Judges on Fire: Enrico Signoretti, Senior Data Storage Analyst, GigaOm

In our Judges on Fire series of podcasts, we aim to let you get to know our judges a little better. They also get the chance to share their wisdom and tips about entering the Tech Trailblazers Awards. For our eleventh outing we are catching up with Enrico Signoretti, Senior Data Storage Analyst at GigaOm, who has been a judge since the very beginning of the Tech Trailblazers Awards.

In a fascinating conversation, Enrico shares his life story, including how his career path changed after starting a blog. He also talks about how storage has changed in the last decade, to move beyond primary/secondary storage to a new way of viewing of data.

Listen to discover his predictions for the next 10 years, including quantum computing, how the chip shortage could be an opportunity, and how startups will change. So, over to Rose Ross, Founder of the Tech Trailblazers Awards, as she interviews Enrico Signoretti in our eleventh Judges on Fire podcast.


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Interview transcript

RR: Hello everyone and welcome to the Judges on Fire podcast, which is now also a videocast, for the Tech Trailblazers. My name is Rose Ross and I’m the Chief Trailblazer and founder of the Tech Trailblazers, and I’m delighted to be joined here today, fresh from some time away – hopefully on his boat, Enrico Signoretti. Enrico is a consultant for Juku and also with Gigaom. Good morning Enrico, how are you?

ES: Good morning, I’m doing well, very well actually after my time off. I spent some time in Sicily as soon as they opened the gates with all this COVID thing, I decided to spend a few days off doing kite-surfing and not thinking about analyst stuff for a few days. Well actually, when I came back yesterday, I had a flood of emails to manage but, it was worth it.

RR: Oh wonderful, it’s definitely so important to get a little bit of sand under your feet, a bit of sea-spray in your hair, and get away from it all. I think we’re all looking forward to a bit more of that now that things are hopefully easing up a little bit.

ES: Yeah, I think everybody is looking for it.

RR: Well obviously we’ve spoken before, we’ve known each other for a long time. So, just in case people are not familiar with you Enrico, could you give us just a brief history of yourself; how you’ve come into technology, how you’ve come into the role that you’re doing now.

ES: Yeah sure. I started a long time ago just out of school, actually even before – summer jobs and these kind of things, working in IT and, as soon as I finished my school, I started programming in assembly. That was like 30 years ago now, more or less. Then from there I covered many different roles in different types of IT organisations, including working for a startup, having my own system integrator, and for technical roles as well as marketing product management, and things like that.

So I think I developed a knowledge of this market, because all of this was about storage anyway, from system administration down to product development and other stuff. I think that was the common trait of all my career. And a few years back, I think it was 2006, between 2006-2008 I started a blog, and it changed my perspective on a few things. At the beginning it was just the newsroom for my small system integrator, so we wanted to have something to communicate to our customers. Then it became more independent, more open to discuss topics which were not connected, that is connected to the brands that we were proposing to our customers and things like that, and it was a success. Maybe it was early and so there were not so many bloggers around. I got some followership, and more and more vendors and clients starting to contact me for consultancy and for writing papers, and things like that.

At that time, I was already an analyst but maybe it was not official. More than once I defined myself as a bloggerlyst, something between an analyst and a blogger, more informal than an analyst but still with my toes in the water, with real users and dealing with day-to-day problems. On the other hand, I had a lot of information from vendors and everything, so trying to connect the dots was already in my bag.

A couple of years ago, 2018, now three years! I started working with GigaOm and it has been an amazing journey. In general, we built new products, we are different from other analysts from many perspectives, and the company is doing great. I’m very happy to be part of this team, of this story now. And that’s all of it.

RR: Fantastic. And what’s one of your proudest moments in your career so far?

ES: I think industry recognition, that happened a few times, I think it’s one of the best things. When people meet you and say, ‘Oh I know you, because you write something that I read all the time,’ that’s something that always makes me happy and somehow it’s rewarding. So that’s really the proudest of moments all the time.

RR: Wonderful. So, you’ve touched upon it a little bit already, but what’s your area of expertise, and in that area what are you seeing is hot and innovative at the moment?

ES: Data storage is my primary area of coverage, of course data storage is changing radically so I do a lot around cloud, and it means that everything that is connected to storage and cloud is now my focus. From this point of view of course we have Kubernetes, this is really hot all across the board. It’s not about storage of course but it’s about new ways to develop applications, new organisational methods in large enterprises, also small enterprises and this really, really interesting. Also, how data storage is evolving to meet these new kinds of requirements, so you see a lot of this creation of vendors really changing the way they think about how to manage storage and data in general.

The other thing is probably today we see a lot of attention on security, but I think that even more is data management. It’s not for everybody but because we are piling up a lot of data now, there is this need to make something out of it. It is not just storing because we need to store it and not delete it for compliance or other reasons, but people want to reuse the data, people want to understand what they have, if they can delete something that is not necessary or understand security issues and everything.

So everything started with security, so you start analysing data to check on patterns for ransomware or things like that, but the same techniques can be used for a broader set of functionalities around data management, and I think there is much more attention than in the past. Now we often talk about data byte size, infrastructure even in the smallest of the infrastructures. So, that’s something and you want to know what you’re storing where and how, and with the multi-cloud it’s becoming even more critical.

RR: Yes, data management has always been a particularly important part of any IT infrastructure.

ES: Yes, it was challenging. And in the past it was not as important, it was always part of the conversation but was never a deep… let’s say we didn’t get this deep-dive conversation in data management, data management was a very high-level conversation, then we always stop it at some point because we didn’t have the tools to do it properly. Now we have the tools, we have AI, we have machine learning so we can understand the content better, we have much more CPU power, GPUs and other accelerators that make it easier to scan all the data and find the relevant information. So, it’s just easier than in the past, even if the numbers are crazy.

RR: Certainly, there is always a lot of data, and that’s not reducing on any level, not ever. So, it’s not a trick question because I actually already know the answer to this one, but how long have you been a judge for the Tech Trailblazers?

ES: A few years now, I think since the very beginning of the event and it was amazing. The event evolved with the blog, at the very beginning was almost like a small group of friends talking about new technology, new startups. Nowadays it is much more structured, a lot of names coming from different areas. So, it’s way bigger than at the beginning, it’s a success from this point of view. Something different from other awards that we saw in the past, so I was happy to join the judges team at the beginning and I’m still here doing my part.

RR: Well very much appreciated, and yes absolutely – tick! Correct answer, you were here with us in 2012 when we first started, so thank you for being with us on the journey. And why do you do it personally, what do you get out of that?

ES: Well, I think it’s a mixture of things. On the one hand you have the opportunity to see things differently, there are scorecards and things like that. So I know many of the startups already and I love the idea of getting the Tech Trailblazer perspective on the scorecards, and how they are organised and everything, so that it’s analytical methods somehow that I like now.

In the past, it was also an opportunity to compare differently from what I did. Now at Gigaom we have our radars, our mechanisms to build these scorecards for our clients, but you always have to get multiple perspectives to have the full picture. So, the fact that I’m just a small gear in a huge mechanism now, but the idea of sharing my opinion and contributing to this thing, it brings me a lot of value and I can see how others evaluate companies, vendors in this case, and I think it’s probably the most interesting part.

RR: Brilliant, we’ll we’re very delighted that you continue to think that. Are there any insights that you’d like to share about the current state and the future, particularly the storage in the cloud categories where you’re probably most active?

ES: Well, I think as we said, there is this huge transition from on-premises to the cloud. Many organisations accelerated this transition because of the pandemic last year, and they wanted to have more flexibility, agility, and consumer sources, and pay for them when they need them. So, in general data storage is following this trend, even the most traditional vendors are looking at solutions that can somehow ease this transition, and of course data management, as I said, is another big part of it because you have to keep control of the data, even if it is dispersing in multiple clouds now.

So, you want a single domain view of everything even if you’re using on-premises and cloud resources, multiple cloud resources. So, this is becoming more of a trend, in general more of a discussion that I usually have with my clients.

RR: And what do you particularly look for, because obviously we’re gearing up at the moment for our 10th edition, so we’ve been doing this for 10 years now, what are you going to be looking for, what’s going to attract your attention this year when you go through the entries?

ES: Well, it really depends, because as you know when we talk about storage we talk about a lot of different things. So, everything is changing and even the categorisation of storage is changing. In the past, 10 years ago when Tech Trailblazers started, we had a conversation talking about primary and secondary storage, and most of it was about the access protocol or the type of system. Now, it’s more about primary and secondary data, so it doesn’t really depend on the type of system where you store data, but how the system fits in your needs.

So, the idea of primary-secondary data is the focus, and our vendors are working to build the products and the functionalities necessary to deal with primary data. So, an example, I published a report about object storage this year and some people were surprised that we had two different categories, I mean traditional enterprise storage, object storage, and fast object storage, and many people asking me why fast object storage. But because now object storage is not seen as an archival platform, but it’s applicable for continuous applications, for AI, for big data, for a huge number of applications that are much more interactive than in the past, but they want their S3 API, they want a few things to start coming from this. And this is not archival, secondary, or tertiary storage, this is primary storage for this application for this client, so this is why we made the distinction and it’s working very well. A lot of our clients have really appreciated the fact that we were talking about object storage in these terms.

So, this is why everything is changing. As I said, it’s not primary storage, it’s primary data that is the most important thing.

RR: Well, we’ll be looking forward to seeing a few of those types of startups join us this year.

Taking a look a little bit wider at the industry, we have our male and female categories for Trailblazers, and I know that you tend to look at those as well in the past, to see who’s shining out as an individual, and one of our criteria for that, obviously we’re not looking at the technical capabilities of the people, we don’t need to know how quickly they can type, or how quickly they can run a marathon; but we are looking at the kind of leaders that they are and the culture they’re creating, and the innovation that they’re nurturing within their organisations. One of the aspects is diversity, and this isn’t something that you and I have spoken about particularly much in the past, but I’m very curious as somebody who’s had a long and distinguished career in technology, what do you think will make a difference in that realm at the moment? I don’t think there’s too many people that doubt that having diversity in any organisation

ES: Yeah, the problem of diversity is huge. If I look at most of the startups, the people that I meet every day, we don’t have diversity in IT. I don’t meet very often with women in executive positions, and this I think is a shame. I don’t know why, I’m not in a position to say why this is happening but actually there are no women coders, there are not enough at least. I think it’s changing a little bit, there is no longer the stereotype, girls play with dolls, and boys play with… I don’t know, guns or whatever when they are kids. I think this is changing, but it is taking like forever. So even if there is a movement to help more female coders to come out, or things like that, I think in general there are a lot of missing opportunities here.

I would like to see more women, usually in the executive position because I think it balances the board, it’s beneficial for the company, different points of view, different… and I’m talking about women, but actually people of colour are not as common as they could be. But again, I’m not in the position to say more. I mean it’s something that I would love to see, but how to change this maybe I’m not the right person to find a solution or to comment on this.

RR: That’s fair enough. I’m sure there is something that you will have an opinion on, and as part of our 10-year celebration we’re putting together some thoughts, and would love yours on what do you think the next 10 years will hold in enterprise technology? Either generally or specifically for you.

ES: Yes, so 10 years is a very long time to do any sort of prediction. I mean we can talk about everything. We are thinking about sending rockets to the moon and Mars in five or four years from now, so what we will be able to do in 10 years is too much. We can talk about general trends, in the next couple of years we will have chip shortages and things like that, that will probably unfairly affect some industries. But actually maybe, maybe this will also create the opportunity to develop new technologies, something different, and more optimisation to take advantage of different technologies to build stuff.

At the same time, if I stay with my feet on the ground, I can see that all the data centre is changing, not only on-premises IT which is different and will be different in years, but I’m not sure that in 10 years from now we won’t have on-premises IT, but it will be different from what we have today. Everybody’s working on new consumptions models where you don’t really own your on-premises infrastructure, but you use this cloud-like model to purchase and consume it. So we will see more on-premises cloud which is not really a private cloud, and things like that.

But as has happened multiple times in the past, the cloud is still very young and we’ll have more and more abstraction layers on top of it, so to simplify that movement, everything will be easier than today. There are a lot of things that we are experiencing right now, we’re at the beginning of a new journey about again data management, and how to use data, how to take advantage of IoT in a very different way, so we’ll have autonomous cars and things like that creating huge amounts of data, and things like that.

So, we are at the beginning of a new era, data is everything. Like we’ve said many times data is the new oil, but you can’t do anything with oil if it’s not refined, if it’s not working properly. So, that’s the thing, it’s all about data, it’s how we are able to refine it, and yes, quantum computing will become a thing probably, and many other things. So we will have faster computers, it’s not in our prediction! Way faster than today, think about 10 years ago we had these memory sticks that were small, unreliable, and everything. Now the same memory sticks are 10 times, 20 times, probably even bigger and they are resilient, they’re encrypted. The industry is growing very quickly, year after year. So, it will be cool.

RR: Well, we’re looking forward to that, we’ll see how we get on in the next 10 years with judging some of those exciting startups.

Obviously, this has been a great year of change, progress in technology marches on and you’ve obviously just referred to that. What do you think about tech startups – what’s going to happen with them? What are they going to look like, what are the people going to look like who run them, who create them? How do you see that potentially shaping up in the next 10 years?

ES: I think that the pandemic changed it a little bit where startups are located. Like for everything else, we are seeing now a more distributed world, distributed organisations, and things like that. In the last 10 years, 20 years, maybe more, we always had Silicon Valley as the centre of the world, at least for my job. And now with this idea of dispersion, working from home, or finding different locations, the knowledge is more spread than than ever. Yes, probably Silicon Valley will remain active, but there will be a lot of talents that will work from somewhere else, meaning that they will be less afraid of starting a startup in another location. So I don’t know if this will make things easier or harder because the concentration also helps faster evolution, there is more osmosis, there is more everything, but at the same time we learn that we can live with Zoom calls or things like that. I’m not saying this is positive or a negative, I’m saying there are many more options than in the past. So, I would love to see more startups in Europe for example now, or even in other countries around the world, it could be easier than in the past, even hiring talents

RR: Yes, I think it has made a very interesting potential for people where now they really, really don’t believe they have to be in Silicon Valley to be a success.

ES: Also, it’s a cost problem. We saw it in the last few years, companies having offices in the Silicon Valley, but actually having R&D, engineering, and developers in other counties because it’s too expensive to hire developers in Silicon Valley.

RR: Certainly, from a balance perspective you’re also going to potentially not have to have people physically there, so you can have the best person for what you want, regardless of whether they are happy to move to California, or New York, or to Berlin or wherever that might be.

ES: Yes, and also for the startup it is easier to hire people, but also you can pay them less because they don’t have to live in a place where it’s quite impossible to find a house for a decent price. So that probably will change the way these companies think about hiring people, where, and how. So, it will be nice to see what happens.

RR: And those buzzes around some of what we’ll call ‘hipster’ side of things, because obviously that was a bit more of a consumer tech side of thing. Enterprise tech you’d obviously want people who want to have careers, they want to bring up families, they want their children to go to good schools, they want to have a good quality of life, and that isn’t for everybody in certain pockets. So, it means that people can stay, working for the types of companies that they will enjoy working with, and have a lot to contribute to; without necessarily having to up sticks, move family around, not be where they can go kite-surfing when they feel like it!

So yes, I think it’s going to be exciting times. We’ve got some big plans ourselves and it would be lovely to perhaps chat with you again about some of the future stuff that we’ve got planned, including some new categories which we can hopefully reveal soon, and maybe some other new things. But we’re excited about our 10th edition, and we’re very excited Enrico that you’ll be joining us again.

ES: Well, thank you for having me, I mean it’s my pleasure to be here and help as much as I can.

RR: That’s really appreciated, and thanks again Enrico for joining us for the Judges On Fire podcast/videocast today.

If you’d like to find out more about the Tech Trailblazers, please do visit us on the website, which is www.techtrailblazers.com You can also follow us on Twitter @techtrailblaze so no R and no S, and also you can find us on LinkedIn.

Thank you very much for joining us today. Bye-bye now.

ES: Ciao.