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10x Inflection Points
Story of my career through technology inflection points
An inflection point in technology refers to a moment in time when a technology or a market experiences rapid and significant change. It is a turning point where technology shifts from being an emerging trend to a widely adopted and mainstream solution. At an inflection point, a technology or market typically experiences exponential growth, and the rate of adoption accelerates. This can result in a significant impact on industries, businesses, and society as a whole. Throughout my career, I have been lucky to witness three pivotal moments of technological change, and I would like to share my thoughts and reflections on these experiences.
Moore's Law states that the number of transistors on a microchip doubles about every two years, though the cost of computers is halved. The meteoric rise of x86 computing power was a catalyst for change in the technology industry. The inflection point arrived in late early 2000s where the processors became powerful enough to allow multiple virtual machines to run on a single physical server, maximizing the use of computing resources and reducing the cost of ownership for companies. VMware was at the forefront of this revolution, and I had a great fortune working there as my very first job - working on binary translation, software MMUs, influencing Intel and AMD to incorporate hardware assists in the processors. I also worked on an innovative fault tolerance technology for virtual machines, and improved performance for virtual desktop infrastructure - a novel way to power desktop experiences in the virtual computing world.
Success of VMware gave rise to a bunch of competitors including open source hypervisors - which paved the way for the development of cloud computing (AWS, Azure, GCP, OCI), where companies could rent computing resources from service providers. This was a major turning point in the IT industry, as it allowed companies to scale their computing resources as required, without having to invest in expensive hardware or operational complexities. Cloud computing also made it possible for companies to access advanced technology, such as big data analytics, that was previously only available to large enterprises.
Enterprise-grade flash brought a new level of performance to the storage market. It was faster, more reliable, and had a lower latency than traditional storage devices. I had two opportunities to invent new storage solutions leveraging these new devices, which is a type of non-volatile storage that uses flash memory to store data, at ioTurbine and at Springpath. At ioTurbine we built the first flash cache solution for VMware ESX 4.x/ESXi 5.x Hypervisors and Windows 2k3/2k8, Linux (RHEL 5/6, SuSE 10/11) guests. This dramatically (think 10x-100x) de-bottlenecked IOs in the VMware environment. Soon after the beta release, the company was acquired by Fusion-io. Next stop in my career was Springpath, where the vision was much grander - to develop a distributed file system purpose-built for hyperconvergence that enables server-based storage systems. I contributed to this vision by building out the distributed cluster resource manager to enable high availability, resiliency and stretchability in the cluster. Once we shipped the primary storage solution, I also led an initiative to build native data protection offering based on periodic replication of native snapshots. The benefits of this solution include reduced complexity, lower costs, and improved scalability. Springpath was acquired by Cisco in 2017.
Meteoric rise of cloud computing solutions, large scale web scale applications running on massively distributed infrastructures, leading to exponential rise in data, and innovations in GPUs made it possible, for the first time in history, to extract meaningful insights from data, and train computers to do what was once deemed nearly impossible. Artificial Intelligence went from science fiction to permeating many avenues of our lives.
The use of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) is already being used to automate various processes, such as customer service, fraud detection, and product recommendations. Deep learning is being used to create more advanced models, such as image and speech recognition. Reinforcement learning is being used to develop new and innovative applications, such as autonomous driving and gaming. In the finance industry, AI has been used to streamline various processes for financial institutions such as loan approval and portfolio management; improving the customer experience. This is not only reducing the cost of these processes for financial institutions, but also improving their effectiveness by reducing wait times for customers who require assistance from loan officers or portfolio managers. In the healthcare industry AI algorithms are being used to analyze patient data from hospitals across the country in order to make personalized treatment recommendations that improve patient care outcomes; improving accuracy of these recommendations. The transportation industry is undergoing a revolution as autonomous vehicles become reality. AI algorithms are being used to create vehicles that drive themselves, reducing the number of accidents caused by human error and improving safety on the roads. This has implications for education, too: AI is being used to personalize the learning experience for students. AI algorithms analyze student data and make personalized recommendations about what courses to take and which study materials to use; this improves the effectiveness of education and creates new opportunities for students to succeed. AI is already omnipresent!
Now, the technology world is at the cusp of another inflection point. Generative AI represents a major shift in the way that AI is being used to create and generate new data. With the advent of large language models and deep learning, generative AI is making it possible to generate high-quality, diverse, and useful data in a way that was previously not possible. One of the key benefits of generative AI is that it enables the creation of new data that is similar in some way to existing data, making it possible to train machine learning models on larger and more diverse datasets. This is leading to more accurate and effective machine learning models, which in turn are being used to drive innovation across a range of industries, from healthcare and finance to advertising and creative content generation. Large language models, such as OpenAI's GPT-3, are being used to develop advanced chatbots and virtual assistants, bringing about a new era in the customer service industry. Git copilot suggests code in real-time based on simple language prompts. DALL.E 2 can create realistic images and art from a description in natural language. With the ability to generate new content, applications, and designs, generative AI is enabling companies to explore new possibilities and create innovative products in ways that were previously not possible.
As a technology optimist, I believe that the impact of these technologies will only continue to grow in the coming years, creating new and exciting opportunities for individuals, communities, and the world at large.