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IT LIFE: Matt Starr, Spectra Logic CTO

Steve McCaskill is editor of TechWeekEurope and ChannelBiz. He joined as a reporter in 2011 and covers all areas of IT, with a particular interest in telecommunications, mobile and networking, along with sports technology.

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Matt Starr talks about the future of storage, the IoT and why he would be making wine if he wasn’t in IT

What is your role and who do you work for? 

As CTO of Spectra Logic, I work for both our CEO and our EVP of worldwide sales. Covering our worldwide customer base, with a focus on our large HPC customers, cloud and federal agencies. 

How long have you been in IT?

I’ve been in IT just over 30 years. I started in the college bookstore selling computers, where I remember selling Next computers. 

Matt Starr Spectra Logic

What is your most interesting project to date? 

That is a tough question for a 30-year history! When I was an engineer my favourite part was cracking someone else’s code (particularly if it was embedded).

One of my favourite projects was when we needed to change the behaviour on a storage device, especially on how it answered on the bus We were able to find the string in the code, change it, and then run the code again to find all of the places where checksums and other protections were put in place to be sure the code was not damaged.

That was fun. As a CTO, I think the most interesting project was developing the Spectra Logic T Series library family. With our 6th-7th generation of tape library, we took all of that past knowledge and rolled it into a product line that is still shipping today, 17 years later. It has been refreshed over and over but at its heart still lies the same architecture.

What is your biggest challenge at the moment? 

It is an interesting time for storage, with cloud coming into its own, over 60 different vendors pushing flash products into the market and a world where the rotational disk roadmap is not looking as promising as it once did.

I think the biggest challenge is making sure the customer does not jump to the next shiny object or technology before it is really ready. Data, and data protection, should be well thought out and usually the newest technology is not always the most rung out. The same for data archiving, you want proven technology for your data to live a long time.

What technology were you working with ten years ago? 

We were working on a removable disk pack for our tape libraries. It ran a PowerPC and had a software RAID stack. We ended up having to change off an Intel part to PowerPC due to lack of PCIe buses on the Intel part. Then the PowerPC chip had a faulty memory bus inside the chip, no terminating resistors, so about every couple of hours we would get a memory fault. This was a very tough problem to find and proof out to the chip maker.

What is your favourite technology of all time?

I really like embedded devices, I have had a hobby of embedded systems for a while, now IoT is starting to take that space, whereas before it was purely embedded. Now, we have connected devices that can have both edge and data centre intelligence.

I have built an IOT device for my wife’s chicken coup that monitors sunrise, sunset and controls the door.  It will also monitor temperature to make sure that while the chickens are out we have heat lamps on for them when it is cold. All of this data is reported up to cloud and we can view it. We can control this system from anywhere in the world, add a camera and your all set. Next, we may put RFID on each chicken, add a scale in the nesting boxes and we would have reporting on “egg production”. We only have eight chickens but they are the best cared for chickens around.

How will the Internet of Things affect your organisation? 

Data, massive data sets that will need to be kept of a long time.  Every car will have a daily download, and all of this must be kept. I think we will see a new vertical in our space around IoT data storage and archiving. 

What smartphone do you use?

I use an iPhone, the experience of which is sometimes the good, the bad and the ugly all in one. Adding an Amazon Alexa device which is tied into a home automation system to control the lights, heating, etc., would be ideal.

What three apps could you not live without?

My email, which started in 1991, and Maps. I used to travel with paper maps and now cannot imagine using these again. I also use the internet (web browser) multiple times an hour.  

What new technology are you most excited for a) your business and b) yourself? 

a) Object/S3/cloud (hybrid or private) storage are the most exciting topics to me right now. I think the adoption of these technologies is really going to redefine the world of long-term data retention. Object storage will be the primary data holder of the future, rather than file system, which will be the sandbox or scratch space someone uses with a copy of data.

b) For myself, 2G/3G mobile based embedded IoT devices and the ability to monitor and track anything is really exciting. 2G may be phasing out but as of today you can get a data plan for $2.99 a month and send some 20K messages, which is a lot of data for an IoT device. Where tracking is concerned, I will soon be able to put a chip with small solar cell in a pack on the back of each of my wife’s chickens to monitor them! T

here will be a massive adoption of these under-utilised cell systems. Soon nurseries will sell a service to monitor newly planted trees, or shopping carts will have a barcode scanners so you can checkout as you go.

If you weren’t doing the job you do now, what would you be doing?

Assuming money and stability was not an issue, I would be making wine – it’s something I love doing. But I also love embedded devices, so maybe a combination of those two!