I spend a lot of time flying, and I mean a LOT. So much so, that the new next door neighbours didn’t question my wife when she told them I was a trolley dolly for Easyjet and that was why I left the house just after 05.00 so often. Now there are clearly a lot of downsides to living in Edinburgh and having your main customers and the team ‘down sarf’. The days can be long and the early starts don’t do a lot for your family life, but I find there are a few upsides. Like that little window of opportunity between boarding and 35,000 ft. where all portable devices are switched off, when I could chose to;
- Sleep. Nah, I’ll sleep when I’m dead thanks.
- Squint out the corner of my eye at the X-rated gardening book seat 14B is reading (50 sheds of grey?) –Emmmm NO!
- Create, contemplate and plan with back to basics pen and paper – Yep. I love this time, it allows me to step back, stop consuming information and use the time to reflect and contemplate about our Cloud Strategy, our customers and how the market might look in the future.
So when I’m travelling, besides visiting my favourite city that is LDN, I get to see a lot of other really nice places thanks to my role. In fact before I headed to LHR on Monday this week, I had just arrived back last night from the Computacenter Vendor Golf Challenge in La Manga, Spain. Top quality food, wine, and lodgings… but more than that, the chance to spend a few days on some of the best golf courses with some of the biggest hitters in the UK IT market. It’s a pretty unique event, 16 vendor teams, a lot of them who are the best of enemies by day, but who all share a common bond in that they are all major, and very important partners of Computacenter. So besides discussing who is playing the best golf or has the most suspect handicap, we talk a lot about the IT market.
Due to my role, Cloud is always the order of the day and the one thing I think every vendor agrees with is that Cloud is having and will continue to have, a significant impact on the IT market we all know and love, for customers, vendors and service providers alike. The arms race that is the public Cloud market will impact us all for sure if we don’t evolve, as the buyer changes and customer shifts from purchasing hardware and perpetual software licenses, to consuming what was complex IT, as a service. A service where the badge on the technology is less relevant, and service levels, cost and functionality are king. The IT market is going through a BIG transformation, probably more so than at any other time in my 25+ years in IT.
It was for one of our key partners, EMC that I agreed to sit on a panel at a media only session recently at EMC forum, discussing the subject of IT Transformation. I was talking about how organisations contemplating IT transformation in the last 18 months have a new dimension to contemplate with Cloud and the private and public ‘as a service’ market now becoming a very viable service delivery model. I was describing that by contemplating the shift to consuming IT as a service, the transformation was as much about transforming IT folks as it was about technology – where people have to be knowledgeable in service, IT costs, IT process, understanding the business and a whole lot more, on top of getting to grips with not just one area, but every layer of technology as Infrastructure converges.
Now I’m not proposing that cloud technology will replace traditional IT, they will co-exist for sure, but Cloud computing will have a big impact on many people and it’s time to think about how you might be impacted, and how you need to transform. For many, the days of making a career out of knowing a single layer of technology or shipping MORE storage are numbered. Far too many people, including many within Computacenter who are used to being treated as a highly valuable IT asset by their employer are going to have to evolve or risk being marginalised by market that could bypass them. It’s important to take time out from keeping the lights on, get your head out of the sand at least spend some time contemplating in the Clouds.
I decided to clean out my home office; I’d had enough of the 56K modems lying around, and needed the space. What I didn’t expect was to find a museum of data storage concentrated in such a small space. I suspected at the time I wouldn’t need the 5.25” 720k floppy disks to upgrade to VMS v5.1 again, but who knows maybe I should keep them – so I did, along with the 2000ish 1.44Mb floppy disks and random associated hard disks. Now when I Google floppy disks the first thing that appears is an explanation of what a floppy disk is, or rather was.
Next I moved onto some more recent technology, surely I wouldn’t have to worry about throwing out USB memory Sticks, would I? Having counted somewhere around a 100 of the things lying around the house I decided that this was maybe the time that I didn’t really need 10x 64Mb sticks cluttering up space, after all my new shiny 64Gb version is now 1000x bigger.
This got me thinking about the state of the data storage market, and the changes going on. Whilst the capacity of floppy disks rose slowly and fairly consistently we have seen some spectacular changes in the storage marketplace. We got used to disk capacities doubling every 2 years, then this changed to 18 months, then suddenly the 2Gb drives became 200Gb then 400, then suddenly the 1Tb drive had landed.
It was at this time we started to expect development to slow down – after all as a wise Star Trek engineer once said “you cannae change the laws of physics, Captain” Well, you know what Scotty, actually we can and did, 2Tb drives appeared, now 3Tb are not uncommon in datacentres and 4Tb are available on Amazon.
Surely sometime disk drives have to stop evolving? Well, yes and no, they may stop evolving in their current form, but the requirements to store more and more data, and to hold it for longer and longer goes on unabated. Hmmm, what do we do now?
Well, change the form of course. When it comes to storing information, hard drives don’t hold a candle to DNA. Our genetic code packs billions of gigabytes into a single gram. A mere milligram of the molecule could encode the complete text of every book in the British Library and have plenty of room to spare. All of this has been mostly theoretical—until now. In a new study, researchers stored an entire genetics textbook in less than a picogram of DNA—one trillionth of a gram—an advance that could revolutionise our ability to store data.
Initially there may seem to be some problems around using DNA to store data; first, cells die—not a good way to lose your valuable information. They also naturally replicate, introducing changes over time that can alter the data (and whilst we accepted this on a floppy disk it’s unthinkable now). To get around this challenge a research team at Harvard created a DNA information-archiving system that uses no cells at all. Instead, an inkjet printer embeds short fragments of chemically synthesised DNA onto the surface of a tiny glass chip. To encode a digital file, researchers divide it into tiny blocks of data and convert these data not into the 1s and 0s of typical digital storage media, but rather into DNA’s four-letter alphabet of As, Cs, Gs, and Ts. Each DNA fragment also contains a digital “barcode” that records its location in the original file. Reading the data requires a DNA sequencer and a computer to reassemble all of the fragments in order and convert them back into digital format. The computer also corrects for errors; each block of data is replicated thousands of times so that any chance glitch can be identified and fixed by comparing it to the other copies.
By using these methods they managed to encode a complete book, just under 6Mb in size onto a single strand of DNA. Now, obviously this comes at a price beyond the reach of customers for now, but at the rate the data storage market moves who knows how we will upgrade our storage capacity in the future; it is estimated that a double DNA strand could encode 10 Exabytes of data or 11,529,215,046,100Mb, that’s quite a lot of floppy disks.
So, now when you hear us data guys talking about “Big Data” and not being scared by the volume element, maybe you’ll understand why.
In a few years time when you need to add an Exabyte or two to your data capacity, don’t worry – I’ve an armful right here.