New Pivot3 Canada country manager Grant Aitken looks to raise company visibility

Pivot3’s hyper-converged Canadian business is much stronger today in the physical security space than in compute, and addressing that is one of ex-VMware Canadian country manager’s Aitken’s top priorities.

Grant Aitken, new Canadian country manager at Pivot3

Hyper-converged infrastructure vendor Pivot3 has significantly upgraded its presence in Canada, hiring their first country manager and bringing on other Canadian-based staff. The new Canadian leader is Grant Aitken, well-known in the Canadian channel, particularly for his long stint as area vice president at VMware Canada. He will be joined by Ian Clarke, as Regional Sales Director, and by a sales engineer who has yet to be hired. All will be based in the Greater Toronto Area.

Pivot3 has a significant install base in Canada, but the catch is that its core base is in the physical security market – not the compute market. A key part of Aitken’s job is to change that.

“The company has an established base of customers – and large customers – in Canada, Aitken said, “We have a good footprint of customers both public and private. We are underpenetrated though in terms of both market awareness and channel. Raising the visibility of the company is a major focus for me as we get further into the market.”

“A lot of the major airports and metro areas, and some of the police forces are customers,” said Bruce Milne, Pivot3’s CMO. “We are not as well known in the compute market yet. Last year was a breakout year for us in terms of visibility in the US. We are looking to do this in 2017 in Canada, and the starting point was bringing Grant and Ian on.

Bruce Milne, Pivot3’s CMO

“Pivot3 was founded by ex-Compaq, ex-HP guys building the first generation of software defined storage, who developed solutions to capture streaming media from IT media cameras,” Milne explained. “The company established an initial leadership position in that, and we are still a leader in high-end video capture as a data ingestion storage solution. They started there and expanded us into other use cases like virtual desktops, database applications, and online transaction processing apps. We have been seeing some expansion of existing customers into other use cases like these. The public sector is a huge market for us because of their volume of data, and the fact that we use 30 per cent less infrastructure than competitors to do the same job.” They have 2500 customers globally.

A year ago, Pivot3 expanded its hyper-converged footprint with the acquisition of NexGen.

“NexGen had a number of Canadian customers, but their market tended to be SMB and mid-level educational customers,” Milne said. “Pivot3 customers are typically midmarket and enterprise. We don’t do a lot of SMB. Their data management challenges tend to be smaller and they tend to adopt the cloud for bursting. We have a platform uniquely suited for data ingestion challenges, and because we can scale independently, we tend to be a good fit for really large enterprises.”

The growth of the Internet of Things [IoT] is also generating business for Pivot3.

“In addition to physical security, there are a lot of broader use cases for video,” Milne stated. “Much of the IoT data will be generated by video cameras. While they have been used in the past for things like monitoring and loss prevention, they are increasingly being used for more advanced things like facial recognition applications. Because we never drop a frame, and never lose a byte of data, there are lots of emerging use cases for us from IoT.”

An existing OEM agreement with Lenovo is extremely important for Pivot3 in the compute market.

“Lenovo is interested in us for a couple reasons,” Milne said. “We are an alternative path to streaming media-type applications, and we take them into large established customers. We will go after health care with them, and after surveillance with them. We are closing new business with them in the U.S. and expanding into Canada with them very quickly.

Nutanix is seen as their principal competitor in Canada.

“We find that if customers are already aware of the hyper-converged space, our competition is typically Nutanix, Milne said.

On the other hand, Pivot3’s relationship with the Dell EMC-VMware stable is more complex.

“In some cases they compete with us, and in some cases, they propose Pivot3 to their customer,” he added. “We believe that the competitive field will grow, and that’s why we are actively investing in getting visibility and mindshare.”

Until now, the Canadian market was handled through a variety of sources, most of them based outside Canada.

“Canada was managed out of Chicago and New England, and we also have folks in the Seattle area who cover B.C.,” Milne said. “In addition, we have manufacturers’ reps in Canada that rep us in the physical security and surveillance space.”

Pivot3 sells entirely through channel partners, although work needs to be done on the Canadian channel. Partners exist today in Ontario, Alberta, Manitoba and Quebec, with Alberta being the strongest province behind Ontario. They have about 20 active partners, some of whom are on the NMSO list and have government agencies they work with. This doesn’t include partners who sign up for opportunistic sales.

“I’m in early days still, and am evaluating what we have from a partner perspective,” Aitken said. “Discrete surveillance has some overlap with general compute, and we will put a lot of emphasis on making sure we remain dominant in surveillance.”

Aitken acknowledged that a lot of work needs to be done in the compute space.

“We haven’t broadly competed at this point in Canada,” he said. “Our Lenovo relationship will be critical there. Once I’ve got a good handle on the partner situation, I will be looking to add to the contingent of partners we have in this space. We have CDW and SHI as big national partners. My experience is at building out regional players, and those who want to differentiate from the mass market.”

Aitken also indicated that while his channel contacts with VMware are valuable, some of the smaller players in the space are newer.

“The players I know well are the major national ones,” he said. “The regional and smaller infrastructure players emerging in hyper-converged are pretty much a green field.”

“We would like partners to recognize the opportunity hyper-convergence offers them in the market,” Milne said. “If they haven’t explored it, they really need to. We are growing faster than the rate of the marketplace. We had record quarters all last year and are on a 70-80 per cent growth rate this year. Whether customers ask for hyper-converged by name, or whether they don’t know it and are just asking for greater efficiency, we are seeing lots of demand, even if its not called hyper-converged by name. One Canadian partner has registered a number of deals with us very quickly since coming on board. There is real pent-up demand.”

He acknowledged that the nature of the Canadian market makes hyper-converged often a tougher sell in Canada than in the U.S.

“There is more of a healthy cynicism in Canada, a ‘show me the money’ attitude where they want a lot more evaluation, and proof of concepts,” he said. “That’s why we are focused on getting existing customers to tell the market about their success. In addition, there isn’t really a good rubric for benchmarking hyper-converged today, so we are putting a lot of effort into building out benchmarking so we can show that to customers. Developing very credible benchmarks, and more fully using our reference customers are the core of our visibility strategy, helping us to spread the word.”