An Interview with Bob and Bob
Cat herding by Nathan Moffitt
So here we are, just a few weeks in to the life of Hitachi Vantara. Since the formation of Hitachi Vantara there has been a lot of press and activity around everything from infrastructure offerings, to IoT solutions, to the vision of the new company. For those interested in an overview of Vantara there are some great blogs like Mary Ann Gallo’s up on our community and a detailed press release.
These announcements provide a number of insights into who we are and where we are headed, but we recognize there is – and always will be – an insatiable desire to know more. Especially around core development areas like IT infrastructure.
To help satisfy that desire and provide a ‘blunt hammer’ forum to educate certain vendors that can’t read a press release, I sat down to talk storage with two IT infrastructure leaders at Hitachi Vantara. Bob O’Heir, VP of product management and Bob Madaio, VP of marketing.
<Insert Office Space joke here – I do regularly.>
Moffitt: To start, you’re both responsible for storage and broader IT infrastructure offerings, right?
O’Heir: Is this even a question?
Moffitt: You know why I’m asking.
O’Heir: <Sighs> Yes. We’re not a ‘storage only’ company. We’re a data company. That means we think about the entire infrastructure. Our teams design storage solutions, but we also design integrated systems and management software that optimizes overall IT operations.
Madaio: Agreed. I won’t belabor the point.
Moffitt: Ok. With that in mind, what changes for you with the formation of Hitachi Vantara?
O’Heir: I see a huge opportunity to integrate our infrastructure offerings more tightly with our analytics technologies. Some of this is already in progress, but with the formation of Vantara, our teams are better aligned to co-develop solutions that help customers gain deeper insights from their data.
Madaio: I see the Hitachi Vantara structure enabling us to more easily share ideas and deliver data-driven solutions. Look, each of the entities that makes up Vantara was already working with our customers and each other. Now though, we’re more integrated. It's easier for customers to engage with externally and easier for developers to work together internally. That lets us be faster to market, more customer-friendly and customer-centric, which is a big win for us and customers.
Moffitt: Is storage going to be a key investment area for us as we design new data-driven solutions?
O’Heir: Of course. Storage, and more precisely infrastructure, is a key strength for Hitachi Vantara. Continuing to design products and services in this space makes us a better company to work with because we can bring experience around storing, monitoring, protecting and delivering data to IoT solutions. It also gives us the ability to provide collection points – storage – for helping customers analyze and decide what to save. We can also make storage behave more like an IoT device, which is critical for all IT components moving forward. <Pauses> Think about it like this, does GE quit making equipment now that they do IoT software? No.
Madaio: <Chuckles> Our corporate focus is on helping people activate and leverage their data. Not leveraging our heritage in information storage and data management would be absurd. When comparing us to other industrial powerhouses, having a strong IT business is a pretty unique differentiator. It lets us create differentiated solutions for deriving value from data based on knowing how customers ACTUALLY deploy IT infrastructures. It also provides launch points so customers can start with storage and add OT capabilities as they become more data-driven. Pigeon holing ourselves into one market segment would be a fast path to oblivion.
Moffitt: Let’s continue down this path. How does IT + OT change the evolution of our infrastructure portfolio?
Madaio: It changes our design focus. With the combination of IT, IoT and analytics we’re better able to deliver on customer outcomes versus focusing solely on a new ‘box’ or application. With Vantara we move beyond thinking about form factor and dropping data into a fixed location where it just. sits. Instead we focus on data services that provide a consistent way to access and leverage data anywhere. This is key as the locations where data is born and needs to be analyzed expands.
O’Heir: Exactly. That has a huge impact on how we approach storage in particular. Software-defined storage (SDS) is and will be big for us moving forward. We want customers to consume data services in a very flexible fashion. It might be on a 1U server at the edge or a high-end server / custom built controller at the core which is optimized for maximum performance and uptime. Edge to core analytics will also be a big consideration.
Moffitt: Talk more about that. How do analytics and storage fit together in the new Vantara?
O’Heir: There are 2 aspects to consider. First, how do you view a storage system as an IoT device? Every storage system is collecting all kinds of telemetry data. By pulling analytics information from it into our Smart Data Center software we can better optimize storage behavior and enable the array to work with other parts of the infrastructure to optimize the entire data path. Of course this also means that the ‘language’ arrays speak changes too.
Moffitt: MQTT (note: a protocol that can be used by IoT devices) for instance?
O’Heir: Yep. That might be for passing information to another infrastructure component or it might be for receiving data from an IoT device. Protocols aren't static. They are always changing and with Vantara we have the ability to be forward thinking about how to transmit data. Hitachi Universal Replicator is an example of that thought process. When released it was revolutionary, it used more of a pull vs. push method to better tolerate outages and reduce bandwidth consumption. With IoT, protocols have to change.
The second aspect is looking at what we can do while we hold the data. If you have the data, why not perform some level of analytics on it? I equate this to the old argument about where you run functions like replication. Yes, you can run them on the application server, but why pull cycles from the host for that? Offload it to an array. The same thing is true of analytics. If data is resident, storage could pull metadata and make predictions about whether to retain the data or just the metadata.
Madaio: Of course, exploiting this data gravity is much easier if we still develop storage. To be sure, we could simply produce the analytics software, but if we provide a fully integrated system and broader infrastructure offerings, we reduce complexity of deployment and acquisition. And we add accretive value. Oh, and I recommend folks check out a recent blog I did on storage as an IoT device. It ties right into this conversation.
Moffitt: Accretive. Good word. It seems like this means there a blend of our corporate technologies.
O’Heir: It certainly enforces and helps drive where we want to go with simplification of operational processes. When you blend data services and analytic services you reduce the number of resources you deploy and the complexity of optimizing resources. You also open up a broad range of opportunities to deliver value.
Moffitt: Talk about that. What opportunities does this open up?
O’Heir: Well, I don’t want to say much here.
Madaio: Really? You seem like a sharing kind of guy. And a huge Michael Bolton fan.
O’Heir: For my money, I don't know if it gets any better than when he sings "When a Man Loves a Woman". <Pause> Ok, one example. Data ownership and privacy is a growing concern. You need to think about a whole new host of things when you store data. Can analytics be allowed on a data set, is data within proper ‘borders,’ things like that. Having the ability to do some level of base security analytics in storage lets you make decisions about where / how to replicate it, etc. Yes, users can set their own controls, but accidents can happen. If storage can help prevent missteps in data handling, everyone wins.
Madaio: The key thing for me in all this is that these are things every storage vendor will need to consider unless they want to become a ‘just a bunch of disk’ provider. Storage design must change if vendors want to add value.
Moffitt: Let’s close out. Talk to me about what storage looks like in 5 years.
O’Heir: Timelines are tough, but directionally I think storage providers will need to think about traditional items like performance, capacity and resiliency as well as analytics facilitation. With all the data being produced from edge to core you’re going to need every system that retains data to be mining it. I talked to a financial institution recently that is very concerned about this. They see an explosive growth coming in the number of data points they have to gather every few microseconds. Microseconds. How do you process all of that? Yes, you can do edge or cloud processing, but why not in the storage? For some architectures that may be an imperative.
That leads to fundamental architecture design changes that I think, hope, all infrastructure vendors are considering - microservice architectures. If you have the ability to insert an analytic function into an array then data scientists can develop and run analytics from where-ever the data repository is.
And Of Course There Was More.
In every blog I write – personal or interview – a lot of detail ultimately ends up on the cutting room floor. In the case of this interview we had to scrap some conversational elements around NVMe, Microservice architectures, data versus control plane functionality and even what competitors are still standing in 5 years.
If you’re interested in that detail, let me know. We might be able to create a part 2 for this blog. We could even pull in another smart VP of product management, Bob Primmer. Why does Hitachi Vantara have so many Bob’s well that is a blog in itself.
To close, for now, here are the takeaways I’d point out.
- Hitachi Vantara is still developing storage (shocking I know), but long term it may not look like the storage you know today. We see opportunities for massive innovation.
- Innovating across the entire infrastructure – not only storage – is critical for vendors to stay relevant and deliver maximum value to customers.
- Analytics and infrastructure are blending together, having expertise in one allows you to develop more impactful solutions in the other.
Hopefully you found this blog enjoyable. If so, let me know! Until next time. Bob and Bob, thank you.