Would we fund GPS today and would we find a Brad Parkinson to develop it?

Precision agriculture can increase profits and limit environment

Last week Brad Parkinson was awarded the Marconi Prize for his work developing the GPS technology that synchronizes space and time for the entire planet. Parkinson’s recognition is certainly deserved considering how pervasive GPS technology has become and his unwavering insistence on making it available globally as a free service. It didn’t have to be that way and probably wouldn’t be if GPS were developed today.

GPS was developed by Parkinson’s team at the US Air Force in the 70s. I recommend reading this brief history of it’s development, published by Stanford University in 1995 before the big GPS boom happened. Since then, GPS has significantly altered our view of the world by enabling the maps and apps that take us everywhere on the planet. Readers who are curious about the applications of GPS might want to read Greg Milner’s recently published  book: Pinpoint: How GPS is Changing Technology, Culture and Our Minds.

I can’t help but wonder if we would have the resolve to develop GPS from scratch today and make it available worldwide for free. It’s hard to imagine that a private company developing the technology would give the service away. Recovering the high cost of satellites and rockets would make a freemium business model highly unlikely. The money to build and launch all these satellites would have to come from the GPS service itself, which implies that it would use encoded signals that would only be intelligible to matched decoding receivers. The receivers would cost a lot more than they do today because of the licensing fees that would need to be paid to the satellite operating company. Satellite radio is a reasonably good comparison and it hasn’t exactly taken the world by storm.

Also, if GPS were developed by private industry there would almost certainly be multiple competing GPS satellite systems – all with their own equipment, licensing deals and the inevitable patent infringement lawsuits to muddy the waters. In fact, there are other satellite positioning systems circling the earth, such as Russia’s GLONASS, and others that are in development, but they will likely have free services following the economic course set by GPS. Brad Parkinson’s determination to make a free civilian GPS band available opened the doors to an eternity of free positioning services. He probably wasn’t thinking about that back in the 70’s, but that is his legacy.

At the time Parkinson developed GPS, there were many in the military and congress that thought it was a waste of money on what they perceived to be a redundant navigation system. I suspect that if GPS were a project today that it would not survive the budget cutting mindset of congress. But Parkinson made sure enough people understood that it was not a navigation system, but a way to locate targets so that the risks and errors of war could be minimized. It’s now abundantly clear that GPS makes war much more efficient and has saved many lives by reducing the number of bombs that hit the wrong targets. That said, mistakes still occur and war is a horrible thing, but Parkinson acted in the best interest of soldiers and civilians to limit casualties. He left the Air Force in the 80’s and worked for most of the rest of his career as a professor at Stanford University.

If GPS had not been developed all those years ago, would we try to invent it now or would it be too difficult economically? If the answer is “no, it would be too expensive”, what does that say about our abilities to create key infrastructure technologies today? What, if anything, have we lost over the last four decades.

Living the California Dream – featuring In and Out Burger

Life in Northern California is pretty sweet – the location, the weather and proximity to In and Out Burgers. We are living the dream.

The Return of the Steering Wheel Camera Society of America

Yes!  It’s back – The Steering Wheel Camera (LG 3) is now bungee-corded to the rearview mirror of my Infinity G37 instead of the wheel of my Ford Fusion. It’s a good setup that provides minimal distractions from the pot holes and fender bending of daily driving.

It’s been a great week, starting my new job at Tegile and with the wonderful support from storage and beer-loving cronies. Look for more of these SWCSA videos throughout the summer as we explore the new realities of bay area motoring (diamond lane cheating) and the storage wilderness. Speaking of storage, I want to say congrats to Chris Wahl who just accepted a job with Rubrik – may the wind be at your back, Chris. Congrats also to my new Tegilean homies who earned Visionary status from Gartner for our all-flash arrays  in the latest MQ for Solid State Arrays. If you don’t know what an MQ is, don’t worry, you don’t need to – just don’t get trapped in the diamond lane between a Smart Car and a Tesla when you aren’t supposed to be there.

See you on 880!



The next big thing for me – Dub Storage at Tegile

dog high fiveMy long run of good luck just seems to keep on going.

Case in point: on June 5th I was laid off from Quaddra and within two weeks I had signed on the dotted line as an Evangelist at Tegile. Woot!  I always liked their fundamentals and I am now looking forward to engaging the Tegile and storage communities as a Tegilean,  calling out Tegile’s numerous competitive wins against our (ahem) worthy competitors.

NBA: Golden State Warriors-Championship Celebration

While I was a free man, unencumered by work, I enthusiatically watched the Golden State Warriors win their first NBA title in 40 years. The Dubs are a supremely talented team that is fun to watch – and the way they did it became the model for the sort of company I was looking to join.

The Dubs won this year because they could put the right combination of players on the floor to give them matchup advantages. steph curry crossover on chris paulWhen they needed points they could put the best shooters on the floor; when they needed defensive stops they had tough, quick players who could steal the ball, force bad shots and Draymond-Green-block-300x272get rebounds.
When they needed size they had the big men and others who could play “large ball”; when they needed speed they could outrun-and-gun any other team.  They had players that played multiple positions well. The Dubs won it all because they had all the pieces and could use them interchangeably and intelligently. That’s Dub basketball – efficient, smart and ready to step up to any challenge.

Of course, the storage industry is not the NBA and storage arrays are Dub Storage Logo not super-humans. Nonetheless, like the Dubs, Tegile’s products are incredibly versatile and have a superior combination of features – which is why I think of them as Dub Storage.

Customers use Tegile all-flash arrays (AFAs) to pump out IOs for low-latency apps and Tegile hybrid arrays for mixing high-performing flash with capacity-oriented disk. As their requirements evolve, their Tegile AFAs can be upgraded for more speed or more size by adding either all-flash or hybrid shelves. This architectural flexibility also applies to data protection with the ability to mix and match high-performance AFAs with low-cost hybrid arrays for super-efficient data replication.

Tegile’s versatility also covers all the major storage methods (aka protocols) and virtual systems. Customers that need a mix of block, 3in1file and VM-aware storage can use Tegile arrays for all three.  Like all NBA stars, Tegile arrays have special skills – inline dedupe and compression –  that gives our arrays the ability to “play large” and increase their effective capacity to many times the amount of raw capacity.

FWIW, social media played a big role in my coming to Tegile when my 3PAR crony Rob Commins caught a tweet I posted late on a Friday afternoon. There is something to be said for making some of your own luck, but when it happens in a teamwork context it takes a whole new level. It feels very good indeed to be back in the array business working with old friends from former stops.marc-farley-rob-commins-stephen-curry