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FalconStor Regroups, Refocuses under New CEO McNeil

To say that FalconStor has had some struggles over the past few weeks would probably be a bit of an understatement. Any time that a company’s CEO abruptly resigns with “certain improper payments” cited as the reason for his departure, it can leave a company floundering and seeking direction. However having had an opportunity to chat with FalconStor’s new CEO, Jim McNeil, at SNW over dinner this past week, he is already helping FalconStor move past the CEO’s departure and regroup and refocus under his leadership.

I did speak to McNeil briefly about Huai’s departure and while he could not and did not comment excessively on it, he did say that he was looking forward to all of the facts coming out about it. As many of the details cannot yet be disclosed, speculation is running rampant as to what did occur which is only adding fuel to the fire. However he expressed confidence that once FalconStor is in a position to share all of the details that it will not be nearly as bad as many are making the situation out to be.

We then turned our attention to the question, “Where does FalconStor go from here?” Despite only being on the job a couple of weeks, McNeil already had some pretty good answers. Prior to being named CEO, McNeil had joined FalconStor as its Chief Strategy Officer so in this respect he enters the CEO position with some clarity on where he wants to take FalconStor.

To that end he wants FalconStor to be laser focused on data protection. That has been FalconStor’s sweet spot since its inception and it already offers a number of software products that support that initiative including Continuous Data Protector (CDP), File-interface Deduplication System (FDS) and Virtual Tape Library (VTL).  Further, it has relationships with many storage providers to OEM these products.

Yet because FalconStor is a software company and uses the same virtualization engine underneath the covers to deliver all of these products, is has developed a reputation of being a “jack of all trades, master of none.”

By this I mean if an end user does a side-by-side comparison of FalconStor with almost any competitive product in the market, FalconStor can fill in all of the checkboxes and say it can deliver that functionality in almost all areas. But because FalconStor can be adapted to do almost anything, sometimes it is difficult to point to one thing for which FalconStor has developed a reputation for being the “go-to” provider for a specific solution.

To that end, either he took my point to heart or other people have also made that comment to him as McNeil posted a blog entry on FalconStor’s website yesterday. In it, he enumerated three ways in which how the current backup process is currently broken and how he plans to take FalconStor down a path of what he refers to as “service-oriented data protection” or SODP.

In it, he borrows some of the terminology that it is already appearing in the industry regarding the concept of “vBlocks” as it applies to building virtual storage infrastructures and applies that to backup. This redefines the concept of backup from being more reactionary as it is today to one that make backup part of the initial as well as the ongoing build out of the virtual infrastructure at a service level.
He says, “We can begin to implement data backup, retention and archival rules on a service-by-service basis. Were you ever asked if your DR solution was commensurate with you SLA? Now you can not only answer the question but also deliver the goods.  In summary, a little perspective can go a long way. By thinking about the solution in the same way that our customers think about their service-delivery challenges, we are one step closer to delivering an operational model that fits in with the bigger picture.”

As part of “delivering an operational model that fits in with the bigger picture”, I also asked McNeil about what he plans to do to make it easier to deploy FalconStor’s software. One of the criticisms of FalconStor in the past has been that it can be difficult to configure and that it often requires professionals with high levels of skill to implement it.

McNeil responded by saying that FalconStor has already taken a couple of steps in that direction to address those concerns. First, it does offer its software in the form of an appliance so the software comes preconfigured. This eliminates or at least minimizes the need for a professional services engagement to configure the software and set it up in a user’s environment.

However he went on to stress that FalconStor still plans to remain a software company and play in enterprise environments. So while it can and should take some steps to make the installation of its storage software on any hardware platform more of a turnkey experience, it is always going to have the flexibility for users to configure it for optimal use in their environment.

So to say that FalconStor is out of the woods and turned the corner with McNeil at the helm is probably premature. But it appears to me that he has a good grasp of the challenges that FalconStor faces and what steps he needs to take to correct them. Hopefully he will be given the chance to execute on them and have the “interim” label taken out of his title.


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