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Exclusive Interview With Steve Wozniak, Chief Scientist, Primary Data

Woz was co-founder of Apple.
By Philippe Nicolas on 2017.09.26

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Who is Steve Wozniak?

He is:

He was:

  • Chief scientist at Fusion-io Inc.
  • Co-founder of Wheels of Zeus (WoZ)
  • Member of Electronic Frontier Foundation
  • Co-founder at Apple Computer, inventor of Apple I and II

StorageNewsletter: The public got historically surprised when you came back in business in storage at Fusion-io? Could you share with us your motivation? How did this happen?
Steve WozniakI've always been passionate about finding smarter ways to solve complex problems. I met David (Flynn and Rick (White) in the early Fusion-io days, and they told me about their vision for putting flash in servers. It cut through complexity to boost application performance, and I liked their approach. Then they did something very odd - they offered me a job. I travel and speak a lot, so we found a way to make it work.

My motivation in working with the Primary Data and Fusion-io team is helping IT people make their jobs better. IT people are smart, and they like efficiency, just like me. People who are passionate about technology like us enjoy finding new and better ways to fix problems. At Fusion-io and now at Primary Data, I work with the team to help spread the word about how we can help IT fix big problems by thinking about things in new ways. When Fusion-io first put flash in a server, people were shocked. Now flash arrays are used everywhere. We see the same shift ahead in data management and data virtualization at Primary Data. As people understand what it can do, they wonder how we did without it. That's usually a sign that a technology is going to make big changes in our world.

And when Fusion-io got acquired, what did you do? Retired or special projects on your own?
I speak all over the world, it's incredible to meet people from all walks of life who tell me what an impact Apple had on their lives. I've been doing this for years, during my time at Fusion-io and now at Primary Data too. I took a little break from working with David and Rick as they got Primary Data running but was excited to get back on the team with them and Lance (Smith) as it was ready to go.

Now as the former Fusion-io team is again formed at Primary Data, you joined them again. Could you explain your role at Primary Data beyond being an ambassador for the company?
At Primary Data, I meet with people to help them understand how we solve one of the biggest problems in storage - automating data management across different storage systems. We just conducted a survey of IT professionals and they named performance, migrations, budget and cloud adoption as their biggest problems. Our DataSphere platform fixes all of these problems by getting the right data to the right place at the right time. I go to events, talk with our engineers, and talk with Lance, David and Rick about ideas. And sometimes I do interviews like this, it’s all to help share our story.

As the chief scientist, what is your view and opinion of the enterprise storage market? About the different trends and market drivers? What will be the top three next big steps in storage?
The cloud is really the biggest trend of all. As consumers, we are used to having data whenever and wherever we want it - we don’t want it to be tied to one machine anymore. So these expectations are coming to enterprises as well. Computers are supposed to serve people, not the other way around, so users have a lot of power over how companies architect their systems.

Beyond the user experience, the cloud costs less. Newer companies might end up operating up to 80% of their systems in the cloud, and even older companies are looking at how much they can save by using what they need in the cloud instead of buying their own storage years in advance of when they need that capacity. The cloud is more flexible, and flexibility is more important than ever.

Getting to right data to the cloud is the hard part. This is where Primary Data comes in. Our DataSphere software analyzes metadata activity to see how active or inactive it is - at the file level - and then we can move the right data to the cloud, transparently to applications.

The cloud is growing quickly, but that doesn't mean companies are going to get rid of all of their existing storage. Beyond the amount of money that has been invested in storage systems, the cloud isn't yet able to deliver performance at a reasonable cost for most businesses. DataSphere connects both existing infrastructure and the cloud so that IT can automatically ensure hot data gets performance, and cold data gets moved off expensive resources.

Machine learning is another powerful innovation coming to storage. Since DataSphere analyzes metadata to gain intelligence about patterns in when data cools off, and when it heats up again, over time, it can make suggestions about where data should be stored. With the right data objectives in place, potential performance problems can be caught and fixed before they even happen. This is another great example of computers serving people rather than the other way around.

Same question with another angle, what is missing and what users expect and wish the most in storage and data management?
What is missing in storage and data management today is visibility, mobility, and automation - across different storage systems. Some vendors can deliver these things within their own storage ecosystem, but only Primary Data provides these capabilities across different types of storage.

When you can’t see what data is hot and what data is cold, you end up with lots of data in the wrong place. Without data mobility made possible with data virtualization, you can’t move data easily until it’s time for an expensive and time consuming data migration. That’s where the automation comes in. When data can move to the right place automatically, things that used to be difficult suddenly get simple. And with the kind of intelligence that comes with visibility into your data, companies can save a lot of money by only buying the storage they really need.

How do you see the market going? Gorillas positions and moves? M&A? Lack of innovation by big players? Emergence of new actors?
I think it's no secret that I've always been far more focused on technology than business. In general, sometimes big companies have a harder time investing in new technologies because of their focus on the bottom line. That leads to acquisitions, and this cycle has been going on for as long as I've been working in technology. I don't see this changing any time soon. Smaller companies are able to innovate, some get bought, some get bigger. Then the big ones slow down, buy small companies, and the cycle begins again.

What about HPE segmentation and at the same time Dell consolidation with EMC acquisition?
As I mentioned above, I'm much more interested in what companies are building rather than how they are building themselves. With any merger or acquisition, my hope is always that the employees and customers are taken care of, because the people are the most important part of any company.

Back to Primary Data, what could be the next few iterations of the technology and the product?
We recently unveiled DataSphere 2.0, and I’m excited about the customer-requested features it delivered. It has an all-new UI, and a feature called Objective Expressions with development led by David to give customers much more control over exactly how they want to set objectives for managing their data. We'll keep building out new features to meet the requests coming in from customers. In fact, just this week we are unveiling a new tool called the Data Profiler - it helps you analyze your metadata and see the impact your data management strategies make on the combined costs, performance and capacity of your storage resources, and you can do this without even installing DataSphere. Building what helps customers most is the best focus for engineering, and it’s exciting to see how our team is solving some very complex challenges as they work with customers.

What do you wish to see in the product?
To be honest, I want DataSphere to evolve in line with what customers want. When you're first building something, you have a vision for it, but then as your product comes to life, you need to let go a little and allow it to become what it needs to be. It's kind of like having children, you have to step back, give guidance, but let their world shape who they become.

You'll turn 67 in August, what are you doing beyond Primary Data?
I now have a grandchild in Australia, so beyond Primary Data and my talks, I’m always looking forward to spending more time my wife Janet, our two dogs, and the rest of our family. You’d think at 67 that you might want to slow down, but for me, I love what I do and just want to keep finding a balance between all my passions.