The recent — and inaugural — Flash Forward conference in London was significant for being a non-vendor specific, storage-focused event. There's precious few of this species left and we have not had a new one in a while. This one was substantial enough to have attracted a good number and mix of sponsors and speakers (from organizations both large and small), and yet intimate enough that everyone could have real conversations and get their questions answered.
The need for this type of event is clear; while there was a period when excitement and indeed innovation in storage and data management was waning (we could argue the dates but let's say it peaked 5-10 years ago), what is abundantly clear of late is that storage — aka data, aka information, aka the ability to get anything done in IT — is categorically center stage.
While the overall industry discussion might increasingly be about consuming things in a software-integrated, cloud/cloud-like, and/or converged fashion (and I'm a fan of all these pragmatic approaches when they are thoughtfully used), the foundational elements of IT — such as storage — still have enough specialization, challenge and fitness-for-purpose demanded of them that they require specific expertise and optimal deployment. Therefore, conferences designed to not only spread technological and business understanding, but also to extend those things, are a valuable part of the industry's fabric. I did my part to hopefully help the process...
What often interests me most about such gatherings is the always-useful reminder that IT user organizations are very different from one another: they have different motivations, different technology "religions", different business objectives, different skills, different horizons and different budgets. This point was illustrated in dramatic fashion by one of the user speakers at Flash Forward.
Peter Buschman represented booking.com, which just before the conference had cleared the bar of completing one million bookings per day (it passed one million rooms booked per day a while back). Obviously booking.com is a fast moving internet commerce site in which the I.T. platform essentially is the business. And it uses a boatload of flash... but in what might be called a very vanilla fashion: it doesn't use a whole raft of what-might-be-expected-to-be "standard" sophisticated functionalities, such as snapshots and deduplication. Instead, its system is tuned to its needs, mores and business.
It was a great reminder that nobody should be hypnotized by the latest shiny object. But that equally well-designed and deployed flash systems can produce dramatic business impacts. Peter talked very logically and compellingly of wanting his storage environment to be completely "boring"... and indeed, one could argue that booking.com has a very un-flashy deployment of a whole lot of flash. Though, to borrow and adjust booking.com's advertising slogan: "flash.yeah!"