Thursday, August 26, 2010

Birth of a storage magician

Sometimes stuff happens that just makes you feel old. Recently an email went around EMC asking us what we remembered about the early days of ATF, Array Guide, and Navisphere. I brushed off the cobwebs in the old brain bucket, and listed the cast of characters and products as best as I could remember. I kicked off the return email. Shortly, I got a reply from an old friend on the list saying damn, Mich, that was close to twenty years ago. Now feeling old, and after looking for the Geritol and my walker, I began thinking back. You know a mind can be a dangerous thing when enabled. I began pondering ”how long have I really been doing this?” After getting over the shock and horror that I had actually become one of those old farts I knew and loved in the old time data centers with punch cards and green bar, I started chuckling a bit remembering all the weird and wild times I’ve had over the years. I figured I'd share some of the stories; so below is the first, which should prove to be entertaining to those who don’t know me, and to those who do have a hint of how I've become this crazy man.

I never really intended to go into the storage industry from the start. My first real computer job was writing cash register software for one of the very first front and back office system vendors. This was back in the day when cashiers actually counted change by hand. It was the late 70’s thru the early 80’s. It was a tough time for start-ups, and alas, the poor company wound up having the doors locked by the IRS. I began consulting with all the customers of the prior company, and at some point, I met Bill The Concert Promoter. Bill was the picture of cool for the time with his, short beach shirt, dress shorts, and Birkenstock’s. His lack of socks all balanced out with dark sunglasses and a California tan. This slick picture of cool managed to talk myself and two other friends, Tom and Wade into helping him start up a software company.

My first job was to create a tape backup application for the Vic 20 and C64. I didn't realize it until much later, but this was my lesson on when to look for the small unsubtle clues in life. I’ll never forget my first meeting with Bill Living in an apartment on my parents land in Santa Barbara, California with a dog named Duke, who was a cross between a golden retriever and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Bill had arrived, and we had just started talking about the project when Duke trotted into the area wagging his tail. Gaining his usual attention from me, he then walked over Bill and paused. Then, in one quick, smooth, and unusually quiet motion, he managed to deposit what looked like a couple pounds of partially digested dog food across both of Bill’s feet. I looked down in horror at his toes being held captive by the molten mound of kibble in combination with the look of bewilderment on Bill’s face. Spotting a scoop shovel nearby used by my family’s construction business, I dashed to grab it. Bill managed to extract himself from Alpo Mountain by the time I returned with the shovel. After removing one full scoop shovel full of soggy kibble, providing a towel, and some nervous joking, we managed to get back to the conversation at hand. As it turned out later Duke was a very shrewd judge of character. Despite Dukes best attempts, I managed to secure the job to do the tape backup application, and thus started my first adventure into the land of storage.

Wade’s project at that time was to create disk replication software for the Commodore 64, which was to be known as “Disk Maker.” This became an overnight success, and soon this small software company was up to its elbows in orders for this backup/pirate software. I became the expert on the back office system. We did all our own floppy duplication, shipping, order processing, and tech support. By the time I left, Bill The Concert Promoter’s company I had automated every aspect of the office, order processing, and replication systems. Like a lot of things during this era, myself, Tom, and Wade’s dreams were never realized. Duke was indeed right, Bill managed to spend, blow, or hide all the profits from the sales of our software. That aside, this was the first of many strange adventures into the land of Storage…

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Microsoft learns with Linux and Hyper-V

In today’s market place of over labeled hype and spin it’s refreshing to see when a company noted for such spin steps up and avoids bad habits. While at LinuxCon Boston last week I was looking over the show program trying to decide what talks caught my fancy. Eyeing “The Physics Behind the Microsoft Hyper-V Drivers For Linux”  by Hank Janssen, caught my eye. My fist thought was boy this should be interesting, my second I was glad I'm not the Microsoft dude. I found a seat in a pretty well attended session and was ready for the show to begin. I was so surprised when it started standing before me was not a marketing suit or program manager. A real kernel developer stood where once you would see an empty vessel. Hank truly knew his topic matter and wasn't just informing the community what they intended to do. Better yet he was actively seeking a better way of going about the process. All along the presentation he asked for better ways to  make sure that both the Linux and Microsoft issues were addressed. He took his shots well and pushed back when needed. The fact of the matter is simple here OS vendors needs the support of the new virtualization engines coming into the market place. The VM vendors are the new emerging arms vendors in the data centers today. The OS will be battling it out to see which weapon works better for the customers arms dealers of choice. Having a good strategy into the virtual market place should and needs to be a high priority for any OS vendor today.   

LiveJournal Tags: ,,,
Technorati Tags: ,,,

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Is there any newness left?

An interesting thought occurred to me during an ad-hoc debate about the last truly new idea we could remember. Having covered several examples and their impact on a given industry. I thought it would be a good idea to pass this along.

These seemed to stand out as good examples
We all agreed that the PC was a game changing idea and product. We also agreed that both the Apple’s and Microsoft’s OS’s simply leveraged the innovative thinking of the corresponding hardware platforms.

The Segway was another interesting discussion where I couldn't agree whether it was a success or not. I didn't really see it as a transforming idea. This could be partly due to an inability to create, captivate and execute on its market space.

CDP (Continuous Data Protection) gets mixed marks as a new innovation. It managed to change drastically the way we think about data protection.

This seemed like a simple task at first, but quickly proved that King Solomon was right “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” Simply put, we tend to reinvent and mix the same set of technologies and come up with different results.

I may have a jaded view of the act of invention, but what really makes an idea new? If you look at my industry for example, we tend to focus on small incremental changes with no real explosions of newness. This leads me to have to say that new invention is all about the creation of new market collections. The PC wasn't really new, but rather opened up a market space that to this day continues to deepen its access to the masses. The Segway has yet to be proven as to its impact into the new green markets. It is clear they’ve had some level of impact, but is it really the market creator here? CDP--as short-lived as it might have been, helped create new markets and changed the thinking within existing markets, but failed to produce a market of its own.

Interestingly, the discussion tends to change when you step out of your comfort zone--whatever that may be. For example, I think Biotech and Nanotech are full of newness, but I wonder if someone with equal understanding of those industries would have the same opinion. This medium of new social networks and tools has created a whole new market space waiting to be fully activated and proven. Yet, what new concepts and technologies are really present? Still, you can’t deny its impact and change to all of us however. 
Perhaps at the end of all of this Plato was correct and that it’s all a matter of perception.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

What does an Apple, iConnect and a Cell Phone have in common?

In general searching for new uses and insights for existing technologies takes a lot of effort. Once a product is formed, built, tested and sold most of the cool features are usually well defined leaving nothing new to really be done. This leaves the searcher with a lot of work to squeeze out something that makes you go ‘WOW’ about the new feature. There are those rare ‘Isaac Newton and a Apple’ moments where you tilt your head just right and see  something new. While this won’t earn me any additional patents or launch a thousands salesmen into action, I’m still rather proud of this little discovery.

To set the scene:

I was writing the Adventures in Data Movement blog article. Going thru all the steps needed in the data movement section. Content in my chaotic glory, staring at the iConnect, wires, storage and network components. My phone beeps announcing ‘FEED ME’ I need a charge. Normally I would never notice this. I have the general rule, when I get home the blasted phone goes on the charger and unless I leave the house I forget about its existence. I cant even remember why I had it upstairs at the time with me to have even noticed that it was hungry.


Sorry I digress back to the inspirational whack on the forehead. I have the phone beeping asking to be fed, looking at the iConnect the following thoughts run through mind.

  1. The iConnect has a USB hub right?  - Yes
  2. My cell phone can charge via a USB connection – Yes
  3. I wondered if the iConnect has a powered USB hub – Not Sure

That was all I needed to go off in a creative tangent with a crazy idea forming in my head. I run down stairs to steal a USB cable off the charging station in the kitchen. At this point my wife notices me looking around the various phone chargers on the shelf. Having learned over the years to take notice when that ‘look’ appears on my face. It’s generally a indication that I’m about to try something ‘creative’. I explain that I think I can charge my cell phone on my iConnect. To which she makes sure I wont break anything the family can’t do with out and wishes me luck. Taking USB cable in hand I head back upstairs where I can carry out my newest fiendish plot.

Sitting back down I connect the USB cable, phone and iConnect and to my delight I see the phone goes to charging mode. It appear that the iConnect is indeed a powered hub and it works great as an phone charger.  I leave the phone charging until the following day. As part of my civic duty I must report that both cell phone and iConnect are still alive and well to this date.

Quoting The Talking Head’s ‘You may ask yourself, well, how did I get here’ 

The answer is all about taking a chance and following a hunch that resulted in something new and different. For the price of about 85 bucks I now have a wireless data transfer device, NAS Server,Media Server and  Cell Phone charger. That's not bad value for the buck. 

Monday, July 5, 2010


I thought I’d pass along this interesting experience from this week. I’m a natural at my real job and have to say I enjoy the tar out of it. I help groups within EMC think out side of the box and lead the charge in crossing new boundaries. This is helped by never really knowing I was in a box to begin with. I joke when asked how I came up with this or that over the years that 'I was too clueless to know I couldn't do that'. Recently EMC has been preparing for their next internal Innovation contests. Normally I would be a good corporate citizen and read the nice posts and ask myself ‘you know I should enter’. This year is slightly different, for better or worse myself and two others won the contest last year. Now at a minimum this was ‘COOL’ and the internal exposure is always good for someone in my line of work. Where this takes a bit of a twist is I was asked to give my thoughts on the general topic of Innovation. This forced me to actually think about what I do for a living rather then just doing it.

This is what I came up with:

Innovation is easy from the outside and hard on the inside

I hear a lot from folks when I meet them for the 1st time ‘Man your job is really cool’. In truth I think it is but its not all glamour and late night Innovation parties. Its a lot of hard work mixed in with lots of failures. There is the classic 1 in 10 rule I live by for every 1 break thru, you have 10 failures littering the floor at your feet. This combined with once you think up the new whacky thing, It dawns on you this was the easy part. Things gets really interesting when you start expressing what it is you've done. A good Innovator must be able to translate the ‘what, how and why’ into many different forms and dialects. What does his idea mean to the business, schedule, products, market as well as the industry. How does this change the product, business and industry. Why is this better then just continuing down the beaten path.

Innovation Requires the Patience of a Therapist

A position most Innovators find themselves in once they have had the ‘break thru’ is they now need to convince others that this really is a good idea. I think of this time as technical therapy sessions I often find myself in the meetings at all kinds of levels having to adjust the pitch depending on the audience. This simply boils down to change is hard for most people. In a corporate setting it also tends to fly in the face of steady predictable incremental progress for the bottom line. I have been lucky for the most part over the years that I tend to pick bleeding edge style companies that see the long term advantages of ‘disruptive thinking and ideas’. Still I do have lots conversations to calm fears, show benefits, and convert the unenlightened.

Innovators Begat Innovators

This line as misleading as it may be is one of the truest statements. My 1st experience with innovation was in a high school history class of all places. As a testament to the effect a pair of very innovative teachers had in my life to this date. I'm still a avid history buff, I've been known to hijack the TV to watch the history channel much to my families chagrin. These teachers managed to talk the school administrator’s into letting them teach a military history course by having the students play war games. Now as a bright strapping young lad looking for an easy grade this was very appealing. I went and signed up thinking, I get to play games and get a grade, what could be better. Turned out not only did we play but we had to do 2 very in-depth reports on the actual battle as well as how our results differed from the actual and why. I personally came out of the class with an in-depth understanding of all the battles, but more importantly the realizations that the old ways aren't always the best and its ok to take a chance.

I try to pass this mindset along to all those I meet. Remembering while having one of those therapy sessions that I never know who the next best innovator might be in the room. I'm never more flattered than when one on of the members of a team I'm working with begins to run away with a piece of technology I’ve introduced making it their own and taking it in direction I’ve never considered.

Innovation is a Social Process

Being alone in the dark is great for growing fungus but not a very good for the production of great ideas. All along the process of creating I force myself out, in part due to the need of human contact and air not tainted with the smell of dry erase markers. More importantly is the need to share and proof the direction of my current thinking. Close friends and associates often hear me coming and generally my line is ‘ok you need to tell me if I'm crazy or not’. To a tee folks seem to say: well that's a ‘Yes’ but what are you thinking about today. Rarely do I leave those conversations with less then I arrived with. Better yet I have confirmed, shared and in most cases gain support in one form or other for the idea.

My finial rule is Innovation is a Life Choice and you have to want it. Picture yourself as the salmon going the wrong way at spawning time. The good news is you have the knowledge that some one built a damn up ahead the other direction. Change is hard no matter what company you work for no matter how willing they are to allow it. When Innovation works the rewards have been known to spawn industries and world changing events. Human potential is a direct result of innovation. This potential has been the driving force throughout the ages, fueled by those of us swimming the wrong way in a one way stream if for nothing else but to prove it can be done.

Technorati Tags: ,,

LiveJournal Tags: ,,

Friday, June 25, 2010

Battle of the Pad’s

This is a bit of a follow-up to the Impressions of Apple's new iPad posting. Looks like Google is looking at doing their own Pad so Google if your listening please don't follow in Apples footsteps producing a large scale toy only working in a narrow use case. Think out of the box give the consumer & the industry a game changing device rather then simply playing games. Give your engineers the room to innovate and knock the ball out of the park I’m looking forward to seeing what you come up with.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Impressions of Apple’s new iPad

Thought I’d pass this along to all interested. I managed to luck out and was able to borrow the Apple iPad for a prolonged period of time. My expectations were high for this device. If met they might actually turn me from my evil Windows and Linux ways and towards the path of Apple enlightenment. From my current experience with this device it appears my false tech gods still have their hold over me. I find this device’s cool factor up there but this is really due to the power of the iPod and not thru any mind blowing Apple Innovation. They seem to have taken the easier ‘larger then the original copy’ approach to this new product instead of trying to hit the ball out of the park. This leaves the usability as a real compute device lacking in major ways. They have missed with this device holding the hope and promise to extend the ability to integrate the compute device into the household environment.

For better or worse, a well-defined consumer based pad device is a combination of a magazine, laptop, game, and multi-media device. This device needs to free the household from the burden of carting your laptop from room to room and be cheap enough to perhaps have more than one. Ideally this device should integrate into your remote control interfaces and your internal network. This being said there is truth to the rule you need to walk before you can run. However this is not an excuse to not attempt to toddle off the carpet.

I found that the iPad was nothing more then a glorified iPod touch which was very disappointing. It’s clear from the feature set, Apple took the easy way out and chose not to lead by example here. This device has no native connectivity to your household network storage or if it does they have buried it in a way that I can’t find. It appears that you need to sync your files onto the device to use the content on your external media. I have an eight terabyte media store. My expectation is to be able to browse, edit, view and sort these files using the iPad. The tools today I have found however require you to sync them onto the device. This sets the device as a content owner and not the content tool. If a Pad is to be successful as a device it must be a tool that interacts with all the various storage and compute devices that are becoming standard fare in the homes today.

Households by nature are multi-tenant/multi-user models of operation. This requires the device to interact with all components of the home media experience, while not to be the sole provider of said content. Without this multi-tenant ability these devices tend to be non-starter from the git-go.

Final Impressions:

  • Ease of use – Very good, after all its the iPod Touch on steroids.
  • Innovation – Poor,
  • This appears to be just a large version of the iPod: shame on you Apple you’re trying to be setting the lead on new innovation these days.
  • Form Factor – Acceptable but I would like a slightly larger screen.


  • Good single user device
  • Nice to play games on
  • Nice to browse the web
  • Poor integration with other home and computer devices.
  • Good for reading books …
  • If you need a large format iPod this is the device for you