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Q&A: Michael Sotnick, VP channels and alliances & Ben Savage, EMEA head of channels Pure Storage

Microscope sat down with Pure Storage’s channel execs at its Accelerate 2017 conference to discover the Flash vendor’s plans for its partners

Your latest product launches move Pure into areas like deep learning, data analytics and Artificial Intelligence (AI) – can you explain the company’s current vision?

Michael Sotnick: What you’re seeing is the maturation of our thinking; the coming together of a vision we’ve had for a number of years, the combination of FlashArray and FlashBlade, and taking a software-centric view of where we go from here.

Last year we went from a one product company to a multi-product company, and this year we’re evolving to a platform company. To be the data platform for the cloud era – to help companies put their data to work, which is our mission right now. You need to have the portfolio, and the software assets to help the customer get the outcomes they desire.


What is the feedback from your channel partners as to the move? Is it something they feel they can sell right now, or is it still some way off?

MS: It’s the entire unstructured data message, and that could be analytics, big data, AI – we are seeing true use cases for artificial intelligence. But it’s also some of the longstanding, most common use cases for big data like media and entertainment images, body cameras, facial recognition, oil and gas exploration and geophysical information, genomics, DNA and sequencing and all the work happening globally in the medical field. Those are all real for us – we have a great footprint in healthcare, for example so partners are quick to say, ‘we’ve got a successful project so we can go and ask questions as to what’s happening on the imaging side?’

The partners that are smart, that are seeing the macro-level trends, and this next age of computing really feel empowered by Pure to go in and have more substantive conversations, that what they have with FlashArray and FlashBlade, they’re not necessarily getting from other vendors.

Ben Savage: If you look at the object storage market, it’s probably been dominated by one or two competitors of ours, legacy vendors without any real transformation products in there – just enhancements to legacy technology.


You say legacy vendors feel threatened by Pure’s technology, so what are conversations like with partners that often have longstanding relationships with these vendors?

BS: We’re very respectful of our partners’ long-term relationships, and not disrupt our partners’ revenue streams. So, we’re looking for incremental opportunities for them and us. We don’t talk too much about ‘there wasn’t too many exciting announcements at Dell EMC World’ – that’s not the sort of company we are.

We know [partners] know we’re innovating, and we’re at the cutting edge of products coming out. All our competitors are making acquisitions because they haven’t been able to innovate like Pure has from the ground up.


Do you believe that gives you an advantage?

BS: Our competition are the incumbents, so they have the incumbent advantage. But we have the advantage of being a disruptor; we want to allow the partner to take the benefit of our technology to the customer.

It’s always challenging when you’re talking to a big partner that have strong legacy relationships, we have a great relationship with them but CTOs are here (at Accelerate) to see what’s coming next.

MS: Ben and I would never support our channel account managers taking a negative view towards a partner that has a legacy incumbent business. We have very few partners globally that sell Pure and no other storage product, but we do care deeply that partners are being thoughtful about the solutions they are recommending to the partner. If it’s a $15-20,000 solution, it’s probably a better fit for someone else, or if it’s customers insisting on 10 cents a GB for their ‘deep and cheap’ storage environment that’s a better fit for another solution. But where the see an opportunity to bring innovation into an organisation that’s had outages or is having difficulty with performance or is going to 40BG or 100GB networking and wants to be part of that modernisation journey – that’s where we fit perfectly.


Can you talk about your plans to grow your channel?

BS: We have a focused partner approach and we create partner classes of sales reps within our partners that we focus on and map to our own sales people, and to the target customer accounts that we believe are the right profile with the right type of use cases.

We go quite deep to make sure we have the right profile of partners. As we’re growing, and the market for All Flash is growing it widens the number of customers we can address in terms of segmentation. That means from time to time, we do need to sign a new partner.

For example, one partner we’ve just signed in the UK is a very well-established partner, they’re Northern-based. At the moment, our partners are quite Southern-centric, but because of the nature of some of the companies based in the North, we need to make sure we’ve got those buys on board. But bringing on a partner like that is a six-month sales engagement before we sign them to make sure we’re the right fit.

We do not go for a volume approach at all, quite the opposite. There is only so much market share we capture today, and we want to make sure our partners have as much of that market share as possible.

MS: The other piece we’ve learned domestically in the US is that if we sign a partner because their customer wants us, but they’re not committed to building a business around Pure, it’s bad for the customer, it’s bad for the partner – we call those ‘orphan arrays’ where a partner only sells one Pure array to one customer. It’s not a great experience. So, learning from our mistakes in the US, we have a very structured on-boarding process for partners to ensure there is going to be that commitment to sell to multiple customers.

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