2015: Year in Review

Dickens once famously said…

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…

…and I could not think of a better list to describe my personal journey and the industry itself in 2015.

For those of you that have followed along throughout the journey of 2015 with me, you’ve certainly seen me go from one end of the spectrum to another and then back again. I thought I would take the time to address some things that have come up throughout the year, as well as review some of the more technological advancements that were made in 2015 that could impact all of our futures.

First, let’s talk about the 800-lb elephant in the room …

My Departure from NetApp

I still really don’t have true closure, honestly, as to why it happened or why the decision was made. Likely never will. Only a bunch of different perspectives and speculation. Everything from being targeted as a remote employee to lack of visibility into what I did and did not contribute, and all sorts of things in the middle.

I’m inclined to believe that it was some 3rd party analyst with a spreadsheet, and remote workers are easy targets, especially when there’s no real context into true contribution to a company.

I’ll say this, though. Several folks reached up within the ranks at NetApp asking “WTF?” or if there was a place to put me. I’m not naive enough to sit here and believe that no one knew it was coming, and that no one could have done anything about it. So, there was certainly some level of orchestration involved in my departure. To what end, I’ll never know.

It’s part of the overall problem that has manifested itself inside of NetApp. The lack of teams looking outside their own little bubble that they live within, and recognizing that it was ok to let one of your most visible and vocal evangelists go on a whim, without consideration of the negative impact it may or may not have. To have things that you spent YEARS building yanked out from under you with no real justification as to why is one of the most insulting and depressing things anyone will ever go through, and I wouldn’t wish it upon my worst enemy.

That said, I couldn’t be prouder of my boys Glenn Sizemore and Pete Flecha for picking up the reins this summer and following through on integrating the podcast into the communities under the new Tech ONTAP banner; something Glenn and I had been working on since Insight 2014. The new music and intros are awesome, and the show rolled on in a better way than what I could have hoped for. Hopefully, the Communities team doesn’t screw that up, too.

Pete has since moved on to a new role at VMware, and newcomer Justin Parisi has taken the reins. Some of you may remember Justin’s guest blog posts here on the site over the last couple of years, so it’s safe to say that the show is in knowledgable hands. I continue to wish those guys the best of luck. I enjoyed all the coverage from VMworld and Insight.

Selling Your Soul & Losing The Community

One thing I realized around the VMworld timeframe was something that hit home like a ton of bricks.

I had lost the community.

I had invested so much of my own personal brand to becoming “the NetApp guy” that once I no longer had NetApp, I no longer had anything to preach about (or so I thought). Also, I noticed that everyone kinda stopped inviting me to stuff. It’s a very weird thing to describe, but many thanks to several of you that I’ve talked to about this and have pointed me in the right direction. Special shout-outs to Josh Atwell, Michael Letschin, Amy Lewis, Ed Saipetch, and Gabe Chapman for their candor.

Sometimes, things are very hard to hear, and I needed to hear it. And once I heard it, it made perfect sense. As a customer, before joining NetApp in 2011, I always scoffed at tweets and arguments on the vendor side of things, never taking them too seriously, because it was just the typical vendor turf war BS. We as end-users would sit on the sidelines and laugh at how silly they all looked. When I joined NetApp, I would sometimes make fun of some the tweets that the branded accounts would send out, and send them feedback around how we could do things better. While some of those things were implemented, I still found things I would have done differently.

Why am I telling you all of this? Some of you will have the opportunity in the coming years to join a vendor. You will find yourselves in the same position I did back in 2011. It will be an extremely rewarding feeling. But never forget where you came from and what truly got you there. Your engagement in the community through blogging, social media, events, and meetups are where people really get to know the true “you.” And if you stop showing up to those things as yourself, and not the vendor you represent, you’ll find yourself in a serious position of missing out.

My name is Nick Howell, and I sold my soul for NetApp.  Along the way, I lost some of my more personal relationships with a lot of the community members. One of my top goals for 2016 is to re-establish those relationships as much as possible and by any means necessary. It’s time for me to re-engage.


One of the fringe benefits of being packaged out of a company is the ability to take your time and find the Goldilocks of an employer that fits YOU, as opposed to vice versa. I’m not exaggerating when I say I spoke to and interviewed with more than 10 different solid companies that were interested in bringing me on board. I had my own set of criteria that I was looking for, and Cohesity met all of them with flying colors.

That’s not to say the ride has been perfect the last six months. Ask anyone that has worked at a small 50-person startup and they’ll tell you … there are some tough moments that make you doubt yourself, doubt the company, doubt everything. That’s very dangerous and not a good feeling to have. It has challenged every emotion one can face, and every belief that I have. Before joining such a small startup, I talked to many of my colleagues about the pros/cons of such an endeavor and overwhelmingly received the feedback that I would thrive in the atmosphere.

I’m happy to share with you guys that I certainly have thrived. This feels like a home now, not just a job. I’ve been taken in, accepted, and am a trusted advisor amongst a very elite management team and a powerhouse engineering organization in Silicon Valley. The core values and culture within the bright green walls of Cohesity is magical, and as we approach the 100-employee mark heading into 2016, it feels like we’re on the precipice of something big here. It just has that feel. Again, very hard to describe, but with strong leadership from Mohit and Riccardo, 2016 stands to be a pretty incredible year.

Between August and Thanksgiving, I flew 60,000 air miles spreading the good word at various events around the country. It was great to meet a lot of new folks, and reconnect with some old familiar faces. In general, it was great just getting back out there doing what I do, and I look forward to seeing and meeting many more of you this year as there are no signs of slowing down!

OK, enough of that personal stuff… let’s talk about some technology milestones and high-points that emerged in 2015!

Intel 3D XPoint

Arguably, the biggest breakthrough in decades with regards to storage, much less 2015, is 3D XPoint from Intel. This video is must-watch for any technologist.

It’s hard to put into words just how much this geeks me out! There are more videos from Intel on the 3D XPoint page. I highly recommend watching the “how it works” animation as well as the 45-minute announcement talk.

DRAM is one of those pieces of the system that have kinda always been taken for granted. It was just something a computer had to have, like a processor.  The fact that we are now going to be able to use it as non-volatile persistent storage is absolutely game-changing.

16TB & 32TB SSD!

This year, at Flash Memory Summit, Samsung announced that they are a year ahead of schedule, and that by the end of 2016, we are going to have access to 2.5″ NAND SSD’s with 16TB capacities. By the end of 2017, there will be a 32TB version.

I’ll let you do your own research into the “V” vertical cell architecture, but I want to focus in on what this means for enterprise infrastructure as a whole.

We’ve now reached the inflection point where the capacities of SSD’s are surpassing those of spinning media.  Where spinning disks have typically been known as a middle tier or “cheap and deep” form of data storage in the all-flash era of the last few years, we’re now getting to the point where spinning platters are bumping up against the physics of what is truly possible.

It’s my belief that what we’re looking at now, with new memory technologies on the horizon, is NAND taking over the middle tier completely, replacing 10k SAS and relegating spinning disks to a pure capacity tier across the board.  While it might not be as cost-effective to do so, it could even be argued that since the spinning disks are hitting their limits (HGST just released the 10TB helium filled drive) of capacity, we will begin to even see SSD act as the capacity tier. I’ll grant you that they’re too expensive to do that with now, but can you imagine what the 100TB drive of the year 2020 is going to look like and how it is going to completely change the datacenters of tomorrow?

Meanwhile, we all sit around arguing over IOPS and throughput and performance and yada yada.  Folks, Performance itself is on the verge of being commoditized. The management of immense volumes upon volumes of data is the next big storage problem. Being able to simplify the management of all of that data as well as native and built-in data awareness (i.e. analytics) is one of the biggest reasons I ultimately joined Cohesity this summer.

Dell acquires EMC

This has been beaten to death, so I’m not going to waste your time breaking down numbers. What I would like to do is give one man’s perspective as an individual who has been in this industry since the late 90s in various capacities.

There was a time when all I could find when walking into datacenters were Data General and eventually EMC Clariion’s. Perhaps you’d see some Sun storage or a Hitachi here and there, but for the most part, EMC was it. Around the same time, Dell was ramping up the PowerEdge line around this time and beginning to make in-roads into the datacenter racks as well.

Fast-forward to 2015, and you’ve got the merger of the top storage vendor and the one of the top server vendors. Sure, there is overlap, but don’t get lost in the weeds of that stuff. The new Dell/EMC is going to be an absolute powerhouse. The financials are just monotonous details. If you’re out there selling enterprise servers and storage, I hope you realize what you’re going to be up against in a couple of years.

NetApp acquires SolidFire

Smart buy. Smart sell. Good team for SolidFire to join. Gaining access to NetApp’s vast channel partner network, go-to-market resources, and a place where their niche will thrive due to no overlap.

All-Flash FAS vs SolidFire? I think this is the interesting overlap I’ll be keeping an eye on. I’m curious to see what sort of engineering will come out of the combined teams. I’ll be keeping a close eye on this one.

My good friend Christian wins the tweet of the year. For the record, I actually did talk to SolidFire back in early 2014 and it just wasn’t a good fit at the time. Had they picked me up after the layoff, and looped back in this month, my head might have exploded.

So long 2015…

I hope all of you had the happiest of holidays, and I wish you all a very Happy New Year!  But I’m ready for this year to be over.

Bring on 2016.

  1. deannamcneil

    Thanks for the Intel links. I look forward to reading your perspectives in 2016. Any speaking plans scheduled for Washington DC?

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