So long, and thanks for all the fish

After fifteen years at the helm of Scale Abilities, I have decided it’s time for the next chapter. Scale Abilities is closing down and I’m taking a job with another company.
Fifteen years is a long time, especially in the technology business, and it might be a bit of a shock to those that have seen myself and Scale Abilities become a part of the furniture during that time. Like all good furniture, it’s built for the purpose of fulfilling some needs, and I don’t feel that those needs are the same as they were when I started this journey. I’m going to abandon the furniture analogy now, because we quickly get drawn into ‘worn out’, ‘old fashioned’ and, well, ‘old and knackered’. As funny as that is, it’s not the point I’m trying to make here.

There is a well-known joke about a person who, when asked for directions, replies: “If I were you, I wouldn’t start from here”. That is how I feel about Scale Abilities right now – if I were starting out today, I would not build the same company as we are now.

So, I can either change the direction of the company, or do something else. As it happens, I chose “something else”.

There is a long story behind all this, best told over a pint on a winter’s evening in the pub, but I’ll cut to the chase and just do the end part!

Earlier this year I went over to California to have a few meetings. One of these was with a company in Menlo Park who were apparently  doing some interesting things with solid-state storage. Readers of my blog, and anyone that knows me, will understand that this is already something that might pique my interest. But I’ll be honest here – I went into those meetings with quite a few reservations. They were roughly as follows:

  • I didn’t want to work for a big company – and this company had just been acquired by a huge company
  • I didn’t want to work for an old-school storage firm, because they were still trying to put SSDs into old-world storage arrays  – and this company had just been acquired by one of the most established storage companies
  • I didn’t think I could work for anyone else after being ‘my own boss’ for so long

I went in with a very open mind, and had my mind blown apart. Here were a bunch of really smart folks, and everything they are saying to me is like it’s coming out of my own mouth. Only they are way ahead of me, and way smarter. I got on the plane that evening, and I already knew my decision…

I have joined DSSD, an EMC company, and will relocate to California. My first day was yesterday.

Here is a company that ‘gets it’. SSD isn’t just fast storage, it’s a game changer – but only when it’s done right. Putting it inside a server, or attaching it via relatively slow network transports, misses the inherent benefit of SSD: to define a new level in the memory hierarchy, between DRAM and disk, and one that’s much closer to main memory than it is to a disk drive.

DSSD is building what they term rack-scale flash. This gives all the servers in the rack shared access to insanely fast flash memory. I won’t say much more than that about the product at this stage because, well, I’d rather find out a lot more and write real posts about it (and I’m not currently sure what I’m permitted to share). I’ve joined the executive team at DSSD/EMC as Principal Solution Architect, and I will be working with the DSSD technology in conjunction with Oracle, Hadoop, NoSQL and all other interesting consumers of persistent storage. I’m really excited by this role, the chance to be part of a product and market creation team, but also to continue diving deeper into Oracle and Hadoop, and to learn some new technologies. I love to learn, and now I get to work with a bunch of really smart people to keep me on my toes. Bliss.

From a personal perspective, I’ve really wanted to be based in Silicon Valley for a while now. It’s my spiritual home. It’s an expensive place to live, so I might end up living in a shoe box, but it’s where I want to be for the foreseeable future. And the weather doesn’t suck either.

So what about those reservations I had? I’ve had many conversations with folks in EMC and DSSD now as part of this process, and I think I’m at peace with all of those. For a start, it doesn’t seem as bad as I feared, and EMC has already proven itself capable of reinventing itself for the new world, a fact that even I conceded in a blog post way back in 2013: Death of the Storage Array. DSSD is very much in the new world, and still has a nice startup feel about it. As for having a boss… well let’s see! I’ll be on my best behaviour.

So what does this mean for Simora? All Scale Abilities intellectual property will remain within Scale Abilities, and Simora will continue to be developed in my spare time. Who knows, maybe I can convince EMC to license it to allow replay of realistic customer workloads in the lab?



3 thoughts on “So long, and thanks for all the fish”

  1. Wow – how exciting! Maybe UKOUG can still persuade you to come home to talk about rack-scale flash sometime… afterall I hear the weather is really terrible in California in December 😉
    All the best James!

  2. Glad to hear you’re moving to Silicon Valley. Congratulations on the new position and all good wishes to your continued success. Enjoyed all your writings over the couple of decades. Hope to connect sometime.

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