You may not be old enough to remember when computers measured capacity in kilobytes, but most of us still remember megabytes. Now, even the least expensive iPod offers two gigabytes, and “big data” is measured in petabytes — that’s the numeral 1 followed by 15 zeroes. Finding better ways for companies to store and access big data is the role of John Reinart, a lead architect at Quantum Corporation, a Silicon Valley company with a research and development office in Mendota Heights.

Big data includes industries from entertainment to national security. The 2009 movie Avatar, for example, reportedly required more than 1 petabyte of storage for its 3D computer-generated graphics. The computer game World of Warcraft uses 1.3 petabytes of storage. Google Earth, NASA and the National Security Administration are other producers and consumers of big data.

While Quantum’s industry is known as “data storage, ” the challenge isn’t just storing the data — it’s allowing organizations to find, retrieve and analyze the data once it’s stored. Quantum’s newest product, Lattus, is built on object storage technology that Reinart said is “the next potentially disruptive technology.” The first Lattus device was sold to a customer even before its official December 21 launch.

Reinart called his role on the project “super-exciting — one of the most rewarding of my career.” He began by researching the technology and processes available from Quantum’s business partner on the project. When the plan was proved feasible, he took over as a program lead, coordinating both hardware and software development to ensure that the new product would meet the needs of the customers.

The combination of tasks was familiar to Reinart, who has spent his career moving back and forth from hands-on engineering to management. “I have a passion for technology and a passion for leadership,” he said. Beginning an MBA program at the University of St. Thomas helped him realize that software architecture is his ideal role. “Architecting is when you get to the essence of guiding design to meet customer and business needs,” he said.

Why does a Silicon Valley company maintain a research and development lab in Minnesota?

In Silicon Valley, the career peak is Intel, Google or Facebook. The rest of the companies are competing for less experienced people with very ambitious career paths. They move from one place to another. That doesn’t fit Quantum. It requires years of experience for an architect in our field to hit their stride. Retention here is fantastic. I’ve been at Quantum 10 years. In Silicon Valley, that’s extraordinarily rare. Our site is admired by Quantum and by our industry peers.

What does research and development mean in the IT industry? Most people think about test tubes and white coats.

In software, it’s really small r, big D. We’re taking a customer problem and designing a solution. It’s mostly design, not pure research.

Why is Lattus a breakthrough?

All of the big data industries want to use storage more cost-effectively. Lattus adds a point in the spectrum, with primary storage for fast access and archival storage for stability.

Is the MBA becoming more common in the technology world?

Ten years ago you would never have seen an MBA in a technology company. It’s becoming more prevalent at the vice-president level. It’s still unique at the technical levels, but it’s definitely emerging. My MBA cohort of 24 included five engineers. □