Is FCoE a viable option for SMB/Commercial?

October 14, 2008
Host Bus Adapter (Fibre Channel)

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Since I work in the SMB/Commercial space as a TC, I routintely am exposed to mixed fabric environments.  With the advent of iSCSI, we’ve seen a proportional shift towards iSCSI as a reduced-cost block storage fabric.  Legacy (2Gb/s) fibre still has presence in specific markets but the uptake of 4Gb/s fibre has been slowing down.  With FCoE being announced as the next logical evolution of converged fabrics and 8Gb/s FC and 10G iSCSI working their way to availability, does FCoE make sense for SMB/Commercial markets?

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More on Seagate vs. STEC

April 15, 2008

EDIT:  4/15/08 @ 827pm EST

After careful consideration, it has become apparent to me that putting myself in jeopardy of commenting on active litigation that (potentially) involves my employer isn’t a smart thing to do. That being said, I’ve decided to leave this content here, but with the following disclaimer:

The opinions expressed here are my personal opinions. Content published here is not read or approved in advance by EMC and does not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of EMC. The information I’ve presented below is through personal research through publically available news sources (news.google.com and other media outlets) and does not represent anything but a high level overview of the potential consequences of this lawsuit. 

As I was holding my 11 day old daughter last night (about 3am or so), I kept going back to this whole lawsuit issue between Seagate and STEC. There were a few things that were bugging me about the nature of this suit and, I thought I’d pose them here.

a.) Why STEC? In my mind, STEC represents the first successful ENTERPRISE foray for SSD drives in the storage market. BiTMICRO and mTron have done an excellent job of being the performance leaders for consumer drives, but, never quite reached that pinnacle of performance and reliability that is needed in the enterprise storage space. As such, STEC represents the single greatest danger to Seagate and their ability to continue to push FC disk as the performance leader in enterprise (SAS is another great challenger to that concept, but we’ll leave that for another discussion). Additionally, as pricing parity is reached between SSDs and magnetic disk, there becomes an even greater divide between price and performance.

The other aspect of “why STEC” has to do with the who else is in the market. Why didn’t Seagate sue Samsung, Intel, BiTMICRO, mTron, Crucial, et al. in addition? Each of these companies have SSD devices (either of their own design or OEM’d from others) that they’re pushing into the market…

b.) Why sue vs. purchase? Interesting concept, at least to me. Knowing that they were somewhat behind the times on this new technology, why didn’t Seagate investigate the potential benefits of purchasing STEC? It makes sense, really. Companies routinely purchase IP in order to gain advantage within the market. With Western Digital buying Komag (and locking up platter manufacturing), why not go down the route of buying your greatest threat? All in all, Seagate easily could have read the writing on the wall and seen where SSDs were going (especially after the EMC Symmetrix announcement!!!!). If Seagate truly wants to protect their shareholders, etc. it would make sense to get into a market segment that promises to be upwards of 8 billion dollars within the next year.

These are my initial thoughts for this morning. Let me know if you have any other ideas.

EDIT: 4/15/08 @ 12:21pm EST

c.) Is Seagate turning into the next Rambus? Sitting in a meeting this morning, I was again trying to review some of the peculiarities of this case (which have been somewhat validated by the statement issued by STEC below). Seagate’s main contention is that STEC violated the following four baseline patents within 3 discrete categories: error correction, memory-backup systems, and storage interfaces with computers. If we follow this particular logic, then, we must assume the following:

  • Seagate developed, controls, and receives royalty payments for: SAS, SATA, Fibre, SCSI interfaces within a given open system AND the signaling technology. (i.e. both physical and electrical connectivity)
  • Error-correcting algorithms are EXCLUSIVE to Seagate and as such, SMART, sector remapping, etc. are exclusive domains of Seagate’s IP.
  • BBUs (battery back up) devices specific to cache within a storage system are proprietary to Seagate and thus subject to oversite and/or royalties, etc.

What’s not really clear here (and mind you, I don’t have access to the patent #’s in questions and their technological backend), is the role of each of the governance boards in this (Fibre Channel Industry Association, SCSI Trade Association). What I find very fishy is that Seagate, being a part of each of these groups, would be allowed to patent something that is an open format (that I am aware) and a trade standard (i.e. Fibre connectivity). If you recall, Rambus did the EXACT same thing by sitting on the DRAM design boards and then backend patenting the technology that was developed. Not saying that Seagate is ultimately a mini-Rambus, but the sheer ferocity in which Seagate seems to be going after STEC is quite suprising.

oh, and in case you missed it, STEC released their counter-statement this morning:

STEC is one of the first companies to build SSDs, having designed, manufactured and shipped SSDs as early as 1994, long before any of the suggested patents were issued to Seagate. Given the effect SSDs are having on the HDD market, STEC believes that Seagate’s lawsuit is completely without merit and primarily motivated by competitive concerns rather than a desire to protect its intellectual property. STEC believes that Seagate’s action is a desperate move to disrupt how aggressively customers are embracing STEC’s Zeus-IOPS technology and changing the balance of power in enterprise storage. Seagate is sending a clear signal that it recognizes STEC as the leader in the SSD business and is attempting to slow down part of the growth that STEC is gaining through its SSD offering, particularly in the enterprise segment. STEC will aggressively pursue its defense to this infringement action.

In addition, STEC will also closely examine the patents asserted by Seagate as STEC believes it held such technology including prior patents, dating more than a decade prior to any of Seagate’s patents. Although STEC is in the process of analyzing the claims in this lawsuit, STEC believes that Seagate’s asserted patents pertain to technologies where STEC has years of prior experience and/or patents. STEC has significant patents related to SSD which have been developed through the decades of experience STEC has with developing, manufacturing and shipping SSDs. Beyond that long history, STEC also believes that many of Seagate’s claims are not relevant to SSD. For example, STEC was one of the originators of stacking technology with patents dating back to the mid-1990s, while Seagate’s patent on this matter was issued in 2005.

Through this process, STEC will determine if Seagate is misappropriating any of STEC’s core technologies; STEC will take appropriate action to protect its interests, including seeking the invalidation of Seagate’s patents.

(emphasis mine)

cheers,

Dave
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Updates (sort of)

April 13, 2008

I’m trying to keep tabs on the influx of various searches and technologies that are out there in the storage world. To that end, I’m going to do a couple of things:

a.) In the not-so-distant-future, you’re going to see me doing a lot of video presentations on this blog. I’ve got a long commute to work (> 45 minutes on most days) and I’ve got a perfect “mount” for a video camera on my dashboard. I think I’ll call the series “Storage Drive-bys” (get it?) and I’ll try to keep it to subjects that you search on (i.e. Symmetrix, EMC core, Clariion, Centera, Celerra, EDL etc. etc.) This could be a LOT of fun, so, we’ll see what happens. In fairness to you, I’ll post the disclaimer at the beginning of each video but I’ll be honest about what I think regarding each relative technology. Deal?

b.) I’m also going to keep up with a weekly “respond to your search” posting that will attempt to answer the searches (based on the stats logging I see through WordPress) that I deem most “interesting.” Stuff like “weird science Dave Graham” and “scribd” will probably NOT make the cut. 😉

With this in mind, I’m off to study for my certification exams…

cheers,

Dave


On Iomega (and other musings)

March 20, 2008

So, for due diligence purposes, I’m going to remind you to read that little disclaimer stuck in the upper right hand corner of this blog. Since that little bit is over with, let’s get on with the rest of this blog.

DailyTech – EMC Walks Back to Iomega With Revised Offer for Acquisition

If you read the above link (and about 15,000 other links that you can find over @ Google News on the same subject), you’ll see that EMC is starting the “takeover dance” with a little company called Iomega. Iomega, if you remember, was that fiesty little company that tried to get rid of the floppy by introducing the Zip drive, etc. Then came the Jaz drive, the Rev drive, and suddenly, Iomega was basically buried by the pervasive optical drive market. People didn’t care about “hard drive like speeds” on the Jaz and Rev. They were awkward, required specialized hardware (vs. CDs/DVDs which were pretty much record/play anywhere) and they were priced beyond parity with CD/DVD burners.

Flashing forward, they decided to dilute their strengths by playing with NAS and other DAS storage technologies, again at disadvantageous pricing levels and weaker performance than, say, whitebox vendors like Enhance Technology, D-Link, Netgear, Linksys, etc. All in all, they quickly relegated themselves to market followers from a leadership position.

So, why is EMC going after Iomega? Surely they’ve studied brand recognition and penetration and have realized that beyond pitiful market performance (sales and revenue) that there is a certain air of distinction when “Iomega” is heard. For similar comparison, I guess, you could look at the purchase of Linksys by Cisco and how that has managed to maintain profitibility without dilution of the core branding. Conversely, you could look at AMD’s purchase of ATI Technologies and the struggle they’ve had to maintain profitability and market share since then. However, I’m going to come right out and say it: I don’t think that this move is at all a good idea. Here are a couple of points where I think this all falls apart.

a.) EMC prides itself on having a solid portfolio of performance oriented hardware. Some have come through acquisition (Clariion) and some are “homegrown” (Symmetrix). To that end, Iomega’s current position of whiteboxing other people’s hardware seems to be almost a tertiary acquisition of IP and too far down the line to really add value to the overall EMC product portfolio. Almost contradictory to the overall mission of EMC to manage a customer’s information with both quality and performance. A continuation of a whitebox agreement with Intel (a name almost synonymous with “performance” and “hardware”) would do much better.

b.) EMC is trying to move into the SMB space using their reputation for enterprise excellence. Why would you purchase an inferior product when you’re trying to strengthen your overall image within the SMB space? EMC Fortress was a good move with EMC solidifying a tailor-made product that the SMB world could affordably attain. Why EMC would want to re-engineer and re-invent the wheel with Iomega is beyond me. It’ll do more harm than good. They’ll need to redo their software (which is terrible), redo their hardware (which is terrible), and basically restructure the company into an EMC Jr. (time, expense, and…well, profitability dips doing that.) Again, for comparison purposes, Cisco, when it took over Linksys, gained a company with a solid reputation, a solid and profitable portfolio of products, and had little work to do to re-brand and promote.

c.) EMC has better purchasing options available in the SMB focused storage field. Looking at Iomega as a strictly “dilution” oriented brand purchase, what else is out there for purchase? I can think of a few different companies and alliances:
i.) Intel. Not a purchase but an alliance. Take Fortress one step further. Get into the hardware with them. Intel makes the core logic cpus and ASICs that we use (along with many others) and knows how to maintain profitability in a variety of key verticals.
ii.) Buffalo Technology. Buffalo has a VERY good reputation amongst SMB users that I’ve dealt with and again, has a VERY diversified portfolio of storage and IP based products. It’s a PERFECT fit within the EMC market. It also has international reach.
iii.) Enhance Technology. Enhance is an awkward bird when it operates by itself. However, if it had the correct strategy and corporate guidance, it would have tremendous reach. Not only are its product EXCEPTIONALLY well made, they have performance and OEM designs taken care of already. With EMC’s corporate disk alliances (Fujitsu, Hitachi, Seagate), it would be incredibly easy for EMC to incorporate and re-brand their products into EMC SMB.

Anyhow, these are my thoughts for now. Again, reference the disclaimer above as these are MY opinions, not EMCs.

cheers,

Dave

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Corporate Culture

August 20, 2007

Welcome to Monday! (I think).  I was lying wide awake in bed last night and thinking about my last blog entry in response to Robin Harris.  While certain things irritate me to no end, bad assumptions about a company’s culture are a verifiable maelstrom of discord in my psyche. (Whew! that was a mouthful).  So, whilst I lay pondering, I determined to make this Monday entry somewhat targeted at people who view EMC company culture as being monolithic, Control Center oriented (great product, btw, but I digress), etc.

When I joined EMC, I was leaving 2 distinct employment “threads” behind:  a government job and a consulting job.  Obviously, the consulting job was the more freeing of the two since I was only answerable to myself for my success and failure.  The government job, on the other hand, was exactly the opposite: I was union, I was answerable to a veritable smattering of dollar-squeezing, penny-pinching supervisors, and I had to deal with judges who were as capricious as a bipolar cat.  Sounds like a lot of fun, right?

See, from the outside, people had the perspective that the culture in DSS (Department of Social Services) was all about how to “steal kids from worthy parents,”  screw over the folks who just couldn’t get it together, and disabuse the taxpayers of any solid notion that we were effective in what we were supposed to do.  The fact that we hired newly graduated workers and had a very experienced management staff (with hardly anyone between 5 and 15 years of service working there) was typically glossed over or elevated to the point of ridiculousness. The fact that there are TERRIBLE parents out there who don’t deserve the children they managed to procreate is completely missed. The fact that DSS, on a daily basis, SAVES more lives than it disrupts is missed. You’d think THAT would make the news. Instead, when the Boston Herald ran a story on DSS, it was invariably negative.  When Channel 4 ran a news brief on the Boston Herald story, they cherry-picked respondents who managed to talk out of the side of their mouths on what DSS was like.  Better yet, they were typically disenfranchised private sector workers who DSS had cut out of the money stream for services.  All told, just by observing the “news” and whatnot, you’d get the sense that DSS didn’t know and didn’t care what they were doing. (Doesn’t help that our latest governor decided to axe the best Commissioner in recent history; gee, THAT’S not a political move AT ALL).

The same observations made above hold true for folks who I’ve run across in the IT sector when it comes to EMC.  “Ah, you work for the Evil Machine Corporation….” or “Extra Margin Company” or “that monolithic IT storage company who can’t seem to actually compete on the grounds of technology so they buy out whomever they feel will enable them to compete” or “EMC doesn’t innovate like Company X; they just purchase their way to profitability and market control.”  The problems with these statements are numerous and, at the end of the day, aren’t even close to mirroring the company I chose to work for.

Like I stated previously, I came from a system perceived to be dishonest, overwhelmed, and completely chaotic. The truth is, my co-workers and direct supervisors made my experience.  They challenged me to grow personally and professionally and, along the way, we had a lot of fun.  I was stretched in my concepts of what constituted a healthy family and how the courts treat fathers AND mothers.  I was exposed to negative biases, hate speech, and bigotry.  I was in the minority of workers (being male) and I found out the hard way that I am responsible for what I say (which should’ve been learned in adolescence, but, I digress).  I was able to help, I was able to heal but I was also responsible for petitioning the courts to remove custody of children from their parents.  I learned the power of the spoken AND written word and the consequences of dishonesty. All these things were below the public surface, of course, so, they’ll probably never make it to the Boston Herald’s front page.  Why?  Because it’s much easier to find the errors, the cracks, the sore spots within an entity, than it is to find how they’ve helped, healed, or promoted positive change. Oh, and lest we miss the biggest one of all,  negativity sells.

We’re content to bash EMC for corporate buy-outs and schlepping our technology ruthlessly.  But, have you see the fundraisers we do for non-profit organizations?  Have you seen what we do to help educate our employees regarding their health, their retirement, their general fiscal/personal/whatever wellbeing?  Nah, that’s too blase, too boring for the daily record.  Really, who cares?  Well, I do.  I’ve got a wife and a toddler, both of whom I’m responsible for caring for, fiscally, emotionally, etc.  EMC provides a platform of growth and opportunity where I can cover these needs while allowing me the room to explore some of my desires (hey, I’ve got a blog now, right?). Anyhow, we’re getting off topic here.

Let’s go over some of the common areas of complaints with EMC that I’ve observed.
Consistently, and across all companies, one of biggest complaints is always regarding customer service.  Why?  I’d posit that it’s due to the stereotypical “pump and dump” style of sales methodologies used in corporate America.  Let’s face it, sales exists to move $$$’s, not move people.  You need to convert your target to your line of thinking in order for that person to buy your product.  Sound about right?  In that regard, your target ends up feeling a little jilted post-sales because he’s not getting the same amount of interest from Corporate that he did when you were getting him excited in pre-sales. If the customer is lucky they’ll have the same “touch” from post-sales that they did in pre-sales.  Historically, this has ALWAYS been a problem and is a legitimate platform to launch a complaint from.  As it stands right now, however, I’m happy to say that we’re working to assuage this issue.  The mechanism isn’t free to be discussed right now, but, it’s progressing and feedback has been good.

A second major complaint is really with the sales cycle in general.  Like I stated above, people get jilted by “pump and dump” sales methodologies. Period.  Historically, fiscally successful sales cycles have engaged in this practice since it statistically returns greater revenue in a short period of time. Additionally, the typical high-turnover rates in sales divisions often lends itself handily to this model.  However, as organizational psychology (even behavioural psychology) has made inroads into sales, a newer methodology of transforming the sales cycle has emerged.  I can only speak for the particular division of EMC that I’m in, but, in general, this cycle does play out more.  What is emerging is the concept of customer relationships, that is, the maintenance of the sales rep/customer role outside of quarterly blitzes, etc.  Additionally, by bringing other resources to the table (SMEs, TCs, Partners, etc.) you put faces to names and voices spoken over the phone and email. I used this approach consistently on the consultant level with the rewards of higher customer satisfaction, greater sales rebooks quarter to quarter, and generally just a better feeling all around the table.  Again, this is all a work in progress, but if it can be mirrored on the Fortune 500 level, I see great things in store.

A third (and often vitriolic charge) against EMC takes the form of either a “drinking the Kool-Aid” speech or a more PC-esque “unified message.”  I  guess the assumption can be made that there’s some sort of groupthink or mindfsck (pardon my mangling of the *nix command “fsck” there 🙂 ) going on at EMC.  Really?  Where?!?!?!?!?!  I think the most succinct response to this charge is stated by my friend Kartik here (in the comments section):

“My hypothesis is about EMC’s internal culture – our values are focus,
passion, a sense of urgency and a maniacal obsession with making our
customers successful. That is what we call our EMC DNA. Our corporate
stance is not created in a vacuum – it is hotly debated internally, and
converges through a very open process, always coupled with a strong
feedback loop from the field and our customers. We all believe in our
ability to help our customers succeed. The commonality you sense, I
submit, is in this common conviction, so its not so much a case of
saying the same thing, but saying it with the same set of values. Its
our shared common vision and passion.”

Are some people disillusioned by the EMC message after they’ve been here awhile? Sure. Happens pretty much anywhere.  Just ask Jeff Browning about the Kool-Aid at Netapp.  What makes some people different, however, is the willingness to embrace the EMC DNA and test, try, and prove it through daily work.  For some, the ontological discord causes by this is too great and they leave.  For others, it fits their teleology  and consequently, their worldview shifts to accomidate it (hehehe….I should write an article on the EMC Teleology sometime).  This isn’t some sort of conspiracy. If anything, EMC is very upfront in its values to its employees and it offers, time and time again, the ability to challenge and confront those things which don’t sit well, person to person.  Are all the challenges accepted? No. Should they be? No.  For a nice little illustration of this, I’d request that you watch “Bruce Almighty.”  During his “God phase,” Bruce gets frustrated with all the prayers being sent to his heavenly email box.  Rather than respond to each on individually, he simply gives a blanket “Yes.” Panic, of course, ensues and he comes to the realization that, if all prayers were answered “Yes,” a perfect balance would not be maintained.  Not saying that EMC is God (I’ve got my own faith that promotes a more personal God) but, the allegory should be consistent.

Anyhow, I’ve spent way too much time on this so, I’ll need to sign out.  Comments, while moderated, are welcome!

Cheers,

Dave

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Corporate Blogging redux

August 17, 2007

Since everyone seems to be taking some level of interest in this blog entry from Robin Harris, I thought it merited a look. As someone who’s always maintained a blog (whether current or not is outside the purview of this entry) per “major life event,” I took some interest in what Robin had to say.

In the upper right-hand corner of my blog, I have a disclaimer statement. The statement in and of itself is meaningless, really, because, as you learn in Psychology 101, people will choose to believe whatever they want to about what you write or say. So, taken with a grain of salt, anyone can provide a disclaimer that theoretically detaches them from the entity they represent but, the umbilical cord is never really severed. To Robin’s point, the IBM Bloggers: Executive Summary (provided in-line with his blog post) is a concise statement of these intrinsic facts. Where Robin gets carried away is in the actual interpretation of said summary and it’s actual implementation. Let’s set the table, shall we?

So, Barry (the storage anarchist) wrote a couple three blog posts on “blogetking.” Rather than link them all here, I’ll distill his statements down to the following:

“…a corporate blogger also has an ethical and fiduciary responsibility
for factual representation of his company’s products and services in
his or her blog, to the same level of accuracy as her/his company would
require for any other logo’d collateral they produce.”

Sound about right, Barry?

Robin’s riposte, then, essentially takes the tact of turning Barry’s statement into a discussion of blogging under the auspices of a great PR front. Whatever. Where the big issue comes is best captured by a comment Robin makes in response to his own article: Chill guys. It’s only words.” If words are that vapid and powerless (as Robin seems to think), then we definitely shouldn’t need to worry about company wonks posting on their blogs because, well, they’re meaningless.

Contrary to Robin’s opinion in the matter, I’m reminded of the times (I have formerly been employed as an Adolescent Therapy Intern and as a Massachusetts State Department of Social Services Social Worker) where the impact of “only
words” was enough to rip a family to shreds. Even more pertinently, this story discusses how “only words” managed to affect the price of oil in a negative direction worldwide! Even further, what constitutes an analyst’s prediction on the market and a particular company’s performance? Words?  (mostly forward-thinking at that…) I’ve seen the biases of Wall Street analysts cause stock prices to tumble (> 15%) in a given day simply based on their:

  1. accessibility to the communication channels of the “outside” world
  2. their malformed misinformed opinions on what a company COULD do versus what they’re ACTUALLY doing.

This type of impact CLEARLY points to the role that unfettered words have in the world of capitalism. Barry’s plea, then, is aptly aimed not only at EMC folks (of whom I’m one) but also at others who, either positively or negatively, have the capability of causing significant impact in the market at large. Hu’s missteps in his blog, prior to correction, definitely serve as a reminder of that point.

Now, opinions are valid, whether screened or not, but when you’re provided the insight and position within Company X such that you could cause damage to their revenue and perception within the global market at large, I’d think that caution and oversight would be a good thing. There’s a reason why I am required to sign NDAs with the companies I associate with.

Am I wrong?

Cheers,

Dave

EDIT: clarified a few points. 🙂 

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