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Will the current economic slowdown threaten innovation in the Software industry?



CEO Spotlight: Interview with Mark Shirman, GlassHouse Technologies

By The Sterling Report

IT isn’t a very sexy business, but his vision created a successful company based on a sorely underserved segment – data storage. Mark Shirman, President and CEO of GlassHouse Technologies, chats to The Sterling Report about inspiring his employees through example, what the market will bring in 2009 and the launch of The GlassHouse Academy.

The Sterling Report (TSR): What inspired you to join the Baby’s Breath Foundation?
Mark Shirman (MS): I had a good friend who conceived the group after advocating for children within the traditional social service system. Many babies are shuttled from foster care to their families and back into the foster system again. It has been proven statistically that these children, even if they find their way to loving families later in life, develop Attachment Disorder. Over 2/3 of the inmates in prison are actually by-products of this issue. Babies are innocents, they need consistent loving care for the first 3 years of life minimally in order to develop normally and assimilate to society.

TSR: What role does community involvement play within a corporate environment given your experience in working with a variety of social organizations over the years? How do you go about inspiring your employees, or any one in general, to get involved?
MS: Leading by example is the best way. Each year I dedicate time and energy to supporting Baby’s Breath Foundation as well as other causes such as the PanMass Challenge for cancer research. For BBF, I collect bottles, formula, blankets and anything at all a newborn might need for a safe and warm home environment. I have raised money by riding in the PMC for the past two years and a significant portion of that support comes from my employees. I share my experiences through my blog, through email notices and our company newsletter as well as in person, as I visit our regional offices and work with our sales teams and customers. GlassHouse employees are a very generous group – the time and energy I devote to supporting community causes is very visible to them, and they offer me their ongoing support as well as their own time and energy to their personal social organizations.

TSR: Coming to the business side, how was GlassHouse Technologies conceived?
MS: My career has been in IT. I’ve seen companies small and large develop products and services with varying ranges of success. At the time I founded GlassHouse, I saw a real opportunity in storage. No one wants to deal with storage – it’s the most unsexy part of IT. Data storage and backup is thank-less work…and if something goes wrong, it’s downright brutal. Careers are broken over a company’s data crisis, but rarely is one’s career ‘made’ over a solid backup strategy or efficient data-storage environment. And yet, those elements are absolutely critical. I saw a market where these IT managers were sorely under-served: They had tons of product available to them, getting cheaper all the time, and vendors pushing how their products were the best; but no one to provide services that met what the company needed to achieve. The sexiest whiz-bang box is useless if it doesn’t achieve the company’s strategic objectives for managing data for the business. GlassHouse is an independent voice offering consulting and services through the mass of vendor hype building out there, focused on the customers’ needs, not the latest version of a particular product.

TSR: What is the biggest change you see in business today compared to when you started? Walk me through the phases of transformation.
MS: When we first started eight years ago, storage was still very much a siloed part of the IT organization. The storage guys focused on storage. The server guys focused on servers. The networking guys never talked to either one of them. GlassHouse has always driven customers towards a service provider model, which forces open communication between all layers in IT. And eight years ago, there was some resistance to this approach because visibility meant accountability, and there’s a certain security in being behind the black curtain. However, thanks to the growing acceptance of ITIL, our more mature customers were understanding how creating a true ‘glass house’ within their IT organization was beneficial for efficiency, for cost savings and for better services. In the past four years, as virtualization began to take root, we have experienced a real understanding and appreciation for the service provider model. To achieve the full benefits of virtualization, any IT or Data Center Manager has to be aware of its impact in the tandem environments (storage, networking, security). So now, the idea of having visibility in cost and efficiency throughout the data infrastructure is core to a successfully virtualized environment. I think this year will be a break-through year in this regard: As we look at a tough economy in 2009, enterprises will be looking at their past investments and trying to figure out, “How can I get MORE out of that?” rather than investing in more, newer technology. There is an opportunity for everyone to cost-effectively optimize their environments for improved efficiency and significant cost reduction.

TSR: How did your experience in the global financial products industry help shape your leadership style? Do you believe leadership styles vary from industry to industry?
MS: There are definitely types of folks that fit within different industry norms, however, I would think that my leadership style is more ‘high-tech’ and/or entrepreneurial.

TSR: What is the most important thing you do as CEO of GlassHouse?
MS: Lead and inspire the folks who work with me.

TSR: What are the core values/principles underlying the success of GlassHouse products?
MS: Integrity. Diligence. Learning. Potential for growth. Innovation.

TSR: Recently, GlassHouse announced the launching of The GlassHouse Academy for experienced professionals. Do you feel that the Academy program gives you a distinct advantage over your competitors? What other factors help to set GlassHouse apart from competitors?
MS: GlassHouse is unique because of a combination of three core elements: Methodologies, software tools and best-in-class consultants. We call this triad ‘Transom’ and it is our service delivery platform. Our proprietary methodologies are proven through thousands of customer engagements and help ensure that we maintain high standards throughout each customer project. Our software tools are developed to support the delivery of our services and improve efficiency and predictability. Our consultants are experts in their field and many are well-known and respected speakers and writers for industry organizations. The key to GlassHouse services is that we don’t focus on technology: technology is just the tool. We focus on the processes and people operating within the IT environment because it’s usually the operational side of things that are ‘broken’ not the technology. This is why GlassHouse is vendor independent – we don’t care which technology you buy as long as it helps you achieve your business objectives. Our mission is to help you optimize the technology you have to be successful.

The Academy is a great way for us to develop young talent at an accelerated rate. Working alongside our more experienced consultants, the Academy trainees gain hands-on experience in complex, multi-vendor environments. The end-result is a skilled work force that can continue to support customers to the high standards they expect at a reasonable cost.

TSR: How is the current market for GlassHouse products and how do you see it changing in the coming years?
MS: GlassHouse is still a growing company. That’s incredibly positive at a time like this. We see some of our customers really tightening their belts and getting ready for a rough 2009. And we are also taking a hard look at how we’re spending our time and energy in 2009 – our interest is in maintaining positive growth. The good news is that IT still has to run – efficiently and cost-effectively – for any enterprise to survive an economic downturn. So the challenge for us is to determine where people will be most likely to spend their shrinking dollars. What do we know? We know that virtualization will continue to be a way IT leaders can improve efficiency, decrease spending in power and cooling and efficiently manage their IT environments. We know that a large number of data centers (70% of enterprises, according to Gartner) will experience some type of disruption over the next five years due to issues with power, cooling, floor space and costs. Data center managers will be looking to move, consolidate and optimize those environments. We know that despite the economic forecast, data is expected to grow at an exponential rate heretofore unforeseen (ESG has it at 58%). This means data will still need to be efficiently stored, backed up and appropriately archived for retrieval. IT managers will be requiring more efficient systems and processes to manage the influx. Going forward, hardware and software technologies will continue to be more efficient, more compact and certainly more ‘green’ – that is requiring less energy to run efficiently and taking up less space. But beyond that, it remains to be seen. We’ve made such huge strides in technology in just the past two years, much less five or ten, that it’s exciting to think about where else we might go. But regardless of the hardware or software, companies will still need to think about the most efficient ways to run their businesses, develop sound processes and best practices to support, and in that area, GlassHouse is best poised to help them.

TSR: What, according to you, is the most important trait of a successful entrepreneur? Why?
MS: Resiliency, every time you fail or a door is closed you need to find the next door and pick yourself up and succeed, or try again.

Mark Shirman is Founder, President and CEO of GlassHouse Technologies, a leading independent IT infrastructure consulting and services firm. He has over 25 years of entrepreneurial experience in the IT services arena. Mark is responsible for building upon GlassHouse’s leadership in the storage and infrastructure services markets, managing the investment community and setting the vision for the company’s future growth. Prior to GlassHouse, he served as Executive Vice President of Corporate Development and CTO at Convergent Group, where he executed a combination of operational and marketing strategies that resulted in a successful public offering and the subsequent sale of the business to Schlumberger Corporation. Before Convergent Group, Mark was responsible for the worldwide eBusiness and CRM lines of business for Cambridge Technology Partners and previously ran similar units for BSG/Alliance. Mark has also launched an IT consulting company, Innovative Information Systems Inc. (IISI), which was focused on emerging technologies and application development. Mark served as CEO of IISI until its sale to CDI Corporation in 1990, where he then served as President until 1995. Mark has a BA in Economics from Brandeis University and an MBA from American University, where he is a frequent guest lecturer. Mark serves on the Advisory Board of the Massachusetts charity Baby’s Breath, a model program that assists infants who are in need of a safe, caring and stable home environment. For interview feedback, contact Mark at mshirman@glasshouse.com

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