Western Digital is fast moving to being a data infrastructure company: Stephen Milligan

WD Global CEO, Stephen Milligan explains the company’s need to bring newer focus areas like RISC-V cores into the market, while not competing with Intel.

Stephen_D._Milligan_Western_Digital_.jpg

In an interaction with IDG India, Stephen D. Milligan – Chief Executive Officer, Western Digital, Siva Sivaram – Executive Vice President, Western Digital and Supria Dhanda – Vice President & Country Manager, Western Digital India, elaborate on the company’s M&A journey, and growth agenda for the future. 

Edited excerpts

Western Digital has gone through a huge M&A phase over the last few years, acquiring different entities. How easy or difficult has the integration of ensuing diverse portfolio been?
 
Milligan: For a long time, Western Digital has done a lot of M&A over a period of time, I am pretty pleased with the way everything has worked out. We wanted to build a data storage platform in the industry. And I think we have largely done that.

I’m very pleased with the customer and the market reaction. It’s taken a bit of time to figure out how we can fully capitalize on all the capabilities that we have as a company as opposed to just being a hard drive company plus a flash company. I believe we are actually starting to make more inroads in that. 

Enterprise is now talking about data as the new oil. What is Western Digital bringing in as newer conversation to the markets? 

Milligan: The first thing that we wanted to make sure is we had the most comprehensive portfolio that addressed the full spectrum of needs from a customer’s perspective. There were some areas more relative to the SanDisk side, where we needed to fill some gaps from a product offering perspective. 

... There are a number of different areas that are so interesting to us. We are beginning to craft ourselves and we are looking at ourselves as more of a data infrastructure company. And so that’s leading us into new areas. 
Stephen D. Milligan
Chief Executive Officer, Western Digital

For instance, we didn't have a UFS offering in terms of mobile devices, there were other areas where traditionally Western Digital/HGST were stronger in terms of presence and where SanDisk wasn’t. So that has been most of the work till date. 

Now the question is, where do we go from here in terms of new market opportunities? There are a number of different areas that are so interesting to us. We are beginning to craft ourselves and we are looking at ourselves as more of a data infrastructure company. And so that’s leading us into new areas. 

For instance, we don’t have any intent to compete with anyone in this, but the compute part of the market or the processor part of the market has been dominated by two players historically - Intel in the datacenter and ARM in the mobile devices space.

When you look at the needs of that data centric world, those processor technologies or capabilities are not necessarily addressing some of the requirements, so we have been a strong supporter of the RISC-V initiatives to promote that cause a little bit more. 

 

 

... RISC-V is an open source architecture. We don’t make and sell cores, except in the cases where they are part of our own devices. The cores which we currently make and sell have a RISC-V like architecture.  But to make RISC-V successful, we need more support for the initiative.
Siva Sivaram
Executive Vice President, Western Digital

If you do not intend to compete with Intel, then what is the position you are taking? 

Sivaram: Western Digital is enabling the ecosystem. RISC-V is an open source architecture. We don’t make and sell cores, except in the cases where they are part of our own devices. The cores which we currently make and sell have a RISC-V like architecture. 

But to make RISC-V successful, we need more support for the initiative. And we notice, there is a lot of energy and encouragement. We supported a collaborative conference in IIT Chennai where we were not even a prime sponsor, and to our pleasant surprise, there was an overwhelming response from the developer community. 

Tell us more about Western Digital’s RISC-V initiatives.

Milligan: We are looking to use RISC-V, having shipped about a billion crores in our products. We are looking to incorporate RISC-V in our products, going forward. We think that is an interesting opportunity, not because we want to get into the processor market, but because we are trying to build an ecosystem.

The more we can do to help our customers derive more value, it becomes a virtual cycle that makes us store more data. There are interesting developments in data fabrics, which is another area that we are exploring. It is basically Ethernet attached storage devices.

 

 

... Some of the things we are focusing on: sharing a best practice on the table, getting a seat and making sure that you have an influencing ecosystem. Besides India is huge in R&D. There are lots of local players, who are looking at this entire data story very differently.
Supria Dhanda
Vice President & Country Manager, Western Digital India

Quantum Computing is a buzzword, albeit futuristic. Are you looking at huge investments in quantum computing?

Sivaram: We invest a lot in evolutionary technologies that need to take us to the next step. Quantum is a revolutionary step, so we have to be careful. We look at it, follow it, we always think of it as a viable future opportunity. But not as one that is going to provide revenue in the next long-term revenue projections. 

Any thought on what India is going to look like in terms of strategy? 

Milligan: We grow our work force and tend to continue to do so in substantial numbers. Let’s flip over to market opportunity. In other words, selling more Western Digital products in India. I am very excited about the prospects.

We would really like to figure out a way of helping India in the broader ecosystem. India, in my view, has a need or a desire of building an indigenous IT sector. And I think that’s a huge opportunity for India. 

Dhanda: Western Digital has a rich history of working across various regions. So, some of the things we are focusing on: sharing a best practice on the table, getting a seat and making sure that you have an influencing ecosystem. Besides India is huge in R&D. There are lots of local players, who are looking at this entire data story very differently. So how do we enable that? And of course, have partnerships going forward. 
 

Edited By : Mansi Joshi