IT not just about software, but hardware and humans too: HDS CTO
By Benjamin Cher July 31, 2015
- Despite this, seeking to transform itself from hardware-centric company
- Key thrusts are open source, analytics, software containers … and people
THE rise of the cloud, web services startups, mobile apps, and software-defined networking has put software at the heart of businesses, but hardware still has a role to play, according to Hitachi Data Systems (HDS) chief technology officer Hu Yoshida.
“There is still the need for intelligent hardware – software alone can’t do everything. Software is never going to be better than the hardware itself,” he told Digital News Asia (DNA) at an exclusive interview at HDS’ office in Singapore recently.
As an example, he cited the growing use of flash drives in the software-defined networking (SDN) context, which might make it seem like the best of both worlds, also driving down costs while increasing efficiency.
But the reality can be quite different, Yoshida argued, saying that there are problems with regard to ‘housekeeping’ that can block the I/O (input/output) flow.
“If it’s a clean flash drive, it can run at this level, but once you start doing housekeeping it falls off because it starts to block the I/O,” he said.
While vendors continue to build flash arrays, there are restrictions on how they can address the issue.
“All flash vendors are building flash arrays – they are restricted to working with the controller, they don’t address the media piece of it where a lot of this really happens,” Yoshida said.
“As a result, they are never really going to be any better – their performance is going to be limited by the media and the housekeeping,” he added.
That’s the benefit of being a hardware company like HDS, Yoshida claimed.
“Because we are a hardware company, we build our own SSD (sold-state disk) drive – it’s built so I can do the housekeeping outside of the I/O path, and [that way] maintain performance,” he said, adding that its SSD drives started with a 1.6-terabyte (TB) capacity, is currently at 3.2TB, and should be hitting 6.4TB this year.
But Yoshida acknowledged that software drives a lot of innovation, which is why HDS – a wholly-owned subsidiary of Japanese tech giant Hitachi Ltd – has not taken its foot off the pedal here.
It is indeed seeking to transform itself from a hardware-centric company to one that plays the software and open source game too.
“We will continue to be in hardware, but we are doing more on software, open source, APIs (application programming interfaces), and client providers,” he said.
Containers and open source
Indeed, Yoshida (pic) predicted that the next big trend would be using ‘software containers,’ which would be able to run on a single operating system without using virtual machines (VMs). This is why HDS announced that it supports Kubernetes, Google’s container format.
Software containers are a compromise between server-virtualisation and bare metal, and are touted to make it easier to move software from one machine to another. Leading the charge is a startup called Docker, which originally developed it for the Linux operating system.
Besides Google, both Microsoft and Amazon have also jumped on the software container bandwagon.
HDS is also intent on tapping the open source community.
“The future is going to be about open source, we’re working with OpenStack and others … where we can leverage the community to do the development that we would otherwise have to do ourselves,” Yoshida said.
OpenStack is the open source project for creating private and public clouds.
In June, HDS also announced it had completed its acquisition of Orlando, Florida-based Pentaho, an open source provider of reporting, analysis, dashboard, data mining and workflow solutions.
“[Pentaho] has all these connectors [to databases] because it is open source and people contributed those connectors,” Yoshida said.
“If it had gone out to build all those connectors itself, it would have been at a horrendous cost,” he added.
The human touch
But beyond its container and open source moves, it is people who will play the biggest role as HDS seeks to transform itself, according to Yoshida.
“When you acquire a bank, the assets are in the bank – but if you acquire a technology company, the assets are up here,” he said, pointing at his head. “It’s the people.”
“It’s difficult to acquire a technology company and maintain the people,” he admitted, however.
HDS recently made Fortune magazine’s list of ‘100 Best Workplaces for Millennials.’ “I was surprised at this because we’re a traditional Japanese company,” said Yoshida.
“We’re in Silicon Valley – we have to compete for talent out there, and our strategic objective is to be one of the best companies to work for,” he added.
As part of its bid to transform itself, HDS is also working to include big data, analytics and the Internet of Things (IoT) capabilities or features within its solutions.
“We want to build off a reusable platform; we have a template for big data,” Yoshida said.
“What we don’t want to do is for each of these verticals, is for the data science staff to build the whole stack themselves,” he added.
HDS also wants to avoid building silos, and is looking to the data lake concept – which contains structured and unstructured data from a wide variety of source – to aggregate data for applications to process and analyse.
Coupled with its connectors to various databases, and the ability to work with different infrastructure platforms, the company is looking to simplify building analytics for its customers.
Part of what is driving HDS to transform itself is the fact that its customers are themselves looking at IT transformation projects that are not limited to being infrastructure-based.
“This is getting away from infrastructure, storage management, servers, network administrators – and more towards higher-level functions such as analytics, and even the business side of things,” said Yoshida.
On his trip to Singapore, more than two-thirds of the CIOs (chief information officers) he met brought up the topic of IT transformation, he said.
“Most of them are looking at business problems rather than infrastructure – like, ‘How do I save money?’,” he added.
However, he also argued that cost is not a major factor for enterprise IT, but rather it is about how resources are used.
“They’re not looking to shrink the IT budget – they want take the portion they spend on infrastructure, make that less, and spend more on applications development and innovation,” he said.
“The infrastructure vendors are going to have less addressable market, so we have to assist them in doing the innovation part – and that’s the analytics and the big data part,” he added.
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