Published: 14 Oct 2002
If the storage business stinks so badly, why is everyone in it?
Maybe that's a tad self-serving, but if you think about it, it's true. Unless you own a landscaping company, chances are you use computers. Zeros and ones spinning around on some kind of disk drive becomes the root of all that's good - or evil - in your world. Even the landscaping company bills you from a computer, and probably uses CAD tools to lay out your rhododendrons. You take a digital photo of your baby, save it on your PC and then e-mail 87 copies to everyone in your address book. Fifty-seven megabytes lobbed around the world in no time (about 300MB if it was my kid - he's huge).
Any idea how much data you generate when you book a flight on Orbitz? Your piddly little transaction spurs dozens of other transactions to the airlines, the frequent flyer clubs, the dreaded marketing people and of course, MCI, who somehow gets a hold of everything we ever do in order to sell us phone service. I can't really imagine a scenario that doesn't generate data any longer.
So why is it that all the storage guys are complaining that you aren't buying anything? Probably because they aren't selling what you're buying. That means they aren't keeping up with your needs, so shame on them. Sure things are tough, you guys don't spend money like drunken sailors anymore and the vendors are a tad bummed about that. Cereva, a well-publicized startup, closed its doors recently - after blowing though $150 million or so.
EMC stock is so low I think I could muster up a consortium consisting of me, my mom and my two dogs and take the thing over. There are a bunch of companies who are trading at valuations below their cash on hand. Now that's an insult. How can you be worth less than the cash you have? Wall Street folks are ready to jump off a Shark. If you listened to all the naysayers, you'd be depressed too.
So, the heck with them. Here's a little positive news. Ask Avid Technologies how their storage business is - they'll tell you it's booming. Avid is the king of the video editing market, responsible for most of the big movies you'll see this fall. A storage company? Of course. Each of their editing systems rolls on in with around 4TB of RAID attached to it. Their gear did the editing and Network Appliance stuff did the special effects for The Lord of the Rings.
Ask the U.S. Government - you might not consider the government a storage company, but I'd argue that they are the biggest. They've been collecting data on everything imaginable for a zillion years. Then they recently figured out they could repurpose the data and make money on it. For example, they have been taking digital pictures of goofy things like intersections in order to watch traffic flows. Somebody figured out that perhaps McDonald's might be interested in that kind of data. I have to believe someone in Arizona who's been looking at the continental shift data that's been generated for a hundred years will start marketing beachfront property soon enough.
How about virtualization? This here magazine bashed the heck out of it a few issues ago, but I can give you some real-life examples that don't just say it's good, but it's mandatory. When's the last time you manually striped your data over a bunch of spindles? 1988? That's because RAID boxes do it for you. They present virtual devices called LUNs - not real devices. No one has a problem with that though, do they? Ever carve up a LUN - either virtual or physical - with your volume manager? That's creating a virtual world, dude.
The world of virtualization is simply ways to abstract hard-to-do things from you, and make it easier to get real work done. Does it have to be an all or nothing argument? I don't think so. My pals at the world's largest credit card clearing house just brought in a DataCore box thru Fujitsu Softek - not because of all the wonderful bells and whistles - but simply to make life a little easier.
You see, they have a gentleman responsible for the storage itself (we'll call him Jerome, mostly because that's his name), but he's not allowed to touch the servers - that's someone else's gig. Jerome was hosed one day because one server had a volume manager setting incorrect and it hosed the whole storage area network (SAN). Jerome stuck a virtualization box in front of the storage in order to keep that from happening again. The virtualization guys might frown at the limited reasoning for the usage, but it solves his problem, and that's good. People run FalconStor just so they can snapshot disparate devices. Seems simple, but what a great idea. There are big companies running StoreAge software in production. Why? Because while nothing is ever as good as it appears on PowerPoint, it's also never as bad as the naysayers make it sound.
Here's the best news in a bad market - you IT guys have figured out how to stay afloat while the tsunami crashes down on you. While I'm not advocating that we adopt Dilbert levels of management - i.e., dictate that never hiring anyone or never spending another dime is the right way to go - putting the brakes on IT spending over the last 12 months has made us more resourceful, more pragmatic and a better asset to our companies. You have become smarter storage users. You've been forced to.
So, I'm encouraged. There has been more technology advancement in storage within the last 18 months than at any other time in history. There's some awesome stuff out there, waiting to be implemented into the brave new world IT has dictated. People are better, the technologies are better and as soon as the economy lifts, the industry will be better. The power brokers may have shifted during this time, but overall, this is still a great place to be. I mean where else can you hang out where everyone you talk to always needs "more?" More capacity, more importance, more uses. Just not more money.
Now for something completely different ...
A big thanks goes out to all the storage companies who ponied up some big dollars for the Sylvia's Haven charity event ESG recently raised money for. We were able to extort over $20,000 for the women and childrens' shelter. Special thanks to heavyweight contributors EMC and LSI. We got very nice personal contributions from a bunch of folks, including $1,000 each from Cisco/NuSpeed's Mark Cree and Clint Jurgens. It's nice to know that the storage business has a little heart. It's a fantastic cause, and never too late to make a contribution, no matter how small. Please hit href="http://www.sylviashaven.org/" and make a pledge if you can.
How cool is Bocada? The no-name fan favorite backup reporting company continues to quietly add huge customers to its ranks. We keep hearing how absolutely awesome the tool is, and now others have figured out that it might be a good market.Vyant has stepped into the space and Storability Software also has an offering, although it is not a stand alone product. Simple things like backup reporting have proven to be entirely useful, practical tools that people really want. Go figure.