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Aka from lemonade to lemons, and back


It’s March 2006 and the location is Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire, England – an historic locale with ties to Sir Winston Churchill. A typically overcast spring morning in the UK countryside. After 20 years in IT and data networking, I was now a rookie storage marketing guy just a single month into planning the launch of new clustered storage from relative newbie Isilon into the European market. As a market test and feedback session it seemed a good plan to invite interested resellers, prospective customers and some IT analysts to a classy briefing venue and fully vet our story out. Risky perhaps, but my instinct was to take the plunge ahead of a full-blown roadshow across Europe with our execs.

With circa 80 folks in the room, at the end of my pitch as I saw the light bulbs going off in folk’s minds, then VP of IDC Europe stood up and simply said ‘Can you guys really do this pay-as-you-go, JIT storage? Does it really work or is this just more vaporware / slideware? We’ve talked and dreamed about it for a decade and no-one has cracked the code yet!’. My simple reply was ‘Don’t just take my word for it, come and spend 30 minutes with us in Soho, London in a couple of weeks and we’ll build and then decommission a simple 3 node 18TB cluster together. Even I can do it and you know I am brand new to storage. And we can scale to well over a PB in a single cluster, maybe more’. The sun burst through the clouds in North Oxfordshire and thus the infamous 30-minute challenge was born as we showed the UK market the genesis of what later became known as scale out storage, thanks to the Gartner wordsmiths. The days of overprovisioning and overbuying storage years ahead of need were over!

Roll the clock forwards 16 years to August 2022. After 3 years of Covid-19 variants as the world morphs from pandemic to epidemic mode, the second most used word after ‘unprecedented’ would appear to be ‘supply chain’. Prestigious brands like Mellanox, Cisco, HPE and Dell, to name just a few, are all experiencing procurement issues and component lead times running to many months and even years. It caused me to pause for thought as a smart young mind from Exertis Hammer in Germany and I chatted recently. He told me as a knock-on effect, his customers were having to plan storage – and more broadly IT system – purchases for years in advance to be able to get into the supply queue. All those game-changing planning and provisioning gains we made for the market in the early 2000’s instantly negated by the inability of large vendors with their shiny mega-factories and sub-contract manufacturers to fulfil user projects. What a come-uppance for the industry.

Thankfully, some sharp minds foresaw the limitations of how most IT systems were being designed and built well over a decade ago. Having wrestled with fundamentally broken IT for years as we all grew up in the industry, they set about solving for the inherent incompatibilities between vendor components in the datacenter; the excessive waste in materials use & power consumption; and the inevitable supply chain issues that a changing world would need to resolve. Whilst Covid was unknown then, the notion that a more nationalistic world demanding sovereign capabilities would emerge, necessarily led them to re-thinking how to make product around the world in a more innovative, agile and responsive way. Some might even say a contrarian and audacious way.

The upshot for us at SoftIron is that we’re consistently beating competitors lead times by weeks, in some case months Not only do we design and build truly sustainable private datacenter systems, we make them in our edge manufacturing facilities from the USA to Australia (a first by-the-way), largely from raw materials, and our ability to manage our supply chain is enhanced as a direct consequence. Michael Porter would be immensely proud of our adherence to so many of his first principles of supply chain and logistics management.

So now the question of the day becomes how ready are you to embrace the next wave of private datacenter evolution in a world where both cool technology and your ability to get your hands on it in a timely fashion will define whether you can move your IT projects ahead? Indeed, perhaps whether your company will make it in a supply-constrained and recessionary ‘do more with less’ world. No one getting fired for buying from IBM (or Cisco or HPE or Dell…) might have just become an irrelevant maxim. Big may not be very beautiful at all in the modern world. With so many current issues seemingly going backwards today, it’s important in IT to rethink how we solve for the next wave of cultural and business demands placed on us. By going back to first principles we believe we have developed some game-changing approaches of our own to bring to bear at SoftIron that will eclipse the gains that Isilon brought, back in the day. Do track us over the coming months as we continue to share who we are, what we do and what we stand for. You will not be disappointed.