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Deep Dive: Peter Donnelly, Director of Products at ATTO Technology

Deep Dive: Peter Donnelly, Director of Products at ATTO Technology

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We ‘deep dive’ with Peter Donnelly, Director of Products at ATTO Technology, who tells us about life inside and outside the office.

What would you describe as your most memorable achievement in the data centre industry?

Making the jump from a sales position into product management is a pretty special memory. Understanding what customers needed was always important to me and leveraging those skills in very different ways was difficult. I was suddenly working directly with software and hardware engineers who ask pointed questions and don’t suffer fools. Engineering was one of my customers, though, and I needed to figure out how to navigate and build those new relationships. It’s made me better at what I do. It’s also helped me bring more value to my company. Our projects run more smoothly and we’re able to compete more effectively. 

What first made you think of a career in technology/data centres?

I lucked into it. I started in a completely different industry in R&D and, eventually, technical sales. The idea of a data centre was just starting to take shape and it looked fascinating to me. I certainly didn’t realise just how far things would go at the time, but I definitely sensed that what I saw was going to change how we worked and played. I never looked back and have never regretted it. I get to work with really smart people creating new things every day.

What style of management philosophy do you employ in your current position?

Hire good people, get them what they need to work effectively – and then stay out of their way. I’m a huge fan of trying to give my team the space that they need to work at their peak performance and I’m finding that most of the time the best questions for me to ask are ‘what’s getting in the way of getting this done?’ and then ‘what do you need from me to remove those obstacles?’ It empowers my team to think creatively and problem solve. They’re way smarter than me and can come up with better answers. Also, it frees me up to work on the issues that really need my attention.

What do you think is the current hot talking point within the data centre space?

Disaggregation. For years, it seemed that all people wanted to talk about was how hyperconverged architectures were the ultimate solution for the data centre. What we’re finding now, though, is that this one size fits all approach isn’t necessarily the best or even the most cost-effective way to look at the data centre. Taking memory and storage out of the box and scaling that independently, as well as placing these resources closer to where they are needed. People are starting to see the benefit of seeing the data centre in this more evolved way – and reaping the benefits. 

How do you deal with stress and unwind outside the office?

I think the biggest thing has been to re-establish boundaries between work and home life. For the past few years, as we’ve worked primarily in our home offices, it was tough to separate the two worlds. Recently, I’ve got back into the groove of walking outside more and spending time at the gym. It gets me out of the house and there’s nothing like working up a sweat to reset your brain. 

What do you currently identify as the major areas of investment in your industry?

We’re heavily investing in developing enabling technologies for enterprise NVMe storage solutions, as well as expanding on products that help our customers more effectively disaggregate their storage in the data centre. We believe that the data centre is at one of those points where people are starting to radically re-imagine what the ‘right’ deployment strategies are. NVMe storage, presuming we can overcome some of the scalability and management challenges that stand in the way today, will provide exponential performance improvements for applications. Disaggregation will also change the economics of the data centre. They’ll be able to invest and upgrade at a much more granular level than they’ve been able to achieve in the past. 

What are the region-specific challenges you encounter in your role?

Component supply challenges are certainly a big thing for us and affect our ability to support our customers globally. Our supply chain management team has been great in keeping us ahead of things and we’ve been able to consistently support the demand for our products. We’ve even picked up business because we have the inventory that people are looking for. The war in Ukraine has certainly impacted demand in Europe – it’s also starting to drive up transportation costs everywhere as our shippers factor additional fuel costs into things. Also, the rolling lockdowns in China continue to impact component availability for us.

Really, there are few region-specific challenges that we are facing right now – everything is global in scope and the interdependencies are on full display. That’s what we are trying to navigate successfully. I’ve never seen it this challenging in my career.

What changes to your job role have you seen in the last year and how do you see these developing in the coming months?

I’m spending as much time working on employee retention and satisfaction as I am on product development and product roadmap issues. COVID-19 lockdowns demonstrated to employees and companies that ‘one size fits all’ office policies aren’t necessarily the most effective ways to run a business. My team performed well and liked the freedom and flexibility of working outside the office. At the same time, we recognised that there was definitely something lacking with seeing each other on the screen instead of in person. Collaboration was tougher and difficult conversations were less effective remotely. There’s no way to put that genie back in the bottle, so the challenge now is to figure out how to recruit and retain the best talent by creating a new work environment that allows them to be happy as well as effective. If we can find that perfect combination, the ‘business’ issues will take care of themselves. This is all a huge change from where we were two years ago.

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