CommVault Channel Veteran Joins All-Flash Array Maker SolidFire

Mark Conley

Storage channel veteran Mark Conley joined all-flash array startup SolidFire, CRN has learned.

Conley, best known as the former executive director of North American channels at CommVault, is the new senior manager of worldwide channel programs at Boulder, Colo.-based SolidFire, which develops all-flash storage arrays and solutions around those arrays.

During his six-year tenure at CommVault, Conley was recognized as a CRN channel chief for three years.

[Related: Longtime Storage VAR Joins All-Flash Array Maker SolidFire]

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Conley told CRN he left CommVault this year to join SDN startup Pluribus Networks as way to try his hand at more of an entrepreneurial environment. "But I wanted to get back into storage, where I'd been for 10 years," he said. "SolidFire is a tremendous opportunity and ready to take off like a rocket."

"Rocket" could be a good description of how SolidFire is doing. The company in October unveiled a D round of funding that brought it $82 million, giving it $150 million in total investment including strategic funding from Samsung.

Conley said that when he was first introduced to SolidFire's channel program, he was surprised to see it already had such features as rebates and an ironclad deal registration system.

"I thought they were punching above their weight class," he said. "But they said they want to increase rebates, improve their deal registration and more. I told them it sounds great, and it's what I want to do, as long as they don't keep me behind a desk for six months."

For 2015, Conley said one priority is to develop a SolidFire partner portal with things such as quoting tools. He also wants to align the company's sales organization with the channel by mapping inside people to partners.

Another priority is to develop what Conley termed the "virtual district manager."

"Oftentimes, startups go to market and hire sales reps from other startups or the big guys for their experience and sales contacts," he said. "They go back to their contacts and say, 'I have a new thing.' But when they compete with the big boys like EMC and NetApp, they feel they need to control the sales process, which leads to issues with channel partners."

Under Conley's virtual district manager plan, SolidFire wants to develop a close relationship with partners and treat them like they are the company's inside sales staff. "We want to turn this into a team effort," he said.

NEXT: SolidFire Solid With Channel, Partners Say

Conley reports to Gregg Machon, SolidFire's director of worldwide channels.

Machon told CRN that SolidFire currently has about 95 channel partners worldwide, of whom about 80 are in North America. All the company's federal and enterprise revenue comes through channel partners, as does more than 50 percent of its service provider business, he said.

"About 74 percent of our overall business was done last quarter with partners," he said. "One year ago, we didn't have a channel ecosystem."

Conley's primary role will be to accelerate SolidFire's CloudBuilder channel program by developing new tools to help partners expand with services such as replication and OpenStack clouds, Machon said.

SolidFire has turned out to be a really solid channel-focused vendor, said David Cantu, co-founder and COO of Redapt, a Redmond, Wash.-based solution provider and SolidFire channel partner.

"When we recommend SolidFire to customers, we find many broad applications for the technology," Cantu told CRN. "But some use cases are a slam dunk, especially private and hybrid clouds."

Redapt integrates SolidFire all-flash storage arrays for some large public cloud providers and online travel companies and their private clouds, Cantu said.

"It's great they're bringing on someone like Conley who can help us with OpenStack and other IaaS services through the CloudBuilder program," he said. "Overall, we've had a great long-term experience with SolidFire. And in the near term, we're feeling the effects of their work with the channel."

Frank Leonard, managing partner of Leonard-McDowell, a Zionsville, Ind.-based solution provider and SolidFire channel partner, told CRN he is a big fan of Machon and the SolidFire channel program, and of people like Brian Lutz, his local SolidFire contact who he said provides great support.

Leonard said SolidFire already provides a lot of support with activities such as webinars and joint marketing events. "Their registration process is clean and simple," he said. "I can't think of anything off the top of my head the company needs."