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Why Sofia? with Boyan Ivanov, CEO at StorPool Storage

 

StorPool Storage: How Distributed Storage Should Be!

 

StorPool is recognized as the fastest block storage software for building and managing powerful public and private clouds. StorPool systems are incredibly fast, starting from 1,000,000 IOPS and <0,2 latency. The Sofia-based company provides a software-defined storage solution for demanding customers, where low latency, high IOPS, online scalability and high availability are important.

The mission of the company is to make storage simpler and more affordable by delivering the best software-defined storage system for entreprises building Clouds.

The block-level, distributed storage software was designed by the Bulgarian team from the ground up and is arguably the fastest and most reliable software-defined storage solution on the market today.

StorPool Storage aims at helping cloud builders to build simpler, smarter, more efficient clouds, at much lower costs and boost their margins. The company delivers on its mission by developing the fastest and most efficient distributed storage software and making it available on a global scale.

 

Boyan Ivanov, CEO at StorPool Storage, tells us what makes Sofia a place to launch a successful business and develop locally solutions with global application.

Please tell us briefly about your investments in Sofia? What does your company do in Bulgaria and outside? 

StorPool is a software vendor. We develop software for companies, which build so called public and private cloudshosting companies, telecoms, enterprises. We help these companies to speed up their business and increase the cost-effectiveness and reliability of their infrastructure. Our customers are spread around the world.

However, most of the product development is carried out in Sofia. Subsequently, we are one of the active participants in the local IT ecosystem.

What motivated you to invest in Sofia?

As said above, StorPool’s development center is in Sofia. A big motivator for investing here is the quality of the experts and the number of skilled developers which are available here. 

StorPool not only provides high-quality products and services but develops and invents them here. Tell us more about the solutions that the Sofia-based team develops locally? 

StorPool works in a very specific sector – IT infrastructure for other businesses, which have a lot of data. We develop a data storage solution, which we sell globally. It is an innovative way of storing data, lately known as “software-defined storage”. It is better than existing data storage solutions, known as “SAN” in all meaningful metrics – speed, reliability, scalability and price. 

StorPool’s intelligent software runs on standard servers and turns them into high-performance and highly reliable enterprise-grade storage system. We replace traditional storage arrays, all-flash arrays or other inferior storage software.

What drives the growth in the market you operate in? 

Most business today become heavily dependent on Information Technologies (IT) and are data driven. For example: for a bank 10 years ago, the main assets were people, brand, office network, etc. Now banks have become hugely dependent on IT – core products are online banking, mobile banking, social network presence, big data on all the interactions which customers are having with the bank online. Multiple systems which create, store and analyse data. So most businesses are becoming IT companies and need increasing amounts of data storage. 

Banks are just one example, but digitalization of business is happening across the board, which drives the growth of the market, but also it’s increasing complexity, competition and speed of development.

From outsourcing destination to local development of global solutions – is that a real trend in Sofia?

Yes. It is very early days, but StorPool is just one of the companies leading the way. 

Historically we’ve seen a lot of outsource here, but outsourcing does not add much value to the local economy. Someone outside of Bulgaria is getting contracts for developing a new and innovative product and we are used as the cheap labour outsourcing place to do the dirty work. So someone else keeps the large profit margins and the brand and most of the critical know-how. However this is a needed stage for our economy, as it still brings money and good practices to our economy. 

Over time the people in this ecosystem will amass knowledge and resources and some will start thinking of making own products and solutions, which will be Bulgarian, but sold to the global market. This is not easy but creates a lot of value and I hope more and more companies will follow this approach.

How much does the investment climate in Bulgaria stand out in comparison with the progress made in other countries in the region? 

I’m not really following our region, as I focus on global market dynamics and also on which are the leading hubs of the data storage industry. 

At least the IT industry is now part of the global economy and we should stop comparing ourselves to “the region” as now a competitor may be a company doing something in our domain, which is located in Asia or South America. They will also fight for the same customers and access to global capital, so regional comparison is less important in some cases. For example, we rarely compete with companies in the region, maybe except for Romania in IT outsourcing. But we more often compete with companies from the US, China, Taiwan, South Korea, Israel, to name a few. 

Of course, there is always a component, that is tied to local climate – such as population and demographic structure, education, legislation and law enforcement, capital availability, entrepreneurial spirit – to name the more important ones. Unlike the conventional belief – more high-ways will be good, as we barely have an end-to-end highway, but they will not have a huge impact on the economy, as a developed country’s GDP is now mostly services, i.e. knowledge based. 

In resume – I think the local ecosystem is doing their best to improve education, however, we don’t see meaningful actions from the government on the known issues – education and law enforcement reforms. 

What sort of challenges have you faced so far? 

The usual ones – lack of qualified people – both in the number of people and in the quality of training. Also, the mindset of the majority of people needs to change – people should do their best to be more professional, to have more attention to detail, to work harder and take initiative. 

How do you estimate the overall business climate in Sofia today? 

Business climate is specific to the industry, so in our industry, IT – I think it is overheated – too many outsource companies, competing for the same, rather limited pool of IT specialists. This drives salaries above productivity levels and creates bad practices – poaching people, laziness and so on, which we’ll have to pay the price for in the long run.

Judging from your business experience, do you think that local and foreign investors see our capital as a more or less homogeneous business area, or are there still a lot of hurdles?

As in many other countries, Sofia is The City. Similar is London and Paris, so Sofia is the first choice of any foreign investor, at least in IT and then, when they fail to scale operations – they look for other cities – Plovdiv, Stara Zagora, Varna, Burgas. 

What would you point out specifically in terms of business climate improvement for investors who are already operating in Sofia? 

Over the last 8-10 years there have been a significant development in the overall high-tech ecosystem in Bulgaria, and mostly in Sofia. And having a strong ecosystem is vital for the local economy as any company, as any successful business which will create value and jobs, needs several things, not just one. They all combine – from education, producing motivated and skillful people, through access to capital, lawyers who know and understand the specifics of the industry, legislation which is in-line with best practices in developed markets, to e-government and decent in-city infrastructure, which allows people to move fast and have a good, healthy environment to relax, have fun and refill their energy and creative powers.  

 

What needs to be improved in order to increase the number of new investors both from Bulgaria and abroad? 

All the hard things, which depend on the government – law enforcement, education, healthcare, infrastructure. The rest is already being improved by active and engaged organisations.  

When you look at Sofia and the country as a whole, as an investor, what attracts or surprises you most?

There are two things I’ve been surprised by lately: we have some very bright people, but they do not think big, which is a mistake. They do not have a global mindset and vision. They want to build something small for the local market. So people should start dreaming big, but in touch with reality (which is the flip side – we have people who only talk big, but never do anything).

The other thing I am rather surprised by is that is harder to find good IT sales people. It seems good sales skills are rare and it’s even harder to find  good IT sales, compared to a good programmer. 

How do you feel about Sofia and Bulgaria as a place to live? 

It gets an average rate. There are many things which are good, even better than some countries, which we wanted to be like in 20 years ago – life here is simpler and less stressful, provided that you are working for a good company and getting a decent salary. 

But there are many bad things which are just bad – like huge pollution, especially in the winter, lack of parking lots and severe over-building of certain areas, no basic infrastructure like lamps and pavements, bad education and healthcare services, unless you go to private facilities. All these things need to be addressed, if we want to become more competitive and keep the raising standard. 

Name your top 5 favorite things in Sofia?

Sofia is the capital and biggest city in the country. This has many advantages – from having products and service, unavailable in most other cities in Bulgaria, to better education, healthcare, infrastructure and other services. 

We are becoming a more European-looking capital. 

The climate is good – not too hot or too cold, not too humid or windy. 

We are relatively well connected to the other major cities in Europe and beyond. 

Sofia is becoming a major European IT hub. 

Good location – not a long drive from mountains and sea.

 

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