What I learned at Storage Field Day

Storage Field Day 4

It’s eight o’clock on Thursday morning.  A limo bus pulls up in front of the Coho office in Sunnyvale.  About fifteen people get out and stream into the office, a motley crew of bloggers, analysts, and IT pros.  They look hungry.

This is Storage Field Day.  Calling it a briefing isn’t quite right… maybe calling it an inquisition would be more accurate.  These “delegates” have been selected through a qualification process.  Their visit lasts about two hours.  They show up, they settle in, and you give them a presentation.  Beyond your presentation, nothing is scripted.  You have no idea what to expect from them in terms of questions, which they ask whenever they want during your presentation.  The whole thing is recorded on video and webcast live.

To make this slightly more terrifying, the delegates sit there punching furiously on their laptops through your entire presentation — so if they don’t call BS to your face for something they disagree with, it’s because they are tweeting it to each other and the world.

Just another briefing, right?

That’s what I thought until about a week before SFD4. I hadn’t put a whole lot of thought into the event at all.  Given our recent company launch, I’ve done a fair number of briefings, and as far as I was concerned this was another one of those.  Someone strongly encouraged me to watch some old tech field day videos, which I finally did.  That was when I realized that this wasn’t your average briefing.  I found video of vendor claims being challenged on the spot, to their faces.  There were videos of workloads being called pointless and graphs being questioned.  In one case, I even found a vendor being accused of lying about product functionality and then capitulating on camera.  As a viewer, the videos were weirdly riveting. As a presenter, they were maybe a little bit like watching the Shining — they were terrifying, and yet I couldn’t stop watching.  Who knew what was going to happen during the Coho briefing?

The delegates had some snacks and settled in.  There were quick introductions, and then I dove into the presentation.

Two hours later, poetry was appearing on the twitter feed…

“Remove all your LUNs
Peel away all your layers
Let apps talk to storage”

Luca Dell’Oca, SFD4 Delegate

And this was the surprising part: presenting to the team of delegates was spectacularly fun.  They were engaged.  They asked great questions.  They let me talk even more enthusiastically about what we’re trying to achieve at Coho than I normally do, and they had fantastic reactions to things.

These reactions weren’t always positive: I’m pretty sure I started too slow — they looked bored as I spent the first 15 minutes or so covering some groundwork about the background and motivation for the company. When we talked about host-side caching, I asked if anyone knew what Mattson’s stack algorithm was and had there was a palpable fear that I might be about to go off into some pointless and completely academic rambling.  But this immediate reaction from being in the same room as these folks was the best part of the presentation: this audience was both deeply technical and really interested in technology.  They wanted to learn, and they provided enough feedback to guide the presentation in interesting directions.

I didn’t anticipate that there was going to be a ringer SDN delegate, in the form of Tom Hollingsworth (@networkingnerd) or that I would end up doing an ad lib OpenFlow/SDN primer in the middle of the talk.  I didn’t expect to get as far into the weeds as the fact that even with uncontended locks, that cache coherence on the CPU can be a significant overhead on PCIe flash-based storage and I was surprised that nobody really seemed fazed by this, and that both Steven Foskett (@SFoskett) and Chris Wahl (@ChrisWahl) had completely sensible follow-up points.  Toward the end of the talk, I showed the delegates a preview of some work that we are doing around workload analytics and forecasting and it was astounding to see that they not only understood a quick sketch of the mechanics around performance profiling and forecasting, but that they were enthusiastic about the implications, even though what I was previewing was admittedly pretty rough.

In the end, this was easily the most enjoyable presentation that I’ve done on Coho.  I really enjoyed meeting and learning about the delegates, both at the event itself and at the evening social event that the SFD4 organizers set up in the evening.  Luca (@dellock6) and Joep (@jpiscaer) grilled me on OpenStack integration and our roadmap.  I learned that Howard Marks (@DeepStorageNet) spends $800 a month powering his personal data center.  All of these delegates are crazy, hands-on, passionate, and enthusiastic IT folks.  I really enjoyed the event, and would love to come back and do an update at some point in the future.

The videos from my presentation are all online now.  I’m always happy to talk about our system, so please get in touch with any additional questions!


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