Copyright 2001 John Zipperer.
Hill's Swiss Army Knife Storage Approach
By John Zipperer
(09/26/01) In the fast-moving storage market, customer needs have been shaped by some pretty big factors. Companies have gone from piling up storage willy nilly in the NASDAQ heyday to managing wide-ranging networks of storage appliances [see "Storage as Universal Data Tone," Internet World, August 1, 2001]. A more-recent tragedy may bring many companies to consider the vulnerability of their data storage to disasters.
So it's an appropriate time to check in with Dot Hill, which is rolling out its SANnet Axis product, which has been in beta for two months. Axis bundles together in one black box services ranging from logical volume management (a.k.a., virtualization) to routing functions to storage resource management. But, in light of the terrorist attack in Manhattan, corporate leaders can be forgiven for being particularly interested in another of its functions: disaster recovery.
Dana Kammersgard, Dot Hill's CTO, says he met with about 500 companies last year, hearing their storage needs and priorities. He says the top priorities include—in the following order—reliability, performance, density (the space taken up by storage equipment), and scalability. "After September 11, reliability is probably still number one," says Kammersgard. "But number two is probably disaster recovery," including remote replication and fallback contingency plans.
Axis' answer lets the customers determine how much of their stored data that want to protect. That information is then replicated to a remotely hosted site, which can be anywhere—another office location of the company, or to an outside host. "We can do everything to protect the information itself," says Omar Barraza, director of product management at Dot Hill. "And we can work with them to help them design their disaster recovery policy."
Undoubtedly, some companies will focus more on the disaster recovery issue than is really necessary right now. But that's often the case when a news event occurs that forces an issue. Just as a big virus scare spurs companies to upgrade their security and virus-detection programs, disaster recovery is going to get needed attention in the wake of the World Trade Center attacks and what will surely be highly publicized rebuilding efforts of the companies located in that area. "It's kind of like an airbag," says Barraza. "It's something you might never have to use. But you lock it up in a data center and don't have to worry about it."
So disaster recovery is a very timely option in the SANnet Axis product, but the company's spokespersons rush to point out that it's only one of many. And it's that Swiss Army Knife approach to including many capabilities in one product (that is itself billed as being capable of working with disparate software applications, operating systems, and platforms) that Dot Hill is putting forth as its unique contribution. "What happens is that everybody approaches a particular problem from their point of view," says Kammarsgard. "So Cisco is going to approach access from a backbone point of view—think of the router. Other companies are approaching it from their points of view, which may not cover the whole range of storage."
SANnet Axis has several models, including the Remote model (a matched pair of Axis units for direct-attached storage, NAS, and SAN systems over IP and Fibre Channel), the HA model (for clustered HA units), and the Basic model. The company says benefits of the Axis products include speedier return on investment, better utilization of resources, easier storage management and sharing of storage, IP network access to data, and secure protection of information.
(Weimar exclusive: 09/13/01) Words can't explain it; they can only record it. As I write this, some incredibly brave people are performing very dangerous searches for any possible survivors from the attack on the twin towers of the World Trade Center two days ago. Yesterday, they found 11 survivors; soon all they'll find are fatalities.
My office is a couple miles north of the WTC, and news came into us in patches, as coworkers streamed into the office reporting -- first -- that a plane had struck one of the towers. From the radio we quickly learned that a plane had struck the second tower and that both were burning. And the rest happened quickly while the realization sunk in that this wasn't a hoax report (we could see the huge clouds of dark smoke from the street). And then the news came in a jumble, and it was even scarier: reports of an attack on the Pentagon, the collapse of first one and -- by now we were numb -- then the other World Trade Center tower, the crash of another plane in Pennsylvania, the closure of access points into and out of Manhattan as well as area airports, and the streams of New Yorkers walking north on the streets outside (heading home as most offices and businesses quickly closed but subways were not available).
I have seen and heard some amazing things that are too emotional for me even to remember without tears. The lines that stretched around the block at the blood-donation centers. The people who ran into stores to buy water bottles to give to people near the attack zone. The woman who told a radio station how she had gone to the store to buy food and other provisions -- anything that might be of use -- and donated them to the fire department. The woman who opened up her restaurant to let people who couldn't head back to their homes have a place to sleep. The people in Oklahoma who have rallied to provide any support possible, remembering the assistance provided by New York rescue teams at the time of the Oklahoma City bombing. The reports of shock and immediate pledges of solidarity and help from governments in Nato and around the world.
So, what is next? As much as I usually shrink back from violence, I think we have no choice but to pursue a military response. And it will have to be massive. No lobbing missiles into some desert training camp. No nighttime bombing of some minor target in an offending nation. We're dealing with someone, some organization, and probably some supporting nation, that not only targets thousands of innocent lives but uses innocent people as part of their weapons. They are not the people to meet over the negotiation table. They are not the people to give concessions to. They are the people who have to be removed as any sort of a threat, because what they are threatening is our very civilization, and I don't think that's at all an exaggeration.
Let's remember this tragedy forever. Keep in our thoughts those who have been slaughtered, those who have been injured, and those who have lost family and friends. Remember those brave firefighters and police officers who are spending day after day at the sites of the tragedy. Let's also keep in our thoughts and hearts all U.S. citizens -- from every ethnic and religious background -- and make sure we don't make life miserable for anyone. We're all in this together. We're all targeted because we live in a rich and powerful country that allows and even thrives on the fact that people of every race, religion, ethnic background, and lifestyle live here and build their lives together.
Tuesday morning we experienced Zero Hour. Everything that went before is different from all that comes after. It is a moment that affects our politics, our fears, our hopes, and view of the whole world. And if such horrendous and barbaric attacks make us feel helpless at the mercy of madmen, then we should still know that how we react to this -- how we punish the guilty and how we treat our own -- is totally under our control, and that will define us in America for centuries to come.
(09/02/01) Ask Internet business people about peer-to-peer and they’ll likely tell you two things. First, they’ll mention that infamous P2P music site that begins with “N” and ends with “apster” but which shall remain nameless here. Second, they’ll tell you—perhaps with a wistful look in their eyes—that P2P doesn’t have a viable corporate application, at least not yet [see “A Cure for Fear of Peering in this issue]. So it may come as a pleasant surprise to them to hear that a company named Liquidnet is using P2P in a real-world business setting and is doing so profitably.
The company serves large institutional investors, which regularly trade huge amounts of shares but which suffer from the fact that other players can divine their intentions and push up prices before the institutions can execute their trades.
The Liquidnet system keeps track of the orders placed into it, and looks for liquidity in the pool of orders submitted by participants. One of its strengths is the anonymity of that search; in the institutional investment world, once an institution actively starts looking for liquidity, others know what it’s up to and day traders move in to make trades ahead of the coming institutional trade. Liquidnet cites findings that indicate institutions pay $100 billion a year because of the public search for liquidity.
Anonymity, therefore, was the first of two features the company had to provide potential customers, which it accomplished by adopting a P2P architecture. But it would never have been able to implement that architecture on any institution’s systems unless it had the trust of the institution’s leaders. The system also had to host a large enough pool of investors to create the liquidity investors seek, which meant convincing enough companies to come aboard to make the network worthwhile.
Internet World associate editor Melena Ryzik and I recently met with Liquidnet’s CEO Seth Merrin at his company’s offices in Manhattan. They’re located just south of Times Square, mere blocks from hordes of tourists and giant neon signs. Liquidnet’s quarters are nice enough, but it’s clear they haven’t splurged on fancy furniture and decorations. It has the look of a startup but the mind-set of an industry veteran.
The latter emanates from the company’s founder, who already had credibility with the financial industry. In 1985 he founded Merrin Financial Inc., which developed the Merrin Financial Trading Platform as well as other systems for the investment community. Merrin not only knew the industry’s technology needs but had actually built some of the technology himself, so when he came to those same firms with an idea that would tie his system into their most sacred databases and transaction servers, he didn’t get laughed out of the room as you or I would have been. They listened.
There were doubters, naturally. Merrin needed to build a critical mass of participating institutions when he launched, and probably only overcame that hurdle because enough companies felt comfortable working with him. Others, of course, waited to see that the technology would work in practice. Some of those have since joined. It’s only a year since Liquidnet was born in Merrin’s mind, and it’s only in its second quarter of live service, but it’s already profitable.
When we asked Merrin about the prospects for applying Liquidnet’s P2P technology to other industries, he quickly denied any interest in pursuing that. No problem, because P2P is already making its way into enterprises of all kinds [see “Beyond Browsing,”]. Instead, Merrin places a lot of emphasis on his company’s role as first to market with this P2P approach to solving the challenges of market liquidity and transaction anonymity.
In general, I think the first-to-market advantage is overblown. Merrin points to the historic lack of competitors in institutional investment market, however, saying that people have always gone where the liquidity is. He may be right. But what I believe Liquidnet has going for it is something far more valuable: a leadership that understands the technology that runs the business and that understands the business the technology is trying to help.
Calm Before the Storm
Intel’s enterprise efforts epitomize the current market
By John Zipperer
(08/01/01) After extensive deliberation, I have decided to come out in favor of innovation. Yes, taking such a controversial position could earn me enemies, but if Intel and Microsoft can put themselves on the line by standing up for innovation, then the least I can do is voice my support.
Microsoft, you’ll recall, made innovation a centerpiece of its public relations campaign against the Justice Department’s antitrust prosecution, arguing that it needed the freedom to innovate, or more accurately, that it needed the freedom to change with the market; otherwise the market would have passed it by.
The Economist recently held forth on the importance of innovation to economic progress [“Invention is the easy bit,” June 23]. Claiming that mere invention is easy and can be done by any group of brainstorming geeks, the magazine affords innovation the highest honors. The success of an innovation depends on “the single-mindedness with which the business plan is executed, as countless obstacles on the road to commercialization are surmounted, by-passed or hammered flat,” writes the Economist. “Implicit in all this is timing. ... It matters little whether some exciting new technology has suddenly become available. If the market timing is wrong, the innovation will most assuredly flounder.”
The market timing would seem to be spot-on for the changes being pitched to today’s corporations. And now, Intel is staking out its own position on this hot topic and using it to highlight the company’s role as a provider of enterprise infrastructure products. Intel executive vice president Michael Splinter, delivering the keynote address at the recent TechXNY in New York City, framed his discussion of the future of the tech market in terms of innovation. Naturally, Splinter assigned Intel a leadership role.
In brief, Intel’s vision of the near future is the same one you’re hearing about elsewhere, including in this magazine. It’s a world in which companies are using the latest developments to make “faster, cheaper, more efficient,” into an everyday fact. More specifically, it is being driven by the continuing evolution of the enterprise from repositories of data into centers where data is accessible and available for analysis and use in multiple ways. Whether the enterprise is trying to deliver its information, services, and products to external or internal customers, the mantra is the same: People want information that is personalized—perhaps “appropriately targeted” is a better term—and that is available at any time, from any place, on any device.
Splinter talked about Honeywell’s use of an Intel infrastructure solution to tie together customer information that resided on disparate legacy databases. “Honeywell was able to get 25 times the usage on their site in just 12 days,” according to Splinter. “A solution like this allows you to keep those legacy systems and move to the future.” It’s examples like this that make the eyes of non-business audiences glaze over, but they mean crucial savings to businesses.
To a point, this talk about evolutionary innovation is marketing overkill. After all, is anyone opposing the development of tools and services to speed up and improve efficiency of corporate information usage?
American businesses are largely reading from the same script these days. After the heady distractions of recent years, there’s a definite attitude of rolling up the shirtsleeves and getting down to work. If we see relatively fewer “breakthrough” technologies in the near future as a result of the fact that people are busy implementing the tools developed in recent years, it will only be because attention is currently focused on the calm before the next storm of new company launches and product rollouts.
“We all know recessions will end,” says Splinter. “We also know we don’t save our way out of a recession, we build our way out of recession with new products that improve the bottom line.”
Just as John Major and Tony Blair made many more far-reaching changes to the United Kingdom than did the revolutionary Margaret Thatcher—the same was true of George Bush Sr. and Bill Clinton in comparison with the Reagan Revolution—the decade we have just entered will be far more momentous than the heady days of the late 1990’s. Only ten years from now will we begin to see just how much American business has really been changed.
Profile: Techie On Call
How Gary Griffiths built Everdream, a reliable one-stop information technology outsourcer
By John Zipperer
(07/15/01) The military is oversold as a training ground for business leadership. Still, if people can look at the military as just another large organization, there are lessons to be learned. Gary Griffiths draws on his years of service in the Navy in his current role as CEO of IT outsourcing firm Everdream, a service provider to companies looking for an easier way to benefit from technology. As a Navy technician and teacher, he learned a great deal about running complicated, mission-critical projects. But even more important for him was his 16-year stint at IBM after he left the military.
“The kind of things we took for granted were things like the management training that IBM provides,” Griffiths remembers. “We used to take it for granted that every new manager at IBM went for a solid week of training, 10 hours a day, five days a week, just to teach them the fundamentals of what it means to be a manager and how to be a people manager. That kind of training is unheard of in the fast economy of Silicon Valley. And while you are in management at IBM, you are continually exposed to additional classes and courses and seminars.”
Griffiths draws on that IBM experience by taking all of his new hires through training, from two weeks to two months, depending on their level of IT skills. He needs them to be up to speed, because they are his frontline contact with his customers.
Everdream was founded several years ago by Russell Rive, who still serves as CTO. Rive had been setting up offices for another company and found that he didn’t have the staff to help with the offices and he couldn’t find a partner to do it with him. So he built Everdream, bringing Griffiths aboard in June 1999 to attract business clients.
“We are their one-stop information technology team,” says Griffiths. His company orders and configures the hardware, loads and manages software, provides 24/7 support, Internet connectivity, backup, and systems-restore capability. On top of that, the company offers a guarantee that callers will speak with a live person within 90 seconds; failure to meet the guarantee means the customer doesn’t pay for that month’s service. That may sound like a lot to get right, but not to a man who spent four years on a nuclear submarine.
Today, Griffiths deals with companies that don’t want to have huge IT staff organizations but instead want to focus on their core competencies. TruSecure chief technologist Peter Tippett recently told Internet World that he estimated that the No. 1 task of a company’s IT staff was resetting passwords. That’s exactly why Griffiths thinks companies of all sizes could profit from outsourcing these functions. “We have no problem positioning ourselves as people who can do the mundane tasks, remove the pain that virtually all businesses feel,” he says.
Taking on those mundane tasks was exactly the draw for HQ Global Workplaces, which uses Everdream for its 370 offices in the U.S. “I was able to not have to spend $7 million on hardware and software, so there was a cost avoidance there, and that was a lot of capital,” says Michael Grimm, HQ’s CTO. “And second, I was able to reduce my operating expenses by 20 percent.”
“More and more companies are realizing that data and PC hardware and PC software is a commodity, not an asset,” says Griffiths. “This economy puts more focus on the fact that by outsourcing you can save money and reduce capital expenses”—and focus on your core competencies.