Bill Downer serves as manager of federal business development at Seagate Technology where he is helping to build a federal subsidiary that will focus on storage offerings for U.S. government customers.
Downer worked in BD for Xyratex before it was acquired by Seagate and was vice president of federal sales at DataDirect Networks beginning in 2012.
He has also served in leadership positions at Mellanox Technologies, Quantum, StorageTek and Sun Microsystems earlier in his career.
Downer caught up with ExecutiveBiz to discuss some of the storage offerings at Seagate, how the GovCon industry has changed over the years and his thoughts on the future of the intelligence community.
ExecutiveBiz: Tell us about Seagate and why you wanted to work there in the first place.
Bill Downer: Last September I joined Xyratex, which is one of the largest manufacturers of computer storage enclosures. I joined the ClusterStor division that was responsible for selling high-performance computing storage systems to the government. On December 22, Seagate announced plans to buy Xyratex. As a result of the acquisition, I am now a part of Seagate, a 14 billion dollar storage systems company.
Aside from Xyratex, Seagate has been buying a number of storage technology companies to broaden their portfolio. The federal government customers are interested in many of these new and emerging technologies available from Seagate. We are in the process of standing up a subsidiary, Seagate Federal, with the purpose of creating purpose-built storage products just for the US government.
ExecutiveBiz: What is your role in the new venture Seagate Federal?
Bill Downer: My role is Business Development Manager and my responsibilities include meeting with government integrators and government end users to understand and define the requirements for the most difficult computer storage problems and to design and build purpose-built computer storage solutions for those customers.
ExecutiveBiz: In which part of the federal government are you trying to grow the company’s footprint?
Bill Downer: We have HPC Computer Storage product line called ClusterStor. We have had great success selling these products across the federal market with Cray and their OEM version of the product called Sonexion. A partial list of agencies using our HPC products are: NASA, the HPCMPO and the Department of Energy labs.
On April 14, we announced the first ICD 503-compliant Lustre storage appliance called the Secure Data Appliance. This product is not like anything else available in the market. We built that for all industries but principally for the DOD and Intelligence community agencies. The interest in this product line has been very high.
ExecutiveBiz: Do you think that the Intelligence community will continue to grow?
Bill Downer: The Intelligence community is growing and is interested in significantly reducing their operating costs across the board. Providing them purpose-built computer storage products that exactly address their needs and requirements in the most cost-effective way is one of the ways of reducing operating costs.
ExecutiveBiz: Are there any other offerings going forward that you are particularly excited about?
Bill Downer: We are working on a number of Open Stack and Open Compute Project solutions, computer storage solutions that are very interesting to a lot of the government integrators and government end users.
ExecutiveBiz: What are some of the leadership lessons you’ve learned on your way to Seagate and that you currently use in your role?
Bill Downer: The most important lesson is rapid change occurs in technology and it is incredibly difficult for the government employees and integrators to keep up. When you meet an integrator partner or a government partner, you have to understand their top challenges. The number of legacy systems they have is a quick gauge on how quick they can embrace and adopt the latest technology trend.
ExecutiveBiz: So the legacy systems hinder new development of systems?
Bill Downer: You can’t tell a customer to replace everything because new technology is more effective. You have to make sure that the new technologies will work with all the legacy systems.
ExecutiveBiz: How does the federal side complement the commercial side of Seagate?
Bill Downer: The government is ahead of most industries and commercial markets in a lot of the technology and architectures being tested and adopted like the cloud and OpenStack technologies. The government is still behind web 2.0 companies like Google and Amazon Web Services.
ExecutiveBiz: What are some of the ways you try to differentiate your company?
Bill Downer: Seagate’s two largest customers are EMC and NetApp. They, like IBM, Dell and HP, buy a tremendous amount of Seagate drives. Those have done a phenomenal job in addressing the enterprise storage requirement in the federal government. I’m not looking to compete with NetApp and EMC. Instead I’m looking to build special mission-defined storage systems.
For example, we have disk drives that are optimized to provide the highest level of video fidelity and long duty cycles for video surveillance. Our purpose-built products are well suited for the special mission requirements in this area.
ExecutiveBiz: How has the industry changed since you first joined?
Bill Downer: When I started in this business in ’88 the RFIs and the solutions implemented by the government were not near as complex as they are today. They would go and buy everything from one manufacturer. With the increase in the complexity and sophistication in the solutions the government customers require, the government procurement process must reflect and address this complexity.
ExecutiveBiz: Does that make it harder for individual companies like Seagate or does it provide more opportunities?
Bill Downer: If you have great technology, you always have lots of opportunities. Now, there is a great deal of discernment around exactly what the government wants. It also makes partnerships with other companies and solution providers more important.
ExecutiveBiz: What are you most excited for?
Bill Downer: Seagate has not had an entity to call directly on the federal government customer and discuss their requirements and the technologies they require from a company with the breadth of Seagate . Seagate has an incredible amount of intellectual property that will be of great value to the government. So I’m excited about bringing these new technologies to the government customers and integrators.
It is important that an American company like Seagate with such fabulous technology to build a closer relationship with the federal government, integrators and solution providers. We are very excited about working with partners and end users to help them more effectively address their mission requirements.