Looking at Storage through a different lens

As I settle into my new role as head of EMC Core Technologies, I am frequently asked to summarize the business opportunity we have and how our portfolio hangs together, specifically from the high-end enterprise perspective. This has me thinking about the current state and direction of the storage industry.

March 25, 2015

As I settle into my new role as head of EMC Core Technologies, I am frequently asked to summarize the business opportunity we have and how our portfolio hangs together, specifically from the high-end enterprise perspective. This has me thinking about the current state and direction of the storage industry.

By Guy Churchward – President EMC Core Technologies

Bear with me through a story which, if I am lucky, will shed some light on how our portfolio best meets the needs of our customers. Safe harbor statement: I have simplified the story for effect so technologies such as Isilon and VNX are not specifically referenced, but this is supposed to be a blog, not a mini-series.

Back in 1996, I relocated to the US from the UK, landing in Santa Cruz, California. My new home blew me away with the diversity of people, scenery, climates, etc… total sensory overload. Before the move, I had never really taken photography seriously, sporting a Kodak Instamatics camera with rather cool flash units (sorry XtremIO, not that type of flash), which resulted in a bunch of slides and rather poor situational snaps. When I arrived in the US, I upped my game by adopting a very early Nikon Coolpix – the one with the swiveling lens.

How many times have you looked back at a great photo that captures the moment when you were actually in situ? Imagine how exciting the early months in California were as I captured all these new experiences on film. The euphoria ended abruptly after a whale-watching trip on a choppy Monterey Bay. When developing the snaps from this adventure, I was presented with an ‘almost tail.’ Not exactly the memory I was looking for.

It was time to step up my game again and get serious. If you want to take this stuff really seriously, you need an SLR camera (or single-lens reflex for the uninitiated). In addition, apparently the real money is not spent on the ‘body’, but on the ‘glass’ aka the lens.

I plunged forward into this world, purchased a ‘semi pro’ SLR camera and a plethora of lenses: telephoto, macro, fisheye, fixed for low-light interior, multiplier rings and more goodies than I knew what they did. In fact, I even had to buy a custom backpack to carry all my treasures around.

The quality of my photos increased exponentially, but my wife wasn’t pleased with me trawling around the San Francisco Zoo with a 300mm lens attached to a monopod. I think she used numerous and varied expletives sprinkled in for good measure. Over the course of the next few years, I upgraded the camera body three times, from film to digital and ultimately to Mega Pixel.

My EOS collection continued to grow; I now had two bodies, one main and one spare. I actually upgraded to a 5DMkII with full-frame which tipped into the professional category. But then, work started to absorb the vast majority of my waking hours and I found it tough to carry the camera with me on business trips. I started searching for a solution that was just as good, but a lot more agile.

Enter the mirrorless camera. You can change the lenses; it has a high Mpx rate and a small enough form factor to fit in a messenger bag. Bingo, a purchase was made from the Sony NEX series. That little beauty travelled with me everywhere… granted it’s not quite as crisp on mono color pictures and it did not initially have the range or breadth of the EOS setup. But in the majority of cases, the benefits of its size, agility and cool factor far outweighed those disadvantages. This is an example of a technology that revolutionized the whole idea of cameras, but it has not quite reached its potential yet.

Flash forward to an article I read recently that claimed the second most popular camera make on Flickr was the iPhone. This got me thinking about my own camera usage. Had I started to use my iPhone camera as my default camera without realizing it?
Well, yes.

I still use the SLR when we take a big holiday or go somewhere where I know I don’t want to compromise on quality. And the mirrorless camera has become my stock camera for all other trips. BUT the vast majority of my snaps are now taken every day on my iPhone.

iPhone quality, frankly speaking, is better than you expect, but pretty shabby if you want a poster or wall art. That’s not the point. Turns out the benefits of the iPhone always being in your possession, linked to GPS which allows you to search via location, and ease of integration with apps and sharing, make it the preferred device for everyday snaps.

So you see there are three camera types driving my love of photography – each of which has its own use case:

  • A camera where everything is possible (Canon EOS) – a safari, a whale-watching cruise, a trip to the pyramids, etc. No compromise is the driving factor.
  • A camera that’s easy-to-use, tailor-made, and all about high-performance – for the holiday in Mexico, a family trip back to the UK, a customer advisory board meeting or perhaps EMC World 2015. Here performance and agility are the driving factors.
  • A camera to catch the quick moments (iPhone) – the dog lying upside down, a daft road sign or a work associate falling asleep during a meeting. Here convenience is the driving factor.

So to the real point of this blog – making sense of the many movements in the primary storage market. Thinking about when and how I use various cameras offered a way see how our customers think about choosing the right storage solution for their adventure.

The EOS SLR is like EMC’s VMAX. No compromises, with the lenses being the data services. Interestingly, both EMC and Canon realize that the value of these products IS the combination of lens and camera back, but each is valuable separately. They are not indelibly joined. The new VMAX architecture separates the data services from the back-end storage with technologies such as Federated Tiered Storage (FTS) and ViPR, but you can take full advantage of these features with alternate storage.

The mirrorless camera is beyond cool. It’s not your Dad’s camera and it speaks volumes to edgy innovation… this is XtremIO. It is lightning fast, super agile and does pretty much anything the SLR can. The possibilities are limitless.

By the way, Canon realized the value of mirrorless technology and actually built a body where you can use your current EOS lenses. In a way this is like a VMAX hybrid array with flash inside. You have data services and the performance of flash, but you still have the bulk of the array. A very good compromise indeed, but it’s not an all-flash array (AFA).

Canon also made an adapter to allow you to snap your EOS lenses onto an OEM mirrorless camera back. This is like putting XtremIO behind a VMAX with FTS. You have the AFA value and you can embrace the data services of a VMAX, so a great ROI but with some of the bulk of a professional camera albeit a lot less than with the standard camera back.

And then there’s the iPhone camera. This hyper-converged camera, while ubiquitous, is clearly not a replacement for the SLR. It’s not a ‘from the ground up’ camera, but its hyper-convergence is clearly an important feature. The point is hyper-converged is a compute block with networking and storage in it for the ride just as the iPhone is a phone, PDA, media player and camera all in one form factor.

We are in the middle of a whirlwind of innovation in the data center. Storage is ever growing and so are the choices. In my mind, there is no clear winner or loser. What is clear is VMAX has redefined itself to be very relevant in an enterprise-grade distributed data service kind of way. It’s XtremIO’s time with unprecedented growth and the emergence of the all-in-one converged infrastructure. And hyper-converged infrastructure is coming of age with VCE.

What this reflection tells me is that we should all assume these three models, white box and cloud are going to be part of our complicated lives for a good number of years to come. The key is to know which “camera” you need for the adventure you’re taking.
I hope my analogy resonated for you and I’m interested in hearing your views

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