In 2018 Atola Technology celebrates 15 years in business. Back in Atola’s formative years, it was your technical expertise that lay the foundation of the company’s success. Today do you consider yourself a tech guy or an idea guy?
Yes, at first I was a tech professional who generated ideas and enjoyed working on them. In fact, when in 2003 I, along with Fedir Nepyivoda co-founded Atola, there was no business plan behind it. However, we had big ambitions with regards to the technology we wanted to develop. And when you are such a small team, there is a very short distance between an idea and its implementation. There was even a time when I came up with this great new concept in the morning, and we had it fully realized by the end of the day.It has changed in the past few years, though. Now I am much more involved in the commercial side of the business, and I also manage the overall strategy to make sure that Atola continues to provide our users with cutting-edge technology solutions, which is key to our success as a company.
Has this shift occurred naturally or due to external circumstances?
I enjoy learning and developing new skills. As a tech specialist, after 15 years in data recovery, I reached a point where I did not see how I could develop my skills much further. At the same time, I have become more interested and involved in business strategy. And I think that it is in this capacity that I can best contribute to Atola’s success.
What was your experience leading up to the foundation of Atola and what motivated you to start the company?
Since I was a kid, I was very keen on electronics and spent hours on end working with boards, microchips, transistors and also doing some unlicensed low-power broadcasting in FM range. I already loved developing new hardware when I got fascinated with software development. And as it turned out, there are very few people with strong skills in both software development and radio electronics. Thanks to this unusual combination of skills I could pursue things that otherwise would have been beyond my reach.
Still a schoolboy, I became interested in hard drives. Back in those years, the average income in Eastern Europe where I lived was very low, and I could sustain my living for a whole month by fixing only a couple of hard drives! And soon I landed my first job repairing computers.
Around that time, the data recovery market was booming, and they invited me to work for EPOS [Ukraine’s largest data recovery and info security service provider], and a couple of years later I joined ActionFront, a Canadian data recovery company [later acquired by Seagate]. At both firms, I developed in-house data recovery solutions.
It was soon after I parted ways with ActionFront that I founded Atola Technology with one big idea: There must be a way to make the data recovery process highly-automatized and easy for an average user. If there is a computer that is capable of making complex operations, you should not need a human to do it all manually.
The company started in the data recovery market and created three generations of tools that helped automatize the data recovery process. However, in 2012 Atola suddenly shifted its focus to digital forensics market. What led to that change and how easy was it for the team to adapt to the needs and requirements of this market?
The paradox of Atola’s evolution as a company is that in 2012 we found ourselves in high demand in the digital forensics industry which we had not been targeting before. Once we realized that our customers’ profile had changed, we adjusted many aspects of our business and development processes. We shifted our focus entirely to this market and created all subsequent tools specifically for forensic examiners. Our team was motivated to solve the issues facing forensic specialists because we understood how critical data integrity is for them, and how complex the procedures and legal requirements for their work are.
In 2014 we launched Atola Insight Forensic, the fourth generation of our hardware tools. It combined forensic features with our well-developed data recovery technology and became a major player in this new market.
With Atola TaskForce launched earlier this year, Atola makes another bold move: although damaged drive capabilities are still there, this product is about efficiency rather than data recovery. How did the decision-making process regarding this product go?
First of all, we have accumulated a great deal of feedback from our customers and wanted to create a tool that would meet their current pressing needs. Most importantly, we always heard about the rapid growth of volumes of evidence data. And while Insight was very fast and imaged healthy drives at speed exceeding 500MB/s, for a while now, there has clearly been a need for a tool with parallel imaging capabilities.
Secondly, as great as Insight Forensic is, over time I saw room for improvement and enhancement that could only be implemented in a brand new system. The idea I wanted to bring about in Atola TaskForce was: a browser-based standalone solution with improved connectivity. Among other great technologies that we have applied here is ECC memory. Because as data volumes and transfer rates grow, there is a need for bigger cache volumes to avoid bit-flips, thus securing the integrity of imaged data.
Naturally, each hardware unit became a milestone for the company. What other highlights in the company history would you mention? What do you consider the company’s and your personal most significant accomplishments?
Some of the milestones that I can think of relate to the people who joined the company and helped get it on the right track. Also, the transfer to Canada gave our business a huge boost because we got the opportunity to work with our customers directly. Last but not least, having landed in Canada, we spent some time meeting our Canadian and American customers working in digital forensics, which gave us an in-depth knowledge of the market’s needs.
Among Atola’s accomplishments is the fact that we have a very stable and tightly-knit team. There have been periods when we were not losing a single person for years on end. In the past few years, the company has grown significantly, but our turnover rate remains very low, which means that people feel good about their jobs and enjoy being a part of this group. It is important to me.
As for my achievements, looking back at all these years, I think I have managed to stay curious and agile. When you own a business, it is easy to become absorbed in your vision of things, while it is vital to listen, learn and adapt. That is one of the reasons why I have gradually moved on from hardware development to business development, which is truly exciting and satisfying for me and essential for the company, too.
What challenges and opportunities do you see emerging in the market? How may they influence Atola’s way forward?
For Atola, the biggest challenge has always been the fact that we cannot afford to develop and produce a mediocre tool. With our user-friendly high-speed imagers with damaged drive capabilities, we have carved out a niche for ourselves in the digital forensics market. However, this niche is very demanding and requires ever more sophisticated solutions. Should our products ever become less innovative and robust, the price of such a mistake for the company would be too high. Furthermore, because we have no real competition in this niche, we always have to look two steps ahead to make sure our products develop in the right direction.
As for the challenges in the market, we are witnessing rapid growth in the volumes of data generated by individual users. The capacity of storage devices steadily increases, while the data transfer rate grows extremely slowly. A modern 12TB HDD has a data transfer rate of 200-220 MB/s; therefore its imaging cannot take any less than 15 hours. And when you seize a dozen of such drives at a crime scene and only have one imager, you can end up working on this one job for a week! Bringing a dozen imagers with you is not sustainable. That’s how we understood we needed a robust, self-sufficient, standalone system with server-grade hardware to support 12 or more simultaneous imaging sessions that would be useful both in the lab and in the field.
Another ongoing change is the increasing diversity of data storage devices in the market: M.2, NVMe, Apple SSDs, etc. There is a rapid shift from SATA to these new interfaces happening in both personal computers and corporate servers. While in digital forensics SATA devices will be a common thing for years to come, being able to keep up with this change is what is clearly necessary. And we will certainly comply.
Find out more about Atola and their suite of products at atola.com.