James B. Rothnie, CTO, EMC Corp.

"Storage is about having your information assets well protected, which makes this a bad place for startup companies."

August 4, 2001

6 Min Read
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As senior vice president and chief technology officer at EMCCorp. (NYSE: EMC), James B. Rothnie arguably holds the future of thecompany in his hands. He is, after all, responsible for EMCs entire productstrategy – at a crucial juncture in the company’s history.

Analysts have said that the storage behemoth must reinvent itself tofocus on selling highly profitable software and services in order to avoidthe perils of a commoditized storage hardware market. Rothnie says networkedstorage will form a major part of this repositioning.

And he’s not sitting on his hands. For the six months ending in June, EMC’s revenues rose 10 percent to $4.37 billion. (Nice one, Jim!) The increase came courtesy of higher revenue from software and network-attached storage products.

Of course, EMC’s net income fell 33 percent during the same period to $507.7 million. (Oops!) However, a lot of that was down to James spending a ton o’

money on the R&D necessary to develop EMC’s new product lines – so no harm, nofoul, we say.

Yes, there’s no doubt about it: James is a Grand Fromage in the storageworld. A Gouda, if you will. Or maybe a big old Gorgonzola; you know, the ones that come in the humongous wheels – [ed. note: Get on with it!]Well.If we had a Top Ten list of the Movers and Shakers in Storage Networking, he’dbe on it. But we don’t. So he isn't.

So it was with a sense of eager anticipation that we sat down to interview thisSultan of Storage. Unfortunately, the excitement didn’t seem to infect Rothnie, who spent much of the interview huffing and puffing and, frankly,getting a bit shirty. What follows, then, is an expurgated transcript of his exchangewith Byte and Switch.

Click ahead to read his views on:

EMC’s vision of “networked information storage” (zzzzzzzz)

His dislike of the term “virtualization” (and why HP’s acquisition of StorageApps “doesn’t make sense”)
Why storage startups are hosed (and why "FC versus iSCSI" is a pointless debate)

Byte and Switch: One of the few positive notes to come outof EMC’s second-quarter results this month was that your network storageproducts division grew 56 percent over the year-ago quarter. Everything elseseemed to bomb [see EMC Hammered]. How important is this sector toEMC?

Rothnie: Very. More than 80 percent of information storage will benetworked within a few years, so it’s obviously going to be very important.

Byte and Switch: Currently EMC has a couple of NAS boxes – one at the high-end, and one for the mid-range market. What othertechnologies will EMC need to address this seismic shift towards networkedstorage?

Rothnie: Actually we have an entire product family thataddresses the SAN market, from switches via McData Corp. [an EMC spinoff] andOEM deals with all the leading software and HBA vendors...

  • Note: For the next half hour or so Rothnie pitches EMC’s “networkedinformation storage” marketing campaign to the Byte and Switch interviewer, who is obviously supposed to remain in “listen only” mode at this point, asseveral attempts to interject with questions are talked down. Time passes.Slowly. Rather embarrassingly, the Byte and Switch reporter iseventually forced to raise her voice.

Byte and Switch: JIM! HOW WILL THAT TRANSLATE IN TERMS OFPRODUCTS?

Rothnie: We are not in the business of pre-announcingproducts if that’s what you mean. I don’t think I understand thequestion.

[pause]

Byte and Switch: In your speech back there about networkedinformation storage you mention that the distinction between SAN and NAS is disappearing. Does that mean one device will eventually perform both theseoperations?Rothnie: The separate management systems for operating NASand SAN networks will blur, and EMC is addressing this with its Highroadsoftware, which manages file-level meta data (NAS) and block-level databaseinformation on SANs, simultaneously [see EMC Pads Its Lead].

Byte and Switch: What is the desired effect?

Rothnie: To get file sharing at super high speeds. TodayNAS is not fast enough or reliable enough for updating massive databasesystems that have to process say, 10,000 Visa transactions per second. Thisis an archtypical SAN application. But connecting SANs together to performthese kinds of transactions is still very expensive when done withproprietary software.

Byte and Switch: A lot of the startups are talking aboutdoing the same thing: being able to scale NAS and allow the back end ofthese systems to seamlessly feed into the FC SAN so that all the storageappears as one giant virtual pool that can be accessed by any device on thenetwork. “Virtualization” appears to be the popular term for it. CanHighroad do this?

Rothnie: You are doing your readers a disservice by usingthat term. No one knows what it means.Byte and Switch: What do you think it means?

Rothnie: Some people talk about management schemes andothers say it’s about putting a device in the middle of the network to fanout the storage. All this confuses the market. We call it “networkedinformation storage,” which is about the blurring of NAS and SAN…

[Note: Goes off again.]

Byte and Switch: Right. That clears up the confusion then... So. What do you make of Hewlett-Packard Co.’s decision toacquire StorageApps, which also is involved in virtualization? [See HP Acquires StorageApps.]

[Note: Rothnie appears to really hate this question.]Rothnie: [Big Sigh…] HP bought StorageApps for tentimes its valuation, and the technology doesn’t even address the issue. Itsfile sharing protocols are strictly SAN-based, which means it will run intovery serious scaling and availability problems. As far as I’m aware,StorageApps mainly resells storage boxes from Hitachi Data Systems and LSI Logic Corp. – itdoesn’t have anything to do with virtualization.

Byte and Switch: Are any of the other startups out theredoing virtualization any better or worse than StorageApps? For example: DataCore Software, FalconStor Software Inc., Panasas Inc., StoreAge Networking Technologies Ltd., and

Zambeel Inc., to name a few.Most of the companies on the Byte and Switch Top 10 list are talkingabout virtualization being an important issue.

[Note: More huffing and puffing. Rothnie appears to be about to blowhis top.]

Rothnie: In five years time I will be surprised if any oneof them is still with us.

Byte and Switch: You make it sound as if there’s no futurefor these companies. Is this what you mean?Rothnie: Most of them will go out of business, yes. Somewill be acquired. Customers require a strong service and products. Storageis about having your information assets well protected, which makes this abad place for startup companies.

[Note: EMC has acquired at least five startups in the past 12months.]

Byte and Switch: Changing the subject a bit, Jim, what’syour view on Fibre Channel versus iSCSI?

Rothnie: Well, for starters, it’s not one or the other. Theimplementation of SANs requires Fibre Channel today, as the TCP/IP processingoverhead on the servers and the storage side consumes too many cycles, so itsnot practical to use IP yet. Once the TCP/IP offload cards come out and getinserted into systems, this approach to building SANs will become acceptable,but it will not replace FC, it’ll just be another way of doing things.

Byte and Switch: How do you work out which technologies toinvest in?Rothnie: I use two vectors: customer demand, for the moreimmediate technologies; and then EMC has an extensive program that looksaround the corner at what classes or requirements for technology customersmight need in the future. For this we look at all sectors of the IT marketfrom network infrastructure through to servers and applications and whetherthe raw materials we might need to build these are available.

Byte and Switch: Thanks Jim.

Rothnie: Bye.

— Jo Maitland, Senior Editor, Byte and Switch http://www.byteandswitch.com

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