Eye on Blades Blog: Trends in Infrastructure
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"If something doesn't exist, we'll make it"

Over the holidays, I took my daughter to see a movie about a Cajun frog.  I admit to a pang of jealousy as I passed crowds lined up for screenings of "Avatar". However, given my situation -- namely a 5-year-old clamoring for popcorn and a Princess movie -- I made the best choice for my needs.


It turns out those Avatar-watching throngs got to see the result of another best choice; one made by a group of IT experts in Miramar, New Zealand


Weta is an Academy Award-winning studio that did the digital effects for Avatar.  The imaginations at Weta Digital have created some incredible virtual realities. Jim Ericson from Information Management quotes Weta's Paul Gunn as explaining that 'if it's something that doesn't exist, we'll make it.'  Pretty amazing innovations coming from a relatively small place on the other side of the world from Hollywood and Silicon Valley.


In an article and blog, Jim sketches for us the 4000-server facility Weta used to render the VFX of the blockbuster.  One eye-opener: the final output from this behemoth server farm fits on a single hard drive.


Weta's space- and power-constrained facility uses advanced techniques like blades and water cooling.  Performance is a paramount need –so much so that their server clusters comprise seven of the world's 500 largest supercomputers.  But their workloads didn't just need massive scalability, they also required high bandwidth between individual server nodes, and relatively local storage.  


As Jim points out, they chose to build their infrastructure with HP BladeSystem, using the double-dense BL2x220c  server blade.  This very innovative, compact server (shown in the video below) let them achieve, in their words, 'greater processing density than anything else found on the market'. 


Actually, any engineer could stick 64 Intel® Xeon® processors into a 17-inch-high box and get it to run.   However, very few computer companies have the expertise -- and resources -- to make such a thing affordable and efficient, and to be able to warranty  that it will run without pause for 3+ years. 


Even more important: Weta possessed something relatively rare when they chose HP BladeSystem. They were already experts in bladed architectures.  Their prior infrastructure was based on IBM blade servers, so they already expected the space- and power-saving benefits of blades.   Weta was seeking  the best bladed architecture.  And Weta determined that, for them, HP BladeSystem was the best choice.

Ghosts of marketing past

Eight years ago, we started touting blades to the masses.  Do you remember the original messages?


More servers per rack!  Save datacenter floor space!!  Introducing the Density Optimized Server!!!


Now the bell tolls for me. These messages are the wailing echos I hear from my chamber bed. 

Ghost fingers

Here's the thing.  It's 8 years later and our marketing ghosts continue to haunt the entire blade industry. 


We reviewed some customer research last week from June 2008 (yes, last month) with Forrester Research, and we asked a very simple question to people who still haven't bought a single blade system.  "Why not?"


Can you guess what they said? 


"I don't have a space problem."  "Blades = space savings.  I have lots of space, so I don't need blades. Done. End of story. Next question please."


Most of these folks took a look at early blades in 2001 and admittedly, saw a lot of holes.  My, oh my how they remember the holes!  Their mind was made up.  "Blades are too hot."  "Blades cost more."  "Blades are under-featured."  "I have a plenty of floor space."  These myths continue to live on despite a remarkable transformation over the past decade of blade technology and a lot of data and experience to the contrary. 


The fact is, no one changes their mind.  A decision made, is a decision made.  But you can give them a different perspective. In the tech world, if you get the introduction wrong - either the wrong message, the wrong product or at the wrong time, there is no turning back.  Ask Microsoft.


My point today is not really about blades, it's about first impressions (and how the wrong one can keep you up at night for years).  The beginning of every marketing discussion is all about first impressions.  They are so important because they stick like microwaved duct tape.


If you get it wrong, or take a narrow view, or don't crawl inside the skin of the customer to find and communicate the real, felt need your solution solves - you will be haunted for many, many years with the ghosts of marketing past.  Our mistake in 2001 was focusing on the product, not on the customer.  We wanted so badly to show what an engineering marvel it was that we didn't spend enough time to understand how it could really help the customer.  (I like to think we are learning.)


My advice: 


1. Don't launch half-baked.  If you think you will have a killer product in 6 months, wait 6 months.
2. Talk to as many customers as possible.  Do this well before you launch.
3. Test the message.  Then test it again.  (and I don't mean with paid analysts, but with real people in the real world)


If you nail that first impression and are crisp, clear and aimed at the root of that felt need, you'll have a great launch.  But, you never get a second chance.


The good news for this insomniac technology marketer?  There's still plenty of work to be had to help customers evaluate blades for their business and to articulate the relevant story behind blades.  (Like I said, I like to think we've learned something.)


Sweet dreams,
Jason 

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About the Author(s)
  • More than 25 years in the IT industry developing and managing marketing programs. Focused in emerging technologies like Virtualization, cloud and big data.
  • I work within EMEA ISS Central team and a launch manager for new products and general communications manager for EMEA ISS specific information.
  • Hello! I am a social media manager for servers, so my posts will be geared towards HP server-related news & info.
  • HP Servers, Converged Infrastructure, Converged Systems and ExpertOne
  • WW responsibility for development of ROI and TCO tools for the entire ISS portfolio. Technical expertise with a financial spin to help IT show the business value of their projects.
  • I am a member of the HP BladeSystem Portfolio Marketing team, so my posts will focus on all things blades and blade infrastructure. Enjoy!
  • Luke Oda is a member of the HP's BCS Marketing team. With a primary focus on marketing programs that support HP's BCS portfolio. His interests include all things mission-critical and the continuing innovation that HP demonstrates across the globe.
  • Global Marketing Manager with 15 years experience in the high-tech industry.
  • Network industry experience for more than 20 years - Data Center, Voice over IP, security, remote access, routing, switching and wireless, with companies such as HP, Cisco, Juniper Networks and Novell.
  • 20 years of marketing experience in semiconductors, networking and servers. Focused on HP BladeSystem networking supporting Virtual Connect, interconnects and network adapters.
  • Greetings! I am on the HP Enterprise Group marketing team. Topics I am interested in include Converged Infrastructure, Converged Systems and Management, and HP BladeSystem.
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