Videography – February 1998

Pathlight Targets Storage Networks with Randy Hood
By Sheldon Liebman

Last month, Pathlight Technology announced that Randy Hood, former President of ImMIX and Scitex Digital Video, has joined the company as CEO. Based on Hood’s experiences in the video industry, this move raises Pathlight’s visibility in our market and gives the company more credibility as a supplier of high-speed networking and storage solutions. We sat down with Hood during MacWorld to speak about where this market is going in general and where Pathlight is focusing in particular.

When Hood was at Scitex Digital Video, that company worked closely with Pathlight to develop the Storage Network Agent (SNA) product for Scitex’s non-linear editing systems. SNA allows Sphere workstations to simultaneously handle media transfer and creative tasks without exiting the editing application or tying up the entire system. This advance in collaborative editing earned the product an "NAB ’97 Editors’ Choice" award from Videography and from our sister publication, Television Broadcast.

With the introduction of SNA, Hood started looking at the big picture of shared storage for applications beyond non-linear editing. "There’s a very important change going on in the video industry," states Hood. "How do you connect creative people to the media they are working on and how do you let them share it in a collaborative way? Pathlight is very well positioned to offer high value solutions in this area."

This connection goes well beyond the video industry and is starting to make an impact in all areas where large amounts of data need to be shared and accessed. In fact, the concept of "Storage Area Networking," or SAN, where multiple large storage devices are connected to multiple workstations, was named by BYTE Magazine as one of the top 25 technologies to watch in 1998. Last year, the Storage Industry Networking Association was formed and Pathlight was a founding member. "We are right in the middle of this technology," comments Hood.

By shifting the focus of the company to storage area network solutions, Hood and the rest of Pathlight’s executive team are indicating a willingness to move beyond the company’s roots in Serial Storage Architecture (SSA) technology. In fact, even before Hood came on board, Pathlight had started this process with the introduction of their ImageAGENT product. According to Hood, "The ImageAGENT is an important, fundamental element in designing a storage area network solution. It allows the simultaneous connection of the new serial interface technologies such as SSA and FC plus allows continued use of existing SCSI devices. This is exactly what customers have wanted – an evolutionary approach tuned to their specific requirements."

Other products like ImageAGENT are certain to be developed by the company so that all kinds of devices can be connected together easily. "No matter what interface is required, no matter what operating platform," explains Hood, "we want to give customers a powerful solution that incorporates fast networking and data sharing."

Up to this point, adds Hood, people have been focusing entirely too much on the interface aspect of the problem. "Many discussions about networking are limited to the interfaces, but there’s more to it than that," he says. As an example, Hood points to the video industry and its format wars. "We have to focus on a solution, not on a single interface. The reason there are so many videotape formats is because different customer requirements can only effectively be met with very specific VTR formats."

Hood believes the same is true when it comes to networking. "There’s a lot of technology out there and it all has its place," he explains. For any given customer solution, one or more of those technologies may be appropriate. As Hood contemplates the best ways for Pathlight to grow, he wants "to focus on storage area networking solutions without being limited to a single type of system."

"You need to look at how people want to get their work done," claims Hood, in order to create the right products. At ImMIX, this is how he explained the way they came up with their early ideas. Today, Hood and Pathlight are looking closely at how video professionals want to share data and collaborate on projects. Once that information is gathered and analyzed, he feels Pathlight will be in a unique position to meet people’s needs. "If people want to create well thought out, technically robust network solutions," says Hood, "they will want to get to know Pathlight."

To implement this strategy, Hood does not have a single distribution model in mind for the company’s products. "I have a hunch it will be a multi-faceted approach." On one side, there are OEM opportunities that result in completely integrated product solutions. On another side, there are high caliber dealers and resellers who can bring together equipment from a number of manufacturers to create a customized solution for each customer. Finally, there is the possibility of direct sales and integration using Pathlight’s own resources. To Hood, all of these things are possible and none of them rule out any of the others.

In today’s market, this type of multi-faceted approach may be the only way for Hood to meet his goals. Storage technology continues to advance at a staggering pace. Recent announcements by IBM and other storage companies point toward much bigger hard drives than we have today and much faster access speeds. SCSI, Fibre Channel and SSA drives all require different controllers and interfaces to operate correctly. Different operating systems use different formats for storage. The problem of mixing these technologies together from both hardware and software perspectives is more than most companies can handle already. As each new drive type is introduced, it only gets worse.

This doesn’t even begin to address the issue of how storage is connected to a network. Traditionally, storage is directly connected to a workstation. Whenever you purchase a new computer, this is the model that is used. However, Fibre Channel, SSA and some other types of networks allows storage devices to sit on a network without being tied to a single machine. This provides a couple of significant advantages.

First, there is no danger that someone will turn off their machine and eliminate access to one or more shared storage devices. Second, the information being accessed doesn’t have to travel across one computer bus to get onto the network and another one to get out of it.

Our industry can definitely benefit from a company that understands and can address these issues. If Hood moves Pathlight in the direction he wants, they will be well-positioned to fill this role. The result will be that we can worry less about how our networks and storage devices (inter)operate and more about the creative results we hope to achieve. After all, that has been the point all along. Faster machines, faster networks, and faster storage have all been a means to an end –to remove limits from our ability to be creative. In Randy Hood’s vision of the future, Pathlight will help us turn these dreams into reality.

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