Hot seat - Seagate's CEO Alan Shugart

Hot seat - Seagate's CEO Alan Shugart

Alan Shugart, CEO, president, and chairman of Seagate Technology - one of the largest independent disk drive manufacturers in the world - has been involved with personal computers from the beginning. He founded Seagate Technology in 1979, holds two key patents for hard disk technology, and co-founded Shugart Associates, the company that is credited with introducing the floppy disk drive. With so many years in the industry, Shugart is able not only to talk about the direction of storage technology but to offer some insights into the hot issues that are troubling IT managers today, such as the cost of computing and network computers (NCs). IDG's Ephraim Schwartz interviewed Shugart.

IDG: Let's go back 15 years to when the personal computer industry started to take off. What do you consider to be one of the most significant events of 1981?

AS: Seagate began shipping 5Mb, 51/4in drives. Apple was one of our first customers.

IDG: What did that 5Mb hard drive cost?

AS: We were selling it for $US1,700, but we would have taken $US1,500. That's about $US300 per megabyte.

I remember talking to John Roach of Tandy. He told me that as soon as we got the price down to $US100 per megabyte, he would buy all we could manufacture.

IDG: And did he?

AS: Of course not, because the capacities went right through the roof. Magnetic recording was on a 40 per cent per-year growth, and now it's on a 60 per cent per-year growth.

IDG: That can't keep up, can it?

AS: I don't see anything stopping it.

IDG: Since then, what stands out in your mind as a significant development in hard disk technology?

AS: I don't think there's been anything revolutionary since the first time a head was started and stopped and came in contact with a Winchester disk drive, which was about 1970.

IDG: What about magneto-resistive (MR) technology? Isn't that new?

AS: The concept of magneto-resistive recording has been known for a long time.

IDG: What is the benefit of MR technology?

AS: It lets you get more bits per square inch. MR is replacing inductive heads because inductive heads run out of gas at about a gigabyte per square inch.

IDG: As an end-user, does it matter if I buy hard drives with MR heads or ones with inductive heads?

AS: To the IS manager, it should not matter at all.

IDG: Will hard drives survive in the 21st century?

AS: There's nothing that's going to replace magnetic recording in the foreseeable future. We continue to monitor all the different technologies, and there are a lot of activities going on in universities, but there is nothing.

IDG: What about rewritable digital video disk?

AS: It's too slow, and it's going to cost too much.

IDG: Let's talk about some current issues: cost of computing and manageability. Do you agree with those who say an NC reduces the cost of computing by reducing the need to manage a computer?

AS: That's totally stupid. That's what's been happening in computing as long ago as 1955, since I got into it.

Technology reduces the cost of computing. The technology increases in semiconductors, reducing the cost of computing.

The statement that an NC reduces the cost of computing is pure fallacy. Because if you look at it, what's the most expensive part of a computer? It's not the hardware. It's not the software. It's the operator. What you want to do is make the operator more efficient, more productive.

Do you make the operator more productive by taking all the capability out of the computer? Heavens, no. If you're really interested in reducing the cost of computing, then what you want to do is to continue to make computers easier to use and make them cheaper, too. But you can't just make them cheaper.

We use a lot of networked computers at Seagate. I wouldn't want to replace those with an NC.

IDG: But what about the low cost?

AS: The cost thing makes no sense at all. You know, disk drives are so inexpensive. Last Sunday, I saw an ad for a Seagate 850Mb drive for $US98. A 1.2Gb hard drive for $US130. I saw a computer advertised in a catalogue, a 486-based, 810Mb hard drive, with all the bells and whistles, for $US850.

So tell me about this $US600 or $US700 network computer with no capability. It's faulty.

IDG: Is there no business use for an NC?

AS: I think if there is a business for the NC, it's probably a PDA. You can use it off-line and then plug it into your computer. It becomes an add-on, not a replacement.

IDG: What do you think of the new Windows CE-based hand-held PC?

AS: Haven't seen it, but I'm not a PDA fan. I don't even travel with a computer. I like the telephone.

BRNNG, BRNNNNG. Excuse me.

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