Howard Stern and Steve Jobs, and Why Storage Needs To Become Like a Nest Thermostat

I'm a huge Howard fan. I thoroughly enjoy people that hate him, yet cannot articulate why except to say "he is disgusting." In reality he isn't disgusting at all, he's brilliant. He makes others talk about disgusting things perhaps, but to not appreciate his genius, to me anyhow, is boorishly close minded.

Which got me to thinking - Howard, like Steve Jobs, is a guy who has completely altered the way society functions - albeit in a smaller slice than Mr. Jobs. Do you know how rare it is to have someone truly alter the way lives are lived, changing the course of history of some (or many) societal functions? Pretty darn rare. Howard almost single handedly destroyed terrestrial radio, made pay radio/satellite a viable medium, and fundamentally changed the CONTENT that is now offered to the public. For 187 years radio (and TV prior to cable) was a collection of the same crap with a government watchdog on top of it, "protecting" those with the inability to change the channel - dominated by advertisers. Same with radio. Now neither model works. And we are the better for it.

Jobs has changed a lot of things. The way we consume content, the way we display/listen to content. He destroyed, then rebuilt the entire music business, and is on the way to altering the video business. He changed the way we compute - putting humans in the center instead of on the periphery of the machine.

Both have been forced to succeed in the face of insurmountable negative societal forces - those that abhor change - those that love the status quo. Thank god for people like that who fight the good fight and win. Makes you wonder about all those who lost and what life could be like had they been able to beat the Borg.

How many others have had such a profound impact on entire industries AND society in general? Not many. Henry Ford makes the list. But it's a rare, rare breed.

We need to find a way to encourage these thinkers more and spend less time trying to kill them. Don't ask me how.

Which gets me to thermostats.

Forever we have all used analog thermostats. Cool, Heat, Off. Sure they have a digital display, but they don't do anything digitally. They turn something on or off, based on what you tell it. That's also what 99% of storage products do. Ask for a sector and it gives it - but it doesn't "think." It doesn't know why - it just does what it's told.

Recently one of ESG's conference room thermostats blew up. It did so, I surmise, because in every single meeting someone gets up to adjust it to their wants. It finally gave up. I had it replaced with a "Nest" thermostat. It's smart. Sure you tell it what you want - like the low and high temps, but that's it. It does the rest - like figures out if you are in the room, figures out if it's a weekend, or a holiday, and takes action. Automatically. It learns when people start using the room normally, on which days, and when they stop. It doesn't need to be told to go into "economy" mode at a certain time. It figures it out. It takes action.

We TRUST the thermostat to perform these functions because it is smarter than we are. It's its job. It has nothing else to worry about other than optimizing my comfort first, and economizing second. That's its whole role.

So why then does most storage NOT behave this way? Part of it is the technology, but a large part of it is--like my people who simply love to fiddle with settings--so do storage admins. Why not give storage parameters, tell it what's important to you (one app vs. another, one workload vs. another, minimum thresholds, etc.) and let it do its job - without you? Because we LOVE to act analog - it makes us humans feel like we are controlling the machine, and not the reverse. That's an amazingly self-limiting, value-sucking attitude.

The storage should optimize itself constantly within the constraints we give it. If it meets your demands, it should then optimize for power, or put data somewhere else, or take up less space, etc. All the "hard" tasks that are impossible for a human to do, are exactly possible for a machine to do. We just don't want to let it do them for some unknown reason. It's true outside of storage of course, but storage is awful at this. We'd want the same things to apply to application workloads - and forget about storage/server/network stuff altogether, but we need to walk before we run.

Perhaps we feel that if we turn every knob, we have job security - but alas we are fooling ourselves. Sooner or later someone in management is going to say "why don't we let the thing do the job we bought it for?" Just like the Nest. No need to play with it anymore - unless our "rules" or needs change.

In IT we need to focus on WHAT we want to happen, and trust the technology to act appropriately. We have WAY too many systems/storage managers that spend way too much time on HOW it happens - and that, I would argue, is a losing proposition.

So industry - make your storage smarter, which will absolutely make many of the mundane tasks of your admins cease to exist, which will absolutely piss some of them off because they feel it's their responsibility - but if you don't do it, management is going to run in that direction anyway.

So both of you, cut it out! Strategic wins. Tactical becomes automated. It's the way of the world.

Topics: Storage IT Infrastructure