Longtime Storage VAR Joins All-Flash Array Maker SolidFire

Keith Norbie

A well-known veteran solution provider executive accepted a position with startup SolidFire, where he plans to help drive the company's alliances and to work with channel partners.

Keith Norbie left his position as director of server, virtualization and storage for the Eastern U.S. at San Diego-based Technology Integration Group (TIG) for a new role as senior business development manager at Boulder, Colo.-based SolidFire, which develops all-flash storage arrays and solutions around those arrays.

In his new role, Norbie will be directly managing relationships with strategic partners including VMware and Citrix Systems as well as others including possibly Red Hat, Microsoft, Dell through its Agile Infrastructure platform, and Cisco Systems in relation to its UCS servers and controllers and its cloud orchestration, he told CRN.

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Norbie also expects to be helping SolidFire's sales force develop new opportunities, with a particular focus on the channel side, he said.

"The big one is the channel," he said. "I want to help the channel feel like part of our sales force. I want them to feel they are inside SolidFire. I'll be working closely with the channel organization, the sales organization, and alliances to help channel partners move their business forward."

Norbie has a long history in the channel. He was a 13-year veteran of CRN Solution Provider 500 powerhouse Nexus Information Systems, a Stratos company, before he left that company in early 2013. He joined TIG in June of that year.

In between his stints at Nexus and TIG, Norbie also took time to build his own independent conference, the 2013 Flash Storage Forum, which in June 2013 brought together many of the fast-growing flash storage startups.

One of the exhibitors at the 2013 Flash Storage Forum was SolidFire, which sent Dave Cahill, vice president of corporate development of strategy, to attend. Cahill and Norbie had known each other prior to the event, but the meeting there started the ball rolling for him to eventually join SolidFire, Norbie said.

"The opportunity to join SolidFire came from knowing Dave and from what I saw happening in the marketplace," he said. "There's a lot going on in the industry with flash storage and with the quality of the architecture as it scales."

Norbie said his interest in the flash storage business came from a realization that customer requirements for flash storage arrays expand far beyond the actual flash storage technology.

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"Look at the workloads -- plural, not singular -- running at scale, or the ability to run VDI [virtual desktop infrastructure] on the same platform as regular workloads and enterprise workloads," Norbie said. "Today, to talk about that is heresy. Customers today bring in a flash array for a single workload like VDI only."

Norbie said that, while the term "Web-scale" is commonly used to describe the need for flexible IT infrastructures, he prefers to use the term "app-scale" to describe where the flash storage industry is heading.

"Hundreds and thousands of apps are running in different data center tiers," he said. "We need reliability and automation at scale. Quality of service should not be just a feature, but a complete architecture. We need to go beyond RAID, beyond flash. We need programmatic scalability."

Taking advantage of flash storage also requires what Norbie called a "solutions affinity."

"It's not just a concern about the technology, but also the requirement to deploy solutions seamlessly and easily," he said. "The industry needs things like OpenStack and CloudStack integration."

SolidFire's Cahill told CRN that Norbie's role in business development is about removing friction from opportunities.

"Keith sits at a three-way intersection between the channel, our technology partners, and our sales organization," Cahill said. "He will be working to facilitate business with our partners and customers, to create solutions we can bring to market and ultimately use to increase business between our partners, service providers and customers."

Norbie is very well-versed in VMware and virtual desktop infrastructure, and in both the channel and customer needs, Cahill said. "And he understands how to transact business," he said. "He can bring it all together."

Bruce Geier, TIG president and CEO, spoke with CRN about Norbie. "He's a good guy," Geier said. "He's well-liked and well-respected."

Geier said that he almost had Norbie convinced to move from the Minneapolis area to San Diego during the recent bad winter the Midwest experienced, but was not successful.

Norbie has a chance to do well at SolidFire, Geier said.

"For a lot of people, it's their dream to hit the gold mine," he said. "I think he thinks he has the opportunity here. I don't want him to leave. But the reality is, it's his dream. I hope he makes it. But if he ever wants to come back to us, he'll be welcomed."