I just got back from the Dell Storage Forum in Orlando, affectionately known as the DSF, which sounds like a giant shoe store to me, but whatever. Plenty of bloggers are covering the DSF, so please don’t consider this entry to be a comprehensive summary of the event. Rather, I am just sharing a handful of thoughts, in no particular order:
I got to meet Michael Dell — My first impression was that he is taller than I imagined, not like I had spent that much time imaging what he looks like in person! Michael is sort of a hero of mine. I got involved in the industry the same way he did. My business began in a dorm room at Yale University in 1985. I think he started two or three years earlier at UT Austin. As I like to tell the story, his mommy let him quit school, whereas mine would not even entertain such a thought.
BTW, I feel a strange kinship with Michael Dell. My grandfather, the late Willie Farmer, was a big band conductor in the 20s and 30s. His band was known as Willie Farmer and the Dell Orchestra. (In case you don’t get the reference, this is was a word play on the children’s song, the “Farmer in the Dell”.)
I also got to meet Darren Thomas — He heads up the storage strategy for Dell. My first impression was that he is smarter (way smarter) than I imagined. A lot of people in the industry are criticizing Dell for not having a comprehensive storage strategy. While I agree that Dell lags behind EMC, Netapp, and IBM in the completeness by which they tell their storage story, I now believe that they have a solid vision and they will soon disrupt several segments of the industry. In particular:
- I imagine that Dell could change the game in rich media storage, especially medical imaging
- I believe that they will change the economics and use cases for deduplication
- I believe that they will add some spice to the NAS market
Replication versus Backups — Both Michael Dell and Darren Thomas talked about data replication as an alternative to traditional backups. I agree and disagree. Without a doubt replicating primary data makes a world of sense, but data replication does not address all of the scenarios that can go bump in the night. Over the years, I have seen plenty of data losses on replicated storage systems. You have to take into consideration data corruption, software bugs, sabotage or hacks, and good old-fashioned user error. Note to self: This is a good topic for a future blog entry.
The Perils of Rolling Your own Enterprise Storage — I had occasion to meet Laz Vekiarides who runs software engineering for Equallogic. It turns out that he is a pretty colorful and funny guy with no shortage of strong opinions! I was chatting with him and Walter Wong from Carnegie Mellon. We got on the subject of what it takes to qualify a new hard drive as a component of an enterprise storage system. My clients are always asking me why hard drives on Newegg might cost $79 for 2TB, but a terabyte in an enterprise array might cost 20 times that much. I liked the way that Walter described the phenomenon. He says, “disk is cheap, but storage is expensive.” Laz’s answer was a bit funnier. I did not capture his exact words, but the gist was, “If you are going to take any ol’ drive off the shelf and put it in an enterprise RAID array, you might as well save the money and just dig a rock out of the ground and shove it in there instead.” (Note to self: This would also be a good topic for further exploration in a future blog entry.)
Rice Pudding — They served rice pudding for desert twice, once at dinner and the next day at lunch. I heard some people complaining that there should be more variety in the deserts and speculating that they were serving left-overs. Personally, I liked the rice pudding and was excited to see it back again for lunch.
So, that’s my take on the Dell Storage Forum. The real question, of course, is whether Dell’s legions of salespeople will be able to articulate the depth and breadth of their storage vision. I’m guessing not, but I remind myself that if the vendors were good at articulating everything their products could and could not do, I would be out of a job!