Profile: John Coyne, president and CEO of Western Digital

One of the biggest myths in the IT industry is that the storage marketplace lacks excitement and is a dusty sector concentrating on selling tin that provides ever greater capacities.

One of the biggest myths in the IT industry is that the storage marketplace lacks excitement and is a dusty sector concentrating on selling tin that provides ever greater capacities.

There is no doubt that capacity is still a key issue, and the era of a terabyte drive sitting on a desk next to a laptop or PC is one that has come round with remarkable speed. But there are other things happening in the storage world that have some of the players in the market getting very excited indeed.

Meeting John Coyne, president and CEO of Western Digital, there are a couple of instant impressions. First, this is a man who has been in the industry for the best part of three decades but is still keeping an eye on the future. Second, he seems convinced  that storage, and hard drives in particular, have a major role to play in the way the market is developing.

Private clouds
Just when some industry observers thought that data was going into the cloud and the need for personal storage would diminish, the opposite is happening with the emergence of private clouds.
Even the concept of a home network is missing a piece if storage is not added to the discussions about hardware, broadband speeds and ­security.

"From the home perspective, a private cloud solution will have a hard drive component to it," says Coyne, who adds that Western Digital is working on increasing security and capacity to meet the needs of those customers.

Coyne recalls a situation just a few years ago when hard drives were seen by some customers as an accessory rather than a necessity. Retailers displayed the drives trying to tempt in users who were contentious about looking after their information.

But the product has become widely used and is now seen as a fundamental part of a home office solution. The rate at which Western Digital has seen the industry come out of recession is testament to the way things have changed.

Demand is coming from both private and public clouds, with Google and Facebook racking up storage at a rate that fuels the 62% annualised growth in data across the globe.
On the private cloud front the shift towards remote working has come at the right time for those selling hardware that will look after not just work files but the ever increasing digital files of music, pictures and video content.

"Demand for digitised content continues to be robust and from March 2009 to today things have been climbing up, and we are shipping more product than back at the peak in 2008," Coyne says.

"There is more user-generated content created every day than comes from the TV, film studios and music studios," he adds.

Western Digital is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, and as Coyne looks back there have been many moments of change - such as moving away from the semiconductor business - but the company has continued to invest in R&D to ensure that it stays on top of developments in both hardware and software.

"We were investing in R&D even as our revenue fell and profitability was challenged," he says.

Data management
Coyne accepts that data management, helping customers cope with the volumes of information, is emerging as another area that is going to demand investment. And that is where some of the company's research efforts will be targeted in the future.

But for now, as the data explosion is increasingly driven by individuals rather than corporations, Coyne and his colleagues are celebrating their anniversary in a situation that, in the grip of the downturn and surrounded by worrying whispers about cloud computing, must have seemed to be more a birthday wish than a reality just a year ago. 

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