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Pivotal Years in Storage and Dumb Answers

A while back I was being interviewed, and the reporter asked a question that stumped me. But it shouldn’t have.

The question was: “So, you’ve been in storage for a long time (please spare me the cryogenics jokes). Was there any single event, breakthrough, or defining moment that changed storage forever?” I was stumped and gave a pretty dumb answer, so dumb I’ve purged it from my brain. You know, a Men In Black moment.

However, once I started thinking about it, there certainly was a defining moment, and now when I’m talking “storage economics” I’ve added that message into the conversation since it’s quite relevant.

As we all know, my colleague David Merrill is the storage economics guru and a prolific blogger (I would never pretend to replace him nor his work). However, I also talk a lot on the subject, having covered for him at conferences, and we continue to work together on projects. I talk more about the technology that contributes to storage economics and David talks more about the economics of storage.

Here is what my answer should have been: Yes, there were two pivotal moments in storage. The first was in 1956 when the first disk drive was ever shipped. I’ve shown this picture before, but it’s a classic reminder of the roots of our $120B industry.

The second moment, much more obscure but very important, came in April 1992 and for two reasons: First, storage transitioned from a commodity “dumb box” to a value-add product. Prior to this, vendors were simply cramming a bunch of 14-inch disks into a box and selling them. The primary vendors back then (IBM, HDS, EMC, and Amdahl) would try to compete on performance and reliability, but all our customers would hear is cost per MB. Price was the only metric, and at $10 a MB, that was not surprising. This was a commodity at its finest. We didn’t even have RAID then.

The first in a long line of these value-add capabilities was concurrent copy, a function designed to dramatically reduce backup windows using a technology we today call “copy on write” (yes, it’s still around today).

Second, and much more relevant, we changed the pricing of storage by requiring software licenses (for microcode, I never liked calling microcode software) and professional services engagements were required. You could see heads spin when our customers had to “buy” microcode and accommodate strangers into their datacenters to install these things.

Things got out of hand very quickly since this was followed by networked storage (with switches, links, ports, etc.) more licenses for microcode, difficult-to-understand maintenance and leasing arrangements.

To me, this was the genesis of storage economics and this weird storage world we all live in. Want to know how much your storage costs? Good luck, unless you’re using the storage economics discipline.

If the reporter is out there that remembers asking me the question, you now have my answer.

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Claus Mikkelsen

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