Data Storage Management Q&A with Lee Caswell at Nutanix: The Multifaceted Storage Landscape

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The storage management market is not restricted to a few key data solutions: it encompasses a wide range of storage networking, data protection, and software-defined technologies. 

In a world of rapidly created data and increasing storage capacity and access requirements, storage management companies are handed the challenge of not only maintaining and protecting that data but also innovating in categories like hybrid cloud, data snapshots, and  centralized storage management.

Lee Caswell, the SVP of product and solutions marketing at Nutanix, provides his thoughts on the technologies and market development that storage management companies should consider as they handle enterprise data. 

Lee Caswell Lee Caswell headshot.

Lee Caswell is well-known for accelerating the adoption of new technologies by enterprise customers. He comes to Nutanix from VMware, where he was VP Product Marketing of the Cloud Infrastructure Business Group. Lee has extensive leadership experience in the storage, flash, and virtualization markets including past executive roles at NetApp, Fusion-IO, and Adaptec. Lee started his career at GE Corporate Consulting and holds a bachelor’s degree from Carleton College and a Master of Business Administration degree from Dartmouth College.

Data Storage Management Q&A

Working at Nutanix 

Enterprise Storage Forum: How did you first start working in the storage management market?

Caswell: I moved to Silicon Valley to work for the first public flash semiconductor company, SEEQ Technology, back in 1986 and have been fascinated with how new storage technologies require management innovations ever since.

What is your favorite thing about working at Nutanix?

Caswell: I love Nutanix’s focus on customer success. There is an unbridled optimism that Nutanix innovations – from product gems to business practices – are only complete once customers are productively delighted with them.

Enterprise Storage Forum: What sets Nutanix’s storage management approach or solutions apart from the competition?

Caswell: There have been many attempts in the industry in the past to velcro independently designed storage, compute, and network products into a semblance of converged infrastructure. These early offerings, at best, simplified the initial configuration and sizing of systems at a time when ERP and CRM systems changed relatively slowly, but did nothing to improve overall operations.

What Nutanix has uniquely done is simplify operations at a time when customers are faced with a deluge of new applications, an unpredictable market, and a heightened sense of urgency from less patient social and mobile users.

Hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) from Nutanix introduces a unified management view across software-defined compute, storage and network resources that are portable and consistently managed across hybrid cloud endpoints. That’s an amazing level of simplification that allows generalists to manage distributed applications with a common control plane.

Current market

Enterprise Storage Forum: What is one key storage management technology that particularly interests you?

Caswell: This may be surprising, but I think the most interesting thing about storage management right now is that it needs to be seamless and nearly invisible so people can focus on application development. Users want apps of all types to run without buying specific storage infrastructure and without any upfront planning. And they need to run blocks, files, and objects with the same user interface – and ideally the same pricing model. There are great new storage technologies that make this possible. For example, Flash is a key enabler as it’s now cost-competitive with disk and its low-latency allows scale-out architectures like HCI to approximate the performance of traditional storage systems at a fraction of the price with a management simplicity that works for IT generalists.

Enterprise Storage Forum: What is one data protection technique that storage management professionals should implement and why?

Caswell: I believe the importance of storage snapshots and the need for unified snapshot management is being completely overlooked across the industry today. Granular snapshots provide application-consistent recovery points to protect against everything from user error to ransomware. Yet, snapshots from every storage vendor are uniquely created and generated without a defined life-cycle management model into the cloud. Therefore, I see a huge need among customers for uniform snapshot management across storage protocols, edge-to- core-to-cloud locations, and traditional to modern applications.

Enterprise Storage Forum: What should companies incorporate into their storage management strategies to be successful? What is the biggest storage management mistake that you see enterprises making?

Caswell: Companies should expect that data will be distributed across the expanding hybrid multicloud world. Companies that were solely on-premises now need to factor in data residency in hyperscale clouds and those embracing IoT are faced with an explosion of data at the edge. Many companies are wrestling with siloed storage management strategies that are specific to applications, protocols, and locations. A centralized storage management strategy will be required going forward to comprehend this distributed data environment.

Enterprise Storage Forum: What are some current trends in the storage management market that are promising?

Caswell: I’m intrigued to see how AI and ML can be applied to storage to help with intelligent placement of data across the hybrid multicloud environment for cost, security, and performance optimizations.

Enterprise Storage Forum: What are the biggest factors that are driving change in storage management?

Caswell: The distribution of data across hybrid multicloud and the accelerating pace of application development are two key changes we’re seeing customers implementing. From an external perspective, ransomware is certainly driving a need for an integrated security, one that’s ideally a software-defined approach that spans compute, network, and storage.

Enterprise Storage Forum: How has storage management changed during your time in the market?

Caswell: We used to have to match proprietary infrastructure to individual application performance needs. However, with flash and HCI, this work has become obsolete and simply doesn’t exist anymore.

Enterprise Storage Forum: Where do you predict the storage management market will be 5 or 10 years from now?

Caswell:I expect to still be thinking about data locality and looking at how we move analytics to the edge where most data will be generated and then rehydrate some core learnings back to a cloud-operated core. This will be hybrid multicloud in full bloom.

Personnel and professionals in storage management

Enterprise Storage Forum: What is one technology your team wants storage management professionals to know?

Caswell: Container management is a critical technology to understand. Containers, and microservices more generally, speed the development of cloud native applications which in turn drive competitive advantage. It will be important for storage management professionals to extend their value to new container-based, Kubernetes-orchestrated applications that will be deployed across hybrid multicloud infrastructures.

Enterprise Storage Forum: If you could give one piece of advice to a storage management professional in the beginning of their career, what would it be?

Caswell: My advice would be to find a way to get in front of customers, even just as an observer, because there’s immense value in hearing directly from the customer about how storage management can drive competitive advantage.

Enterprise Storage Forum: With the shortage of tech talent, how is your team finding and retaining storage management professionals?

Caswell: People want to work with people they trust. Similarly, managers want to manage people they trust. My team works to establish trust in every interaction from interviews to meetings. From my perspective, this is demonstrated by open communication, active respectful listening, and a bias for diversity.

Enterprise Storage Forum: For the greatest business impact, what should storage management professionals be focusing on most in their roles?

Caswell: I’m encouraging teams to shift their focus from simply storing and protecting data to helping customers apply a data-centric approach and get more value out of their data. I anticipate customers applying AI/ML technologies to all of their environments going forward and I think we are just beginning to think about how these models will work best.

Work life

Enterprise Storage Forum: What is one of your top professional accomplishments?

Caswell: My top professional achievement has been advising younger managers on how to be successful. This is the most meaningful metric of my impact over time.

Enterprise Storage Forum: What is your favorite part of working in storage management?

Caswell: I started in storage management when networking was the cool place to be. It’s exciting to see that data management strategies now define how the distributed hybrid multicloud will evolve.

Enterprise Storage Forum: What is one of your favorite parts of the work week? How does it encourage or inspire you? Do you have a favorite way to recharge during the workday?

Caswell: I love meeting with customers and this is an area that has changed the most and has been more challenging during the pandemic. I’m looking forward to bringing back more informal conversations with our customers.

Enterprise Storage Forum: What are your favorite hobbies or ways to spend time outside of work?

Caswell: I’m a trained musician, mostly performing on trumpet, but I also have some keyboard, guitar, and vocal skills. Singing country music is also something that helps me feel connected.

Read next: Top 5 Data Storage Companies Hiring

Jenna Phipps
Jenna Phipps
Jenna Phipps is a staff writer for Enterprise Storage Forum and eSecurity Planet, where she covers data storage, cybersecurity and the top software and hardware solutions in the storage industry. She’s also written about containerization and data management. Previously, she wrote for Webopedia. Jenna has a bachelor's degree in writing and lives in middle Tennessee.

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