HPE’s Tom Black: Why storage and networking are different dialects of the same language

We had a quick interview with Tom Black, HPE Storage’s inaugural boss, earlier this month. Black took on the job in January and is a 20-year networking veteran. He was promoted from HPE’s Aruba networking unit. and his career includes VP Engineering roles at HP, Arista and Cisco.

Networking guy to run storage

So, why appoint a network engineering guy to run storage? Pointing out that Pure Storage CEO Charlie Giancarlo and NetApp CEO George Kurian are former Cisco execs, Black says he thinks of storage and networking as “different dialects of the same language”.

Tom Black.

Both technologies move data, involve CPUs, memory and PCIe and can use ASIC. They are distributed systems with redundancy at every level, and “both are absolute fanatics on data integrity… both have a very large blast radius and that ripples into system design for networking and storage.”

Because of this overlap, Black says, there are similarities in the computer science concepts, design methodologies and logic involved in the two disciplines although “obviously there are different data structures”.

That means storage engineers can have meaningful conversations with networking engineers. And it also means Black, as an incoming storage boss, understands the basic whys and wherefores of a storage array technology and can ask, engineer to engineer, why choices have been made to use one technology option or direction when others are possible. He says the approach is one of “blameless inspection”.

Edging forward

But what’s going on today? One of Black’s first public HPE storage moves was a minor re-org that consolidates the SimpliVity and Nimble dHCI research and development teams.

We asked Black what HPE will do with file storage, where its technology is relatively weak, and where the company relies on partnerships such as WekaIO. He said HPE has strong partnerships and values them and also: “I don’t want to solve yesterday’s problems… I’m not going to try and catch up on someone else’s 10-year advantage.”

Tech transitions equal opportunity

Black pointed out that HPE Storage drops most of its operating profit to the bottom line and he noted that there has not been a lot of market share change between mainstream vendors in recent years. “So, storage is ripe for innovation.”

Where will he take HPE Storage? One area of interest is the internet edge – “a great opportunity,” he says.

Black sees technology transitions as times where large market share changes are made. NVMe over Fabrics is “a big transition” in the early stage of a multi-year change and promises disruptive economics.

He didn’t reveal any roadmap items but did say: “We have very aggressive next-year plans, with very innovative new programs on the docket.”

Take this at face value and HPE will introduce new file and object storage technology products, perhaps with a focus on Internet edge applications, and perhaps using NVMe-oF.