“Our challenge is breaking the status quo within organisations,” states Brendan Crossey. EMC’s sales manager for Northern Ireland explains that many customers have run their IT systems in the same way for the last 40 years and believe that is the only way to work.
“Our job is to educate the marketplace to say: ‘There are new ways of managing that information much more effectively, with more cost efficiency and the ability to leverage a lot more value out of that information as well.’”
EMC is currently “100 per cent focused” on cloud computing and sees it as the only way forward for an industry that has been “very server- and processing- focused” over the last 30-40 years. Until recently, enough processing power was not available within organisations so people were “very focused on those server vendors to help them manage that processing capability.”
Applications were being designed for peak work e.g. end of year or end of month, and 30-40 per cent risk barriers were added. As a result, utilisation stood at 8-10 per cent or a “very inefficient” 15 per cent at best.
“We’re seeing now, with the new Intel processors, it’s actually very hard to drive those processing capabilities to their full maximum,” Crossey adds.
“Virtualisation allows them to load more and more services on to these processors, and drive that from 10 per cent to 80 per cent. We’re also seeing cloud computing as a way for people actually to balance that workload across internal and external resources. You sweat your asset. You maximise your investment.”
The International Data Corporation (IDC), on behalf of EMC, has released the fourth annual report on what it calls ‘the digital universe’ or the amount of digital information created or replicated in a year.
Companies are becoming much more information-centric, with information management vastly out pacing processing growth. The proportion of unstructured data is rapidly increasing e.g. media or video files brought into an organisation and used during the working day.
Outlining the problem, he remarks: “People have access to a lot of content out there in the web, which is not controlled by your internal IT resources, but you have to support that. We’re seeing growth rates of 60-70 per cent per annum. IT budgets aren’t rising by that amount. In most cases, they’re actually declining and people are looking for efficiency savings.”
Most IT departments are not set up to manage unstructured data, but the same management, audit and security requirements apply. If data is lost, bad publicity results and financial penalties also loom. A lost laptop is a “nightmare for any organisation.”
The key question is how to get value out of the information i.e. where people can access the right information at the right time from any device. Several elements in the traditional IT environment are no longer up to the job.
“We’re now getting customers with thousands of tapes within their back-up environments,” he comments. “If you want to go and restore from that, one, it’s going to take you a long, long time to do that and, secondly, about one in three ‘restores from tape’ fail.”
Backing up to disc was “fairly expensive”. However, the new EMC Avamar and Data Domain technologies now provide very quick disc back-ups at the cost point of tape. Looking ahead, any system in the future will have to be “scalable” enough to handle 60-70 per cent growth, in both structured and unstructured data.
EMC partner companies such as Novosco can deliver a cloud-based back- up capability. Crossey cautions that back-up, by its nature, is not going to make the company more efficient: “It’s a capability if something goes wrong. You need it there but if you do back-up very efficiently, you’re not going to generate 20 per cent more sales as an organisation. It’s a secondary task so people are moving that out.”
Cloud computing can make the whole processing and storage capabilities much more effective. Organisations, he finds, are looking at what core information to keep, and what can be managed more cost-effectively using secondary storage (archives) or outside providers.
Typically, around 40 per cent of data is considered core. Another 20 per cent is infrequently accessed but an organisation will want to control that and make it available to staff. Secondary tier storage can be used for both categories.
The remaining 40 per cent may be kept for compliance or historical reasons, or its use may be unknown. This can then be outsourced to another cloud-based organisation.
“When I started off in IT, we were talking about megabytes of information then the gigabytes. We’re now into petabytes and we’re looking now at zettabytes going forward,” he continues.
“We’ll actually create more data in 2013 than we’ve ever created in the history of mankind, and people will have to make that available online and manage it.”
While 80-90 per cent of data has been created and managed within the organisation to date, the next three years will see a complete switch in the opposite direction. At least 80 per cent of new data will be created by individuals and brought into the corporate environment, where it must still be managed by the internal IT department.
“You may not even see where that data has been created. You’ll not know who’s created it but you’ll still have to be responsible for it.”
In another trend, many organisations were set up to manage “files and paper and faxes” but 90 per cent of the information coming into organisations is now data- based. Companies must consider: “How do you pull all that information into the organisation, search it, index it and find out what’s important around it?”
This is leading to a lot of interest in content management systems and document management systems. EMC has just bought Greenplum, a company which specialises in data mining, interrogating ‘big data’ and extracting out the information that’s key to the business.
An effective company is one which reacts very quickly to changes in business requirements, he remarks. Extracting data to measure key performance indicators is therefore important for commercial success.
For business customers, systems must stay up 24-7 and any downtime is critical. Interest in data mining is increasing, as it allows businesses to be “very flexible and reactive” to changes in their business.
Consultancy is, meanwhile, one of the fastest growing parts of business with customers wanting to understand how information can be leveraged to generate real business value.
In Crossey’s view, EMC is “just at a cusp in the marketplace” and starting to see a return on the investments it has made over the last five years.
While it often advocates “change from top to bottom” in a client’s operations, one of his key messages is that the process is “heterogeneous”. It’s a matter of keeping good investments that have already been made and replacing inefficient parts of the business.
EMC will also “work very happily” in an IBM, Dell or HP environment. “Customers have to have choice,” he concludes. “Customers don’t want to be locked into technologies or vendors.”