Q&A: Stratus CEO looks to bring high availability to the masses

David Laurello sees opportunities to expand beyond Stratus' market niche

For decades, Maynard, Mass.-based Stratus Technologies has earned high marks from customers for delivering fault-tolerant computing, with specially-architected servers and 24/7 monitoring services aimed at keeping business-critical apps up and running. But with the rollout of Stratus Avance - software that brings FT capabilities to standard servers - and the growing demands virtualization is putting on computing infrastructure, CEO David Laurello is pouncing on an opportunity to expand far beyond Stratus' existing market niche.

In this installment of the IDG Enterprise CEO Interview Series, IDGE Chief Content Officer John Gallant spoke with Laurello about bringing high availability to the masses and how Stratus is aiming to become your cloud infrastructure provider.

Give us a brief overview of what Stratus does and what makes the company unique. Stratus provides the highest level of uptime assurance in the industry. Customers with the most business-critical or mission-critical applications choose us because we provide the highest level of uptime for those applications. Mission critical, business critical - our customers can directly relate downtime to lost revenue. We do this through a set of resilient technologies and unique, predictive and proactive availability monitoring.

Let me just talk a little bit about each of them. We have two basic platforms. We have a fault-tolerant server [called ftServer] that is fully redundant and is the premier uptime server in the marketplace. It's an open system server so it supports Windows, Linux, it supports virtualized environments, VMWare, HyperV, and provides over five nines of uptime, so less than a minute of downtime across our base. We also have a high-availability product called Avance which is more for the SMB market. We're taking our 30 years of experience and expertise in uptime and bringing it to the SMB market where we see the need for uptime growing and continuing to grow. As virtualization expands, there's a need for a higher level of uptime in those environments.

Let's clarify something: When we talk to customers they talk about a wide variety of applications as being mission-critical and requiring five nines availability. But when does somebody really need this kind of technology? What's the point at which somebody is a good target customer for you? Customers that have a compelling need for continuous availability are our best customers. A lot of customers have availability as a priority, but price is sometimes their number one priority. For example, we have customers that tell us a minute of downtime relates to $50,000 of lost revenue. The customers that understand their business and understand the impact of downtime on their business are the ones that are our best customers.

What do you pay for that compared to using, say, the standard white-box servers that people are running today for their business apps? Before I do that, I want to talk about our proactive monitoring because I think that's very important. It's really the total solution. It's the [hardware] technologies and it's the service -- the proactive monitoring -- that really provides that high level of uptime. The monitoring that we do, we touch over 500 points in an ftServer and over 150 points in the Avance server, monitoring the workings of numerous elements within the system. We have a very good indication before a problem actually causes downtime and we are able to take corrective action. We talk about failure prevention, not failure recovery. It's the combination of those two elements that really provide the highest level of availability. Now, in terms of your price question, you have to look at the two offerings. In the ftServer space, we have servers that start out at an entry price of around $10,000 and go up to $60,000, which is very competitive compare to, say, a cluster of robust servers -- very, very competitive. We compete against clusters and for customers who have that compelling need for availability we win. The monitoring service is another yearly charge that's usually a percentage of the system price.

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