Analyst Q and A: Up close and personal with the Storage Iron Man, AKA the451’s Simon Robinson

December 31, 2011

By Rose Ross, @Rose_at_O

A little treat for New Year’s Eve. We were lucky enough to catch up with hot-footed storage analyst, Simon Robinson, Reseach Director at the451. Happy New Year to our readers and a big thank you to Simon, pictured here with his lovely son.

Q.  Tell us a bit about yourself: 

I’m an industry analyst working for 451 Research, where I run the storage research practice. I’ve been with the company since pretty much day one; I joined when the company formed at the height of the dot com madness in 2000. Before that I was a tech journalist; I joined VNU back in 1997 as part of a graduate trainee program, and from there worked on various online and print titles. I didn’t have a technology background — my degree was in Economics and I’d spent a couple of years working on the City Desk at the Press Association. So although I knew a bit about business and finance, learning how to be a reporter, craft a story, understand and then articulate often complex technologies and issues in a straight-forward way was an incredible challenge, but was an experience that has served me well.

Q. Tell us a little bit about your analyst firm and its interest in data storage. 

451 Research specialises in emerging technologies for enterprise IT; we follow the innovation lifecycle from the conception of an idea all the way to mainstream market adoption, and how this impacts a variety of stakeholders;  IT professionals, startups, large established vendors, investors, venture capitalists and the M&A industry. Of course, not all technologies make it, but that is what I love about this industry and my job. Storage is a big part of our focus – and has been for many years. It may not sound particularly exciting on the surface, but practically every major IT innovation of the last decade wouldn’t have been possible without storage, and lots of it! The level of innovation that this part of the industry churns out is a constant source of fascination for me, and each time you think the industry is done, along comes another wave of new and exciting stuff.

We are a fast growing company ourselves as well, and have a breadth and depth research services that sometimes surprises people; company reports, market reports, M&A reports, market sizing, and through a couple of recent acquisitions (The InfoPro and ChangeWave Research), end-user research. We currently have about 170 staff worldwide, with 20 or so in Europe and most of the rest spread across the US (though company HQ is in New York).

Q. What’s hot in storage this year? 

Without a doubt, solid state storage technology is the hottest issue right now. Solid state will become a mainstream technology at all levels of the enterprise over the next 5 years, and though it won’t replace traditional hard disk drives completely, it has the potential to significantly disruptive the storage market. We are tracking close to $1bn in funding in solid state startups, and we don’t think we have really got going yet.  Elsewhere, there are plenty of other hot topics and emerging technologies that we are following; the impact of virtualization on storage and data protection, the role of storage in the cloud, object storage, next-generation storage networking, and others.


Q. How many storage events do you attend each year? 

Probably 10-15 major events, but lots of smaller ones as well.

Q. Which one are you most looking forward to? 

Though they are becoming rarer, I always look forward to the bigger storage-centric events where you can immerse yourself in the latest storage goodness, such as EMC World and SNW Europe, while NetApp always puts on a very good analyst event. I visited IP Expo for the first time this year, and was impressed by the scale and energy, as well as the number of storage companies that were there.

Q. What types of companies are likely to attract your attention this year? 

Companies that have something interesting to say, and know how to say it. But of course we are always available to help those companies that need help with messaging and positioning!

Q. How many interviews do you do per week? 

That varies hugely, but it probably averages at about 3, though that number increases once you begin factoring in client calls.

Q. What’s the best way to pitch a company to you? Email? Phone? Twitter? By mail?

Good old email is still the best way for me — though I am always reachable by those other means as well. Just don’t leave me a voice mail on my office phone as I might not pick it up for a month or two!

Q. Who is worth listening to (about storage)? 

Apart from us? There are so many incredibly intelligent and articulate people in this industry that I wouldn’t want to single out any one individual. But i usually have at least one conversation a week that reminds me of why i enjoy coming to work.

Q. What’s your favourite blog?

I wouldn’t say I have a favourite blog, though there are many storage blogs that i at least attempt to keep up to date with. I think there are some real questions about the value and role of blogging in general, especially within the technology industry. There are some very well written blogs out there, and they do have a role, but many purport to be ‘independent’ when they are nothing of the sort. Some corporate blogs are useful up to a point, so long as you recognise they are a marketing tool. I generally lose interest in blogs that seem only to engage in FUD with competitors.
Q. What is your favourite piece of technology?

Well this isn’t IT, but i bought a nice road bike a couple of years ago. When I have a decent level of fitness and am humming along a quiet country lane at 30mph the bike does feel like an extension of my own body; it’s a fantastic machine, with incredible technology. I have also bought into the Apple hype recently, and as a result am getting more out of my computing — personal and professional – because it is just a better experience.
Q. What do you think is the most important development in storage to date? 

Well where would we be without the humble spinning disk drive? It has taken us through over 50 years of computing with the same basic idea, though of course the technology is now totally different; and it’s not going away, as real densities still continue to increase. I maintain that the future of storage is solid state (though whether Flash or something else is a different question), but we need to acknowledge the role of the HDD.

Q. What is the best piece of advice for companies pitching stories?

I think understanding the context and articulating the bigger picture is critical. I’m still a journalist at heart, so understanding the broader narrative of why this technology or issue is relevant is huge.

Q. What was the best business trip you’ve ever been on? Worst? Why?

I joined the tech industry as a journalist just as the dot com hype was going into overdrive, and the amount of money sloshing around to spend on journalists was, frankly, insane (especially since i was earning barely enough to cover my rent, bills and food). So I was lucky and managed to get on a few ‘jollies’; husky-dog sledding in Finnish Lapland and spending 4th July in New York (on my first ever business trip) stand out as highlights. My worst is a lot easier; it was a trip to Boston in January; it’s a long story, but as you can imagine a winter storm came in, my flight got diverted to Atlantic City, and I ended up hiring a car and driving through the night to get to the meeting just as it was due to start; only to find out it was canceled due to bad weather!

Q. What’s your favourite restaurant?

Another easy one; I lived in San Francisco for a couple of years, and my wife and I really got into eating sushi. There was this little, no frills place in our neighbourhood that came up with the most fantastic creations. I make a point of heading there every time I visit.
Q. Are you a social media lover? Which ones are you on? FB? LinkedIn? Twitter?

I am connected to most forms of social media, though I confess I’m not prolific on any of them; though I do think it’s increasingly necessary to have some sort of social media presence, even if the real value is sometimes hard to quantify. I do try to keep business and personal stuff separate though, so I tweet about work stuff and use Facebook for personal stuff.
Q. Tell us something no one knows about you. Do you have any unusual or unexpected hobbies/interests? Do you have a claim to fame?

No real claims to fame — I’m just an ordinary bloke from the North of England. I have participated in a few triathlons in recent years; though I hesitate to call myself a triathlete, it is a great sport if you are interested in setting yourself individual goals. I took a year off this year as we had our first baby, and finding time to sleep has been hard enough, never mind train. But I hope to be back in the saddle in 2012!

Copyright ©Launchpad Europe 2011. All rights reserved. You may copy and distribute this material as long as  you credit the author where possible; the copies are distributed only for non-commercial purposes and at no charge; and you include this copyright notice and link to Countdown2StorageExpo.com, the original source of the work.

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  2. […] to eminent influencers.  We’ve interviewed many of the judges on the Countdown blogs, including Simon Robinson, Teresa Cottam, Andrew Seldon, Chris Mellor, and others. We’ll also be interviewing other judges […]

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