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Sunday, October 13, 2013

Microsoft investors want to fire Bill Gates as company Chairman

Three big Microsoft stockholders that collectively own more than five percent of the company's shares are lobbying to fire Microsoft founder Bill Gates from his role as Chairman.

The Reuters report containing the news doesn't name the investors but goes on to suggest they are worried that Gates' influence as Chairman is disproportionate to his current 4.5 percent stake in the company.

The investors are also worried that Gates is helping to recruit ousted CEO Steve Ballmer. That concern seems legitimate-- when Gates stepped down from Microsoft some years ago, he effectively replaced himself with Ray Ozzie, a guy no-one had a bad word for.

Were Gates to lobby for a Ballmer replacement with similar heritage, investors could feel nervous that Microsoft senior leadership is too rooted in the past, whether they are right or wrong.

If Reuters' report is correct, it suggests investors' desire for change at Microsoft weren't satisfied by Steve Ballmer stepping aside, even if Ballmer wasn't that popular with Wall Street to begin with.

That attitude could be good news for Microsoft. Any public company's primary duty is to enhance shareholder value. That investors want more change at the company suggests they believe current management isn't capable of enhancing shareholder value but that the value is locked up in the stock, nevertheless.

The cold financial calculus behind such thinking means little for those who feel that Gates' contribution to the computing industry and to Microsoft are enormous.

You can say what you want, and Microsoft may have made many mistakes in the course of its history, but the company's audacious early goal of putting a PC into every home came to fruition, bringing with it lots of change, most of it for the good.

In other IT and computer news

Of all the many recent changes in the storage segment over the past five years, the most dramatic transformation is the coming of flash-based storage devices.

In mid-2008, we were talking about general purpose, multi-tier arrays, automated tiering and provisioning – all coming together in a single monolithic device.

The multi-protocol filer was going to become the dominant model. This was going to allow us to break down whole silos in the data centre and to simplify things.

Arrays were getting bigger as were the disks themselves. Overall I/O density was a real issue and generally the slowest part of any system was the back-end storage.

And then came SSDs. While everyone knows that flash-based/memory-based arrays have been around for a long time, until 2008 or thereabouts, they were very much specialist devices and their manufacturers were catering to a niche market.

But the arrival of solid-state disk (SSD) – flash in a familiar form factor at a slightly less eye-watering price – was a real game-changer.

EMC and other similar storage firms scrambled to make use of this technology, treating them as a faster disk tier in the existing arrays was the order of the day.

Case in point: Automated Storage Tiering technology was the must-have technology for many array manufacturers, though few customers could really afford to run all of their workloads on an entirely SSD-based infrastructure.

Yet if you talk to the early adopters of SSDs in these arrays, you will soon hear some horror stories-- the legacy arrays were simply not architected to make the best use of the SSDs in them. And, arguably, they still aren’t. While they’ll run faster than your typical 15k spinning disk, you are likely not getting the full value from them.

We think that all the legacy array manufacturers knew that there were going to be some problems. The different approaches that the vendors take almost points to this. Most vendors took several approaches over the years – from using flash as a cache to utilizing it simply as a faster disk.

And soon many moved from using it as extension of the read cache to using it as both a read and write cache. Many of the vendors claimed they had the one true answer, but that fact of the matter is, none of them did.

Such a gap in the market enabled a whole slew of startups to burgeon. Where confusion reigns, there is opportunity for disruption. And the open-sourcing of ZFS soon built massive opportunities for smaller startups, because the entry level into the market dropped in terms of cost.

But if you examine many of the startups' offerings, they are really a familiar architecture but aimed at a different price point and market as opposed to the larger storage vendors.

And we have seen a real snow storm of cash both in the form of venture capital but also acquisitions as the traditional vendors realize that they simply cannot innovate quickly enough within their own business models.

While all this was going on, there has been an incredible rise in the amount of data that is now being stored and captured. The more traditional architectures struggle-- scale-up has its limits in many cases and techniques from the HPC marketplace began to become mainstream.

Scale-out architectures had begun to appear, first in the HPC market, then into the media segment and now with the massive data demands of the traditional enterprises, we see them across the board.

Throw in SSDs and scale-out together with virtualization, and you have created a perfect opportunity for all in the storage market to come up with new ways of providing value to their customers.

So how do you get these newly siloed data-stores to work in a harmonious and easy-to-manage way? How do we meet the demands of businesses that are growing ever faster? We invent a new acronym-- "SDS" or "software defined storage".

But funnily enough, the whole SDS movement takes us right back to the beginning-- many of our early articles were focused on the awfulness of ECC as a tool to manage storage. Much of it due to the frustration that it was both truly awful and was trying to do to much.

But we're pretty certain that we’ll see many of the vendors trying to push their standard and we’ll probably still be in a world of storage silos for a while, like it or not.

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