Preamble #1: Warning – this post is long-ish, and as usual a little rambly.
Preamble #2 While this post is indeed triggered by something specific (a competitor’s blog post targeting EMC trying to wrap in the “david vs. goliath” meme – a trope that is an easy one to rally around), I think it’s generally applicable.
In fact, it applies equally often against things I see EMCers doing (at HQ and the field) – so I’m not aiming this at anyone specifically, but rather “all of us”.
I wonder if perhaps it is intrinsic and the reason there is so much FUD in high tech:
- We wrap complex technological arguments, architectural pros and cons (which have a real basis) into short “bullet lists” so that the message carries broadly in the marketplace (and our field organizations/partners).
- People blur technology passion (yeah!) into fanaticism (boo!). This is very true in startups, single product companies, and specialists within portfolio companies like EMC (or any portfolio company)
- Twitter and social media exacerbates this by compressing everything in time and space – hence many Twitpiss debates I’ve participated in (and recently I’ve tried to recuse myself from).
There’s great danger in this (IMO). The “dumbing down” of the masses is something that is disturbing on a fundamental level.
I’ll put it to you this way. In Toronto, one of the great global metropolises – we’ve had this buffoon for a Mayor. Pretty well everyone in the world knows of him – but not in a good way.
Here’s the amazing thing. He’s running for re-election… and he actually has a shot (!) Sigh.
How is this possible? He’s been a TERRIBLE mayor. Answer: He’s powering himself with an ignorant, but simple message, and this sways the “low information voter”. His message is “I’m here to stop any and all things that involve spending YOUR taxes”. This is patently stupid. The purpose of government is to wisely spend taxes in the service of the public good (and Toronto needs this – from public transportation, waterfront development and more).
Look, I’m not naive. Is there waste? Yup. Is there corruption in government? Yup. Those are both things to be stomped out – everywhere.
But this idiotic (but simple) meme he uses of “all spending = bad”, well it “carries”.
When asked about all the drug stuff, he applies this principle of “keep the message simple, regardless of whether it’s stupid” principle to great effect, in essence always answering with “wasn’t me”. Until it WAS evidently him, at which point he said “it doesn’t matter”. All logic in the world suggests this shouldn’t work, but it does.
Moral of the story – people use simple messages because it appeals to the innate human desire in a complex world to “make things simple”, particularly when you are scared, or your brain is full.
There is an ongoing chorus from some inside EMC (and I hear it in VMware also) where people look at the portfolios and solutions sets and go “whoa – this is complex, I remember when there was less in our portoflio… we must reduce complexity”. Perhaps. Actually, in some cases, we surely must. But – in other cases, we simply need our people and our organization to become more dexterous. More evolved. More sophisticated.
It’s not easy, but it’s RIGHT.
To quote a colleague:
“if the employees’ personal behaviour is not to be self learning, self discovering and, or have natural curiosity about our I no amount of training and videos will help.
We are a portfolio company with a vision of what IT is, will be, and the where for all to deliver on it. We can't let narrow minded engagements effect our success or it's speed.”
There’s another clear evident example playing right out there in plain sight for all to see in high tech land.
I remember it wasn’t a long time ago where literally I couldn’t have a conversation with a customer or analyst asking “when will you at EMC take the approach of a single kernel/software stack like NetApp, and don’t you think all things will move to NFS?”.
Our answer then, and now: “it’s likely that while we will continue to simplify and integrate some our platforms which serve the ‘swiss army knife’ segment that ONTAP FAS serves (VNX), we see more and more demand for architectural stacks for built for purpose. AFA stacks are different. Scale-out NAS stacks are different. The high end RAS stacks are different. The object/HDFS on COTS stacks are different. The hyper-converged transactional stacks (think VSAN/ScaleIO) are different.” It’s a more complex message than “one architecture, always”.
In the past, I would constantly get a negative response to this (customers, analysts, partners) – perhaps because NetApp was growing and filling gaps in the marketplace. It’s also human instinct to WANT to consolidate, to reduce, to harmonize, to simplify. I DO think that we can (and are) simplifying each category, and working on abstracting/pooling/automating across archictectures… But – at the time, people were buying the “ONTAP for everything” argument, hook line and sinker.
Today, everyone goes “well duh – of course one architecture for everything is silly!”. Even Jay Kidd (NetApp CTO), who I respect a great deal, commented at the recent Wells Fargo Securities 4th Annual Tech Transformation Summit that he sees the need for architectural diversity, and that ONTAP simply won’t make the AFA space sing on it’s own. Engenio is used as a low latency, high bandwidth stack today and Flashray is coming. It’s clear to industry folks that NetApp some folks who really deeply believed this “one architecture for always and all workloads” are having a crisis of confidence. Some have dropped one passion/fanatiscm and picked up another single focused story.
There is no schaudenfraude in my heart on this state of things when it comes to NetApp. In my opinion, they are in crisis, and I sincerely hope they can lead themselves out of it. It comes down to leadership – years ago they could have put a stop to the fanatical passion around “ONTAP always” and started to broaden out – but they didn’t, and there’s no time machine. The hardest time to change is when you are NOT in the crisis and everything looks rosy, but that’s when you need to do it. They have strong leaders in folks like Jay and Tom G. and many dedicated passionate employees who will work day and night to navigate the change now.
Now, if NetApp are indeed a company in crisis, but I think everyone is to some degree. I think in high-tech, if you’re not feeling in crisis, you’re in a state of delusion. Andy Grove was right: “Only the paranoid survive”. For EMC II (the storage/backup/security part of the larger EMC Federation of companies) our “crisis” (and opportunity) topics are these:
- The transition of the AFA and hybrid markets. And – years ago we made a decision: we must “flash enhance VNX and VMAX, but that’s not an ‘designed for purpose’ AFA”, and hence XtremIO.
- The shift away from “consolidate workloads as much as possible” to “consolidate what you can, but embrace built-for purpose storage architectures (including COTS) where you see fit”. And – we made a decision: continue to broaden the portfolio, place more emphasis on integrating UI, look/feel, APIs – and ultimately make the ViPR controller a top priority.
- The shift from “mix and match” open systems to more and more converged infrastructure. And – we made a decision: double down on CI in the form of VCE Vblock, VSPEX – and all other forms of converged infrastructure.
- The increasing use of software-only stacks on COTS hardware. And – we made a decision: we will drive almost all products to be available in software-only and appliance form, and we’ll organically and in-organically innovate in software-only storage stacks of all forms (see ScaleIO, ViPR Object, ViPR HDFS, vOneFS)
- The movement of workloads off-premise. And – we made a decision: a huge double-down on the object stores that serve huge swaths of this, driving to be the industries best commerical cloud-scale object/HDFS offering, and a general focus on helping SPs including vCHS.
One thing I will vouch for strongly – there is broad understanding and embrace of all of these things from the top to the bottom of the company, and while I’m sure we have bad spots (no arrogance or lack of awareness around our gaps!), there’s zero delusion amongst the senior/executive staff, and we’re investing to win.
So – what the heck was the latest trigger for this emotional post? What is the most recent version of “everything belongs on NFS” or “one architecture always” that’s got me all wound up?
Answer: The trigger was the “Hybrid vs. AFA” debates which rage, coupled with day of FUD slinging in both “AFA land” and “hyper-converged land” (I’m sure bi-directional – these things never are one-sided) and lastly a specific competitor’s blog post. If you want my opinion (disclosure, I’m surely biased) read on…