CRN Exclusive: Former NetApp Exec Rob Salmon, Now Cohesity's New President And COO, Gets Ready For A Channel Push

Small Company, Big Ambitions For Salmon

Cohesity, which specializes in the development of secondary storage specifically for hyper-converged infrastructure deployments, in late October made a key executive appointment aimed at helping the company accelerate its growth in midrange and enterprise accounts.

Rob Salmon, former president of NetApp, is now Cohesity's new president and chief operating officer, where he joins former NetApp colleague Todd Palmer, currently Cohesity's vice president of worldwide channels. For Salmon, a 20-year NetApp veteran, the new Cohesity role is an opportunity shepherd a small company during its growth phase, just as he did with multiple roles at NetApp.

While Salmon declined to discuss Cohesity's finances, he told CRN that the company has a lot of wind in its sails as it builds out its product line card and channel programs.

For a look at some of Salmons plans for this hot startup, turn the page.

What brought you to Cohesity?

[Former NetApp CEO and Cohesity board member] Dan Warmenhoven (pictured) called me, and suggested I meet with Mohit [Aron, CEO and founder]. I'd taken a year, year-and-a-half off. I knew a lot about Cohesity, and knew a lot about Mohit and his background. And so I said, 'Let's do it.'

Mohit and I really hit it off in that first meeting. Several meetings later, I went from being intrigued to being pretty much blown away by his background, what he is doing here, his vision for IT in general, and his vision for what we're going to do in Cohesity.

Does that 'thinking about the company in general' include a possible IPO?

Well, uh, we don't want to get ahead of ourselves right now. But certainly, I believe we have an opportunity to be a very large company, build a new category that's really ripe to be built around this notion of hyper-convergence and the secondary storage market. If that leads to an IPO, so be it. We're really focused right now on, let's build the team, let's scale the team, and let's help solve the customers' problems in a way that they didn't realize could solve them.

Is Cohesity a profitable company yet?

We're still working through all the financial stuff. And that's not something I'm going to share today. But certainly, as I think about a well-run company, I think there's a few aspects of it, and profitability is one of those. Look at what's happened in the last several years of companies that have done a phenomenal job of growth where profitability has not been something that has gone so well. We really have an eye towards both. We want to be known not just for the product. We want to be known as a very well run company.

OK, does that include being cash-flow positive yet?

Again, I'm not going to get into the details of the financials.

What's the big difference between acting as president of NetApp vs. as president of Cohesity?

Certainly, scale is a big difference. But when you look at Cohesity today, there's a bounce in everybody's step. We are looking at the opportunity that we see ahead of ourselves. And this is all about growth. This is about taking a company that has a wonderful solution, as I said already, creating a new category. And challenges of growth are just high-class problems or opportunities. When I'm running around here with under 300 people, it's a lot of fun. There's a lot of energy. We know we're gonna scale fast. And so an awful lot different from what I was doing at my former company. But very much the same. It's ultimately about solving customers' problems, helping them grow, and creating business value for our customers as well as our partners.

What part of Cohesity's business goes through channel partners?

All of it. You know [Vice President of Worldwide Channels] Todd Palmer (pictured) well. Todd was brought on several months ago. He's done a great job of building out the partner community. We're doing a lot of good things. We're hearing from a handful of them. I look forward to getting together with even more of them. We believe the partner community is just critical to our success.

And they're welcoming new solutions. You know how the partners love to bring a new conversation to their customers. This is a new conversation. I believe partners are just critical to our strategy.

Is Cohesity's customer and partner base competitive to that of NetApp, or complementary?

I think it's a little of both. I think that's what we're going to find. NetApp has a very broad portfolio. So you're always going to bump into NetApp a little bit. For the most part, thought, as I think about where we are, and the things that we are doing, at least for today, we'll see some complementary [business]. But it's not lost on me that part of this will be competitive.

So what's the complementary part vs the competitive part of the business?

The data protection part is very much something where I believe that's primarily very much complimentary. I think as we expand to different use cases of our platform, we'll see more and more competitive things where we're bumping into a NetApp.

What's interesting, though, as I think about NetApp or some of these other big players, no one player dominates the secondary storage market. So we're going to see everyone. In fact, most of the conversations that we're in now, that I've been privy to, are not about my former company.

So who do you see as your primary competitors, then?

When you look at the disparate solutions, there's an awful lot of them. I think the legacy vendors selling siloed approaches in data protection, test/dev, file services, analytics, all of those will be [areas] where we will look to to help customers figure out a better way, a better solution, to their secondary storage needs.

Any company names in particular?

I don't really like talking about the competition. I'll let them name themselves. I saw one the other day that came out, big folks in data protection, and said they were going to come after us. I love the publicity. That's good for us.

Any hints as to who that was?

They've been in the backup space for a long time.

What are some of the things Cohesity is working on technology-wise?

I think this notion of a scale-out platform with non-disruptive expansion: a lot of people talk about that, but very [few] can actually implement it. I think the work we're doing around the cloud platform is fantastic with our cloud architecture. I think the work that we're doing around VMs (virtual machines) and how fast we can recover VMs, what I'm hearing from customers, is absolutely fantastic. So when you look at global dedupe, object storage, any hypervisor, unlimited scale-out, we've got unlimited snapshots, clones, global deduplication, a lot of exciting stuff here.

That's the reason so many customers are saying they want to kick the tires on it, put it in, and see what it can do for them.

Cohesity's tag line is 'hyper-converged secondary storage.' Does Cohesity ever plan to enter the full hyper-converged infrastructure appliance market?

That's a great question, Joe. The secondary storage market is ripe with opportunity. It's a big market. It is a very large market that no one is looking at the way we are. So we are very focused. You know, the one thing about our side of the company is, you need to know what your vision of what you're going to focus on is. We're going to run very, very hard in the secondary storage market, and let other folks fight it out in the primary. And I think that will be our strategy for the foreseeable future.

Cohesity has not been a very acquisitive company. Are there any things you could see Cohesity acquiring rather than building yourselves?

It's early days for me. I [just started]. I've gotten to know the company a little bit. We have our hands full with the things we are doing right now. That doesn't mean that we shouldn't be inquisitive about what else is out there that could help us in this new category move that much faster, be it things that we would develop ourselves, or bring something in and tuck it into what we're up to. Certainly, we should be inquisitive. …

That said, I do think that we should continue to be an inquisitive company.

Is Cohesity in channel partner recruitment mode?

We are. Todd is doing a great job in bringing on-board more partners now. I just took a trip over to Asia. We're gonna be in Europe in a couple of weeks … We're getting inquiries from partners literally all over the world.

You're always surprised your first day on the job. You don't know exactly what you'll find as you go through the process of joining the company. But there's always that first couple of days when you find out what's real, and what's not real. And two things are true: There is excitement in the halls of Cohesity, and the buzz in the market is pretty darned high. I've been pinged by partners myself from several different countries in the world, folks saying 'We'd love to talk to you about carrying your solutions.'

In North America, what are you looking for in the kind of channel partners you want to engage about potential opportunities?

I think channel partners that are able to open up new conversations. I think channel partners that realize, for at least a subset of what CIOs are doing today, they'd like to see a change. I believe Cohesity is at the forefront of a movement to change the landscape with traditional IT and data management and storage. And I believe that partners that want to be on the forefront of that, that are on the leading edge of those conversations, should definitely contact us and get to know what we offer.

Anything else?

I also believe that this is the type of play that is going to lead partners to not just a one-time sell. This is the opportunity to build on something, to really grow in an environment. I think that's what most partners are looking for. Partners want to add value. You and I both know that. The partners that I believe add the most value to their customers are the ones that provide them the solutions they need at the time they need them, and are always looking at what is new and exciting. Filtering out what is noise from what is really going to add value to that customer. We welcome those conversations.

What have you been doing in the year since you left NetApp?

I have had a wonderful time off. That was the first break I've taken in 30 years in the IT industry. The longest I've ever taken off before that was three weeks. I've got boys in high school, and it was just a fantastic experience to really get to spend some quality time with my family and do some things that I couldn't do running really hard at my former company.

That said, I always knew I had a little bit more left in me. Frankly, a lot more left in me, for the right opportunity. And this is clearly the right opportunity. So I'm excited to be here. It's been a wonderful time off, but I'm ready to get going now.