During my many decades as a technology guy, I've been exposed to all sorts of interesting things: compilers, AI, networks, security, processors, databases, virtualization, apps, mobile, etc. etc.
Good thing I work for EMC, eh?
I occasionally get asked about this fascination with the topic: polite inquiries as to what is it about storage that endlessly fascinates me -- almost as if they were inquiring into a dark association with Dungeons and Dragons, or maybe I'm into retro computing?
So, rather than have to answer the question repeatedly, I thought I'd share my personal reasons as to why storage continues to enchant me as a technology, and show no sign of slowing down.
Maybe it will end up seducing you, too -- if it hasn't already :)
So, why is this storage thing so endlessly fascinating to me?
#1 -- We're Really Talking Information, Not Storage
Ergo, you know that any serious storage discussion is really about important information: what is it, what are its unique requirements, what makes it important, etc.
Once we're talking about "important information", it's less about the technology and more about what you're trying to achieve with it.
Coming up with a conceptual storage strategy can be relatively straightforward if you have a decent grasp on your information.
Conversely, storage strategies can be maddeningly frustrating if you don't really understand the forces that are driving your information creation and usage.
Want to understand storage? Start by understanding information.
#2 -- Storage Can Cut Across Information Silos
I know you're shocked, but the natural tendency in IT is to think in well-partitioned silos.
A good storage strategy naturally cuts across all the silos in an interesting way. Look closely, and you quickly get an appreciation on how information flows from one silo to the next -- and how its value changes in the process.
Just like the network people, us storage people can end up with pretty insightful (and somewhat unique) perspectives on how everything ties together. In an increasing number of engagements, we're asked to help our customers put together a storage strategy, which -- of course -- starts with an inventory of information generators and consumers.
The assembled picture we take back to the customer as sort of a "phase 0" starting point always provokes an interesting discussion :)
#3 -- Storage Touches Many Technology Silos
A really good storage person knows about servers, operating systems, virtualization, databases, applications, networks, security, replication, management, governance, etc. etc.
Storage -- taken together with everything it touches -- is a very large and expanded domain of interacting technologies that wrap themselves around information generation and consumption.
To be really proficient at storage, you need to know a considerable amount about all that other stuff, and -- more importantly -- how it interacts. EMC (and our customers) have long appreciated the value of these interactions, reflected not only in our EMC solution sets but how we train ourselves and our customers and partners.
As just one example, you can see this thinking reflected in the latest spate of EMC certifications around cloud architecture and process enablement, not to mention big data analytics proficiency.
And we've just begun :)
#4 -- Information - And Storage -- Is Stateful
You can reboot a server. You can re-initialize a network link. You can restart an application. These are all largely non-stateful technologies. They all use storage to preserve state.
Lose your storage; you've lost access to your information -- unless you've made a safety copy on another storage device. At the end of the day, storage is the only stateful technology most of us have to deal with. That means that things like availability and recoverability tend to be taken very, very seriously indeed.
That perspective reflected in the technologies and the seriousness of the people who use them.
For me, it's frustrating when I'm occasionally dealing with storage newbies who haven't generated this deep appreciation for what can happen when storage layers go wonky. You lose access to your information. Nothing can get done as a result.
There's no "bad day in IT" like a bad storage day.
Trust me on this.
#5 -- Storage Technology Is Changing Very Fast
As I write this, we have multiple new technologies that are fundamentally changing the storage landscape.
On the media side, the transitions from tape to disk, and from disk to flash. On the connectivity side, the emergence of ethernet as the One Wire To Rule Them All. A shift from proprietary, scale-up hardware to industry-standard scale-out. Software as the basis for value and differentiation. Virtualization as not only an integration target, but a new mechanism to host storage functionality. A pronounced shift from block to file to object. New data access models that don't involve your father's SQL. An entirely new set of management paradigms to consider.
And much, much more.
Whatever you think you might know about storage technology, it's being quickly re-written by powerful waves of innovative new technologies. In this context, "storage experts" are few and far between :)
And for people like me who can't stand to be bored, that makes storage technology itself very exciting indeed.
There's always something new and very disruptive coming along :)
#6 -- The Boundaries of "What Is Storage" Is Changing Very Fast, Too
We've come to think of storage as a big, dedicated box with blinking lights and whirring fans. Well, that's changing as well.
As one example, the boundaries between server and storage are changing fast. Server-side flash is becoming part of the storage domain, as is the tantalizing potential of moving data-heavy workloads into the array itself using VMotion or similar.
The trick to this next round of storage/server performance and cost optimization will be -- wait for it -- software.
As another example, geographic distance is quickly becoming an integral part of the storage picture as well.
The mental notion of "an array sitting in a data center" is quickly giving way to global networks that intelligently move information where it needs to be for cost, availability or performance reasons.
How do you get the right information in the right place at the right time, right cost, etc.? Software.
As a final example, consider the wholesale shift to ITaaS models -- ones where traditional technology silos are exposed as variable services that are designed to be easily consumed by others: VMware team, database team, power user, etc.
Once again, that's software.
I guess we'll have to start using different icons in our powerpoint decks before too long :)
#7 -- Information Is Growing Exponentially
Not only is information growing, it's now approaching a curve with a sharp exponential function - the rate of growth itself is increasing in a breathtaking fashion.
When EMC was soliciting me back in 1994, I'll never forget what the recruiter said: "the reason you want to work for a storage company is that nobody ever deletes anything -- ever".
That was true in 1994, it's certainly true today, and most likely will be true in 2024 as well :)
That means that there's always going to be a strong need for better storage solutions. Whatever worked well yesterday won't be good enough for tomorrow.
Strong needs drives strong innovation, which -- of course -- always keeps things interesting.
#8 -- And We've Got The Mother Lode Of All Use Cases
It's big data, baby.
In this world, incredibly large amounts of information go from being a problem -- to being a tantalizing opportunity. In this world, the more data, the better. And entirely new skills are required.
It also gives us technologist the opportunity (and mandate!) to rethink how storage is built, operated and consumed, around a compelling new set of workflows that boggle the mind in both scale and impact.
Pat Gelsinger Sums It Up Nicely
At our recent EMC Leadership meeting, Pat put up a forward-looking slide that neatly encapsulates this perspective.
The new world is clearly becoming information-centric.
An organization's value eventually boils down to its information portfolio, and the smart people who know how to use it.
Kind of puts the whole storage thing in a new light, doesn't it?
Yes, that can seem a bit self-serving coming from a storage vendor such as EMC.
But -- even filtering out the natural biases -- he makes a strong argument. And, as you watch EMC make a mind-bending series of storage-related announcements during 2012 and beyond, you'll see all of the themes I've mentioned here play out in one fashion or another.
Plenty to here keep all of us here fully enchanted with this obtuse stuff we call "storage".
Have you been seduced by storage yet?