Acronis looks beyond the disk image

Born in the Ukraine and educated in Russia, Acronis CEO Alex Pinchev emigrated to Israel in 1974 with just $90 in his back pocket. He joined the army, and ended up serving as a major in the elite computers unit.

“It was one of the most innovative armies in the world, and very much focused on technology,” he says. “Israel had the second-largest number of technology start-ups after the US at the time, and they were all formed by people in the army.”

After leaving the Israeli army, Pinchev lived in Germany for 15 years. There, he founded three companies before joining commercial open source vendor Red Hat in 2003.

Over the next nine years, Pinchev worked his way up to become global president of sales and marketing. During this time, Pinchev says, Red Hat went from “selling T-shirts and coffee mugs on its website” to a billion-dollar company focused on the enterprise.

In November 2010, he joined the board of US-headquartered backup and recovery provider Acronis, and when former CEO Jason Donahue stepped down in January of this year, Pinchev left Red Hat to become Acronis’s CEO and president.

Acronis is a privately held company, with over $100 million in revenue. Although its headquarters are in the US, like Pinchev it has roots in Russia. The company was founded in 2001 by a trio of Russian technologists including Serguei Beloussov, also founder and former CEO of virtualisation vendor Parallels.

Along with another of Acronis’s co-founders, Beloussov set up a Moscow-based venture capital firm, Runa Capital, which is now one of Acronis’s private backers.

All Acronis products are based on its patented disk imaging technology, which takes a complete snapshot of everything on a machine (physical or virtual), including the operating system, applications and data. This means machines can be restored from scratch from the master image, or duplicated in their entirety – a useful technique in virtual environments. “All of our solutions are based on this imaging technology, which we invented and were the first to deliver,” Pinchev says.

In Gartner’s most recent Magic Quadrant for enterprise backup and recovery software, Acronis is listed as a ‘niche player’. “Acronis’s primary use case in enterprises is still mainly as an imaging tool and for bare-metal recovery and server virtualisation protection,” it says.

Of course, the company has ambitions to expand beyond that niche. In 2010, it launched a cloud-based backup and recovery service, although according to Gartner adoption has been “somewhat muted — in line with most other cloud backup vendors”.

Last year, it released a dedicated virtual machine backup system, vmProtect, which works with both VMware and Microsoft’s virtualisation platforms. And in September 2012 it acquired GroupLogic, a company whose products help organisations secure and manage information on Apple devices.

GroupLogic’s technology, says Pinchev, will help Acronis offer enterprise organisations a more secure alternative to the consumer file-sharing services that are increasingly popular among employers. “Companies don’t like to use Dropbox because it can’t be installed within large firewalls, but it’s sneaking into corporations,” he says.

Gartner predicts that these products, combined with the ease-of-use that was cited by many of its customers, will help Acronis “focus on moving deeper into the large enterprise in the near future”.

Pinchev says that today’s always-on, hyper-connected culture is in some ways reminiscent of his time in the Israeli army. “No matter where you are, mobiles are buzzing, and you’re curious as to what it’s going to be,” he says. “It’s like the army – you constantly want to know whether something is going wrong or right.”

But, he adds, leadership in this environment is very different from the military. “In the army, you used your initiative and didn’t wait around for things to be served to you on a tablet like people do now,” he says. “However, it’s a different, more collaborative world now. I’m a big believer in being a part of the team and managing by example.”

Pete Swabey

Pete Swabey

Pete was Editor of Information Age and head of technology research for Vitesse Media plc from 2005 to 2013, before moving on to be Senior Editor and then Editorial Director at The Economist Intelligence...