IT Briefcase Exclusive Interview: A Need for Data Agility in an Increasingly Complex WorldSeptember 24, 2019 No Comments
In this interview, IT Briefcase talks to David Flynn, CEO of Hammerspace, about why the industry needs to rethink how we deal with data. David spoke with us about the factors driving this change, the ways traditional data management holds businesses back, and the steps organizations can take to set their data free.
- Q. What’s happening in the business landscape now that’s forcing enterprises to think differently about their data?
A. The high-level headline is digital transformation. And digital transformation is all about data. Even the most stodgy, old-school business needs to use data to stay competitive. They rely on data to understand their customers better, to tighten the feedback loop between what they build and how they act.
Now, the rate at which you can extract value from data is very much dependent on how readily you can work with it. So, creating value more quickly from your data demands agility.
- Q. What’s preventing businesses from having the data agility they need?
A. If you compare running a digital enterprise to cooking, then data would be like your ingredients. Most businesses just want to be able to cook, but today, they spend most of their time building and maintaining the plumbing for the kitchen. That is, figuring out how to get the data from here to there, into this application or that cloud.
Cooking is a very different skill set than plumbing. If you’re going to be an agile business, your ingredients need to be omnipresent—your data should just be there, ready use, whenever and wherever you need it. The problem is, today, data is managed through the infrastructure. And infrastructure-centric data is the antithesis to agility, because now, the data is organized to suit the infrastructure rather than the consumers of the data. In other words, the way you bundle and package data, how it’s structured into separate volumes, is dictated by the requirements of the infrastructure, not the people and applications actually using it.
- Q. But haven’t we been managing data this way for years? What’s changed?
A. A couple of factors have brought this issue to the breaking point. First, the infrastructure environment has become much more complex. You have so many different storage infrastructures and protocols now, some made for high performance, some for very cheap capacity, some to protect data safely over long terms. Just within the last decade, the number of different design points you have to think about for storage has grown by a couple orders of magnitude. In other words, the diversity of the types of bookshelves you can use has exploded. And the benefit of using one type of bookshelf over another is massively different depending on what you’re trying to achieve.
The other big change forcing us to rethink how we own and operate our data is the emergence of hybrid cloud and multi-cloud. All of a sudden, those bookshelves live in somebody else’s infrastructure—and for multi-cloud, multiple infrastructures. If you’re still relying on an infrastructure-centric approach, and you no longer own the infrastructure, who’s really in control of your data?
It’s like trying to run a massive library by managing bookshelves instead of the actual books. It’s completely backwards. We should be managing data in a data-centric way. Businesses should be able to focus on using their data instead of building a skillset around the fundamental plumbing of the data environment.
- Q. How does Hammerspace help businesses solve these problems?
A. The short answer is, we separate the control plane from the data plane and apply extensive automation to abstract away the data from the underlying plumbing. To continue the metaphor, every organization needs to be able to cook with data, but not everyone can afford to be plumbers. We provide that abstraction, so you don’t have to worry about the plumbing. Your data is just there when you need it—at the right site, using the right protocol, with the right performance level, under the right cost structure.
It’s like what happens with Kubernetes and containers. In the container world, you break up traditional monolithic workloads into more lightweight, agile microservices. And then, just by stating, “Here’s what I want,” the Kubernetes environment automates how those containers are instantiated, even in a very complex environment. It manages complexity by moving to a declarative model, where you can simply state what you want, and automation realizes that declared intent.
That’s extremely powerful. And that’s what we’re bringing to data with Hammerspace. Using metadata, you simply state, “This data needs this level of performance,” or cost structure, or protection, or availability in a specific location. Instead of spelling out instructions for all the plumbing needed to achieve that objective, you just state that intent. Our system then uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to automatically bring it into being.
We call it “data-as-a-service.” And when you have that kind of declarative, intent-based orchestration for data, suddenly all the complexity in a modern storage environment works for you instead of against you. Now, the more diverse your infrastructure, the more options the system has to optimize for cost or performance or compliance, and the more capable it is of delivering that.
- Q. Hammerspace recently announced data-as-a-service for Kubernetes environments. How will that help DevOps teams working with containers?
A. Let’s be clear, the last thing the world needs is a storage company trying to justify its existence as being “storage for containers.” We don’t need yet another storage design point or another new box just for container storage. That would be an old-world solution.
With Hammerspace, you can continue using all your existing storage assets—NetApp systems, EMC systems, even just the disks in the servers themselves. We’re just making the data on those assets agile. We’re letting DevOps teams automatically orchestrate data across their infrastructure with the same agility that Kubernetes brings to containerized microservices. That’s the magic, providing that orchestration engine for data.
- Q. If you’re a business looking at things like digital transformation and multi-cloud and DevOps, and you don’t have this kind of data agility, what should you expect?
A. Well, your life is going to be a lot harder. And everything you want to do will take a lot more time and money and manpower.
Data has a kind of gravity, this pool of value that attracts users, services and applications into its orbit. But, if those applications and services and users have to bind to a specific infrastructure to get access to the data, then gravity becomes a very negative thing. Because it makes you the opposite of agile. You’re now tied down to that infrastructure.
Until now, you couldn’t even refer to data without first referring to the infrastructure where it lives. You wouldn’t say, “find the foo,” you’d say, “get the foo that’s in S3,” or “the foo that’s in this NetApp system,” or “the foo that’s in this specific cloud, using this specific protocol.” In our world, your data exists independent of all that.
That’s actually where the name “Hammerspace” comes from. In a cartoon or a video game, when a character pulls a sledgehammer out of thin air, if you were to ask where it came from, that’s the answer: Hammerspace. You don’t have to think about where that object came from; it’s just there when you need it. That’s the magic we’re bringing to data.
David Flynn, CEO of Hammerspace
Hammerspace co-founder and Chief Executive Officer David Flynn is a recognized leader in IT innovation who has been architecting disruptive computing platforms since his early work in supercomputing and Linux systems.
David pioneered the use of flash for enterprise application acceleration as founder and former CEO of Fusion-io, which was acquired by SanDisk in 2014. He served as Fusion-io President and CEO until May 2013 and board member until July 2013. As Fusion-io CEO, David was responsible for the company’s strategic direction, oversaw all operations and was the visionary behind the company’s innovative technology and market strategy. Preceding his position as CEO, David was Fusion-io technical found and CTO, where he created the company’s foundational research and development efforts, as well as the development of short- and long-term technological roadmaps.
Previously, David served as Chief-Architect at Linux Networx where he was instrumental in the creation of the OpenFabrics stack and designed several of the world’s largest supercomputers leveraging Linux clustering, InfiniBand, RDMA-based technologies. Also, David served as Project BlackDog’s Chief Scientist and Vice President of Engineering. He has also held positions Network Computer Inc and Liberate Technologies, a spin-off of Oracle Corporation, developing thin-client solutions.
David holds more than 100 patents in areas across web browser technologies, mobile device management, network switching and protocols to distributed storage systems. He earned a bachelor’s degree in computer science at Brigham Young University and serves on boards for several organizations and startup companies.
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