“What exactly do you do?” Like many engineers who build business-oriented products, I struggle to answer that question. (My 6 year old son is convinced that I build Pokemon; otherwise, why would we need all that equipment?)
A typical conversation goes something like this: “Do you know Wells Fargo? They have a lot of information that helps them run their business and track your money, so you can see it on their website. No, I don’t run their website – we focus on the data. No, no, my products don’t store the data they use every day. Our products help them make sure they, and you, can always get to your information, no matter what happens… No, mom, it is a real job that is important to people… <sigh> … Yes, you can just tell your friends that I built the iPad.”
That’s why I’m extremely excited to be a part of EMC’s effort to share the human face of big data. By highlighting the real-world impact of EMC’s technology, it helps explain what we do. More importantly, it puts the focus on the people we’re helping.
Technologists get so excited talking about the vast scope of data (e.g., a zettabyte – a byte for every grain of sand in the world) that most people walk away stunned by the size of big data, without understanding what makes big data so important, so relevant, and so exciting. Big data enables The Broad Institute and Ambry Genetics to advance gene sequencing, which helps cure diseases. It enables SilverSpring to analyze data from millions of smart meters to manage power better. It enables Fulham’s football team to store high-resolution closed-circuit camera footage to help keep their fans safe. Big data is about applying technology to improve lives.
To reprise the original question, what exactly do you do to improve lives? At EMC Backup Recovery Systems, we wake up every day obsessing about how to help employees at companies like Ambry Genetics and SilverSpring to both innovate faster and sleep better at night. As BASF might say, we make life better for the people who make your life better.
When you think in these terms, you not only humanize the face of big data, but you also put what we do in more relevant terms and cast a bright light on the people we help every day:
Backup Administrator: With server virtualization, data growth, increasingly stringent SLAs, and new technology (e.g., dedupe), backup teams feel more stress than ever. I’ve met backup admins with 20+ years experience in legacy environments (e.g., Symantec NetBackup with StorageTek libraries) who worry about their ability to function in a disk-centric backup world. Few things are as frightening as wondering whether you’ll be able to do your job and provide for your family. That’s why EMC focuses on simplifying disk backup and enabling customers to adopt next-generation techniques at the rate they want. If you want to deploy an integrated deduplicating backup appliance into your existing environment, you can. If you want an integrated deduplication solution, you can do that, too. If you want to transition some applications/VMs between the approaches at different speeds, you can do that … on the same infrastructure. By combining simplicity with the ability to evolve incrementally, EMC takes some of the stress out of backup transformation.At EMCworld, we pulled together a group of backup administrators struggling with their database backups (really, they were struggling with their DBAs, but you already knew that). The happiest customers explained that they simply carve out Data Domain capacity for their DBAs and let them run their own backups and recoveries. Of course, to ensure that the DBAs are behaving, the backup team uses EMC Data Protection Adviser to report on the database backups. But the backup administrators were very clear: “I’ve never had a better relationship with my DBA… since I stopped having to talk to him.” By enabling backup teams to delegate backup control, EMC can reduce workplace tension. Good fences do make for good neighbors.
IT Director/CIO: Until about two years ago, IT directors and CIOs were never happy to see me… really! If we had successfully recovered their data, they were not happy; they were still upset about the event that led to the recovery. If it was budget time, they complained about having to spend money on data protection. If I dropped by with donuts, they complained about their cholesterol. But VMware changed everything. CIOs could not virtualize fast enough. Their teams’ worries slowed their adoption – backups were too slow, migration of business-critical applications was too risky, the VM teams were renegades deploying one-off tools.
Imagine their skepticism when I, the backup guy (in that contemptuous tone people reserve for ambulance chasing lawyers), claimed that backup could accelerate their adoption of VMs. But we’ve repeatedly proven it.
First, the VM teams are desperately trying to deliver on the CIO’s demands, which is why they’re rolling their own solution. If the rest of IT could meet their needs, they wouldn’t need to try something different
- Second, application owners worry about migration because there is no credible safety net if something goes wrong.
- Third, backups are too slow because backup solutions don’t leverage the intelligence in VMware (e.g., VMware Changed Block Tracking and Recovery). With fast backups and recoveries, both virtualization and application teams see they have a reliable, centralized safety net.
With fewer distractions (i.e. rolling their own backup solution), the virtualization team focuses on transitioning the applications. With fewer fears, the application team moves forward. Once people stop fighting and worrying about failing, it’s amazing what they can do.
End Users: “The right data, for the right person, at the right time and place.” All of the work of backup and recovery comes down to that. When we ensure that somebody can get seamless access to a critical engineering design, experimental result, medical record, or personal document, we’ve done our job. Things go wrong. And nothing is more devastating that losing your data – it’s like losing a piece of yourself. It’s our job to make sure you get it back when and where you need it. Without their data, The Broad Institute and Ambry Genetics couldn’t sequence the genome, Silver Spring couldn’t run their smart meters, and Fulham couldn’t keep their fans safe. Without your data, you couldn’t get your job done, re-read old love notes from your spouse, or watch videos of your children at their first soccer game or dance recital. Your data helps you make a difference in this world … and reminds you why you want to make that difference.
Recently, somebody asked me why I work in backup instead of something more “exciting” with “broader scope.” My answer is simple. I know that, every day, I make a real difference in people’s lives – ensuring that they have their data when and where they need it. Backup isn’t about disk vs. tape, it’s about transforming people’s lives. That’s what I do.