EMC’s Comeback in Server-Side Memory: Q&A with Pat Gelsinger

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covered the waterfront. We will have Thunder as a server network appliance for different use cases. What we are doing on the array side with our FAST technology stretching end to end across it, it really is a powerful combination.

X: What was the hardest thing about getting here, about creating Lightning? What technical or cultural problems did you have to overcome?

PG: We as a company have done most of our most innovative things by inorganic innovation—e.g. acquisitions. In this case, we looked at and said, there aren’t that many choices of companies to buy in this space. So what we really did was organic innovation. We took Mark Sorenson, the head of the unit, Danny Cobb, who you saw today, we built up an engineering team which is mostly in Israel, and we treated it like an internal startup. We set incredibly focused goals for the team. We focused them incredibly narrowly. We told them not to go to corporate meetings. “You’re not allowed in this room, get out of here, go back to work.” We hired the very best people, and we really treated it like an internal startup in that way. And I micromanaged it like crazy.

And there are two sides to that. You can say, “Micromanaging, isn’t that terrible.” The other side is that organic innovation is very hard in a big, successful company. There are a lot of antibodies saying “No, you can’t do that, we can’t go that fast, we need a longer this or that.” There are a thousand reasons these things can slow down in a company. So having a very hands-on, top-down focus, combined with a very maniacal senior aggressive team is really what’s required to do a successful organic innovation like this.

X: Are you leaving the same structure in place for Thunder?

PG: It’s the same team. Think of it as the second product from the internal startup. I expect that 95 percent of the code, the software that’s in Lightning, will end up in Thunder. There will be additional software required, but the vast majority of the technology required is Lightning. Essentially, it’s a group of Lightning cards coming into the server network Flash appliance. In that respect, it’s a bunch of Lightnings cooperating together inside of a network configuration.

X: What’s your larger, long-term vision for EMC? Where do you think you fit, how big can the company be?

PG: At the highest levels of IT, we look at four major trends going on: social, mobile, cloud, and big data. Those are the big four—you can talk about lots of others as well, but most of them are somehow mashups of two or more of the other trends. EMC is clearly sitting in a firm if not leadership position, in cloud and big data. Social and mobile are more consumer-oriented trends, and we don’t have consumer DNA. We don’t pretend to be a consumer company. We are an enterprise company. Our focus is on cloud, and big data, and trust. So those are the things we’re going to do. You look at our simple logo—where cloud meets big data on a foundation of trust. And that is what we want to do in the future—be the leading company for private-public- hybrid cloud environments. We want to be the biggest company with respect to leading the transition from structured, transactional database environments to structured and unstructured, predictive, big-data analytics environments, to be able to store those, to be able analyze those, protect those in the future, all on a foundation of trust and security. We are by far the leader in virtualization, in storage, and we’re trying to expand that portfolio, taking RSA, expanding its presence, increasing our software presence, and stretching our data center offering with things like V-Block and Lightning, and going increasingly higher in the stack, with things like Greenplum.

X: My next question was going to be about Greenplum and also Isilon. You bought Greenplum in San Mateo in July 2010 and you bought Isilon in Seattle in November 2010. How is the integration of those companies into EMC going?

PG: On Greenplum, it’s working well. Greenplum is not a storage array. In that sense we are having to learn some different skills. We would sell lots of storage into Oracle or SQL environments but that didn’t … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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