Can We Survive Without Data?

A few weeks ago I had a lot of fun hanging out with my friend Steve Kenniston from INFINIDAT. It wasn’t your average hanging-out though because there was always a camera rolling. Some of the time we were recording content for his Data Unknown video series and some of the time it was for a YouTube Channel I’m working on called The RideCast.

I’ve known Steve a long time and it seems perfectly normal that we’ve both gravitated to producing videos. There is something about the process of planning, recording and editing a video that is immensely satisfying. I’m extremely impressed by what Steve is doing with Data Unknown, starting with the concept of the show and its format, on down to the nitty gritty details of recording and editing.


Watch the latest episode of Data Unknown to see storage technology evangelist, Marc Farley, and INFINIDAT’s VP of Product Marketing, Steve Kenniston, discuss whether we can survive without data.

When Steve asked me about my beginnings in the storage industry, I mentioned working for the superserver company Tricord and meeting storage legend Larry Aszmann. What I didn’t say was that I only worked for Tricord for about three weeks, so I didn’t get a chance to work with him for very long. However, it’s usually not always the amount of time you work with somebody that you remember, it’s the first impression that sticks. I always appreciated Larry’s creative and impressive accomplishments, including metropolitan area storage clustering and use-based data tiering.

Steve and I like to compare notes on industry leaders we have known and worked for, including Moshe Yanai, the CEO of INFINIDAT where Steve is working now and others, such as Paula Long, Mark Leslie, David Scott and Joe Tucci. One of the things they all have in common is a perspective about where the industry has been and where large opportunities will open up in the future. They aren’t always right, but they are seldom completely wrong either. This business has never been easy and the current time is as challenging as any we have seen in all our years working in it.

So I was glad that Steve didn’t ask me what I thought the next big thing in storage would be — instead he asked me “Can we survive without data?” It’s an interesting question because on one hand, there is nothing about data that we breathe, drink or eat — and on the other hand, so much of our society depends on digital systems and data for the production, distribution, storage and monitoring of essential goods and services. We could certainly survive as creatures of the planet without data, but there is also little doubt that many would suffer as a result.

Can We Survive Without Data?

But let’s leave the doomsday definition of survival behind and instead focus on the survival of our society, which includes organizations of all types, including businesses and governments. In this broader context, survival equates to the continuity of our way of life. We experience technology discontinuities fairly often as aging technologies become obsolete. With obsolescence, a new technology replaces an incumbent — but the key is that the data survives and is assimilated by the new system. The holy grail of compatibility is data continuity — whether that is software, systems data, user data, corporate data or metadata.

Data gives us reference points for our lives and without it we would be quite literally lost. People can easily survive without Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, email, Waze, Slack, YouTube, frequent flyer apps, news apps, Dropbox or Box.net and every other app that seems like an essential part of our lives. That said, it is a distinct disadvantage to be without these apps when everybody else in your context takes them for granted. Individuals and organizations can both become obsolete if they lose their data and drop out of the digital world. The difference is that individuals can easily recover — and do so everyday when they reload or rebuild contacts and account information for their lost or stolen smartphones. Organizations have a much tougher time putting things back together when digital systems are impaired and data is lost. The slippery slope to organizational death following data loss has been demonstrated over and over again.

 Data Unknown Ep 1 Webinar WATCH

And what about the advantages of manipulating data better than some other person or organization? Not that long ago, Nicholas Carr in his best-selling book “Does IT Matter?” proposed no sustainable advantage could be had by investing in technology because all competitors could have the same technology in a short period of time. At the time it was written, Carr’s argument struck a nerve with many because digital systems appeared to be approaching an entropic equality of off-the-shelf parts.

Instead, what happened was an enormous expansion of computing potential brought about more or less simultaneously by the emergence of mobile, cloud, virtualization, containers, analytics, DevOps, software defined everything and more. It’s possible that a broad understanding of all this new technology will eventually result in a repeat of the scenario of what Carr described, but for the time being, confusion reigns in the IT industry. And where there is confusion there are opportunities for organizations to manipulate data better than competitors for long enough to make a big difference in the world.

About Marc Farley
Marc Farley is an author, thought leader and subject matter expert in the enterprise storage industry. His books include Building Storage Networks (McGraw-Hill), Storage Networking Fundamentals (Cisco Press) and Rethinking Enterprise Storage: A Hybrid Cloud Model (Microsoft Press – July 2013). He is a co-host of the In Tech We Trust Podcast and owner of the blog DataOnTopHe is also a well-known storage technology evangelist with over 20 years of experience in the network storage industry. He has worked for a number of companies in the storage industry including 3PAR, ConvergeNet, Crossroads Systems, Datera, Dell, EqualLogic, HP, Hitachi Data Systems, Microsoft, Palindrome, Quaddra Software, StorSimple and Tegile.   

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