Episode 6: Your IT… Hyperconverged

Trey Layton got his start in the military as an imagery analyst working for General Schwarzkopf during Desert Storm. His special skills of interpreting images led to him finding the Black Hawk helicopters downed during the Battle of Mogadishu, known as the ‘Black Hawk Down’ incident. Trey, now CTO at Dell EMC for Converged Platforms, sheds light on how his work in the military still inspires him every day to help customers be agile by creating converged and hyperconverged solutions that come with codified integration and baked-in operational experience.
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Codified integration and baked-in operational experience drive business success

Trey Layton got his start in the military as an imagery analyst working for General Schwarzkopf during Desert Storm. His special skills of interpreting images led to him finding the Blackhawk helicopters downed during the Battle of Mogadishu, known as the ‘Blackhawk Down’ incident. The technology to transfer images from the receive location to the image analysis platform in the 1990’s was vastly different from what is possible today. Understanding the challenges, Trey built some of the first computer systems and networks specifically addressing this problem. The seed for a career in IT to solve customer challenges was sown. For Trey, it has never been about providing something cheaper, but rather about providing something different that solves the challenge. In other words, it’s not about getting new IT equipment, it’s about modernizing and assembling equipment to transform operations for speed and agility that frees resources for investment in other areas, such as giving IT staff back their weekends. Transformation starts in helping customers understand what they have, how that needs to change and adapt so they can accelerate and get escape velocity on that change. Converged and hyperconverged infrastructures with codified integration, baked-in operational experience and ruthless standardization to meet customers’ needs, are core to this IT transformation.

Featured Luminary: Trey Layton,  Chief Technology Officer of the Converged Platforms and Solutions Division (CPSD) of Dell EMC.

Trey Layton began his career as a US Army imagery analyst. He was the first person to find Michael Durant the pilot of the second Blackhawk helicopter downed in the Battle of Moghadishu.

Today, Trey is Chief Technology Officer of the Converged Platforms and Solutions Division (CPSD) of Dell EMC. Trey and Dell EMC are working to deliver next generation converged infrastructures to transform the economics, agility and profitability of enterprises and service providers as they transition to cloud-enabled business models.

“The hyperconverged space is about taking an engineering team and building software optimized for a specific computer platform so that the integration is baked in, codified.”

— Trey Layton, Dell EMC, CTO for Converged Platforms and Solutions

Luminaries Hosts

  • Mark Schaefer Author, Consultant, College Educator. Mark is a leading authority on marketing strategy, consultant, blogger, podcaster, and the author of six best-selling books, including "KNOWN." He has two advanced degrees and studied under Peter Drucker in graduate school. Some of his clients include Microsoft, GE, Johnson & Johnson and the US Air Force
  • Douglas Karr Technologist, Author, Speaker. Pre-Internet, Douglas started his career as a Naval electrician before going to work for the newspaper industry. His ability to translate business needs into technology during the advent of the Internet paved the way for his digital career. Douglas owns an Indianapolis agency, runs a MarTech publication, is a book author, and speaks internationally on digital marketing, technology, and media.

0:01 NARRATOR: “Luminaries–” talking to the brightest minds in tech.

0:05 MICHAEL DELL: We have always believed that if we built the right technology, we could amplify and enhance and enable human progress. And when I look at what lies ahead, I realize that we’ve really just barely begun.

0:22 NARRATOR: Your hosts are Mark Schaefer and Douglas Karr.

0:29 MARK SCHAEFER: Hello, everyone, and welcome to another episode of “Luminaries,” where we talk to the brightest minds in tech. And we’re talking transformation– transforming technology, our businesses– hey, even our lives. This is Mark Schaefer with my co-host Douglas Karr. How are you, Doug?

0:48 DOUGLAS KARR: I am doing– I am doing fantastic every time I’m talking to you.

0:52 MARK SCHAEFER: I know. Dougie baby– may I call you Dougie Baby?

0:56 DOUGLAS KARR: You can call me Dougie baby.

0:58 MARK SCHAEFER: Well, we have a very, very special opportunity. We are sitting here live today with Trey Layton. Trey is the senior vice president and chief technology officer for Converged Platforms and Solutions for– is it Dell or Dell EMC?


1:15 MARK SCHAEFER: Del EMC. OK, awesome. And we were talking here with Trey a little bit about some of the amazing things he’s already done in his life. So Trey, just start off tell us a little bit about your journey. How did you get inspired to get in to tech, and what led you to where you are today?

1:35 TREY LAYTON: Oh, my gosh. This is a great story. So by the way, Mark, thanks for having me. Doug, always, a pleasure. Thank you very much.

1:41 So, I actually got my start in the military. Did not go to college. Didn’t have good enough grades to get in to college. And also didn’t have enough money to go, either.

1:53 So I actually took an entrance test to the US military. And they thought I cheated and made me take it again. Got the same score. And they said, hey, how would you like to be a 96 Delta? And I said, I don’t know what a 96 Delta is for the US Army. 96 Delta is an imagery analyst.

2:15 And so I went to Fort Huachuca, Arizona. And I got a top secret SCI security clearance. And I read out threaten indications for satellite imagery at the time. You can now say satellite imagery. In the time, you couldn’t. You had to say non-air-breathing.

2:31 And so I have looked at film of every one of the enemies of the US and identified equipment. Went to a very intense school for six months. And then I got stationed at United States Central Command and actually worked on a little team called the Indications and Warning Team for General Schwarzkopf, and read out the Iraqi ground order air order battle during and after Desert Storm and the enforcement of no fly zone, hunting for SCUD missiles.

3:08 DOUGLAS KARR: From a guy that was sitting out on an LST out there, thank you very much.

3:13 MARK SCHAEFER: For normal people, what’s an LST?

3:15 DOUGLAS KARR: I was on a tank landing ship, actually, in the fake, basically, front that Schwarzkopf had built.

3:22 TREY LAYTON: So the final piece of the story– I’ll be quick– is I actually was engaged in Blackhawk Down. I was the first person to find the downed helicopters. We looked for Michael Durant. And following that, I spent a lot of time in Tampa on systems. So the question was how did you get in the technology? Well, at the time, we were converting imagery from silver highline, so on a light table, a microscope, effectively, where you would look at these images to soft copy on systems that now are made by Lockheed Martin called IDEX II systems.

3:58 And the action of getting the imagery from the receive location to the image analysis platform required a lot of networking. And so I built some of the first computer systems and networks to house that and very quickly got out of the military and said I can make money in this in the private sector. So that’s how it all began.

4:22 MARK SCHAEFER: Well, it’s amazing how we can connect the dots here. Because I had the opportunity– I didn’t have the honor of serving in the military, but I worked with the Air Force for the last couple of years. And what we want to do in this podcast is really talk about transformation.

4:40 And one of my observations is that in the military, a lot of these systems are bolted to the center of the Earth. So talk about your perspective on transformation on these legacy systems, on some of these cultural challenges of these large, complex organizations and how they need to move to this new world.

5:07 TREY LAYTON: It’s an incredibly relevant topic today, because there are so many organizations that are bought in to it. You will hear it from customers here at this event– we want to transform. But as they begin to explore the capabilities that are out there to transform, they find themselves hinged to the way that their applications are constructed today. They can’t take advantage of the elasticity of some of the things that we’re building.

5:40 So transformation starts in helping a customer understand what they have, how that needs to change and adapt so they can accelerate and get escape velocity on that change.

5:55 MARK SCHAEFER: That’s a great way to put it.

5:56 TREY LAYTON: And having customers embrace all the areas that they need to change– it’s not buying something, necessarily. It’s going all in. And that’s what great about some of the conversations that we’re having today, is customers are over that, they get it. Now they’re investigating how.

6:14 Tell me how. Tell me more. I want to learn more. I want to gather information. That’s a heck of a lot better spot to be in than trying to convince people it needs to happen.

6:22 MARK SCHAEFER: It’s like a cultural escape velocity.

6:24 TREY LAYTON: Yes. Yes.

6:26 It’s not about the stuff bolted to the center of the Earth. There’s a mindset, really, isn’t it? The stuff is actually easy. It’s getting people to think differently that is the hard part of it.

6:40 And so we spend a lot of time– Michael Dell says big ears. We listen a lot. Because we live in a world, especially in the technology– so many acronyms, so many things that have duality in meaning. And you have to really understand the context at which a customer’s perspective is and to help translate what we’re trying to do for them so they can consume it better.

7:07 DOUGLAS KARR: When you’re talking about that escape velocity, one of the things that we learned on the first podcast when we were going through the analyst reports was that these companies that maybe take that first step and they’re able to modernize– just that step, just able to modernize– that’s when they’re sold. Because they see these huge cost savings, and now they have the money to invest in the future.

7:30 TREY LAYTON: So it’s an interesting formula that I share with every customer and haven’t had any customer tell me it’s wrong yet. There may be– on the fractions, they may disagree. But of an IT budget, 100% of the spend, 70% of it is spent on keeping the lights on, maintaining what they have. 20% is spent in new software acquisitions. 10% is on equipment.

7:55 We’re an infrastructure company. We sell the equipment. We could give the equipment away to a customer and it would only impact 10% of their budget. If we can assemble the equipment to actually transform operations and materially impact 70% of the budget, now they free cash to invest in other areas.

8:19 And any IT organization you talk to, the thing that they’re frustrated with right now is they don’t have nights and weekends. They’re taken for managing the business. And so if we can give nights and weekends back, you free mental capacity to be able to think differently about how we operate our organization. You free operational cycles to reinvest in new areas.

8:42 That’s really where that modernization stuff hits. It’s not about buying something cheaper. It’s about buying something different.

8:52 DOUGLAS KARR: Wow. And you had mentioned acronyms, so I’m going to throw this out there. I’m reading your profile. And of course, CTO of CPSD, CPSD. That’s what I see everywhere. You’re the only title, I think, in Dell Technologies with an acronym.

9:08 And so for our laymen listeners, talk about converged platforms and hyperconverged platforms and what that means to the common business.

9:20 TREY LAYTON: So the Converged Platform and Solutions Division was basically assembled to take all of the components that we work through in our partnerships as well as in the component technologies that we engineer inside of Dell Technologies, assemble them in two ends of the spectrum.

9:41 In one aspect, it’s on what we call the build end of the spectrum. It’s enabling organizations to be able to easily procure and get to a state of operation in a very quick manner. Organizations that require a lot of customization and flexibility, this ease of procurement, this bundling, this prescription of how best to configure the environment is a good guide point to get them started. You don’t have all the lifecycle operational experiences because you’re taking the intellectual ownership of maintaining that asset in its integration.

10:15 On the buy end of the spectrum, we’re building converged platforms that are pre-engineered. They have an operations experience wrapped around them to transform how things operate. So we sell both sides of the spectrum.

10:31 Now you get to the different products that we make in those. There is converged infrastructure, which is basically array based, storage array based, integrated to a compute platform optimized for virtualization. So in convergence, you’re actually productizing the integration.

10:53 You’re driving a ruthless standardization that can be repeated around the world. We have a product that’s deployed in thousands of customers in the converged space. The hyperconverged space, in comparison to it, is actually about taking an engineering team, building software optimized for a specific compute platform to bake in or codify the integration.

11:20 So both coexist because the array-based integrations have data services and capabilities to support some of those legacy applications that the world’s economy runs on. The hyperconverged platforms are designed for the future. And so we are actually enabling customers to do both in an operationally simplistic manner. That’s the platform that we build.

11:47 And we bring together all of these key partnerships, a great team of engineers that build these systems. And it’s not one versus the other. It’s where are you as a customer and how might you consume each of these technologies to best help your business.

12:05 MARK SCHAEFER: Building on these ideas, I wondered if this was what you were talking about. I read one of your blog posts that you did, and you talked about a prediction, something you’re excited about is what you characterized as data centers without borders. So talk a little bit about that and why you’re excited about this vision.

12:28 TREY LAYTON: So in the world of — the cloud is a great, big buzzword today, as you guys well know. And our leaders, myself at Dell EMC will say that cloud is not a destination. It’s not a place. It’s an operating model.

12:49 And so if we were having a conversation 20 years ago, we’d be talking about the internet. You’d have somebody that had an internet title. Today, internet is in everything that we do.

13:01 Cloud is going to have the same course, path. Cloud is going to be in everything that we do. So a data center without border is about employing a cloud operating model in every asset that you have that runs the applications that are vital to your business and being able to teleport or transport those applications, wherever they need to be, to support the user community that’s consuming them.

13:29 And it can be in a public mega cloud. It can be in an on-premise infrastructure. It can be in an oil rig in the middle of the Atlantic Wherever it is, this elasticity, this capability to encapsulate workloads, operate them with agility, and move them with maintaining a secure posture and awareness of where it is, and being able to manage an action as opposed to a thing is what that’s all about.

14:05 DOUGLAS KARR: And as you’re talking about– what this all comes down to is agility, right, agility of businesses to be able to move quick. We often hear agile as a process within development and programming, and then it’s even now agile marketing. Is there a process to the agility? Is there a process that companies need to conform to or follow?

14:28 TREY LAYTON: So going back to my military days, I got this chance to meet with a lot of special forces operators. And they have to be very precise in their movements. And they use a term, it says — slow is smooth, and smooth is fast.

14:48 Now let’s apply this to the technology industry. We are riddled with snowflake architectures where every single implementation is different across every single company, different operating models at each. So to get where we’re trying to get to with agility is actually ruthless standardization with logical customization on a physical platform that is standardized and repeatable so that you can get, again, to that term– escape velocity to be able to, to be able to accelerate modernization transformation.

15:28 So what a lot of people want to gravitate to is I need this custom thing, and I need that custom thing. We can deliver. We can meet your requirements if you tell us what they are and let us implement a standard that’s repeatable.

15:42 That’s the nuance that we– I would say that we’ve been pioneering this concept for about seven or eight years now. And it takes people away to think differently on that. But when we get them to think differently, they become passionate about it.

15:59 We’ve got a lot of great customers that want us to standardize more. They want us to minimize optionality, because they see the benefit of not having choice.

16:12 MARK SCHAEFER: As you were talking, maybe you noticed I was just chuckling to myself about your characterization of the snowflake architecture. I think that’s brilliant. Because back in my corporate days, I was involved in an ERP transformation. And we had snowflake architecture.

16:34 And this was a company that was put together by lots of rapid acquisitions. And everybody had it their way, and they wanted to keep it their way. And the chairman of the company was saying no, no, no, standardize.

16:47 And one of the things that people were struggling– they kept coming to me, and they were saying, when is it over. How do you answer that? How do you answer that? Your customers must be thinking the same thing. Really, the days of IT projects are kind of over, aren’t they?

17:08 TREY LAYTON: The days are nearing their end. I would say there is still a significant amount of money that’s spent in buying components. The reason for that is that I’m a geek. There are geeks out there that like to buy products and play with them. And we’re going to continue to do that.

17:29 But there is a pressure on the modern IT organization to enable the business. Every company of the future is going to be a software company and effectively a technology company. And so when you talk about tinkering with integrations to educate yourself more on the technology’s architecture for operational purposes, that’s good. When you’re tinkering with architectures to support production business processes, those days are almost over.

18:06 So I would say there’s going to be fewer and fewer snowflakes. But let’s also remember that some snowflakes are good. We learn a lot from breaking stuff. When did you ever learn anything from success? I learn more from mistakes than anything.

18:22 And we embrace that side of the equation. We just understand that in the business of IT, the pendulum is going to swing to the other side. And it’s beginning to.

18:34 MARK SCHAEFER: So an interesting thing that I’m picking up on from you is I love your energy when you’re talking about the customers are getting it. We’ve got the escape velocity.

18:46 For someone out there listening today that is thinking, I’ve got to take a step, I’ve got to get into this IT transformation, and I need to understand it– where do you begin? I’m so fortunate in that I work with a wide variety of companies. The larger companies are more sophisticated. They’re well-managed. Other companies, they might be early in– maybe second movers.

19:14 So if you’re not on this first wave, where do you start as a company? What’s the first step you take toward IT transformation?

19:22 TREY LAYTON: So I think the first step is actually engaging in a trusting conversation. And this is not a brand advertisement. This is a demand of whoever your technology supplier is to be capable of engaging in a requirements discussion with you and you be capable of engaging in a discussion where you feel like you can trust what you’re sharing with them.

19:48 We have well-trained folks in our organization who will enable you to benefit greatly if you can have an open and transparent conversation. Because it begins with a dialogue around what are you trying to do as an organization. What are your requirements?

20:10 Some organizations, they’re in a state where they look at buying anything from a technology vendor is I’m going to not give you all the information, because you’re going to manipulate that data to raise the price. And so those organizations who don’t have a trustworthy relationship or don’t feel a need to open up and explore what the technological possibilities are– those are the ones that are going to have the most barriers to getting to that stage of transformation.

20:42 But the first step is actually engaging in a real requirements discussion with knowledgeable technologists that can help you navigate whatever the portfolio, even if it’s a competitor of ours. That’s the first step. I believe we have the best technologies on planet Earth. Not everybody agrees with me on that.

21:03 And that’s OK. That’s a healthy ecosystem that’s out there. But that’s actually the first step.

21:09 DOUGLAS KARR: I’m going to throw this one for a loop. So we were all sitting before the podcast, and we all have daughters. And we all have daughters entering the workforce. When you look at your daughter’s life in the future, what excites you about this technology landscape that she’s going to experience?

21:26 TREY LAYTON: I would say that there is an excitement and a worry. So I’ll give you both if that’s OK.

21:33 So the excitement is is that she is going to be more productive from a global perspective. She’s going to be more aware of different perspectives, different personnel. She’s going to be able to enable business action in a way that we can’t today, because we’re still confounded by these long-tailed applications, these legacy operating environments that we’re waiting for technology to catch up, and we’re waiting for people to change their beliefs of the past.

22:18 So she’s going to be more productive in her work life. And hopefully that means she’s going to have more time for family. She’s going to be able– like at the show, I think I wake up at 4:00 and I go to bed at 2:00. And it’s because we’re spending so much time talking about what’s coming. I think the collective IQ of the world will raise significantly, and that’s going to be exciting.

22:45 What scares me is the power of these social mobile devices. You create a relationship with a device as opposed to a person. And we hire a lot of folks, younger folks, try to get more and more younger folks in the industry.

23:06 And I find that it’s hard today to find young people that are comfortable with engaging in a spirited dialogue and interpersonal skills. But they are very quickly capable of texting their reactions. So I am excited about the impact that they can have on the world and really transform the economy in the future.

23:36 I’m worried that we’re going to become a little less personal in our endeavors. So I focus on that a lot with my kids, saying out the phone down, talk to me. And so I hope more parents do that. But I think at the end, it’ll be OK. They’ll get it.

23:53 DOUGLAS KARR: Mark, what did you say about tools and humanizing?

23:57 MARK SCHAEFER: Yeah. That’s one of the things I try to emphasize. I always say the most human companies will win eventually. It’s creating those human connections.

24:07 And I’ve just really enjoyed this conversation. I’m just so jealous of all the things you must see and experience. And I’ve just got to ask you– as you look at the landscape and you work in this amazing company, what’s the oh, wow for you? What’s the technology that you just can’t wait to see happen in the next couple of years?

24:29 TREY LAYTON: Probably the technology that I am most excited about is when integrations become self-aware. So instead of having to pay an individual or an engineer to configure and assemble something that the architectures will assemble themselves, and that person or engineer that would have worked on assembly can now focus on helping the customer consume and operate it.

25:04 So those technologies, we’re on the cusp. It’s a combination of machine learning, analytics, management and orchestration, software-defined operations. All of those things, as they begin to come together, that is where we get to go back to the business of just building really cool stuff, and customers get back into the business of just consuming as much of it as they possibly can. That’s the fun part.

25:30 MARK SCHAEFER: Well, Trey, certainly a very bold and exciting view of the future. And I certainly have been so energized by talking with you today. Thank you so much for your time. Thank you for joining us today.

25:42 TREY LAYTON: Thank you for having me.

25:42 MARK SCHAEFER: Everyone, this is Mark Schaefer and Douglas Karr with “Luminaries.” We hope you’ll tune in next time. We appreciate every one of you. We appreciate your time. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next time.

25:56 NARRATOR: “Luminaries–” talking to the brightest minds in tech, a podcast series from Dell Technologies.