Oracle's Ellison backs startup with $100m

Oracle chief executive officer Larry Ellison has invested $100m (£63m) in a start-up company he believed could pry open a place...

Oracle chief executive officer Larry Ellison has invested $100m (£63m) in a start-up company he believed could pry open a place in a crowded storage market by offering cheap, centralised management of multivendor storage environments.

Pillar Data Systems is led by a team of former executives from IBM and various storage companies, such as Network Appliance and Quantum, and has, so far, received half of the promised $100m in funding from Ellison, its principal shareholder and founder.

Ellison, the sole investor in Pillar Data through his venture capital firm, Lawrence Investments, could not be reached for comment this week.

Pillar Data Systems chief executive officer Michael Workman said that even though the storage market is saturated, his company has an advantage against industry stalwarts because it is not hampered by having to support legacy products.

"We felt a lot of companies in the storage arena were really just developing a single aspect of the market or single technology," Workman said. "They were working on a [TCP/IP offload engine] or piece of middleware or a switch enhancement product. In talking to CIOs and friends in the business, we learned data centre managers didn't want to be integrators of other people's stuff."

Workman said Pillar Data used commodity hardware and low-cost technology such as serial advanced technology-attached disk drives, and proprietary software based on industry standards such as Common Information Model and the network data management protocol, to create a bundled product that would offer users policy-based, centrally managed, pooled storage. A product is expected to ship in about a year's time, Workman said.

Pillar Data began as Digital Appliance, a storage think tank Ellison started around 1993.

"[Digital Appliance] had a lot of technology projects that settled in the area of storage-area networks and network-attached storage and that went on for quite some time," he said. "When [Ellison] looked at his investments in the last half 2000, he decided to emphasise some and redirect others."

Ellison called Workman to take charge of his emerging company in 2001. Workman was formerly vice-president of worldwide development for IBM's storage technology division, and vice-president of OEM storage subsystems.

Other former IBMers at Pillar Data include its chief operating officer, Nancy Holleran, who spent 16 years at IBM in a variety of general and executive management positions in development and manufacturing; and Pillar Data's senior vice president of R&D, Mark D'Apice, who was also a former vice-president of development for IBM's OEM storage subsystems group.

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