Safety first when it's your throat being choked!


Posted on: August 5, 2009 by Guy Lidbetter

I was recently asked to advise on a client's requests as to how they might leverage the untapped storage potential held within their significant desktop and laptop PC estate. Like all good service side CTOs I immediately identified the potential flaws in the approach.  The last thing we want is to advise a client to take a path that could prove to be fraught with risks of the loss or security compromise of corporate data.  We are after all, the "throat to choke".

Sage advice was therefore despatched regarding the threats to data persistency and security, the risk of local machines being switched off that held the key segment of a file or a laptop not being connected to the network when it needed to be etc. etc.  From an informed perspective, there is nothing wrong with this given that we have to be mindful when advising in the art of the achievable.

On the face of it the concept of drawing on the distributed sprawl of half empty hard drives naturally tends to the "too hard" pile, especially for people that have been around as long as this author.  However, the question itself is not without merit. Like so many "left field" ideas, the immediate reaction can be to pour scorn on it but many great innovations have been borne of accidents or ideas that seemed crazy at the time.

To ridicule the apparently ridiculous is not a difficult pastime to enjoy but we risk missing opportunities that come from the 1% that might not be so mad after all.

Instead of asking "Can we do this with our spare PC storage?" to which the answer was of course "No, are you mad?", what if an open question had been asked - "What could we usefully do with all the spare storage sitting on our PC estate?".  The answer, or the thought process at least, may have been different. It is after all significantly under utilised corporate resource.

Based on a scientifically conducted straw poll of 1 CTO laptop, I estimate that an organisation of 5,000 people will have about 250 terabytes of unused storage lying about - not insignificant as an unutilised (but paid for) asset.

History is littered with good ideas that were considered ridiculous but turned out to be revolutionary. Pay attention now ... the world isn't flat you know, or so popular opinion and a few photos from the upper atmosphere would have us believe.  Cars can actually go faster than horses without suffocating their occupants.  Men really did go to the moon in a large tin can guided by an overgrown pocket calculator (apologies to conspiracy theorists).

The then Digital Equipment Corporation made a fine business from attacking the mainframe market with their wizzy new mid range departmental computing platforms in the 1970s and 80s.  Their chief famously remarked that he could conceive of no circumstance that would require a computer to exist within the home.  How ironic that DEC were eventually bought by ... a PC manufacturer, Compaq, and now as part of HP, has become part of probably the world's largest provider to the home computing market.  One should always be careful about trying to predict the future.

So what's the moral of the tale?  Next time someone brings you another crazy idea, perhaps it may not be so crazy after all.  Instead of "Are you mad?" how about a more challenging "What would it take ... ?". I once worked for someone who's favourite question was always "What would have to be true to enable us to achieve this?". He never questioned the goal, just the parameters that could make it happen. It wasn't a bad approach.

Now, about all that unused storage sloshing around all over the place ...

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About Guy Lidbetter

Chief Technology Officer, Infrastructure & Data Management. Atos Fellow and member of the Scientific Community
With over 30 years of experience in the IT services industry, as CTO for Atos Infrastructure & Data Management, Guy is responsible for setting Technical and Innovation Strategy across the IT infrastructure stack in both cloud and non-cloud delivery models. He is also responsible for senior level relationships with technology leaders of strategic partners. Previously, he has held numerous technical and management positions in Sema Group, SchlumbergerSema and Atos Origin. In 2017 Guy was appointed an Atos Fellow and is also a founder member of the Atos Scientific Community, most recently sitting on the Editorial Board for the latest Ascent magazine, “Imagining our Quantum Future’.  He has a passion for sport, particularly Chelsea Football Club, baseball’s Atlanta Braves, rugby union and cricket. He also walks, cycles and more leisurely pursuits include photography, reading, music and attempting cryptic crosswords with varying degrees of success.

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