In this Komprise Konnects partner spotlight I spent some time with Ken Scott, Storage Systems Engineer at Mainline Information Systems. Ken spent 23 years with IBM, 10 years running storage sales for a reseller in Texas and joined Mainline 4 years ago. He spends a lot of his time translating technical messages into sales messages to help his sales team better relate to clients. Ken has deep domain experience in the world of enterprise storage, so I thought he would be the perfect person to talk to about what’s happening in the industry.
Tell me about Mainline Information Systems.
Mainline is a full-service technology solutions firm with over 2000 clients across the US and Puerto Rico. We partner with premier technology companies to provide a wide range of services and solutions. When Mainline started out 32 years ago we were an IBM solution provider. Since then, we transformed into an agnostic IT consulting firm, partnered with all the majors and we have a robust ecosystem of partners. We hold strong relationships with our clients and they trust us to do the right things. We’re privately held, one owner, and even through COVID-19 we continued to grow. In fact, we just exceeded the $1B revenue mark.
How do you approach the market today?
I like to believe that there are no wrong answers – there are just varying degrees of right. In the technology world, a lot of people are hobbling along with their existing solutions. When it comes time to refresh, they find those technologies are outdated or don’t provide the capabilities designed for the challenges people are having today. This mantra of varying degrees of right really does apply. As long as you make a change and you put your heart into it, you’re going to get more out of it than you invest into it and you’ll be better off. The difference in solutions nowadays is that it can be really minor, but it still goes back to relationships. People buy from people they trust. I believe in this solution and I believe in you. This has been a successful approach at Mainline. Our skillset is applying the right technology for the client’s needs through an agnostic approach.
What’s your approach in 2021?
I see 2021 as really being a defining year.
Given the challenge presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, I looked at 2020 like driving across an icy bridge – just keep the wheels straight; don’t accelerate; don’t hit the brakes, don’t change lanes; just move forward and stay safe.
If you had a project underway, just get that project to the end state. Don’t start anything new. Don’t change anything. (Unless, of course, if the business had new requirements that demanded change.) When we get to the other side, we’ll take a breather, look back and assess what’s next.
At the end of the year, the must-do projects were completed, but customers remained a bit leery about the marketplace and the change brought on by remote workers and they were not comfortable starting new projects. Now they’re looking at 2021 and figuring that they might not have a choice. They need to start these new projects and they have to make the best of whatever is available to them. This will bring interesting challenges.
For Mainline it was a great year, partially due to projects already in the works, but also from new requirements necessitated from shifts in business models (i.e., work from home, new markets, security, etc.). I would suspect 2021 is going to be interesting because it’s been a year since we’ve been able to go out, work with a client face to face, and have that conversation across the conference room table or have a whiteboard session. These are the moments where we really connect with clients.
What are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen in the storage market?
The technology and the economics have changed exponentially. Case in point – the first storage system I ever sold was 45GB. It was a little deskside storage unit for $50K. In my first year at Mainline, I went to a sales conference and one of our suppliers gave me 2 free USB drives that combined were the size of the storage unit I sold.
There has been a data explosion in the enterprise and for many businesses it’s a matter of keeping your head above water when it comes to storage. Throwing hardware at the problem has always been the easy solution, but is it really?
You need to consider the cost of the actual box – what’s the CAPEX outlay? They don’t have a tendency to think about the cost of people assigned to manage it, or the impact to established business processes. It’s those ancillary costs that are going to become a greater and greater challenge.
Many of my clients are still in the somewhat structured data space and feel they have a good understanding of that workload and which tools and skills they need. It’s not uncommon for them to have less of a grasp of their needs for managing the unstructured data side, because in part it was someone else’s problem to worry about, or the scale of that data – and the subsequent interest in managing it – seemed to come out of nowhere.
Some clients don’t have a clear understanding of what they really have. The thought is, “If I don’t have a handful of NetApp systems, or a few large Isilon storage units, then I don’t have anything to worry about.” Ok then, how many Windows file shares do you have out there? 20? 30? If each of those has X amount of capacity, chances are you have more data in those shares than you do in structured data storage.
Many organizations don’t have a way to measure it. If I don’t see it, it doesn’t really exist.
There is an opportunity to come in and help these organizations manage their unstructured data more effectively. Gartner says we don’t have a data problem, we have a data management problem. I think this is absolutely true.
Tell me about the Komprise partnership?
We’ve partnered with Komprise for a couple of years. When I first saw a Komprise demo at an IBM event, I thought it was genius – that solution should sell itself. It reminded me of the IBM SAN Volume Controller, which IBM now calls the Spectrum Virtualize software family. It helped clients get more out of what they already had. That’s how I think about Komprise.
Komprise isn’t a solution that tells you what a bad decision you’ve made when it comes to all of your unstructured storage. It allows us to say, “we’re here to tell you how to get the most out of it.” This is why I think the solution is such a unique offering in the market right now. It’s a very non-threatening message. “Your Isilon is at capacity? How about I help you manage it more effectively?” After all, it’s all about what data is where and who is managing it. That’s the opportunity.
I think it’s key to help people make better use of what you already have.
People don’t like to be told they’ve made a bad decision in what they’ve purchased. We want to help them learn more about what they’ve got and help them either archive or delete cold data and free up storage, so they don’t have to upgrade and spend unnecessarily every 6 months. That makes them a hero.
I’ve been onboard since Day 1. Komprise is a really interesting solution that has a lot of promise. I’m just kicking myself that I’m not able to get out and whiteboard it and have more meaningful discussions face-to-face with clients.
How is the Komprise value proposition being received?
The people who are getting the message understand it right away. But they’re not the people hoarding the data. The people who are hoarding the data are the technical teams because they do not know what data needs to be available. They don’t know what data the business is going to request so they keep everything local and just buy more storage when they run out. Getting the data from another platform can be challenging without the right structure in place and they don’t want to have to be the ones who say what data is valuable and what data is not.
People who have been around a while understand the need for hierarchical file storage management.
Hoarding data is the problem – if we do have to hoard it, let’s at least hoard it in manageable places. Scaling up and scaling out is not as manageable as people think.
When does the cloud come into your conversations?
It varies. Some businesses will be quick to tell you they don’t have a cloud strategy, but every single employee has a Box account. There are many players in the cloud marketplace. Cloud storage has a lot of potential for the right thing, but you need to select the right data. Data needs to be segregated based on the need of that data. If you don’t need it, the cloud is a great for archiving. Cloud use cases are constantly changing, but you still need to think about egress charges. Put it away and think about bringing it down when you need it might be cheap today and it might be cheap tomorrow, but when you ultimately do need to go out there and bring back a large chunk of it due to a failed backup process or a security intrusion, you can find that you’ve spent more money in the long run than you would have if you had it managed on prem.
The way Komprise provides native access is a nice touch: let people get to data the way they’re used to and let the technology manage it behind the scenes.
How has the last year been for you?
I definitely have cabin fever. I’m ready to get back to face-to-face with clients. We’re a remote company, but not having been to a customer’s office is starting to get to me. I’d love to have the opportunity to whiteboard. I miss walking through the data center and asking questions. What’s that? What’s it do? What data is on it? How old is it? This is how I learn about my customer’s business. I noticed you put in a new row of storage – what’s the application that’s driving that? Tell me more about that. This is why I think the storage market is so exciting. It’s changing so dramatically – there’s a little bit for everybody.
About Mainline Information Systems, Inc.
Mainline, headquartered in Tallahassee, FL, is an information technology solutions and IT consulting firm, who architects and delivers innovative IT solutions, including hybrid cloud and on premise data center offerings and cybersecurity, analytics, AI and managed services solutions. With national coverage, strategic partnerships with premier technology companies, and multi-vendor technology experts, Mainline Information Systems efficiently enables cost effective business outcomes. The company may be reached by phone at 850.219.5000 and on the Internet at www.mainline.com.
Mainline Press Contact: