Seagate Interview Its All About User Experience

Seagate Execs Dr. Jeff Burke, VP Strategic Marketing and Research, and Banseng Teh, Senior VP Sales and Marketing for Asia Pacific and Japan, were at MDEC in Cyberjaya for a technology round table event so Data&Storage Asean took the opportunity to chat with them about Seagate’s part to play in the evolution of data and storage.
We covered Big Data, consumer storage, trends in storage consumption, the future and challenges for increasing capacity, Seagate’s aim to improve user experience and many other areas of data and storage.
It is clear that whilst Seagate has many aspects to their business, the company and their people are Disk Drive Device orientated at heart. This is their obvious comfort zone and in truth we see absolutely nothing wrong with this. In our view Seagate’s most important role, in which they obviously excel, is to provide capacity in devices that are optimized for the needs of application providers, big data crunchers or even social media users.

Dr Jeff Burke      BS Teh

DSA – We are interested in Seagate's Adaptive Memory technology, how will it transform our use of storage?
Jeff – Our aim with adaptive memory is around consumer experience. It about mixing SSDs and HDDs to give customers the best of both worlds: responsiveness of SSD with cost effective capacity behind that. The device learns what you do and how you work with the aim of improving your experience in what you do everyday. 
BS - Demand for storage is going to continue for a long time, and the bulk of growth will be driven by consumers. A lot of storage architecture development has been driven by enterprise applications, but the reality is that consumers are pushing demand just as much if not more than the enterprise. So we have a situation today where new types of consumer applications are driving user demands. In truth whether its flash, tape, optical, or HDD no single medium will serve all purpose, everything will come into play. Seagate want to meet more demand with focus on maximizing Flash and HDD.
DSA - In recent weeks we have seen a number of cloud and social media companies publicly talk about their “cold storage” strategies. How does this affect Seagate?
Jeff – All storage including cold storage is relevant to Seagate. We are even seeing companies looking at optical for long term archive, and with social media we have this unique requirement for  “write once read never”, we also see companies with as many as 8 tiers of storage not just 1 or 2 tiers which used to suffice.  This being that case we believe in selecting the right tool for the right problem.
We can’t shoehorn our technology for every requirement. If we ask the question “is optical right for cold storage for me?" the answer is “maybe” but in my view this is yet to be proven. I still question whether it is it okay to take hours to retrieve data – maybe sometimes it is and other times it is not. When it comes to “cold storage” there are many ways of doing it, there will always be a combination of technologies that contribute and based on user experience and demands, HDD is likely to remain part of “cold storage” architecture.

BS – When is comes to cloud, I see three major concerns cost, availability and performance. By 2020 consumers will be demanding 6ZB (figure from Seagate’s own research) of storage. Based on current technology and investment there simply may not be enough supply of all possible storage to meet this demand. This being the case it may not just about cost, the question may be is there enough supply to store everything we create. Optical may be one type of storage that helps meet the total demand.
DSA – How important to you is the Seagate business NAS product line, and do you have skills and experience to compete in this market place?
BS - We are very serious about NAS. We have a two-pronged approach with our owned branded NAS, but just as important is supporting and supplying devices to our business partners like Qnap and Synology to support them in this market. We see the business NAS market as growing and fragmented, we do not expect to dominate this market with our own branded product; we expect we will be one of the players in this market and as such our focus on supporting our partners is also important for us.  
Jeff- When we look at storage we think about cloud and enterprise storage. But for us at Seagate we talk and think about consumer a lot. People don’t realize but the drive industry ships as many exabytes of storage into the home as we do into the entire enterprise. The home has a huge amount of storage and data, and that’s why we have consumer grade 2 and 4 bay NAS devices focused on the home. Our ultimate goal is to deliver a management platform that delivers a great experience in the home, our NAS devices are a big step in that direction.
DSA- Do you ever see a time when SSD will replace spinning disk?
Jeff –We see two different markets - mass device market such as notebooks and PC and enterprise/mass market such as cloud storage providers and the home based storage. I see “SSD only” in the single notebook and desktop market, but I don’t see it totally replacing disk even here. There may a select group that choose to have only SSD for reasons such as portability and achieving a better experience on a high end system. However in many instanced that may be possible with a hybrid drive, and where there is lots of data there is likely to always be some HDD behind the SSD.
For mass storage, I don’t see that becoming exclusively SSD, it’s just too hard to fulfill the demand. To put this question in perspective, this year the industry will ship about 500 Exabytes of HDD based storage, The total (phones, cameras, etc.) amount of flash capacity shipped this year will be around 50 Exabytes. Then when you look at the cost differential, as much as 70 cents per GB for flash as opposed to around 4 cents per GB for HDD it’s very hard to see SSD replacing HDD any time soon.
BS - If you measure Flash in terms of capacity its about 10 percent of all storage. Even if flash doubles in density and productions, it will take a long time before it can take over HDD - and cost has to level. But you have to look at reliability - its great for reading but not great for writing.
DSA – Big Data is getting a lot of hype right now, what’s your view of this hype and what part does Seagate have to play in “Big Data”
Jeff – To be honest when ever we hear the words “Big” and “Data” in the same sentence we usually like that! To me Big Data is about bringing value to a customer or user. Its about bringing together many separate data sources which to create better user experience, increased profit or superior service. From Seagate’s perspective Big Data is about creating the tools to support this effort. For us its a multi-pronged dimension, we build various types of drives and SSDs to support Big Data computing. We look at it from a hardware perspective to see how we can support people and computing to create that value.

DSA – Do you conduct specific R&D to optimise drives for Big Data?
JEFF - Yes we have people actively looking at how we can develop technology to support this Big Data analytics effort. We are constantly working out how to put more disks and heads in every drive, and with SSD we are looking at ways to create tiers within disks to support analytics. We are looking into some very different and original ideas for how we might support cold storage or mass storage on a single device.
BS - We also recently announced an Ethernet drive which can be accessed directly over a network through API’s you can have the server directly address a drive.

(Note from DSA – This relates to Seagate’s Kinetic Open Storage Vision, something we feel is very interesting for both Big Data and Software Defined Storage)
DSA – We know that a lot of Drive Manufacturing is done in Asia, but how strong is the talent pool in Asia for actual R&D?
BS – Globally Seagate has four design centres – two are in North America but the other two are in Asia, one in Singapore and we recently opened one in South Korea. Whilst it is true to say that the real wealth of experience comes from the US, it is also true to say that a lot of our emerging R&D talent is coming from Asia. Actually if you go to our R&D facilities in the US you will see a lot of the staff there are also Asian!
DSA - With Storage being ever ore critical what steps are you taking to avoid supply disruptions caused by natural disasters? (Note from DSA: in the last 3 years we have seen disruptions to both tape and disk manufacturing as a result of natural disaster)
BS – Even though your question was centered on natural disaster another real threat is shortage of raw material, and that may end up being a bigger threat to supply.  During the time when some companies Disk manufacturing was affected by flood, No Seagate facility was actually affected, even if they had been we feel we have enough redundancy to maintain production. However our issue was our supply chain, where supply of components was affected. This is becoming more challenging because just as we are seeing consolidation in the Disk Drive manufacture space, we are seeing similar consolidation amongst our component suppliers. Even so we continue to work hard on making sure we have duplication of our supply chain
DSA - What do you see happening with Storage 10 years from now?
Jeff - The physics of SSD and HDD is getting really very hard. For me, I still find it amazing that we can design and build these drives at these capacities and sell them for price of cheap pair of tennis shoes. Do I see any radical change in disk or SSD storage? “NO” but do I see a possibility that we may create a drive with massive capacity - yes that possible. However I feel the much more interesting developments will be in giving consumers in the home that particular device that can store protect and manage absolutely everything they create.
BS - What do I most look forward to?  The seamless movement of data across devices and platforms. Imagine the moment you take a picture its stored, backup up and immediately available to your friends in devices based in your home that you can access from anywhere.

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