Tech firm Ahead forges way with private clouds


Large technology companies often beget small ones, as employees become entrepreneurs.

When Dan Adamany worked for IBM and EMC, he recalls colleagues leaving the giants to start their own businesses. Now, he’s one of them.

In 2007, Adamany left his sales position at EMC to start his own IT business, Ahead. While the Chicago-based company began as an EMC reseller and generated more than  $3 million in sales the first year, Adamany saw a wider opportunity as consultants specializing in corporate data centers. Now most of the company’s work involves building private clouds and integrating applications for large corporations.

Many executives are still learning what a private cloud is, Adamany said. He likes to tell them, “It’s more about what it does than what it is. It’s an integrated approach that provides a service.” A private cloud is also a big ticket item. An “entry level” private cloud generally costs about $500,000 to $750,000, but the cost also can be far greater, Adamany said. Yet the payback period for customers is often less than two years, because using a private cloud to integrate applications can simplify business operations and boost productivity, he says. “It’s more of an operating cost than an investment,” he said.

Timing the market

Ahead timed the market well, as corporations were just beginning to explore cloud computing. Most large corporations don’t want to trust their computing needs and data storage to Google, Amazon or other companies offering cloud computing for multiple users. “They want to build a private cloud that has ease of use and manageability in their own facilities,” Adamany said.

Internal clouds also provide better security, he said, noting that Amazon’s cloud outage made an impression on many executives he now sells to. Last year, Ahead generated annual sales of $130 million, up from about $50 million the prior year, while more than doubling its headcount to 65.

Swift growth

He expects the swift growth to continue, as more corporations explore private clouds. “I compare a lot of this to the advent of the Internet and how it has changed the way things are done,” he said.

The biggest hurdle in signing up new customers, Adamany said, isn’t selling them on the price, but encouraging them to embrace change. “The bigger and older the company, the harder it is going to be to change the way they do things,” he says. Given the politics and bureaucracy of many large corporations, “To facilitate a change like this is a big deal.”

Hiring well

For his own company, keeping up with demand and hiring sufficient staff can be  challenging, Adamany said. In the beginning, Adamany hired people he knew, including former college and work colleagues. Now he has a full-time recruiter and a manager in charge of benefits.

The key is hiring the best sales people and technical workers. “It takes longer to find and get those people,” he said, “But once you get them, the results are significant.”

— Ann Meyer