Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Smarm at work

People have been asking me exactly what I mean by smarm.

Dictionary.Com has:

smarm(y)
adjective
unpleasantly and excessively suave or ingratiating in manner or speech; "buttery praise"; "gave him a fulsome introduction"; "an oily sycophantic press agent"; "oleaginous hypocrisy"; "smarmy self-importance"; "the unctuous Uriah Heep"; "soapy compliments"
WordNet® 3.0, © 2006 by Princeton University.

Here's an example of how insidious smarm can become in the blog-hands of a corporate marketing department:

In my role as chief OSG cynic, let me point out the obvious. Despite what it says or writes to the contrary, tiering is bad for the storaborg. Tiering reduces the amount of data stored on expensive disk. Tiering helps reduce the cost of keeping up with storage growth. Tiering lets competitors in the door. Tiering slows the encroachment of storage related expenses into the overall IT budget - which is now hovering around 24%. Tiering is bad for the storaborg. Period.

Ah, but you can't just take out an advertisement and say 'tiering is baaaad, don't do it', can you? See, tiering is exciting to customers. Tiering is technically good for customers. If we say it's bad, we look...ah...bad. hmmm....what to do?

Ha! I got it boss! (says bushy tailed storaborg marketing manager) Yuck Shamelis unctuously declares that tiering is good in our corpoblog! You must tier! The benefits are huge! Hell...he's been telling people for years..!

But...but...and here, boss, is where we are really clever...we (snicker)...we have Yuck make it seem hard...see? Complicated. Requires storage guys to talk to multiple layers of business users to evaluate the value of everyone's data. (those poor little storage guys hate to talk to business guys, boss)

I know...we..I mean Yuck.. can call tiering the Aztec Calendar of Storage! Nothing's more complicated than the Azetec Calendar! Sure on the surface it sounds good - get the users and storage guys talking - but all the storage guys will see is Months, maybe Years of work. Millions and Millions!

Yee hee - this is brilliant! Who can argue with us?

Wait! Even better...we (I mean he) makes it sound like the customers are telling Yuck that THEY think implementing tiering needs to be complicated - he'll just be reporting what they are telling him. Brilliant! Can't argue with the customer, after all... heh heh...

Then we...er, sorry, he...bamboozles them by listing a bunch of complicated expensive products they'll need to buy (from us) to get started...and put a fork in her, she's done! It'll scare the bejeesus right out of 'em!

Hey, if we get enough people to beleive it's true...it will become true. I bet we can hold off the onslaught of tiering at least a couple more years before people catch on...

Ah...catch on to what, boss? Ah..well..er...to the fact that tiering doesn't have to be complicated, the fact that business users don't even have to know it's going on, that fact that it can be implemented in minutes by the poor little storage guys...you know, boss...the...ah...truth...boss.

Boss? boss? you ok? Boss...?

Sometimes a blind squirl gets lucky...

If you get the WSJ, look at page B1 today at the article "Could This Be 2007? 'Solid-State' MakesRare Tech Comeback".

Exactly my points from last post.

Take that whipper snapper.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Flashdance

Boy, I loved that movie. How can you beat Jennifer Beales (or her stand-in) in leg warmers...?

Yesterday, Intel and STmicro ganged up to form a new company to make flash chips. Both companies also have new flash based disk products. hmm...

With the cost of flash chips dropping an estimated 80% a year, flash SSD will be within shooting distance of HDD by 2010/11. With read performance running up to 50% higher than HDD, power at 50% less, no heat, no vibration, and capacities quickly catching up (sub $1K 64GB SDD is just around the corner, 128-150GB are right behind), we're just an adoption curve away from rewriting enterprise storage as we've known it for 15 years.

Seagate and Western better get moving on their very, very large archival HDD, because pretty soon that's going to the be only market left for rotating media - and I still think that's a specious foothold.

Vista is already very "flash friendly" and likely to get more so over time - tests show Vista boots in sub-30seconds off SSD in a laptop, and MSFT has some cool magic that recognizes extraneous flash cards plugged into the system (USB is fine) and uses the space it finds for caching.

I first met Jim Gray at Tandem in the early 80's - I was a bonehead newbie, and he was already an annoited guru, but he was patient and quietly amazing even then. Later, around 1989 when we both ended up at DEC he showed a group of us a prototype of 19 inch "memory board" - but instead of chips, it was populated with a dozen or more 1" spindles soldered directly on the board. He envisioned racks and racks of these storage arrays running database applications. In one of his last published pieces, Jim predicts the future of disk. Like his predictions in 1989 of storage boards, Jim might be a little fuzzy on the implementation details - all big thinkers get a muligan on that hole - but I doubt many of us are smart enough to argue with him on the direction this is headed.

"First, when there's nothing but a slow glowing dream..." - what a feeling

Monday, May 21, 2007

Another Sane OSG

I'm embarassingly remiss in not adding John McArthur to the Storage Sanity Hall of Fame and adding his blog at Walden Technology Partners to the Storage Sanity Blog Roll. John is a prince. I was excited to hear his plans to start out on his own this year from IDC. If you are attempting to start a storage company, or import a storage company into the U.S. market from abroad, call John. If you are lucky enough to get his attention and convince him you are "worthy" (and I say that with respect, John) of his time and effort, you will be hooking your wagon to a star. I wish I could have found a resource of his caliber in terms of strategic depth of thought, rolodex, and common sense for one or two of my storage startups. You can be sure, if I ever start from scratch again, he will be among my first phone calls.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Those who ignore the past...

One of the good things about being an Old Storage Geezer (OSG) is that you develop perspective. After you've seen enough real upheavals, every silly thing that comes along doesn't seem like such a crisis. If you're a lucky OSG, then your hard won perspective allows you to see a foggy bit forward as well as backward with clarity.

Right now, I am becoming fascinated with a new foggy notion. Like a song that I can't get out of my head - maybe its the lyme's, or Denny's Mad Cow - but I keep seeing visions of a quantum shift occuring in our industry. The catalyst is Nand. If these visions are right, a fundamental shift in value is likely to occur, and many of the existing industry leaders are likely to be fading memories in just a few years.

Let me put a few things in perspective for the various insects out there that will poo-poo (i can't beleive i just used that expression) my ideas, or perhaps my earned right to have any ideas about this industry at all.

Contrary to rumor, I'm really not that old in dog years. I'm about the same age as Mark, Howard, Jon, Robin, John McArthur, etc - so I guess if I am an OSG then we are all getting to be OSGers.

Old or not, I've been around long enough to have personally experienced several quantum technology shifts in this industry - and I've earned the right to expect some respect (grudging or otherwise) from those coming after.

I once made my living by being one of the best head alignment specialists in the Northeast - for 300MB Control Data Disk Drives. I bet most of you have never seen one of these - they were about the size of dishwasher and had a dozen 19" platters. We cleaned the heads with alcohol and IBM punch cards and aligned them to the servo track by hand. It was kind of fun, unless you flinched and crashed the heads. I sneezed once...omigod...that was quite a meltdown...

Then, along came Winchester and poof (i can't beleive I used that expression either) there went the osciloscope and the t-bar...and the Control Data Corporation...

A few years later, along came 51/4" disks. I was at the plant when we closed Digital's 9" winchester disk factory in Kaufbeuren, Germany. The looks on the faces of our employees - who never saw it coming, and did not understand why - stay with me even now.

Later, I led a team of great people who introduced the first hetrogeneous RAID system. Lot's of people said it couldnt be done, customers wanted to buy storage from their system vendor, customer wanted to buy storage optimized for a specific server, etc, etc. But before we knew it a whole industry sprouted up around us - proprietary disk arrays, and many companies that made them, vanished.

Then, a few years later, I woke up one night in a hotel in Colorado Springs and sketched out a diagram for a network storage architecture on the hotel stationary. I showed it to people the next day and told them this was going to be the future of storage. Most of them laughed. That diagram - sketched in pencil in 1996 - became ENSA - the Enterprise Network Storage Architecture. And eventually direct attached disk systems, and many of the companies that made them vanished...

Sometimes the attenuation on my 'future vision' is off by a few years. In 2000, we launched the concept of Managed Storage Services. The wild idea that you should let the experts take care of your storage. Too early. Only a few brave souls, like my buddies at Arsenal Digital, dug down and stayed with it - but now the idea makes perfect sense to thousands of customers, big and small alike. And, with the buzz around Google and S3, Peter and Bill's orginal SSP concept is back on center stage as well.

And of course, CDP...but that story comes in July...

The point is that some of us OSGs actually can see above the clutter - can sense patterns emerging, and if you are smart enough, and lose the arrogance of thinking you're right all the time, you might actually learn a thing or two - young whipper snapppers.

Now back to the point...the next big thing is SSD...and it is going to kick your ever loving a$$ if you don't figure it out quick.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Ticks suck, then you die…

Was out walking Maggie (by the way who says owners look like their dogs?) last week on the one lovely day of spring between winter carnival and the New England humidity festival. We upset a nesting mother hawk who thought we got too close to her territory. She dive bombed us - all six foot screaming wingspan of her - and ran us off the trail into the deeper woods. We eventually made our way home circling back the long way and staying far away from mom and her kiddies.

I woke up the next day to find three deer ticks having breakfast on various parts of my anatomy. Unfortunately, I was by then 1000 miles from home – having traveled overnight to St. Louis.

Now, deer ticks transmit Lyme Disease (Borreliosis) which is a nasty bacterial infection with a spirochete from the species complex Borrelia burgdorferi sensu lato (don’t love wiki?). So, in addition to being fingernails-on-a-chalkboard squidgy gross, they are actually pretty dangerous.

As many of you know, I usually absolutely hate computers. I hate lugging them, fixing them, fighting with them. I hate losing hours worth of work when I forget to save the read-only email attachment I have been modifying. I hate that I have made that same stupid mistake a dozen times. I hate Microsoft for letting me do it. I hate that hard drive that crashed erasing all those Napster downloads (from when it was legal) of Boston punk bands from the 70’s (where am I going to get another copy of The Fools doing “Life Sucks, then You Die” live at the Compass Lounge?). I hate the fact that I make my living helping people protect their data, and I never backed up my own. I just generally hate computers - its an old, geezer thing I guess.

But last week, let me tell you, I loved computers, networks, databases, and files. One call to my doctor at MGH in Boston, and three mouse clicks later I had a prescription in my hands, with proper insurance payment already made, in St Louis and all those little Borrelia burgdorferi sensu latos were off to an early grave – and eventually I’m sure I will get over the finger-nails-on-a-chalkboard squidgies of finding three ticks on me…

You have to ask yourself, in the grand scheme of things, what the heck was the point in creating ticks? What possible use do ticks have in nature? They’re apparently devoid of intelligence and any but the most basic form of life itself. They exist only to hide under leaves and lie await in the grass, ready to pounce on unsuspecting warm blooded intelligent creatures, suck their blood, make them sick, and use the blood to reproduce thousands more useless blood-sucking ticks.

Come to think of it, that description reminds me of more than a few Storaborgites. I may be missing the point, but I don’t see the value add.

- Geezer

Friday, May 4, 2007

Be Nice

IBMers are nice. Very nice.

They are so nice it's almost ridicules. In fact, if they weren't so darn sincerely nice, it would be kind of scary – they’d be like Stepford Executives...

As a guest earlier in the week at IBM PartnerWorld. I was mindlessly ruminating on what it must take to hire, train and manage 375,000 people and convince them all to be so nice all the time, when I stumbled into a massive arena at the St. Louis City Center filled with nice people.

It was 8:30am, and a very nice band was playing live on a stage. They were dressed in picture perfect business casual, showed a little gray hair, and offered exceptionally nice renditions of 60's hits. My companion and I thought they might be the IBM house band - actual IBM execs playing for fun. There are a few of these bands in the storage industry, so it was plausible. But if so, we decided, they were the best darn house band in the industry.

It was a bit odd to be rocking to Van Morrison at 8:32am. And, I was suffering from total aural dissonance when they jumped into Earth, Wind, and Fire at 8:50am. The bass player (who looked a bit like me actually) did a very credible Bootsy Collins imitation and by the time the lights began to dim, I found myself fighting an urge to get down, get down...

Right on time, IBM Chairman and CEO Sam Palmisano walked onstage, wearing a very nice sport coat, blue striped shirt, yellow tie, a pair of big round red/brown I-am-a-very-friendly-and-wicked-smart-guy glasses, and a big boyish smile. From the first words out of his mouth, he resonated 'nice'. He was calm, direct, clear and very convincing. If Sam Palmisano was running for President, the race would be over before it began. No politician running could hold a candle to him. You cannot help but like, and more importantly, trust this guy. He knows his business. He gets it. Understands the power and relentlessness of innovation. He is not afraid to eat some sacred cow burger. Five mins into the preso - after reminding us of the $15B buyback and a dozen other impressive IBM feats last year - he turned the meat grinder on everything that has come before. Centralized computing, client/server, everything...he did it in a very nice way, reminding us that Z series is still kicking butt, and the relationship with Lenovo is super...but the genie is out of the bottle. IBM is moving on. Global computing is the future. He understood SOA (seriously!), Web 2.0 (actually explained it), and the reality of virtualization (very clear on this). He gets it. He talked about the growth of SMB and focused his team to be #1 in that market in five years. He said the word ‘storage’ a dozen times. (and not to try and say that storage was just part of the system, either) He said the words ‘storage virtualization’ more than once - and even wrote ‘storage virtualization’ on his 'themes going forward' slides. He gets it.

He also did a few minutes on trust (which I finally realized is where the 'nice' comes from…). His argument is that in order for IBM to be successful, it must operate globally – manufacturing center of expertise in China, software engineering COE in India, finance COE in Malaysia – and to be able to operate in all these cultures, intermixed with all these governments, IBM must be trusted. This may seem obvious enough, but is actually incredibly visionary when you think about it more deeply. The ability to establish and maintain trust in any culture in any part of the world may actually be the defining corporate capital of the first half of this century - an invaluable and virtually inimitable asset. The ability to hire, train, and manage 375,000 people to be nice in order to be trusted – what a concept.

Given the tone and tenor of his competition in the storage industry lately, I’d say Sam may be on to something.

An old friend and colleague, Dick Search, was a long time IBMer. He was with IBM for decades before DEC enticed him to jump ship in the mid-80's. From DEC he went on to HDS, Dot Hill, and a few other storage companies...but at heart he'll always be an IBMer.

Dick loves movies - one of his favorites is the classic Patrick Swazye/Sam Eliot beat 'em to a pulper, Roadhouse. Dick's favorite quote from the movie comes from Swazye's character named Dalton, a newly hired "cooler" in a dive bar upon first meeting with his crew of bouncers.

(With apologies to the writers, producers, and Mr. Swazye, it goes something like..)

"All you have to do is follow three simple rules.

One, never underestimate your opponent. Expect the unexpected.

Two, take it outside. Never start anything inside the bar unless it's absolutely necessary.

And three, be nice.

If somebody gets in your face and calls you a XXXXsucker, I want you to be nice.

Ask him to walk.

But, be nice.

If he won't walk, walk him.

But, be nice.

If you can't walk him, one of the others will help you, and you'll both be nice.

I want you to be nice, until it's time to not be nice."

At this point, one of the bouncers numbly asks, "How will we know when its time not to be nice?"

Dalton says, "You won't. I'll tell you, and then…you will take it outside...”

I love that scene, too. Come to think of it this blog is pretty much "outside" isn't it?

Another great line from Roadhouse is “Take the biggest guy in the world, shatter his knee and he'll drop like a stone."

But I digress...

For more on Sam's speech see:
http://www.channelinsider.com/article/Palmisano+SMB+Will+Be+IBMs+Largest+Market+in+Five+Years/206518_1.aspx?kc=EWWHNEMNL041907EOAD

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Shame

Jay...jay...jay

Denying reality doesn't change it.

What benefit did that nonsense bring to anyone in the industry?

If you had thought about it, I bet you could have predicted what the Machine would say...heck, you must have listened to their quarterly analyst call bloviating on Rain...you opened yourself up wide open for Yuck and Borgzilla... (and two dozen other vendors who must have hounded poor Beth and Jo for a week to get their point of view heard) to make hay and slam you (in that nice polite yet subtley smarmy way of professional PR people and corporate bloggers...).

Well, I promised not to use this blog as a mouthpiece for any particular vendor, and I won't.

BUT (there is that BUT again...) I am going to provide sanity to market trends, technology, and hype based on my perspective with over 25 years in the industry. I guess sometimes that will hit close to home.

File Virtualization makes as much sense (or more) than any other form of storage virtualization.

Customers love it because it simplifies life, saves money, and puts a little negotiating leverage back in their pocket. Virtually every major money center bank in the world is already using file virtualization - major healthcare, manufacturing, media, etc. This isn't BS - I've looked a lot of them in the eye.

All the benefits of virtualization - any form of it - come at some expense to the vendors being virtualized. RAID controllers commoditized disk drives to some extent. Block virtualization (network or host or Tagmastore based) attempts to commoditize RAID arrays. The march is relentless. Vendors have to keep running (not climbing...running) up the ladder of innovation while commoditization (enabled by virtualization) burns the rungs off the ladder underneath them.

I have watched it happen in this industry 10 times in the last 20 years at least. Always the same story, always the same denials from the established vendors, always the same seemingly outrageous claims from the virtualizers...

Discrediting an innovative trend for not producing profit is denying reality - its the folly of established vendors defending their turf when they've lost or are losing their ability to innovate. No secretary needs a PC on their desk. Unix is snake oil. Those of us with DEC DNA learned that lesson the hard way.

Denigrating an emerging market segment by dismissing that no profit is being generated is either disingenuous or naiive - either way its dangerous for the established vendor - and it doesn't work. It takes time for innovation to gestate in the market. FC SANs were a sink hole of VC investment through the early 90's. Imagine denigrating FC as a technology in 1993 for not producing profit-but the direct connect vendors did. RAID, same story. SATA, yup. iscsi, yup...yup, yup, yup....

You can't change the reality of relentless innovation, virtualization, and commoditization by denying it. The storage industry is littered with company's that tried.

Those who head down this dangerous path are hereby relegated to the Storage Sanity Hall of Shame.

and yes, Kirby's Law applies to File Virtualization, too

and no, not all innovation is good, not all new products (even commoditizers) will be successful, but denying the value of virtualization in any form, residing anywhere in the storage stack, is a dangerous game.