Storage startups are eating the world (of big storage companies)

It has been interesting the past several years to watch the storage startups.  When I left HP, we were predicting that a majority of the flash startups would simply go away due to market saturation.  We expected a few acquisitions, a few consolidations, and most of them to go bankrupt.  What we have seen is quite the oposite.  Certainly there is still significant noise in the marketplace around who does what better, and of course the larger vendors are continuing to try to defend their turf, but there is palpable fear, and in many cases blood in the water.

Customer intimacy

Smaller companies, by design, need to get their message out.  They are hungry and if they are to be successful there is no concept of “it’s not my job”.  Every sale matters and every customer has to be a reference customer.  Too many bad PR events and the company is unlikely to recover.  They tend to focus on a smaller, often single product set making them very good at one thing.  Larger companies have to make decisions to support scale and make sure they can meet growth plans.  They often have investors to answer to, as well as large workforces with expectations.

In the storage market this becomes particularly true if you look at how the larger storage and tech companies treat their customers.  This is certainly not an indictment of larger companies, just an observation.  When is the last time one of the larger storage companies took a change request from a smaller customer?  How many customers can get the CEO, or the Engineering Manager on the phone?  A majority of this is a function of scale, but it is a big difference, especially in smaller companies where it is tougher for  the large vendors to compete on this front.

Faster innovation

Where do most of the innovations come from?  Think about the last time innovation came from a large company.  EMC acquired Xtreme IO to give them a leg up in the storage market.  They could have built a product, but it was likely faster and cheaper to buy.  HP aquired 3Par to replace their aging EVA line which was well overdue for retirement.  The same story over and over, large storage companies acquire innovative startups to bring in new blood and new technology.

When Nimble emerged from stealth mode with a product it was incredibly different from what the big storage companies were doing.  Now if you look at who built the company, it is pretty obvious it was just act 2 of Datadomain, but it was innovative.  Pure, the same thing, their performance and utilization numbers were mind-blowing.  Solidfire took QOS to a level that we never imagined, and did it on a scale out array versus a scale up array.

It isn’t that larger storage vendors haven’t innovated, but the speed at which they innovate, and their ability to be cutting edge is hampered by their size.  The amount of interoperability testing is astronomical, whereas smaller storage vendors can just say, “we don’t support that”, or can simply focus on what they do and keep innovating in a single area, making it difficult for the larger vendors to make a move.

A different workforce

In a majority of larger storage vendors there is still the feeling of “this is how we do it”.  Customer satisfaction is often resolved as a function of discount, or additional hardware.  Sales people feel entitled, and in many cases customers feel that if a large vendor is calling on them they are either important, or want the free lunch.  The mentality is different though, the sales teams are typically tenured, and have deep product knowledge, but only in a specific area.  Many of them have come up through the ranks, or have made the rounds stopping at each large storage vendor for several years.  The employees are often very good and very intelligent, but not very passionate, they are tied to the company, not so much the tech.

Storage startups on the other hand, by design are much more focused on cool new tech.  Most of us in the industry have either been recruited by or worked for at least a couple of the flash startups.  They go after people who are active, passionate, and able to bring a personal brand to their product.  Look at who the storage startups have hired recently, their main common thread is a passion for technology and an ability to communicate that passion.

As always this is just my thoughts on the storage industry.  I chose to leave HP storage because I think hardware vendors are in a tough position, and working for a big storage company is not a safe bet in my book.  Certainly there is money to be made, but market shares are being eroded as customers become less loyal to one vendor over another.  Time will tell, but the more commoditized storage becomes, the tougher it becomes for big storage vendors, and the easier it is for the startups to erode the business.  It is anyone’s game, but my money is on further erosion, and more large hardware vendors going the way of IBM and moving toward services, or EMC, and looking for a federated approach.

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Storage startups are eating the world (of big storage companies)

Fixing Airplay/Airprint on Non-Apple Routers

Recently I swapped out my Apple Airport Express routers for a Linksys WRT1900AC router.  I wanted better coverage, and I was having issues with streaming media to multiple devices.  I tried the Apple Airport Extreme, but it had issues dropping connections often, and wouldn’t hold my firewall configuration.

Everything worked great with the new router except it kept having issues with my wireless printer, and airplay to the apple TV’s.  I was getting ready to take it back to the store, but I decided to do a little research.  Nothing specifically came up on google, but a few stray forum posts got me thinking.  I had originally setup the 2.4ghz and 5ghz SSID’s to be the same.  When I changed one of them, I found it resolved the issue.  This leads me to believe the devices were on separate networks when I was having problems.  Apple broadcasts on both bands simultaneously and seems to handle the handoff seamlessly.

Because I wanted to force everything to use the AC wireless for performance reasons, I disabled the 2.4ghz network.  I do still have a printer issue, my printer only supports the older standard.  Luckily I still have 2 Apple Airport Express routers so one of those is now joined to the network and connected to the printer via USB effectively creating a wireless print server.  Performance is up significantly, and Airplay works great.  When I shop for a new printer I will have to make sure it works with the newer wireless technology.

Nothing groundbreaking, but worth sharing.  Hopefully it helps others avoid frustration.

UPDATE:  So this is a bit embarrassing, it occurred to me last night while I was falling asleep I had overthought this problem.  The premise is still valid, but I realized that if I simply give the 2.4 ghz wireless a different SSID I can run the printer and older devices on that network.  Since it is the same Layer 2 network, everything works, just different ways of getting there.

Fixing Airplay/Airprint on Non-Apple Routers

What do you want to do next?

The craziest things seem to make me think and question, to wonder, and dream.  During my first annual review a month ago or so, my manager asked me the question, “What do you want to do next?”.  An innocent enough question, but not what I expected from someone who had convinced me to leave my last job and come work for him.  Not something I am used to hearing from a first line manager.  It got me thinking…

To be clear, I am not going to leave VMware.  I am pretty sure they will have to shut off all my access and take my ID card and force me to leave.  I love my job, I love working with my team, and I am completely sold out on what we are doing.  We are changing the world with software.  Don’t believe me, check us out, but this isn’t a post about how awesome VMware is.

My career has taken a number of interesting turns over the past 20 years.  I have been a soldier, a police officer, an IT support technition, a DBA, a Systems Engineer, a Technical Consultant, and now a Pre-Sales Systems Engineer.  I have always been curious and wanted to learn, to expand more, and to challange myself.  I have yet to take a job for which I am qualified, I always find a position that is out of my comfort zone, something that is far beyond my current skillset, and I figure it out along the way.

In the movie Office Space, one of the characters talks about a question he was asked by his high school guidance councilor, “What would you do if you had a million dollars?”  The purpose of the question is to help you think about what would you do if money is no object, what is your passion.

One of the best pieces of career advice I heard for working here at VMware is to be awesome at your day job, but pursue your passion, and success will follow.  I have wittnessed this a number of times over the past year, people who move to a completly different role to do what they are passionate about, able to do so because they were amazing at what they do.

I don’t have an answer yet, I don’t know where tommorow will take me, I don’t have a plan yet.  I am going to focus on being the best I possibly can at my day job, and keep my eyes open, keep helping people along the way, and when a cool project comes along, I am going to jump on it, and make my little corner of the world an even more amazing place.

Think about it, what do you want to do next?

What do you want to do next?