MagicBands & Challenging The Storage Status Quo

Enterprise data centers can take a cue from Disney's innovative wearable by breaking away from old processes with scale-out storage and object-based storage.

Frank Denneman

May 26, 2015

5 Min Read
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One of my favorite reads is the famous book by Michael Hammer, “Reengineering the Corporation.” It looks at business processes and discusses how to radically change them.

According to Hammer, companies most often speed up their processes by implementing a newer iteration of existing technology. With the advent of computers, for example, automation has led to performance gains in many areas. But this type of automation can only have marginal gains when the underlying processes are archaic and suffer from fundamental performance challenges.

By understanding what the process is actually trying to achieve, one can bring a fresh perspective that breaks away from old design principles, achieving even greater gains. One great example of this is Disney’s MagicBand, which I was extremely impressed with in a recent family vacation.

Disney’s MagicBand
The MagicBand is what is commonly referred to as a “wearable.” It is a bracelet with an RFID chip and a radio inside. The parks have both long and short range scanners to interact with sensors in the MagicBand bracelet, which automates every transaction between the customer and employees at Disney parks and resorts.

The MagicBand is the key to everything, including access to the park and resorts and automatic payments. By creating a frictionless experience for the customer, it increases his/her satisfaction, which ultimately increases spending.

Figure 1:

One of the perks of my job is that I get to speak to people who deliver cutting edge technology.  As you can imagine, I was thrilled to speak to some of the team members who worked on the MagicBand platform.  I was truly impressed with how they completely overhauled a lot of processes to perfect the solution.

For example, Disney’s hotel check-in process was completely changed with the advent of the MagicBand.  While other parks have bought newer, faster desktop computers to speed up registration, Disney’s sends the MagicBand to your home prior to your visit and emails you your room number. You just walk up to your room and unlock the door by taping your MagicBand against the sensor on the door, completely bypassing long registration lines.

Similarly, MagicBands have allowed Disney to solve a huge problem in the resorts, especially for parents with strollers.  Instead of funneling patrons into narrow, cramped turnstiles, entrances are now in the shape of an inviting V.  At the front are MagicBand readers, which welcome everybody at incredible speeds.

The MagicBand platform allows for new experiences as well. Disney can now create a more personalized interaction between visitors and cast members.  Imagine Cinderella greeting your daughter by name and wishing her a happy birthday, creating an unforgettable experience. 

It takes a lot of coordinated technology to make all this happen, including range scanners, sensors, WiFi, smart phones apps, user profiles and an insane amount of data crunching. These systems are all connected to each other to collect data and optimize the Disney experience.  Similarly, they help Disney monitor visitor information, like traffic flow, food orders and wait times, so they can constantly improve their own efficiencies.  This is the poster child for the Internet of Things.

Following Disney's lead in the data center
Not every company has the same resources to pull off what Disney did with the MagicBand.  But one thing is certain, most companies face the same challenges.   Everyone wants to reduce costs, increase efficiencies, and provide new experiences or values that differentiate them in a highly competitive market.

Markets shift rapidly, and IT needs to either respond quickly, or predict things before they happen.  High service standards are the norm! This is especially true in the realm of virtualized data centers, where two technology advancements have emerged that have revolutionized the IT landscape: Scale-out storage and object-based storage.

Proper scale-out storage systems allow you to operationalize new advancements in storage technology as soon as they are available. They allow virtual data centers to cater to any performance requirement at any time. Most importantly, they do this without impacting current workloads using the platform.

The challenge is that many vendors think they can achieve scale-out storage by building incremental features on top of old architectures that use monolithic shared storage arrays.  This is like upgrading to faster PCs to expedite hotel registration. There will be a performance gain over the old state of things, but only an incremental one. To illicit an order of magnitude benefit, you need to completely change the game like Disney did with the MagicBand.  This will never be achieved with monolithic storage arrays.  Many application vendors have moved away from monolithic application architectures, shouldn’t storage do the same?

Object-based storage, such as VMware VVOLs, allows you to fundamentally change how to provide data services to systems (virtual machines). Instead of creating management constructs and aligning data services to these logical layers (LUNs and datastores), data services can be directly applied to the specific machine. Virtual machines become first class citizens on storage systems, allowing IT teams to cater to requirements that both affect the business as well as the IT team requirements.

Hammer correctly asserted that we shouldn’t ask “how” we can go faster, we should ask “why” we do things the way we do.  In essence, constantly challenge the status quo.  And if you want to move forward in huge leaps, take a fresh look at the new technologies and applications at your disposal.  While Disney’s MagicBand won’t help you increase IOPS or lower VM latency, it is a nice example of the “out of the box” thinking that will take your storage into the next generation.  

About the Author(s)

Frank Denneman

Technology Evangelist, PernixData

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