in hot water with the SEC? What's your timetable for getting back on the New York Stock Exchange?

Jamie Lerner, Quantum CEOJamie Lerner

Jamie Lerner: Some employees of the company engaged in some business practices that were unhealthy. We stopped those business practices and repaired the damage that was done. We still have to satisfy some regulatory requirements, but we are at the very final stages of the repairs. We will resume business as a healthy company and expect to reemerge on the public exchange sometime this summer.

As Quantum CEO, how are you changing the 40-year-old vendor's business?

Lerner: As you know, we've had core, foundational data storage products for many years. We're doing a bit of work around those. But the other thing we're doing is to completely redesign the company for the next 10 years. We are making massive changes to the portfolio to align the company to where we see the market heading. A Quantum customer can keep using our traditional products -- they still do well -- but we have started to position ourselves for a very different future. We've had six major new product releases in the last four months.

How do you plan a storage roadmap 10 years out?

Lerner: There are five or six massive market trends that are driving what we're doing. People are producing more data and want to keep that data for much longer periods of time. Even though they don't have to analyze it today, there's a belief that they'll be able to get value out of the data at some point in the future, using technology that [may not] yet exist. The way that manifests itself for us is as a series of archiving technologies, predominantly tape-based archiving for the cloud.

Why does tape remain an integral part of the Quantum product mix?

Lerner: Tape is maybe 25% of our business, but tape designed for archive is among our fastest-growing products. Anyone who says tape is dead doesn't understand cloud computing. Google [Cloud Platform] runs on tape, [Microsoft] Azure runs on tape. Every major cloud company, every major government, anyone who deals with data in a large way uses tape to store data for 10 years or more. Tape is more than just backup. This isn't your grandfather's tape, right? This is tape with a huge amount of software around it: erasure coding software, archiving software, file system technologies... this is [more than tape] backup. These are modern tape libraries that are self-healing and can dynamically change tape as it gets older to protect data across the array using software.

At the opposite end of the performance spectrum are demanding storage needs. How does your storage serve those workloads?

Lerner: People want extremely cheap places to keep data, but the other end of the spectrum is they want extraordinarily fast storage to analyze data at extremely high speeds. And they want to do that without a SAN. That's why we introduced the F-Series, which is an all-NVMe product. F-Series uses remote direct memory access that network directly from the clients to the storage.

We see it used in analytics like training, high-speed data processing, genomic sequencing -- things like that. We built the F-Series for the most performant use cases, but as the price of NVMe drops, we think it will trickle down to more standard use cases in primary storage.

What is your vision for the Quantum roadmap?

Lerner: Over the last six months, our mandate is that every piece of technology in this company will be software-defined and hyper-converged. If you want to buy hardware reference architecture from us, we'll provide it and support it, but we no longer sell any hardware that is electromechanically engineered. You can buy any white box server and our software will run on it.

Streaming media is a booming sector. How are you positioned to capture market share?

Lerner: We believe that 80% of all data will be video by 2025. The majority of that will be video surveillance. We introduced the Quantum VS-Series, which has our highest ingest rate for video surveillance, and we're having a huge amount of success selling that. We use the R-Series, which is the rugged AI series for autonomous test vehicles. And then StorNext is Quantum scale-out storage for the high-speed processing and video surveillance.

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