Rob Stein has a unique view into the ever-shifting world of federal IT. As the vice president for NetApp Federal's civilian public sector sales, he has watched the company grow into the No. 1 storage provider for the federal government. In an interview with ExecutiveBiz, Stein talks about that landmark achievement, being ranked a top spot to work in the D.C. area as well as how NetApp is taking on the brave new world of cloud computing and tightening federal budgets .
ExecutiveBiz: Can you talk a little bit about your background and how you ended up at NetApp Federal?
Rob Stein: I have an engineering degree. I started out my career by doing studies and analysis for a high end consulting firm that was focused on the Department of Defense. I then moved on to a company as a business development manager selling commercial, off-the-shelf real-time command and control systems. This is really where I got my first exposure to the IT business. It was during this period that I said to myself that I would like to work for an IT company.
As sort of a transition, I got a job with an IT reseller. I used this experience to land a position with a large software company. While I was at this company — about three years ago — I left and came to NetApp for a few major reasons. First, I had known the NetApp U.S. Public Sector president for over twenty years; I had trust in the leadership. Secondly, I had frequently heard about NetApp from many federal agencies who, unsolicited, would tell me such great things about NetApps' products. Lastly, the public sector organization really was just beginning on a growth path that, since I've been with the company, has made NetApp the No. 1 storage provider to the federal government. I really wanted to be a part of that.
ExecutiveBiz: What are three or four core competencies that NetApp Federal offers? What does NetApp do better than anyone else?
Rob Stein: We provide flexible and efficient IT that enables our customers to manage and store their data securely and reliably and, most importantly, with the lowest total cost of ownership. We do this with a unified data management and storage architecture for requirements that are in such diverse locations as the forward edge of the battle area to the largest data centers in the federal government. Whether you are fighting “˜in theater' or managing the infrastructure in an agency's data center, you can use the same architecture and the same best practices. We really deliver a secure shared infrastructure that enables data center consolidation and cloud computing.
There are a couple of things that we do better than anyone else. With our technology, we manage and store information more efficiently than any other data storage solution, and this actually enables our customers to store more data with less hardware. In fact, we guarantee that our customers need 50 percent less storage for their virtualization requirements than they would with traditional storage. From a technology standpoint, that's what we do better than anyone else. From a “how we go to market“ standpoint ““ what we do better than anyone else is we partner. We partner with federal systems integrators, service providers, our value added resellers and other IT product companies. We believe that we do that better than anyone else.
ExecutiveBiz: Looking forward, what are your goals and visions for the future of the company?
Rob Stein: First, it's interesting being a part of a data management and storage provider. NetApp is in a position of becoming a trusted adviser in all aspects of the business, not just the storage piece. Along with our partners, our goal is to reduce the federal government's IT costs, so that more money and resources can be put into an agency's core mission. Along with this, our goal is to maintain our position as the No. 1 data storage provider to the federal government. Additionally, culture is very important to NetApp. We really want to retain our culture as one of the greatest places to work in the world. In fact, this past year we were ranked the No. 2 greatest place to work in the Washington, D.C. area. This is one of our corporate leadership's main values, and my goal is to help our public sector organization live this value.
ExecutiveBiz: You mentioned one of your goals was reducing federal IT costs. I wonder if that's a particular selling point that you can take to federal agencies and your federal partners, particularly as the focus really seems to be on budget trimming and cutting back?
Rob Stein: Absolutely. I truly believe that NetApp has an incredible opportunity in front of us if you look at some of the data that is out there. For example, according to the IDC, data storage is the second highest capital expenditure of any large IT project. In fact, during austere times NetApp's value is even more significant. For example, over the last two years, which has included one of the worst economic periods of our lifetime, NetApp has grown 32 percent over the last two years while our competitors have experienced either single-digit or negative growth. As the IT equipment is aging in the federal agencies, they really have to do things differently, and we believe with our flexible efficient IT NetApp actually provides a way for our customers to reduce their storage spend while increasing their capabilities and service levels.
ExecutiveBiz: When you talk about any kind of IT in the federal government these days, cloud computing is not far behind. What is NetApp's take on this and what is its role?
Rob Stein: I really believe cloud computing offers a significant opportunity for the federal government to transform the way IT is both bought and delivered. NetApp in fact has seen a significant number of its customers move from a traditional capital-expenditure approach to a managed-service model which really moves the cost, the effort and some of the risk to the service provider. A lot of our growth over the last 18 to 24 months has been with companies and organizations that are delivering cloud computing to their customers. We are the storage infrastructure behind a significant number of enterprise-class mission critical applications including applications as varied as the largest SAP instance in the world, an airline reservation system that can never go down, on demand music or simply email for some of the largest government agencies. NetApp is enabling several federal cloud computing providers to deliver secure, shared infrastructure to which federal agencies can move their mission critical applications.
ExecutiveBiz: Even beyond cloud computing, what do you see on the horizon for federal IT projects? What will federal IT look like and how is NetApp working to make that future a reality in the present?
Rob Stein: Right now, like many organizations and companies, federal agencies have aging dedicated IT infrastructures. In other words they have one system dedicated to email, another to their ERP, a third to their SharePoint, another to their websites, and on and on. To keep this running, agencies are spending way too much on maintenance and not enough on innovation. In addition to that, the data explosion and budget pressures that are in front of us are going to require federal agencies to come up with new answers. Today's IT's speed-of-response really doesn't match the speed at which agencies have to carry out their mission. There is really an urgency to come up with new alternatives. NetApp and our partners are delivering future ready IT solutions that will enable the federal agencies to build these shared infrastructures; whether it's an infrastructure that resides within an agencies four walls, within an internal or external cloud ““ NetApp is providing the ability to manage multiple agency requirements for multiple organizations from a single IT infrastructure. Virtualization is a big part of that and no one does storage virtualization better than NetApp.
ExecutiveBiz: What do you do in your spare time? Do you have any outside passions or hobbies or maybe something people would be surprised to learn about you?
Rob Stein: One thing that I think people would be surprised to learn about me is I love math. I'm in sales now, so there aren't a whole lot of opportunities to do algebra and calculus. When my kids ask me for help in math, I jump on it. I really enjoy math and all of the problems around it. In my spare time I spend most of my spare time outside of work with my family. My wife and I follow our kids around to all of their activities and we do a lot of traveling together and that is quite enjoyable for me. One of my other outside things that I do is I really like to coach baseball. It keeps me involved with one of my passions which is competitive sports while giving me an opportunity to teach and watch kids develop. It's really quite fulfilling to me.