John, you will soon be celebrating your 10-year anniversary of working for Atola Technology. Tell us how the company has changed since you joined.
Atola has grown incredibly since I started, from just a few people to now teams in specialized departments and resellers throughout the world. For instance, I used to be able to call just one person about hardware here, and now we have a whole team dedicated to hardware development, each with their area of expertise and responsibility.
A most amazing major change happened early on. When I joined, Atola was a data recovery systems manufacturer. In fact, the only one to completely automate the process, even on bad drives! That’s what attracted me. I’ll never forget my first interview with Dmitry (Dmitry Postrigan, co-founder) when he told me Atola’s successful years in the data recovery industry were likely quite numbered, “3 to 4 years tops”. I was kind of wondering about what I might be getting myself into with Atola…but Dmitry also told me that some recent sales had gone to the military and law enforcement and maybe there is something to that. Was that ever an understatement! Almost like a dream from a first-year business student’s head, we completely pivoted in about 18 months to be totally focused on forensic imaging with our introduction of Insight Forensic in 2014!
Yet one thing that hasn’t changed since the day I started is the unwavering commitment to excellence. Whatever it is that Atola sets our sights on, I know the team will commit to planning and delivering the very best solution, every time.
How exactly did Atola manage this shift from one industry to another?
Early on in this transition, we were fortunate to be invited into our new customers’ labs to see how they were using our data recovery systems in their forensic work and to also learn how they would like our products changed to better suit their needs. The heart of Atola has always been our relentless focus on understanding our customers and our biggest strength is the R&D capabilities that allow us to bring these solutions to life.
Up until March 2020, digital forensics was a steadily growing and evolving market. What kind of effects of the pandemic on the market and your business have you been seeing?
As a company that prioritizes understanding our customers’ needs and wants to drive our innovation and product planning, staying connected and maintaining ongoing communication with our customers is paramount. Prior to the pandemic, we were attending 20+ conferences worldwide per year, but of course, those great opportunities for important conversations and all our lab visits stopped abruptly. Even though we were spending a fair amount of time online with our customers, prospects and partners, it just was not quite the same. This has been a challenge for every organization relying on building and maintaining that vigorous communication flow. Thankfully, 2021 has brought traveling back, and offline events are returning, too. We look forward to more of that in 2022 onwards.
In terms of overall business activity, we had such a full funnel of interested agencies with funding, that our manufacturing efforts being hampered by the global chip shortage ended up being the real issue in early 2021, but we managed and adjusted our logistics to ensure smooth operations going forward.
Based on your interactions with the market’s professionals, what do you see as the challenges for investigators involved in evidence acquisition from storage devices?
We are still hearing the concern is more and more devices per investigation, the devices’ growing capacity and more data to be acquired, while there is not enough time and people to always get every last bit of evidence. Some agencies dealing with high volumes of cases and drives, provide us with great feedback about the prevalent and emerging interfaces, RAID configurations and new methods of working with evidence.
How does Atola address such concerns?
In 2018 we introduced our TaskForce forensic imager, which supports multiple users creating multiple images, from over a dozen devices at a time, even if they are bad drives! As years passed, we added more performance-oriented features to TaskForce, like Express mode for zero-click imaging to a predefined folder. These hardware imagers are uniquely suited to be integrated into automated workflow systems like Magnet AUTOMATE via Web API interface. This helps expedite investigations on a massive scale!
But it is not just speed that is in the focus of our R&D. Thanks to the valuable feedback of our customers, we realized that no other hardware imager had the capacity to identify and mount RAID arrays. It was a fascinating challenge and an exciting accomplishment for the Atola team to develop the RAID autodetection module. RAID Autodetection is equipped with sophisticated heuristic algorithms to identify a RAID configuration out of millions of possible variants. This feature saves dozens of people-hours for our customers. We continue to further develop this and other modules of TaskForce.
As for Insight, it also received the capability to perform multiple imaging sessions due to new hardware released in 2021. The new edition is equipped with a server-grade motherboard and CPU just like TaskForce. Additional ports also make the system more performance-oriented.
What led up to this change and what has the response been to the new generation of Insight?
The previous hardware for Insight Forensic only supported one imaging session at a time, but in line with what we have learned from our busy user group, the new hardware supports three simultaneous imaging sessions. Since we were able to triple the capacity but only had to increase the price by 30%, we have had a super response. We are building them as fast as deliveries from our parts suppliers allow to keep up with demand.
Atola is indeed a very special place, right from the founders to our very newest hires, we are filled with smart, extremely engaged curious people who love their work and like to have fun together. The culture of innovation and drive to achieve the very best solutions on the market builds a lot of pride and energy amongst everyone who works at Atola. Our hiring process is kind of intense, but it helps us to find the people that we know we will enjoy working with every day.
You seem to have spent a lot of time on the road developing Atola’s business in the pre-pandemic years, visiting customers in the farthest corners of the world. What are your interests beyond Atola and digital forensics?
I absolutely love to travel with my family and Atola colleagues, I play golf badly, I’m a very slow triathlete, I play trombone in swing bands and I am a bit of a car nut.
How do you see the way forward for Atola’s business?
Certainly, we will continue building our partner network to ensure access and convenience for our new customers worldwide. But first and foremost we fully understand that it is through the dynamic working relationships we build with our customers and the confidence they have in our products that we earn the right to get their valued feedback. We will continue to use all the connection points to continue the mutual knowledge exchange with our customers that is so key to our R&D. I am very encouraged that we continue to get better at connecting with people online, but also that we have already started taking advantage of the easing travel restrictions to attend conferences and visit important forensic labs.