Time for Fujitsu Malaysia to twist and shout and yet …

The worldwide storage market is going through unprecedented change as it is making baby steps out of one of the longest recessions in history. We are not exactly out of the woods yet, given the Eurozone crisis, slowing growth in China and the little sputters in the US economy.

Back in early 2012, Fujitsu has shown good signs of taking market share in the enterprise storage but what happened to that? In the last 2 quarters, the server boys in the likes of HP, IBM and Dell storage market share have either shrunk (in the case of HP and Dell) or tanked (as in IBM). I would have expected Fujitsu to continue its impressive run and continue to capture more of the enterprise market, and yet it didn’t. Why?

I was given an Eternus storage technology update by the Fujitsu Malaysia pre-sales team more than a year ago. It has made some significant gains in technology such as Advanced Copy, Remote Copy, Thin Provisioning, and Eco-Mode, but I was unimpressed. The technology features were more like a follower, since every other storage vendor in town already has those features.

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It’s all about executing the story

I have been in hibernation mode, with a bit of “writer’s block”.

I woke up in Bangalore in India at 3am, not having adjusted myself to the local timezone. Plenty of things were on my mind but I can’t help thinking about what’s happening in the enterprise storage market after the Gartner Worldwide External Controller-Based report for 4Q12 came out  last night. Below is the consolidated table from Gartner:

Just a few weeks ago, it was IDC with its Worldwide Disk Storage Tracker and below is their table as well:

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One smart shopper

Dell had just acquired AppAssure earlier this week, adding the new company into its stable of Compellent, EqualLogic, Perot Systems, Scalent, Force10, RNA Networks, Ocarina Networks, and ExaNet (did I miss anyone one?). This is not including the various partnerships Dell has with the likes of CommVault, VMware, Caringo, Citrix, Kaminario etc.

From 10,000 feet, Dell is building a force to be reckoned with. With its PC business waning, Dell is making all the moves to secure the datacenter space from various angles. And I like what I see. Each move is seen as a critical cog, moving Dell forward.

But the question is “Can Dell deliver?” It had just missed out Wall Street’s revenue expectation last week, but the outlook of Dell’s business, especially in storage, is looking bright. I caught this piece in Dell’s earnings call transcript, which said:

"Server and networking revenue increased 6%. Total storage 
declined 13% while Dell-owned IP storage growth accelerated 33% 
to $463 million, led by continued growth in all of our Dell IP 
categories including Compellent, which saw over 60% sequential 
revenue growth."

Those are healthy numbers, but what’s most important is how Dell executes in the next 12-18 months. Dell has done very well with both Compellent and EqualLogic and is slowly bringing out its Exanet and Ocarina Networks technology in new products such as the EqualLogic FS7500 and the DR4000 respectively. Naturally, the scale-out engine from Exanet and the deduplication/compression engine from Ocarina will find these technologies integrated into Dell Compellent line in the months to come. And I am eager to see how the “memory virtualization” technology of RNA Networks fits into Dell’s Fluid Data Architecture.

The technologies from Scalent and AppAssure will push Dell into the forefront of the virtualization space. I have no experience with both products, but by the looks of things, these are solid products which Dell can easily and seamlessly plug in to their portfolio of solutions.

The challenge for Dell is their people in the field. Dell has been pretty much a PC company, and still is. The mindset of a consumer based PC company versus a datacenter-centric, enterprise is very different.

Dell Malaysia has been hiring good people.These are enterprise-minded people. They have been moulded by the fires of the datacenters, and they were hired to give Dell Malaysia the enterprise edge. But the challenge for Dell Malaysia remains, and that is changing the internal PC-minded culture.

Practices such as dropping price (disguised as discounts) at first sign of competition, or giving away high-end storage solutions at almost-free price, to me, are not good strategies. Selling enterprise products with just speeds and feeds and articulating a product’s features and benefits, and lacking the regards for the customer’s requirements and pain points are missing the target all together. This kind of mindset, aiming for a quick sell, is not Dell would want. Yes, we agree that quarterly numbers are important, but pounding the field sales for daily updates and forecasts, will only push for unpleasant endings.

Grapevines aside, I am still impressed with how Dell is getting the right pieces to build its datacenter juggernaut.

Storage jobs are paid higher

The human capital is important in the IT industry. Yet, we are facing a situation where there is a steady supply of storage-related jobs, but the supply of human resources and skills to these jobs is seriously lacking. Even if there are many people applying for these positions, the good ones are far and few.

What’s happening? Malaysia has been stuck in a rut for quite a few years now trying to raise good quality human capital, especially in the IT sectors. God knows how hard agencies such as MDeC and others IT bodies have been trying to increase the awareness and supply of good quality IT people for the IT industry. In storage, the situation is even more acute because storage has been seen as the one of the unglamourous jobs. That is why there are likely to have more networking techies than storage techies.

We all know IT is all about data and information and the data and information are created, stored, modified, stored-again, replicated, migrated, archived and deleted IN STORAGE. Data has to reside in storage and memory before it can be used. And don’t forget that memory is temporary, volatile storage. It’s plain and simple – data has to be in some form of storage before it can be used.

I have been fairly disturbed by the fact that storage remains one of the most important foundations of IT and yet, the pool of good storage networking and data management professionals is seriously shallow, especially in Malaysia. The good ones are out there, kept as prized assets of the company they work for. But cloud computing is here, and the demand for storage professionals is greater than ever.

I went out and did some research, using the salary factor as the main criteria for storage jobs. And here’s what I found –>

 

The information source of the above chart is Certification Magazine Salary Survey 2009. I hope the table isn’t too small to read but here’s what I can summarize in the table below. The rows in red are the storage-related jobs.

 

Yes, the information is a bit old but it tells a tale. Storage professionals’ salary with the value that the storage certifications carry are in the upper echelons of the pay scale. At the same time during my research, I also found this page of information from Foote Partners LLC – 2011 IT Skills & Certification Pay Index.

And again, storage certification is usually higher in percentage than the median average pay premium.

However, all these information are from the US where skills and experience are valued highly because they drive innovation and sales.

Sadly, this cannot be always true in Malaysia because the IT economy in Malaysia has not reached the level of innovation that drives new technologies in the country’s economy. I think this is all our fault. Why? Here’s what I think

  • We go for the easy ones
  • We don’t want to learn anymore after we started working in IT
  • We don’t set high targets for ourselves
  • We accept things as they are – something to us being apathy towards things
  • We have other things on our mind – like politics, inflation and so on
  • We don’t innovate

And this is something that saddens me.

A few years ago, I was at a local FOSScon where the open source geeks and nerds and gurus convene. I was there for 2 reasons – to have a bit of fun, but more importantly, I was looking for people who had skills with kernel and file systems. Sadly, I found none after 2 days at the event. Almost all developers I spoke to where developing in PHP, mySQL, Python, Ruby-on-Rails and so on. This was a clear signal that most Malaysian developers were taking the easy way out (point #1 above). No one was programming in C, C++, and working on hardcore stuff like device drivers, networking protocols and so on.

Since we did not go out and outdo ourselves and innovate, we did not create an innovative IT economy that is the key for creating demand. Most IT companies in Malaysia would prefer playing the pass-through game i.e. “let’s pass through this deal with this reseller”, knowing full well that the reseller is there for relationship connections, not value-add. Hence point #1 again.

I recall another incident that also vivid in my mind. I was decommissioning some Sun JavaStations in the backroom of a premier, “multimedia” university in Melaka. I looked at the lecture that was going on and the instructor was teaching ApplixWord. I asked one of the students and he told me that the course was 2 (or was it 1) credit hours. It came as a big shocker to me because an premier IT multimedia university was teaching the most basic of the basics of word processing. A university is supposed to be the institution to ignite creativity and innovation, but this university was droning its students on word processing. No wonder our IT economy sucks because we set such f*cking low standards for ourselves (point #3).

What I would like to see if IT people go out of the box they didn’t know they were confined to in the first place, and learn/share and learn/share and learn/share. Be creative, be innovative, be bold.

I have been blessed with like-minded people who can do a good hack and build something that can compete with the big boys like EMC, IBM, HP and the likes. But these people are far and few.

Today, I am looking for more of such people, people who are f*cking (pardon me French but I am the passionate one) good with storage networking and data management stuff. I am looking for people who can innovate to create the real Silicon Valley culture in Malaysia. We don’t need fancy ministers to officiate or glamourous events launching but the real hackers, entrepreneurial junkies and those pioneering spirited wackos (in a good way), to define what this IT economy is all about!

Virtualization and cloud aren’t what they are without storage

I was chatting with a friend yesterday and we were discussing about virtualization and cloud, the biggest things that are happening in the IT industry right now. We were talking about the VMware vSphere 5 arrival, the cool stuff VMware is bringing into the game, pushing the technology juggernaut farther and farther ahead of its rivals Hyper-V, Xen and Virtual Box.

And in the technology section of the newspaper yesterday, I saw news of Jaring OneCloud offering and one of the local IT players just brought in Joyent. Fantastic stuff! But for us in IT, we have been inundated with cloud, cloud and more cloud. The hype, the fuzz and the reality. It’s all there but back to our conversation. We realized that virtualization and cloud aren’t much without storage, the cornerstone of virtualization and cloud. And in the storage networking layer, there are the data management piece, the information infrastructure piece and so on and yet … why are there so few storage networking professional out there in our IT scene.

I have been lamenting this for a long time because we have been facing this problem for a long time. We are facing a shortage of qualified and well experienced storage networking professionals. There are plenty of jobs out there but not enough resources to meet the demand. As SNIA Malaysia Chairman, it is my duty to work with my committee members of HP, IBM, EMC, NetApp, Symantec and Cisco to create the awareness, and more importantly the passion to get the local IT’s storage networking professional voice together. It has been challenging but my advice to all those people out there – “Why be ordinary when you can become extra-ordinary?”

We have to make others realize that storage networking is what makes virtualization and cloud happen. Join us at SNIA Malaysia and be part of something extra-ordinary. Storage networking IS the foundation of virtualization and cloud. You can’t exclude it.