Breece Hill's Turnaround Kid

Breece Hill's CEO, Phil Pascarelli, uses common sense to develop and evaluate storage products. His company is a model of the way things should work.

Like most of us, I like a good old-fashioned turn-around story from time to time: the tale of a down-on-his-luck kid (or company) who beats the odds and wins the game. A recent conversation with good friend Mark Ferelli, who is editor-in-chief over at Computer Technology Review, reminded me that it has been awhile since the last Rocky sequel—at least in the storage industry.

Ferelli and I were reflecting on the past year in storage and identifying folks who we thought had made remarkable turnarounds for their storage companies in terms of products or technologies. A few names were bandied about, but one we immediately agreed on was Phil Pascarelli, the CEO over at Breece Hill.

Storage guys may not know Pascarelli because he isn’t really a disk geek. For most of his career, in fact, he was on the outside looking in—an analyst for a prominent investment house focusing on, among other things, storage technology.

I have quoted him several times in past columns both because of the unique business perspective he brings to the storage market and because he is usually right. More often than not, Pascarelli accurately predicts what new storage initiatives will succeed and which will fail; in this, he tends to be much more accurate than Gartner or IDC or any of the other brand name industry R&A firms.

His secret is common sense. He uses metrics taken from the world of dollars and sense, rather than from the world of bits and bytes, to evaluate technology trends and their business possibilities. To this data, he adds a lot of market due diligence: research into whether the new technology, product, or service is actually addressing any identifiable business requirements.

Bottom line: if he lived closer to Tampa Bay, we’d take him with us to a horse track.

Fundamentally, Pascarelli plays the “super-consumer” who distrusts everything a vendor says until it is proven to his satisfaction. He has no compunction about calling products what they are, and has even less reluctance about sharing his opinions about the business acumen (or lack thereof) of management in other tech firms. He is not above telling analysts not to let the door hit them in the tuccus on the way out if he thinks they are full of horse feathers.

Classic Bronx. To Pascarelli, objective research and testing are everything. Money talks and that other stuff walks.

Pascarelli is also, to borrow a sports metaphor, the quarterback who has taken his team at Breece Hill from initially lousy field position all the way to the one yard line, where they are today poised to score big with their recently acquired Integrity software and iStoRA appliances. (The company announced the acquisition of Avail Solutions, creators of Integrity data management software, on September 28.)

The story actually begins when Pascarelli was involved in the merger of optical-disc maker MaxOptix and little known tape-automation vendor Breece Hill a few years back. He helped the money guys put a deal together so that synergies could be exploited between product lines of the two firms and a stronger player could emerge.

In short order, however, the merger seemed beset by a series of intractable problems—at least to those of us on the outside. Ego clashes between senior managers from the two firms, combined with differences in corporate culture and numerous other hurdles not evident from pre-merger reviews of balance sheets, made the future look downright dismal. That’s when the call went out to Pascarelli: fix the Breece Hill situation.

Packing his New York wit and wiles, he steered his Mercedes-Benz westward, where he rented an old miner’s shack within jogging distance to Breece Hill’s Louisville, CO headquarters. Imagine the shock to the laid back Rocky Mountain staff to see the Wall Street workaholic saunter in, roll up his sleeves, and get down to business. Forget the languorous lattes at Starbucks on the way into the office. From now on it would be bad house coffee and pizza deliveries at work well past midnight. (With passive-aggressive overtones, employees continue to chide Pascarelli for purchasing a “girl’s” four-wheel-drive when that first Colorado Winter proved problematic for his city car.)

My first encounter with him early this year spoke volumes. He sent an alpha test version of iStoRA to my test labs with a request that we beat it up and provide our no-holds-barred feedback evaluation. Simply put, he wanted to confirm the information and assumptions of his product development folks: “Tell me what it does right today and what it could do better.” Most importantly, he wanted to know whether it provided a capable solution that addressed real-world data-management problems.

Our testing revealed iStoRA to be a good blending of disk and tape in a single appliance form factor—well suited to deliver disk-to-disk-to-tape functionality to the small to medium enterprise or departmental office of a large company. The software component, then provided by Avail, provided the secret sauce: enabling the management and movement of data from servers and desktops to iStoRA in accordance with easily defined and actuated data-management policies.

We found a few warts (all alpha test products have them) that were put into the report and scheduled for the next round of engineering. Now, with those problems resolved, we’ve facilitated the placement of iStoRA into several beta test environments to enable potential customers to contribute their perspective to ours.

That’s exactly how good product development is supposed to work. And it is how good companies become great companies.

And it is pure common sense, which Pascarelli has in no short supply. Perhaps in response to this column, other companies will follow his lead.

In the meantime, iStoRA with Avail’s (now Breece Hill’s) Integrity data management software is shipping. We believe it would make a great addition for firms that are beginning to feel the pain of data management and data protection that already besets their Fortune 500 cousins.

Moreover, Pascarelli—who would never agree to being profiled in this way—gets our vote for turn-around kid in 2004. Please comment to

About the Author

Jon William Toigo is chairman of The Data Management Institute, the CEO of data management consulting and research firm Toigo Partners International, as well as a contributing editor to Enterprise Systems and its Storage Strategies columnist. Mr. Toigo is the author of 14 books, including Disaster Recovery Planning, 3rd Edition, and The Holy Grail of Network Storage Management, both from Prentice Hall.