IBM Hires Violin Memory's Herzog In Big Flash Storage Marketing Push

Eric Herzog

IBM appears to be poised to make a big splash in the flash storage array business with the hiring of a high-profile executive from one of its top competitors, Violin Memory.

Eric Herzog is, as of Monday, the new vice president of marketing for IBM storage systems, according to industry and IBM sources. As chief marketing officer and senior vice president of business development at Violin Memory, Herzog helped bring that company back to prominence after its poorly received 2013 IPO.

IBM has so far declined to comment about Herzog's move to IBM.

[Related: IBM Reports Q4 Revenue Hit, Earnings Miss, But Annual Cloud Business Up 60 Percent]

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His move to IBM comes at a critical time for IBM's storage business. That business has been falling for a couple of years. IBM in late January reported its storage business revenue fell 8 percent in the fourth quarter of 2014, or 5 percent on a constant currency basis, over fourth quarter 2013. However, the company saw a big uptick in sales of flash storage that helped mitigate the fall in OEM and disk-based storage sales.

IBM's 2014 move to sell its x86-based server business to Lenovo was also an issue, as a large part of IBM's storage sales was tied to its server business.

However, IBM's flash storage business, based primarily on its 2012 acquisition of Texas Memory Systems, has done well. The company has since invested $1 billion in its flash storage business with a "channel-first" strategy.

IDC ranked IBM as the third-largest all-flash array vendor in the first half of 2014 in terms of revenue, and the largest in terms of raw capacity shipped, according to

Herzog comes to IBM in time for a planned IBM flash storage announcement scheduled for Feb. 19, where the company is expected to unveil new additions to its FlashSystem line.

Bringing in someone like Herzog is crucial to IBM's storage business, said Tom Hughes, director of alliances for the Technology Solutions Group at Ciber, a Greenwood Village, Colo.-based solution provider and longtime IBM channel partner.

"The challenge for IBM storage has been to find a way to market a homogeneous product line instead of its current DS8000, FlashSystem and XIV lines," Hughes told CRN. "While the rest of the industry is focusing on software-defined storage, IBM is focused on products."

NEXT: Channel Partners Hope Herzog Can Really Articulate IBM's Flash Strategy

New solutions in the pipeline show that IBM is moving in the right direction, Hughes said. "And I hope the new person can articulate it," he said.

IBM and its new storage marketing chief need to change the company's message from storage to software, and what customers can do with it, Hughes said. "Having a single platform to manage it is important," he said. "IBM has SVC, but it's not embedded in the storage itself. But as the industry moves towards software-defined storage, this has to change. I expect advancements from IBM in this space."

However, Hughes said to not focus on IBM's sale of its x86-based server business to Lenovo as an issue holding back its storage sales. "It's important to remember that customers who bought IBM storage will always buy IBM," he said. "EMC customers will always buy EMC. Unless, of course, they have a really good reason to shift. But customers have to be comfortable with the direction in which their storage vendors are moving."

Lief Morin, president of Key Information Systems, a Woodland Hills, Calif.-based solution provider and longtime IBM channel partner, told CRN that he welcomes new blood into IBM's marketing team, especially in storage.

"I especially like how Herzog is coming from the flash storage side of the business," Morin said. "Except for a few use cases, all data will be going to flash storage in the next two to three years."

IBM with its Texas Memory Systems acquisition has consistently led the pack in flash storage, Morin said.

"The architecture is the best-performing today, both in terms of latency and market share," he said. "So while it's true that IBM's overall storage business has been falling, it's an industrywide situation for traditional storage. But flash has been growing quickly. And it's important to bring in new blood for flash storage."

IBM can be a leader in flash storage, Morin said. "It has great technology," he said. "But it needs help on the marketing side. We want IBM to go to market with the right message to generate pull from the market, and not just to push the technology to the market."

NEXT: Violin Memory's CEO DeNuccio Says Flash Business Growing

Kevin DeNuccio, CEO of Violin Memory, said his company plans to fill Herzog's new position in the near future.

"Eric got a great offer from IBM," DeNuccio said. "It's a great opportunity for him. We wish him well."

In the meantime, DeNuccio said, Violin Memory continues to grow. The company's sales have grown by double digits in the last couple of quarters.

Companies like Violin Memory can continue to grow even in the face of legacy storage vendors' adoption of all-flash storage arrays, DeNuccio said.

"Major players like EMC and IBM are under stress," he said. "They make acquisitions, but they can't stop the tipping point. I think the market will tip to flash in the next couple of years. And we are the only public company that's flash-only. It's a real opportunity for us."