Interview: EMC's Gelsinger shares storage federation vision

Gelsinger compares impact of storage federation to the effect of virtualization on servers

Pat Gelsinger made headlines in September 2009 when he left Intel to join EMC as president and COO of information infrastructure products, a group that includes the company's information storage and information security businesses. Now, Gelsinger -- who was Intel's first chief technology officer and led both the desktop products group and the digital enterprise group during his career at the chip maker -- is making waves again.

During a presentation last month, Gelsinger offered industry analysts a first look at EMC's vision of global storage federation, which will allow companies to overcome latency and bandwidth problems to keep their data in sync over large distances. EMC believes this technology promises to alter the storage landscape in ways similar to how virtualization has changed the way companies deploy and use servers.

During his first trip to Asia on EMC's behalf, Gelsinger sat down for a telephone interview with IDG News Service to discuss the transition from Intel to his new job at EMC, and to offer some insight into EMC's vision of global storage federation and how it plans to bring the technology to market.

What follows is an edited transcript of that conversation:

You've been at EMC now for about six months. After so much time spent at Intel, how is the adjustment to working at a new company?

Pat Gelsinger: Obviously, after 30 years at Intel it was quite a significant transition, from silicon to systems, from West Coast to East Coast -- even though I'm living more bicoastally. I'm very excited about the opportunity at EMC, otherwise I wouldn't have moved. I see the disruptive nature of what's going on in the IT industry around virtualization, around cloud computing, and around the new model of consumption for IT in the future.

EMC is well positioned to be a beneficiary of these changes as well as a disruptor of the overall IT industry. In that regard, I saw it as a good opportunity. So far, it's like a major organ transplant; the body hasn't rejected me yet. So far it's going pretty well.

What have you found to be the biggest difference between Intel and EMC?

Intel is almost all OEM (original equipment manufacturer) as well as indirect sales. EMC is a very direct sales oriented company and as a result it's extremely customer focused. If there's an issue for a storage customer of EMC, it's a five-alarm fire and you're guilty until proven innocent. It doesn't matter what the source of the problem is, fix the customer's problem and really build that very strong, long-term relationship with the customer.

The projects I worked on at Intel were four or five years long. Everything was built around Moore's Law. At EMC, being a systems company, you have much shorter development cycles because you have to respond much more quickly to different customers and competitive inputs, so I'm learning a different pulse rate for the business.

EMC has also been more acquisitive in terms of integrating different businesses. We bought Data Domain last year, that works for me. We just did the Archer Technologies acquisition at the beginning of this year, that's also part of my group. I'm learning in new areas. I'd previously spent about two seconds thinking about government risk and compliance, now I have the lead business in that area in the industry, so I'm coming up to speed with a whole new technology and customer space.

There's a very rapid learning curve and I think anytime you change jobs and companies it's one of the fastest learning curves you can be it.

You caught a lot of people's attention with your description of EMC's vision of data federation. Can you tell us more about that?

By analogy, if you think about what we've done with virtualization for servers, first you're able to consolidate multiple servers on a single piece of hardware and that brought a lot of efficiency. Secondly, you're able to group servers together with things like VMotion and distributed resource scheduling (DRS) is allowed, and you have these pools of resources. To move virtual machines (VMs) over long distances you've been bound by physical storage, because you can't shove a terabyte across the wire and have this flexibility.

What we're trying to do in our overall vision for virtual storage is to mimic what we've done with servers for storage. The first part is to collapse multiple frames and tiers of storage into a single device. The second part is to create federation, which means being able to take pools of storage frames and treat them like one, so we create more agility for the storage subsystem free from the physical storage environment. But the big concept that we laid out is what we call geofederation, this ability to cache across distance large frames of storage. As long as storage follows the 80-20 rule -- a little bit gets used a lot -- we have the core technology that allows us to share data at great distances. We believe this will be a fundamental enabling technology for entirely new models and usage of computing.

For example, imagine that I did truly want to do teleportation of VMs, move a large number of VMs across distance, today I couldn't do it because I can't access the data. This will allow you to essentially have follow-the-sun, or follow-the-moon, where there's a balancing of your workloads. Another example might be active-active data centers. Maybe I have a big Oracle installation that I want to be operating a shared database over distance. You could have that kind of workload. An active-passive example would be I'll have a hot disaster recovery site, where I could truly failover in seconds, rather than hours today, to the backup site.

Some of these things that we think get enabled by this have really generated a lot of enthusiasm, both from some of our earlier customers as well as from the analyst pitch that we gave.

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