Vietnam businesses finding key to IT success in Volo-based Atom

NOTE: This posting first appeared in the April 29 edition of the Daily Herald Business Ledger

From its beginnings near the bogs of Volo, Atom AMPD is now finding its way into the rice paddies of Vietnam.
The Lake County-based developer of the AtomOS Kwick Key operating system has recently expanded into the Southeast Asian country, extending its global reach in that portion of the world, which already includes China and Singapore.
Atom AMPD CEO Daniel Field said Vietnam’s economic growth over the past 10 years — the country’s annual GDP growth rate has been 7.2 percent in that time — makes it a good market for AtomOS, as fast growing companies there are looking for a business-focused operating system that can be quickly set up and maintained. The Linux-based AtomOS system, which is contained on a 2 gigabyte USB ‘Kwick Key” flash drive, has drawn a lot of interest since their initial visits to the country.
“We started (meeting) with about 12 to 15 people and that grew to 35. Now it’s up to 75 to 80 people,” Field said. “It sounds like we found the pulse and the right buttons to hit with it. They appear to be really liking the product.”
And that interest is turning into potential dollars, as Field said he anticipates about $9.5 billion in combined revenues from businesses that have already signed agreements.
“Vietnam’s market is strong and its really growing well right now,” Field said. “But they’re making decisions pretty quick over there, so we’ve been pretty content with what we’ve been able to do.”
Field attributes the company’s success in Asia to having partners that know the region and its varied cultures. Through them, company representatives have been able to make initial contact with C-level executives at a number of Vietnamese businesses and government agencies.
“Part of it is knowing the culture and that’s why it’s good to have partners that help with that,” he said.
And while AtomOS was originally targeted for small to medium-sized businesses, Field notes even large companies in the region have become interested in the system for its capabilities and lower overall IT costs. Unlike systems from companies that Field refers to as “big boxes,” the AtomOS can be used without upgrading existing servers and hardware, and elements can be turned on or off to meet a specific business need.
“They’ve picked up on it right away,” he said. “They like the fact that — in a sense — they has a Swiss Army Knife where they can pull out a blade that they need. Here, they can pull out what networking piece they need without having a high price tag that goes along with it.”
Although they are still establishing themselves in Vietnam, Field noted the company already has its next step planned — Malaysia. He said the company has already been contacted by a Malaysian firm that has heard of what they’re doing in Vietnam.
“He’d be the first one in Malaysia, so we’re working on getting that deal finalized while (the team) is out there,” he said.


Silicon bog: Volo company’s software goes global

NOTE: This entry was first published in the Aug. 20 issue of the Daily Herald Business Ledger.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel may be touting his emerging downtown tech center, but the small Lake County village of Volo can lay claim to its own up-and-coming international technology hub.
Nestled in a former country school building not far from the famed Volo Bog is Atom AMPD, a small company that is finding international success with an all-in-one operating system designed for small to medium sized businesses.
The heart of the company’s business is the Atom OS, a Linux-based operating platform that combines key business software such as firewall, anti-virus, spam filter, access control and VoIP capabilities. The advantage of the system is that, where other companies may require thousands of dollars worth of servers and other hardware, the Atom OS is contained in a 2 gigabyte USB “Kwick Key” that can be plugged into existing hardware and become operational in a little as 15 minutes.
Atom AMPD CEO Dan Field sees his product as an economical and “green” alternative to the “big box” companies that sell similar business applications. (Field would not name names, but think Silicon Valley to get an idea who the big box companies are.)
Field, an entrepreneur who, in addition to Atom AMPD, is chairman of three other companies, noted the idea for Atom OS came from what he saw as a wasteful practice from other companies selling hardware and software to clients that needed to be replaced every few years.
“One thing I don’t like about the big box companies is that they sell shares,” he said. “When you buy shares, you need to buy the hardware too. Then when you need to upgrade, you need to buy the new hardware, too. Usually it’s on a 2 to 3 year cycle.”
When the hardware is replaced, then the company has to deal with either reselling or recycling the old equipment.
“By having a USB key, people have a choice. They can use their existing servers or get a new box,” he said. “Once they buy the license to the key, they own it. When we update the process, you just pay for the updates.”
Since the system is primarily software, Field said businesses can see a total cost of ownership savings of as much as 70 percent, as the need for additional hardware, IT support and additional licensing is reduced. That, he added, has made Atom OS attractive to governments and school districts who are operating on limited or reduced budgets.
Christopher Beyne, director of business development, said in addition to the cost savings, Kwick Key’s portability and ease of use has gotten attention from a wide array of businesses that traditionally network among a number of offices or remote locations, from medical facilities to insurance and real estate agencies.
But the company scored a major victory in June, when it entered into a licensing agreement with SunFAS in China. Under this agreement, SunFAS will use Atom OS in a product it will market in China under the name Sky OA3. Although the deal is expected to be finalized in September, Field said the system is already being implemented in a network of 600 driving schools in that country.
Field said the China deal was reached with help from Atom AMPD Chairman Tim Williams, who had developed a relationship with companies in Asia during his tenure with Motorola in the 1990s. Field also had established a global business network as well, and he believes it was the trust the two developed during their careers were vital in getting their small company to establish such a big deal.
“We’ve dealt a lot with trust and working on a handshake,” he said. “And in this case, both sides have come up to the plate very well.”
Field sees the China deal opening more doors in the region to Atom AMPD, possibly expanding the company into Vietnam and Singapore.
“The government is trying to build out infrastructure and they’re looking for the right solution to the problems. That’s where we’re stepping up,” he said. “We’re looking to be the edge device that some of the other projects will work through to get information back to the various companies, offices and government.”
Asia isn’t the only area where Atom AMPD has extended to. In addition to dealings in Canada and Europe (the Atom OS firewall was successfully tested at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, and played a role in the 2012 London games), they’ve established a similar licensing deal in Latin America, where their operating system is being sold through a reseller.
Having Atom OS sold under a different name doesn’t bother Field, joking that Atom AMPD will become “one of those big companies you never hear of.”
“We don’t mind being the Oz behind the curtain,” he said. “The nice part is that we’re working with companies that can get some great ideas back to us that will help us build out our product platform.”
Feedback from their clients is key to improving their product, Field and Beyne stress. Atom AMPD has its own test lab where system and updates are run through the paces before shipping, so repairs are minimal at best.
“We don’t believe in the big box methods of letting your clients test out your product and telling you what the problems are,” Field said. “Quirks happen, but we have a system where we can fix it before the client gets it.”
What they have developed, they say, is less of a product and more of a disruptive technology.
“IT people do not like us,” Beyne said. “They see us as attack on their budget. They don’t need as much money to run their network or have the equipment in there, so their budgets will be reduced.
“Our approach is to go to the business officials as say “here is what you can save,’” he added.
Field simply notes: “It does a lot for not much money.”