Company Making a Jump From Relatively Safe, Predictable Sector
WD has re-envisioned itself from storage-only to the bigger IT infrastructure/data center hardware market because "we've seen these architectural changes coming since about 2009," Cordano said. "Broadly, this is a move from second- to third-platform IT architecture, but specific to what we do, the advent of flash as a practical and capable storage medium has been the main driver.
"We really had a simple choice to make: Do we want to become a long-term relevant company that has growth, or do you just take a very mature technology and optimize it for shareholder return? Both are valid strategies." WD's management and board chose the first of the two options, but it took some doing to change the course of the company, as one might imagine.
WD's board needed some "education" to buy into moving the company from a legacy hard-drive and flash storage maker to an integrated company with multiple technology platforms optimizing its current solutions plus addressing the market, Cordano said. "Our customers certainly 'got it' early on, but it took our board a little time to see the vision. Now we're starting to act on it."
For example, WD came from its storage-centric perspective to be a major participant in Facebook's Open Compute Project, the open-source hardware equivalent of Linux, Apache and myriad other software projects. Included in WD's OCP storage projects are the "Igloo Cold Storage Concept" and “Architecting Highly Efficient Web-scale Cold Storage for Unstructured Data."
Innovation Comes in Buckets
As far as innovation within its own walls is concerned, Cordano sees it coming to fruition in three buckets: organic innovation from within, innovation in improving its current product line and innovation emanating from engagement with partners and customers.
Internally, the CTO's office is charged with identifying intellectual property that currently hasn't been productized, in addition to markets in which WD does not compete. There is advanced product development in each of the company's business units that also comes under the heading of innovation, Cordano said.
And when it comes to finding pertinent new ideas outside the company, WD invests in number of companies with excellent potential.
"We're a strategic investor; we're not investing for financial return as a primary result," Cordano said. "We want to engage with and foster relationships with startups; we know that all innovation isn't going to happen within the walls of our company, so we spend time with those relationships and engaging in that ecosystem. Where it makes sense to us, we invest in companies doing good work in interesting areas."
WD will continue to seek out intellectual property as needed as it continues its growth spurt here in the second decade of the new century.
"We think we've put together the assets to be the biggest, broadest player in the storage business, and now we're able to cross-innovate with other products to build infrastructure," Cordano said.
"When data center architectures of the future are being designed and built, we'll have a seat at the table and be active participants in helping define what those are as they evolve over time."