SSDs Will Save the World and Other Musings from Storage Visions 2013

In spite of the fact my company does cloud storage and backup, I am not what I’d call a storage geek.  While many facets of the cloud stack fascinate me, I don’t spend hours talking about block versus file versus object storage or waxing philosophical about the demise of tape.  But for two days at the recent Storage Visions 2013 conference that’s exactly what everyone did.

On the bright side, I learned new tidbits about storage, and I met many smart, energetic interesting people – two ongoing goals in my life.  Also, I was privileged to sit on a panel where I was one of three women, which I believe is a new record, and those two other women I believe were the smartest folks on stage!

The word of the show was SSD, which for the storage challenged stands for Solid State Drive.  SSD is a flash drive, using primarily NAND Flash, based on a special memory chip with rewriteable cells that can hold data even when not powered. SSDs are ideal for applications and processes needing improved performance or faster data input/output. SSDs provide faster and more agile storage (thanks partially to the caching capability) and are now often mentioned in the same sentence as “cloud” solutions. They are replacing traditional HDDs (hard disk drives); however, SSDs are still significantly more expensive.

What I did not know is that SSDs are helping save the world.  According to one presenter, the use of SSDs is enabling major research organizations to handle data in faster ways, and this will contribute to major breakthroughs, including the curing of cancer.  Wow!  If that doesn’t make you want to go out and buy (or hug) an SSD, not sure what does. To be honest, I immediately went on Amazon and added the Intel 520 series SSD to my wish list.

One of the best conversations I had at the show was with Liz Conner of IDC, who covers the personal and entry-level storage market.  A few key points she made that really resonated with me.  One that computer refresh cycles are extending from the previous 3 to 5 years to a longer 5 to 10 years, which means folks will be looking to really get more out of what they already have.  Second, we were in complete agreement that the cost structure of “cloud” is still too high.

Finally, we talked quite a bit about extending on-premise storage devices to the cloud, and specifically about network attach storage (NAS) and cloud gateways.  In Liz’ opinion, 2013 is going to be the make or break it year for cloud gateways, and if they don’t prove out in the coming year, users are going to leap frog straight to the cloud and bypass the gateway, or get there using hardware that is not just a storage device but rather a multi-purpose device.

Here I am talking passionately about cloud backup and our solution at our booth at Storage Visions 2013

I think a good analogy is how we no longer need a VHS, DVD, Bluray, etc., but we either just stream movies straight from the Internet via Netflix or another service, or we play our Blurays on our gaming console.  So would it be with storage if we just backed up our data from whatever device we were using straight to the cloud without a mediating local storage-specific device.

In my own 2013 predictions, I forecast that cloud storage gateways or onramps are going to enter the mainstream in the coming year.  I don’t think users are ready to give up the comfort of local storage for some time, just as no matter how much we talk about object based storage making file systems irrelevant, we are not yet ready to give up the comfort of our folders.  But I agree this will happen in time.

I also enjoyed the many conversations with bloggers and the media at the show, including a lively radio interview with Computer Outlook.  We had fun as well handing out our “Byte Me” t-shirts to everyone who came by the booth – these were a big hit!!  And in the end, I did find myself starting to geek out a bit on storage.

Symform 2012 Predictions Scorecard: 2 out of 5 Isn’t Bad

It’s that time of year again. As we recover from the holidays and our relatives, it’s time to sit back and ponder what lies ahead.  So, here at Symform we put together our list of 2013 predictions for the world of cloud, data management and storage/backup.  And to keep ourselves honest, we took a look back at what we thought was going to happen in 2012. A year ago, we forecasted that 2012 was truly going to be the year of “data”, and the year the “green” cloud was debunked.  I give us an “A” on those two, but we missed the mark a bit on others, which I’ve scored below!

1.  2012 will mark the beginning of a “cloud storage revolution.” 

Okay, I admit this one was a bit self-serving, since we are trying to drive a cloud storage revolution.  But, beyond the headline, our point was that continued accelerated data growth for businesses of all sizes would bring big changes to cloud storage.  More options would enter the market, acquisitions would accelerate, and the economic imbalance between on-premise and cloud storage would start to decline. What happened?  We saw major players enter the cloud storage market, and aggressive pricing cuts by those vendors as well.  We also saw more people using the cloud for data storage and backup, not to mention collaboration and sync, from consumers to large enterprise.

2.  The “green” data center for cloud computing will be debunked

My personal favorite, because I spend a lot of time talking about the infrastructure behind cloud computing.  At the time we wrote this prediction, however, I felt like I was the only one talking about this and questioning the record build out of data centers for cloud solutions.  However, a highly publicized report by Greenpeace brought this topic to the forefront.  Its “How Green is your Cloud” report included a green index of the major cloud providers, and the media jumped on this.  Then, the New York Times added fuel to the fire with its investigative report called “Power, Pollution and the Internet”.  While some data center pundits called baloney on this report, it again brought to attention the question of whether we really need so much centralized infrastructure to power cloud platforms.

3.  IT solution providers will focus on augmenting current service portfolios with innovative cloud offerings.

This one wasn’t a complete fail, but we didn’t hit the bull’s eye either. Many IT service providers in the channel did embrace the cloud and start to build their own innovative solution sets around multiple solutions.  I can think of a couple that created “data protection” suites that encompassed anti-virus, web security tools, and data backup.  But that wasn’t the norm. MSPs and IT consultants continue to worry about the cloud replacing them or making them less valuable.  Also, as prices continue to decline, there is concern about maintaining decent margins when selling cloud solutions.  The reality is that companies are going to use the cloud whether IT providers are involved or not, so why not drive the adoption and build value-added services around those solutions?

4.  2012 will be a wake-up call for SMBs to reassess current storage and backup practices.

We really thought smaller companies would “get it” in 2012.  And in talking to our many resellers there were some advancements in this area. However, many small business owners continued to put their heads in the sand when it came to protecting and backing up critical business files.  Hurricane Sandy and other natural disasters did bring this to a head, and hopefully this year, disaster recovery and data backup will become just part of normal business best practices.  We really don’t want to meet any more CEOs taking corporate files home each night on their USB drive.  Besides, they wouldn’t all fit on one stick anyway.

5.  Enterprises will move beyond the public versus private cloud debate to focus on creating and participating in trusted cloud networks.

While most enterprises still are trying to embrace private clouds, we did see some positive movement in the trusted cloud direction.  Helping this were strong new community cloud ecosystems, like OpenStack and CloudStack, backed by leading IT vendors.  We also saw big enterprise vendors, like HP, start to push their clients more toward acceptance of public cloud systems. So while we don’t deserve a green check on this one, the general direction is on course, and we’ll see this play out even more in 2013.

Overall, we did fairly well predicting major steps in tech last year.  However, there were a few we missed, like how big Big Data and Hadoop would become or how Big Data and Cloud would become joined at the hip in nearly every conversation. Also, no one could have predicted the number of outages by some of the biggest and most trusted cloud platforms.  2013 is bound to be an exciting year in our industry, and for a look ahead you can read what we think are going to be the big movers and shakers this year in our 2013 Predictions.

The Symform “Smart Grid” Showed Resiliency Amid the Storm

The theme is the same.  We can do this a better way.  That was how the pioneer of the electrical smart grid, Massoud Amin, put it in his interview with NPR on how we could have avoided the catastrophic power outages across the east coast in the wake of Sandy.  With the current electrical power grid, if one transformer blows, it takes out huge sections of a geographic area, because it is the central control for that region.  In a smart grid amid the same scenario, the grid would sense that the transformer is about to blow and take it offline before it starts a chain reaction and transfer control to another transformer.

Smart grids take a distributed, decentralized and self-healing approach to the system for management and continuous operation.  And this is exactly how our “smart grid” works for cloud data backup.  In our cloud network, devices across the globally distributed grid constantly check on each other for health status and other information. And if the system anticipates a device is about to go offline or is showing reliability issues (e.g. under 80% uptime), the data fragments stored on that contribution device are moved to other devices on the network.

This concept of dynamic infrastructure and self-healing is not new, but the cloud takes this concept to a new level and enables us to truly look at ways of leveraging the Internet and its inherently distributed architecture. Just as Amin suggests that we should start investing now in more dynamic infrastructure for power management, so should companies start looking to more distribute and decentralized infrastructure to achieve better redundancy, disaster recovery and system agility.  The only big difference between these two is that the smart power grid will cost hundreds of billions of dollars to create, while the smart cloud network leverages the investment you’ve already made in physical infrastructure.

Proof of this resilience was the statistics from our network versus centralized data centers during and after Sandy.  There were multiple media stories about data center flooding from the storm.  However, we saw nearly zero impact from the east coast storms and blackouts. Our team ran reports to double check the numbers we were seeing on our dashboard, and these Our “virtual” data center, which now spans more than 150 countries, has inherently greater resilience to regional disasters because of its distributed, decentralized architecture.  We do have thousands of customers in the Eastern region of the United States, including some of our biggest resellers.

However, we saw the number of contribution nodes heartbeating drop by only about 5% overall, but we quickly rebounded to our previous level within a day or so.  We also learned an interesting stat – that most devices on the network located on East Coast are mostly Windows devices, as the drop in Windows nodes heartbeating when the hurricane hit was about 7% and only 2% for QNAP (network attach storage devices), and nearly zero for Mac and Linux devices.  Importantly, we saw no slowing on data backup. Uploads continued as usual to contribution devices that were available.

Further, we heard more good news from some of our resellers, who had set up “Hot Copy” for their customers as part of standard backup disaster recovery prior to the storm.  By having a secondary copy of their customers’ data at a separate offsite location, they were confident that any data loss that might occur at a company’s network or main data center could quickly be restored to keep the business running.

With the incredible growth of digital data and the continued cost increases of energy, it makes sense for us to start taking distributed approaches more seriously, and take advantage of “smart grids” across our power and computing infrastructures.

Don’t Wait for a Hurricane to Think About Disaster Recovery

While a windy, rainy day like today is typical for Seattle this time of year, we have no idea what it’s like to be watching a massive hurricane hurtling toward you, as our friends and families on the East Coast are dealing with this weekend. The one fortunate aspect is people do have some time to prepare, and media everywhere is filled with advice and tips on how to get ready and ride out this massive storm. Much of this is targeted to home owners and personal safety, which is vital, but more could be advised to businesses.

Disaster Recovery for organizations is not new, but in the past 15 years this topic has taken increasing importance as we conduct more and more of our business with the help of computers and online systems. In the early to mid-2000’s, I was talking to companies about remote access of critical applications and data, so in the case of a local or regional disaster, employees could work from home or from wherever and still have the information they needed.  In the past few years, with SaaS applications, cloud computing and the amount of digital data growing quickly, we now have to worry about not only maintaining strong protection and access controls of our information but making sure we have the redundancy and failover in place in case of a disaster.

This is where the concept of distributed and decentralized approaches to IT architecture becomes interesting. It’s not hard to figure out that if all your systems and data are centralized in a single data center or network that you are at high risk of losing everything if there is an outage or disaster. Whereas, even if you have a warm secondary data center in a completely different region that you can failover to, your chances of keeping the business running is much higher.  This is one reason many companies are turning to infrastructure a service (IaaS) providers like Amazon Web Services, because these services can distribute your network infrastructure and stored data across multiple national or global data centers.  There is also a cost implication, as anyone who has planned and built out a secondary data center for DR knows the high cost of duplicating your network infrastructure in a second, physical data center.  The Oracle licenses alone nearly killed us.

Distributed approaches reduce risk and increase resiliency.  An example of a distributed and decentralized approach is peer-to-peer architecture, where risk and cost is shared among the community.  For example, with Skype, you are not dependent on a single Internet Service Provider (ISP) for bandwidth but able to leverage bandwidth for Web-based calls and video across the peer-to-peer network.  With Symform, your data is backed up across the global network, or you could set up a hot copy of your folders in another on-premise location in an entirely different state or region or country. Compare this to most other cloud backup solutions, where your data is stored in a single, centralized data center.

If you have a small business on the East Coast, and you are watching the storm approach, and you’ve done nothing to make sure your data and systems are backed up, you are playing with fire.  There are many statistics showing that a large percentage of small companies that experience a catastrophic data loss never reopen their doors.  Losing your business should not be one of the results of this storm. Make sure your employees and your systems are safe.  And for those of you in a region not about to get hit by Hurricane Sandy, take this opportunity to evaluate your own DR prospects and put a plan together to protect your business from a disaster.  And remember that for many companies, a disaster could be as simple as a hard drive or server failure.



The Data Center Behind the Cloud

For months, we have been talking about how cloud computing is driving the biggest build out of data centers this world has ever seen. In fact, I’m speaking on this very topic next week at Data Center World. Every large internet company, as well as many enterprises, is driving its own build out, perhaps creating economies of scale for itself, but adding to the massive footprint around the globe of football-field size data centers that require huge amounts of power, bandwidth, cooling, and security.

New York Times author James Glanz has set this debate on fire with his recent articles on the power-hungry Internet and data centers driving this.  An earlier article touched even closer to home for us in Seattle, when he talked about how IT giants, like Microsoft, are building huge server farms in the farmlands of central Washington State and sucking its cheap hydroelectric and windmill power.

Today, cloud computing-based data centers account for nearly 2% of North American energy consumption and 2% of the world’s carbon footprint.  Sure, that pales in comparison to transportation, which is like 30%, but it’s still a massive amount of power and impact.

My point is not to argue over percentage points or to dismiss the need for data centers.  The reality is we will always need some level of centralized infrastructure, both within our corporate networks and on a larger scale.  My concern and bailiwick is that we literally cannot build data centers fast enough to store all the digital data we are creating nor should we want to.  And most of the servers and storage appliances in these data centers are vastly underutilized, with unused capacity running anywhere from 30 to 80 percent of drive space.

Sure, this argument is a bit self-serving since we are a decentralized, distributed system.  But why did we build our cloud backup system with this architecture?  Because we saw the trends around exponential data growth, high cost of cloud storage, low cost of local drives, and the drive toward more centralized infrastructure.  We just believed there had to be a better and cheaper way to store and backup all this data.

And we’re not alone.  Distributed systems, from something as mainstream as virtualization to more cutting-edge multi-core processing to peer-to-peer telecommunications and many other examples, are taking hold across the IT ecosystem.  Big data solutions are leaning on distributed and decentralized processing to manage the large data sets, because they literally cannot be managed with a single, centralized system. Skype used this architecture to build the largest voice and video network in the world, without any centralized infrastructure.

While data centers are not going away, we have a lot of work to do to ensure their efficiencies and capacity utilization.  But in the meantime, the industry needs to make a mental shift to think about our infrastructure in a new way, in which we better leverage the inherent decentralized architecture of the Internet and all the devices that sit on its edge rather than creating more fortified data centers for our individual or single corporate use.  One of the biggest challenges is getting this distributed model to scale, and for people to “trust” its security (I believe it actually can be more secure).  Skype did it.  And we are building out perhaps the largest secure “virtual” data center in the world.

I’m glad to see this debate go front and center.  I agree with Julie Bort in his defense of Facebook and data centers in that a lot of really smart people are working on this issue.  But frankly, a whole lot more work needs to be done, and if this current debate drives that, it can only mean goodness for our capital pursuits, the Internet and the environment.

The Day the Internet Died, or Not

I was proud of my mom yesterday when I went to her house to make sure she’d been keeping up with her security updates and malware scans and not clicking on any random email links.  She told me clearly it was under control and that McAfee was doing just fine, and she never clicked on stupid email links (and btw, she told me she hates even safe ones in those stupid chain emails), and she always ran security updates.

So I thought, if my mom has it under control, the world must be safe from any onslaught of botnets, like the DNSChanger botnet threat, trying to shut down our access to the Internet.

But then, last night as I was working, I found my own Internet access was acting funky, and I immediately started fearing the worst of the conspiracy theories might be true.  What if this malware was powerful enough to push through all of our security best efforts and re-rout us to some Siberian data center where hackers were ready to reap profits from our web surfing addiction? What if the FBI’s best intentions weren’t enough?

But my bigger fear was what would I do without Internet access.

For good or bad, I like my always-on world.  I love that I can text my teenage sons all day long, even though it is sometimes silly when I text them that dinner is ready.  But that aside, my world as a multi-tasking working mom is a whole lot easier (and fun) with the Internet and all my gadgets.  A world without Internet would be, well, like a world without red wine and coffee – not one I want to live in.

This is why I get a bit peeved when the kids ignore the Microsoft or Apple updates or stop the McAfee scan as it’s working, because they think it’s slowing down their chat.  If nothing else, this expected doomsday was a good wake-up call (hopefully) for those people not steeped in geekdom every day to maybe start using one of the many free or low-cost anti-malware solutions.  Or maybe check those Internet security options on your computer.

If you’re using Windows, then use Microsoft Security Essentials. It’s FREE, and it includes a bunch of technologies developed when Microsoft jumped into the security software market (I was on the Forefront team – the anti-malware team rocks!).  Of course, there’s also McAfee, Symantec and many more consumer-friendly products out there that are easy to install and manage. Also, a colleague of mine was just talking about OpenDNS and how much he loves that product – although probably not ideal for the non-geek.

Back at my house last night, it turned out we were just killing our bandwidth, with my son streaming Netflix downstairs on the TV, my husband playing Internet poker, another son watching a YouTube video and me with my typical 20 Websites open, working, browsing, tweeting, facebooking, etc.

The Internet is safe for another day.  But next time, don’t expect months of warnings and FBI hand holding.


Our Top 5 Favorite Things Overheard at Cloud Expo New York

With the team all back in Seattle after a week in the big apple for Cloud Expo East, we were sharing our favorite memories.  Ironically, the funniest and most memorable parts of the week had more to do with the location of the event – New York City – than the topic at hand, cloud computing (although we did include one cloud mention below).

Here are our favorite things heard on the streets of NYC and in the expo hall of the Javits.  And since it is New York, assume all or most of these are said at TOP VOLUME, because nothing is done quietly or half way in that city.

#5: “The Cloud is dead”

Funny this was said at the “Cloud” expo!  But I guess since we’ve now had 12 Cloud Expos, it’s time to move on.  Seriously, it just irks me when folks constantly try to move us artificially to new terms and slang when most of the world hasn’t even caught up to the original term yet.  How can the cloud be dead when there are more “cloud” named conferences, media, products and articles than we can count? I think the point this person was trying to make is that it’s not just about the cloud but also about big data and other technology areas.  However, the terms used were about as well thought out as the declaration I heard at a conference just one week earlier, which was just as incredulous: “the cloud is here to stay”!

#4:  “HONK!!!!” Right next to the “DON’T HONK $350 fine” sign

Anyone who has spent time in New York knows it is not a quiet city.  In fact, I believe honking is like breathing in New York, although breathing sometimes is more challenging. So, we had to laugh one night as we were walking to dinner amid a cacophony of honking only to look up and see this sign declaring “Do Not Honk”.  Pretty sure that’s not enforced.

Don't Honk Sign on streets of New York City amid loud honking

#3:  “Did you see me?  WTF?”

You really can’t get the gist of this without hearing the voice and emphasis.  But this guy who was crossing the street nearly got hit by a taxi, and instead of just walking on and the taxi driving on, they both stopped, and the pedestrian goes right up to the window and starts yelling at the taxi driver: “did you see me?”  No response.  “Did you see me?” followed by the New York standard “What the F***!  “Did you see me?”  The driver finally said “Yes,” which satisfied the pedestrian, who then walked away and the taxi drove on.

#2:  “Not open yet”

This was an ongoing theme every day in the Cloud Expo hall among the catering staff at Javits Center.  AT least twice a day some food and beverage would be set up, such as coffee and pastries, or sandwiches and drinks, but the staff would be told not to let anyone touch it until a designated time. So, if, god help you, you attempted to go get a cup of coffee that was all ready to go at 9:05, and the table was not supposed to “open” until 9:30, you would be told by one of the dutiful staff “NOT OPEN YET”. It appeared this was the one phrase they were all taught.  It was, frankly, ridiculous.  Even more so in that often times the dozens of vendor booth staff would have loved to have had a cup of coffee or a sandwich before the expo opened to the thousands of attendees, but no, those tables did not open until the expo opened.  Sad when it’s more important to be “right” than do what is right for the customer.

And our number one favorite thing overheard at Cloud Expo was . . . .

#1:  “HEY, PAULIE” (pronounced “Pwalee”)

Again, this just does not translate into the written word, as you have to hear the stereotypical New York yelling accent that accompanies this.  We never found out who “Paulie” was, but he was constantly being yelled for by other union members setting up booths in the expo hall. We’re guessing he was either the supervisor or the peon, because he was constantly being called on, very loudly, to check this out or answer a question, or whatever.  Funny thing is, Paulie never yelled back.  Maybe “Hey Paulie” was actually a code! :-)

Symform grabs two awards for innovation in our product and company

It’s easy sometimes at a start-up with all the energy and enthusiasm to drink your own koolaid, which is why it’s especially nice when you get third-party affirmation that what you are doing is cool and different.  Our mission at Symform is simple yet aggressive:  to disrupt the cloud storage and backup market with a revolutionary way of storing data in the cloud via a peer-to-peer network.

This past week, we received two awards that validated our direction.  One from the Cloud Computing World Series, held in conjunction with the 4th Annual Cloud Computing World Forum in London. We won Best Cloud Storage Solution! The winners were informed just a couple of days prior to the awards ceremony, so fortunately one of our great partners in the UK, EJC IT, accepted the award on our behalf.  Therefore, I need to give a shout out to Adrian Barkey, managing director of EJC, who is in the official photo below, and to his team, Gavin, Max and Dimitry.

Adrian Barkey, managing director of EJC IT, accepting the award on Symform's behalf


Then, the week ended on a high note as Symform ranked among the Best Companies in Washington to Work For, coming in 14th among the small company category.

In an email informing us of our award, associate publisher Michael Romoser said, “Symform employees feel particularly good about their level of responsibility, decision making and company communications. They love the work environment and give Symform very high marks for executive leadership. Symform achieved very high scores across the board for fostering a great work environment; one to be proud of.

Symform Ranks as Top 100 Best Company to Work For!

This award is given based on a two-stage evaluation process that includes a comprehensive employee survey of your culture, work environment, management and more, and then a review by a panel of expert judges.  One thing we noticed with these awards is that there are not very many high-tech companies on the list, so we’re doubly proud to have a culture where employees love to come to work while working hard in a competitive market.

Congrats to all Symform employees (and our partners) for the great work!

My 5 Favorite Interactions from Cloud Expo New York

The Symform team is back in the office, having survived a week in New York City and the Javits Center for Cloud Computing Expo East.  While we are moving a bit slowly and feeling the jet lag, it was a good week of discussions, presentations, food and drink, and awareness building.

In the spirit of our Top 5 Friday blog, we came up with our top five favorite interactions of the week, which are in addition to the dozens of conversations we had at our booth every day.

1. Our presentation on Distributed and Decentralized Cloud

Had a great turn out Monday night for our presentation. Started out a bit rough with the guy before us running 10 minutes long, and then I brought up an older version of our deck – but it went well in spite of that.  Also, great questions from the audience.  Good to see that IT folks are open to looking at distributed and decentralized models whether with a private or public cloud environment.   Here’s our presentation:The Distributed & Decentralized Cloud

2.  Praerit’s Interview with TMCnet

Our president and co-founder, Praerit Garg, did a great job chatting with the folks from TMCnet at the booth.  Praerit discussed how the economics are broken in today’s cloud storage market, with cloud storage costing so much more than external local hard drives, and how Symform is disrupting the cloud storage and backup market with our peer-to-peer approach.  The video is already posted on TMC’s site at:

3.  Cloud Camp

Tuesday night, Symform sponsored Cloud Camp, a great organization that puts on these unconferences all over the world.  I gave a lightening talk on Decentralized Cloud Storage to a full room of attendees, who probably enjoyed the good munchies and open bar! Thanks to @bigdataexpo for taking a photo of my presentation!

4.  Cloud Bootcamp

By Thursday, the voice and the energy were starting to go, but I was up early to join the Cloud Boot Camp, hosted by cloud guru Larry Carvalho @robustcloud.  We had the early morning slot, kicking off the boot camp at 8:15 with a talk on Extending your infrastructure and data to the cloud.
Extending Your Infrastructure & Data to the Cloud

5.  Podcast with Digital Nibbles and CloudNOW

I sat down with a couple other Cloud Network of Women peeps and the folks at Digital Nibbles for a radio interview on the cloud, women in technology, big data, and whatever else we came up.  Thanks to Wendy White of Tier 3, another awesome Seattle-based cloud company, and Mary Beth Borgwing of Standish Corp.

There were other interactions I should also mention, including my favorite tweet of the week by Paul Mooney @moon – who really captured my love of caffeine and gluten-free diet state of mind: “@seattledawson Fueled only by coffee and no carbs for #cloudexpo#bootcamp – Extending your infrastructure & data to the cloud.”

And a special shout out to Symform partner and reseller Gary Jackson of Certainty Tech Telecom out of Pittsburg, who did booth duty with us on Thursday.  Also to the folks in nearby booths with whom we enjoyed conversation, jokes, food and whining, especially the guys at Nimble Storage and ComputeNext.  And thanks to NetSuite for giving me a football to throw around during off hours!!

Next time you’re in NYC and near Javits and looking for great food, I can highly recommend the HK Hell’s Kitchen restaurant.  The hangar steak was awesome as was the wine.

Finally, and I hate to end on a down note, but my least favorite interaction was with the woman who came by the booth during the lunch break and started tossing about ten of our cloud stress balls into her bag until I stopped her.  However, other than that, Cloud Expo was a great show!

Meet the Geek: Jared

Jared was one of the first five employees at Symform, following co-founders Praerit and Bassam from Microsoft.  While in some ways Jared is a typical software engineer who loves solving challenges through math and coding, he tends to look and act more like a, well. . . . surfer dude (foreshadowing).  And he is kind of loud for a developer.  Here we discover more about what makes Symform’s “Meet the Geek” subject, Jared, tick.

What’s your role at Symform?

We don’t have titles at Symform, but if we did, I would be a Senior Software Engineer. I thought about getting creative and coming up with a catchier title, but I can’t stand when people call themselves things like ‘ninjas’ – so let’s stick with Senior Software Engineer.

What’s the coolest thing about what you do?

The constant corralling of thousands of nodes across the world is exciting! It’s challenging to debug and write features and code for a system of our size; there are many implications of how to deal with a global network like Symform. I describe it as a life form. While each user can make their own decisions on how to utilize the network, the sum of the parts can issue incredible results.

What does being a ‘geek’ mean to you?  

Anyone can be called a geek; I don’t think of it as a negative thing. My definition for a geek is anyone that engages in pursuits of the mind rather than the body. Giving any sort of extended thought, to me, is a geeky pursuit.

What are your geekiest pursuits?

I’m a video gamer. I still play the original Super Nintendo, but Final Fantasy 6 is my all-time favorite game. It has the most relatable characters. So relatable that I actually care about them, which gets me even more wrapped up in the story.

I think there is also the nostalgic effect too. I still consider the old school ‘blow technique’ to be the most efficient to keep the game cartridges working right. I have been known to do a few soldering jobs to keep the 20 year old machine running.

I also like to help my twin brother, who just got his computer science degree, with coding projects in my spare time.  We recently created a website for dartboard stats for our group of friends. My brother usually bounces ideas off me, and then we turn them into projects. We love to try out new coding languages.

What is the geekiest thing you’ve ever done?

Wear a t-shirt that sports a built-in decibel meter. For example, the louder a place gets, the higher the bars on my t-shirt glow. I used to go to parties and just point at my shirt when people were getting rowdy.  I think I still have the shirt, but it needs new batteries.

As a geek, you must be in to gadgets. What is the best all-time gadget?

The general concept of the smart phone is awesome. All your communication, data, video, and applications are all in your hand. But, the best part about the smart phone is actually one of its lowest tech features: text messaging.  I use it constantly because I don’t like to talk to people – I love it – asynchronous communication.

What’s your favorite coding language?

C sharp is my favorite right now.  This is a highly contested topic around the office, as we’ve got some Ruby lovers around here, too.

Are you passionate about a particular charity or cause?

The Water Project. This charity gives access to clean water to everyone in the world, with an emphasis on Africa. It is such a great initiative realizing how fundamental to life water is above everything else. I also partook in an ice hockey tournament for the Ronald McDonald House.

Idealistically, I like to think of myself as an environmentalist.

Do you have a geek role model?

Raymond Chen at Microsoft is one the smartest, most callous people I’ve ever met. I was once a recipient of one of his notorious ‘burns.’ It stung, but I was honored. I also look up to Brian Greene, who is a theoretical physicist; The Elegant Universe is one of my favorite books.

What’s something that might surprise us to know about you?

I am an avid surfer, and I’ve been playing hockey since I was 10. I used to move to the beach every summer to spend time surfing.