Is your array easy enough to manage for a four year old?


Sixty Second Synopsis

Customers are rapidly moving from having a storage strategy to having a data strategy. This is important as the criteria for a storage strategy, i.e. ‘how do I store more stuff’, are fundamentally different from a data strategy which seeks to provide more intelligent management, access, security, and ultimately looks to move data from a cost centre to a wealth generator.

Many thanks to those of you, from customers to colleagues to vendor partners and all points in between, who have asked ‘why aren’t you blogging’?

I honestly thought that it had only been a few weeks, but on closer inspection realised it had been almost eight weeks!  So, why haven’t I been blogging comes down to a few things …and it certainly isn’t that I don’t have an opinion on data, technology, okay just about anything! …but without sounding too Eddie Haskell on the point I have a fantastic job that I love working for a great company and things have been a bit ‘busy’ as of late.

But that is no excuse, so from this post consider me back on at least a weekly basis …perhaps more moving forward …and feel free to applaud, sigh, or hit the delete button as appropriate.

As I was getting ready to write this post, it occurred to me that there has been an interesting and recurring theme of ‘back again’ since I last blogged.

Steve Jobs left his post as CEO of Apple on indefinite medical leave …only to return, if but briefly, to launch the iPad 2.

Speaking of iPads, my iPad left me (or, more to the point …I left it) on the DLR as I was travelling to present at Cisco Live …only to come back to me barely a fortnight later.

Eric Schmidt left Google …with Larry Page back again as CEO.

I plan to blog about these and similar topics over the next few weeks, but I wanted to come back to something interesting that happened to me after I returned from Barcelona on business this week.  I came home to find Mrs. PL on her iPad in bed …at 01:00 in the morning. Playing Doodle Jump.

‘Hello dear …erm, perhaps it’s time to put the iPad away and go to bed?’

No answer.

‘Sweetheart? Don’t you want to hear how my business trip was and I’d love to hear about what you and PL Junior got up to.’

‘Shhhh. I’m trying to concentrate.’

‘I see that. How long have you been playing?’

‘Erm …dunno, about three hours I think.’

‘Right, okay …and time to go to bed now perhaps?’

‘I’m not going to bed until I beat PL Junior’s Doodle Jump score. Little blighter scored 49,000 whilst you were away!’

I should note that PL Junior is four years old.

What’s this got to do with data storage and protection?

I must admit, I’m not surprised to learn that my four year old son has become the title holder for a video game in our home …after all, he is a third generation geek and my first video game was ‘Star Trek’ on an IBM mainframe …albeit I was eight years old.

Now, I should mention that we don’t let PL Jnr sit around playing video games all day long …he is limited to weekends only and then only for limited periods of time …but he has only ever known the ease of the Apple iOS, Sony PS3, and Nintendo Wii interfaces and so I do wonder if this has something to do with his intuitive interaction and play.

I was reminded of this as I was reading a great post by storage blogger Storagebod who equated the different storage vendors and their array management interfaces with different video gaming platforms and games …and it got me thinking on a few things.

1. Data storage arrays are becoming more application centric.

Data proliferation or, put more simply, the enormous amount of data being created every day, means that amongst many challenges data management remains very high on the list of items keeping customers awake at night. However, I do see an interesting and positive trend in the data storage market right now as storage vendors move towards more application centric arrays …in other words, array management which caters more towards how the users need to consume and manage data from an application perspective [e.g. ‘How do I add more Exchange users?’] and less from a storage perspective [e.g. ‘How do I create disk groups, RAID groups, LUNS?’].

NetApp has arguably been application centric for quite some time, and I was very impressed with the EMC megalaunch on 18 January where the new VNX and VNXe products were displayed and demoed which introduced application centric management to the EMC product lines. This isn’t necessarily a new trend, but certainly one that I see taking more centre stage in the months and years to come as customers demand ever greater ease of use for their data systems …less geek more cowbell, if you will.

There’s much more I could talk about here with regards to unified storage, application integration, cloud integration, and management simplification but I’ll leave these to future blog posts.

2. If you think you’re user interface is simple enough, give it to a four year old.

One of the things that made me chuckle during the EMC megalaunch was when they let a fourth grader manage the VNX storage platform with an Apple iPad. Click here if you want to watch this, skipping to minute 32:00 of the presentation.

Now, managing storage platforms from Apple iOS devices is nothing new for us here at Computacenter …indeed, Alan Senior has been managing IBM XiV with his iPhone for over two years and was coding his own iOS app for storage management when I spoke with him last …but my point is that customers want simple and easy to use management interfaces for their data storage.

If you think your interface is easy enough for a fourth grader to use, ask yourself ‘but is it easy enough for a four year old to use?’ as this may be nearer the true litmus test.

Watch this space as I may find out first hand once we get our VNX series up and operable in the Hatfield Solution Centre.

3. Then again, why not automate the storage provisioning?

Ease of use and reducing management complexity in the user interface is important and a hot topic in the storage world, however we should also ask the question …why are we managing the data storage manually in the first place?

I’ve blogged about automated storage provisioning previously, and again this is going to be a hot topic and trend in data storage moving forward as customers will seek to implement Service Catalogues and automate as many services as is possible and practical.

Again, something I will be blogging about in the weeks and months to come.

4. As we continue towards more integrated solutions, transparency is everything.

Ease of management and reducing complexity with provisioning is only one part of this battle …another major part and, some would argue a much larger and more important aspect, is the transparency required to accurately and easily view the data being created, stored, application integration and access …and the associated costs.

There are no easy answers with this one, and I’ve blogged about this previously, however I think it is fair to assume that just as storage vendors are understanding that they need to do more to help users simplify provisioning and management so too do they need to provide more transparent tools for data consumption …particularly with the advent of virtual datacentre solutions such as VCE vBlock, NetApp FlexPod …and the cloud.

But that’s another post for another day.

Have a great week and, as always, please don’t hesitate to contact me if I can be of any assistance in helping you understand data storage.






I prefer HaikuLeaks to WikiLeaks, everybody wants an app store, and more predictions for 2011.


Sixty Second Snapshot

Data is at the very heart of the evolution of corporate IT and the revolution of consumer technology.  The coming year will see many customers evolve what was their storage strategy and how they stored what they created to a data strategy and how/where they access data through classifying the data being created. This classification will give rise to segmenting data for permanent in-house retention [structured] and data to be streamed off-site retention [unstructured]. The biggest question of 2011 for data will likely be ‘for what do I want to own the storage outright versus what I can hire access to’.

Firstly, a very Happy New Year if I haven’t seen you or had the opportunity to say HNY thus far …and this officially marks the last time I think we can get away with wishing each other a Happy New Year before we cross the Rubicon hurtling well into 2011 and beyond!

Secondly …I’d like you to go and find a newspaper article or favourite magazine, clip an article that you find meaningful or interesting, photocopy it, and post to 20 close friends and family.  It’s okay, I’ll wait.

Right …done?  Good!  Now, how long did it take to do that, or , on balance did you not bother as you reckoned the amount of effort and time was more than you were prepared to expend for little old me to illustrate a point?  Not to worry, I wouldn’t have done it either!

Over the past Christmas and New Year break I was thinking that, even a few short years ago, easily sharing information was far from easy.  Yet, flash forward to now and we probably don’t even think twice about sharing something on Facebook or an email or even Twitter with tens, hundreds, or even thousands of people …all in the blink of an eye, with the technology which enables this remaining largely invisible and transparent to you as a customer or consumer.

Equally, the world wide distribution of sensitive information via something like WikLeaks has highlighted a profound change in almost effortless information distribution.  We could certainly argue the legality or even the sense of releasing secure diplomatic cables …and wouldn’t it be delightfully ironic if someone leaked Julian Assange’s book before it was published.  Interestingly, though, WikiLeaks would probably not have been possible even a few short years ago.   I must admit, I remain unconvinced regarding the execution of WikiLeaks stated purpose and it would appear that perhaps some of Assange’s key staffers do as well given they are abandoning the Good Ship Julian and starting OpenLeaks.

What’s this got to do with data storage and protection?

Last year I gave you my predictions for 2010 so this isn’t a blog post about WikiLeaks …to be honest, I prefer HaikuLeaks …but, rather, my observations and predictions for 2011.

As a data guy I would say that data has changed the world forever.  Data is being set free at an incredible pace, whether through mediums such as WikiLeaks or access ‘anytime/anywhere’ mobile devices …and data is being created at an even more alarming rate.  How much data?  How about we create as much information in two days now as we did from the dawn of man through 2003.  And it is this data …or, more importantly strategies for data …which give us some clues as to what 2011 holds.

1.  Do you have a data strategy or a storage strategy?

Up to 2011 we have advised both as an industry and within Computacenter that our customers have a storage strategy, with these strategies often driven by categorisation such as ‘what kind of RPO/RTO is required’ and ‘throughput’ and the strategy often defined solely by the speed and type of disk drives [e.g. Tier One = 300GB /15K fibre channel drives]. Whilst throughput and traditional categorisation remains important, we will see storage strategy evolve to data strategy with key categorisation such as ‘what is the data’, ‘should the data reside internal or external to the organisation’ joining the more traditional speeds and feeds.  It is this data strategy which will seek to reduce OpEx and CapEx costs in both the immediate and long term whilst also increasing corporate agility by enabling secure ‘anytime/anywhere’ access for corporate users.

2. Virtualisation … and optimisation …of the entire datacentre continues at pace.

As data strategies begin to take shape, it will become more and more apparent that catering to data through intelligent and efficient storage devices alone will not be enough to fully realise a data strategy which seek to reduce OpEx and CapEx costs in both the immediate and long term whilst also increasing corporate agility by enabling secure ‘anytime/anywhere’ access for corporate users.  As such, expect to see virtualisation of the datacentre continue  to accelerate at considerable pace as the optimisation and cost reduction benefits are realised and advertised by early adopters of productised VDCs such as VCE vBlock, NetApp FlexPod, and Oracle Exadata.  Equally, 2011 will be about the realisation this isn’t a zero-sum game where one is forced to select a single ‘stack’ as some environments and workloads will be suited to one ore more of them …or a mixture of them all.  What is important is aligning the business to the data which will determine how, when, and why to select one or more optimised datacentre stacks.  Besides, the ‘stack wars’ …if there is such a thing …may not matter much as in the not too distant future there may be one chip to rule them all.

3. Intel Romley will have a profound impact on storage …and servers, hypervisors, networking …pretty much everything.

As we continue to optimise the datacentre, the offload of tasks to the chipset will gather pace.  Emulex showed the way forward and the possibilities with their OneConnect converged adapter product, and I think we’ll see things like RAID …formerly the sole domain of specialised data storage hardware controllers …move down to the Intel chipset.  But I don’t think it will stop there and within the next few years we’ll see the ability to run data storage, server compute, networking [routers, switches], and even hypervisors directly from Intel chips with software automating the self tuning/self healing required to distribute the load and ‘tell’ the chip which operation to perform …i.e. behave like a data storage controller today, but tomorrow we need you to perform like a server to help service the data access requirements.

4. Customers will demand their own internal corporate app stores which will ensure that their users remain productive anytime, anywhere.

The concept of the app store began in the commercial space with mobile devices such as the iPod, iPhone and iPad.  The iPhone and iPod Touch gained 85m users in 11 quarters …that’s 11 times faster than AOL added users in 1994 …and the app store is about to hit 10 billion downloads.  Add to that the iPad selling 1m units in 28 days and on target for 10m sold in 2011, not to mention the Google Android devices and smartphones …users will want access to their data anytime, anywhere for a truly mobile experience. In fact, mobile as a concept will probably cease to exist.

But on 11 January 2011 the app store entered the corporate space with the launch of the Mac app store.  Not only does this point in the direction of a convergence of desktop and mobile operating systems in the not too distant future, it also points to a new and perhaps more efficient way for organisations to distribute and maintain corporate software as apps and through a secure corporate app store.  The IT landscape is littered with instance upon instance of consumer technology being demanded by users at work to drive business agility increases and change, but it won’t be the device that enables this change for organisations …it will be the ability for organisations to federate their structure data housed internally [e.g. customer databases, ERP, and billing systems] with unstructured data housed externally with service providers [e.g. email] to provide a unified app space for their users.  Put another way, the device will become far less important that the apps you can run and data federation, geotagging, and data container security will enable the corporate app store.  Don’t believe me?  It would seem companies like Apperian are trying to steal a march on competition with their Enterprise App Services Environment [EASE] product.

5. Federation of data will be what customers will require to keep costs down permanently, but will dip their toes in the water with selected workloads.

Fantastic apps such as Evernote for note taking, Dropbox for data, and Kindle for reading make it possible to take notes, save data, and even read books on any device you happen to own …all whilst keeping any modifications made synced up automatically with generally no additional effort on your part.  How do they make this ‘magic’ work?  The full answer can be somewhat complicated, but the short answer is that data federation is at the heart of each of these solutions.  Customers will seek similar automated syncing and federation from their internal service provider [read, IT department] as well as external service providers such as Computacenter.  How significant a change will this be?  Well, let’s put it this way …I’m not sure I would want to be a USB flash drive manufacturer moving forward.

6. Data storage arrays will be able to be run as a virtual ‘instance’ on a virtual machine [VM].

The data storage of the past ten years …deduplication, compression, automated tiering, the list goes on and on …are really software at their core and not hardware solutions.  Put simply …storage is really just software, after all.  Given this, I expect one of the data storage vendors to ‘break cover’ and allow users to run their data storage array software as a virtual instance …a VMware VM, if you will.   Indeed, NetApp have had an ONTAP filer simulator for quite a few years so it doesn’t take a huge leap of imagination perhaps to see where going one step further and allowing users to run a data storage array as a virtual machine may not be far away.

7.  If we’re evolving our storage strategies to be data strategies, what will remain for data storage hardware tiering recommendations will be ‘flash and trash’; solid state drives [SSD] for performance intensive workloads and dense SATA/SAS drives for everything else.

Notice that you don’t see fibre channel [FC] drives in that equation?  No, I haven’t made a mistake …I think this is the year that FC drives drop out of the architecture.  Whilst they served an important purpose once upon a time, they have outlived their usefulness in the data storage architecture moving forward.  Automated storage tiering, such as FAST from EMC, means that we can now move data automatically at the block level from highly performant SSD to SATA/SAS as required with no need for administrative intervention and whilst remaining transparent and seamless to the users.

I am convinced that 2011 is going to be an extremely interesting and perhaps even watershed year for data specifically and the datacentre generally.  I would expect virtualise, containerise, mobilise will be joined with monitor, deploy, automate as we seek to reduce storage and IT costs whilst increasing business agility.

I’ll be blogging in much more detail about all of the seven predictions I’ve made above, and tune in next week as EMC will be making a major product announcement which could help prove point number seven …as well as possibly a few more!

On Wookiees and providing unreasonable customer service.


It’s been a few weeks since I last blogged and I bet you thought I’d forgotten about you .. or was out frolicking in the snow with the other Storage Wookiees.

No, sorry .. wrong on both counts.  It’s just that Q4 really got me this year, but I’m back now so whether you’re cheering, groaning, or deleting .. I’ll be blogging regularly again.

Now .. there is no getting away from the fact that it is Q4 and, for many of us, there can be quite a bit of stress as we seek to close the year both personally and professionally.  But I have a confession to make .. I really love this time of year.

There are the Chrimbo parties and lunches when you get to meet up and spend time with people that perhaps you haven’t seen all year, the Hanukkah Armadillo, a snowcalypse and Arctic temperatures that bring the UK to a grinding halt .. I mean, hey .. what’s not to love?  London will be back to normal by mid January, and I hear Scotland it due to reopen in June.  And my favourite part of this time of year?  No, not an opportunity for me to use my fireplace app on my iPad. And if you don’t have an iPad, I don’t want you to feel left out so here you go.  Although with the way Adobe Flash lights up a laptop CPU you may not even need a fireplace to keep warm whilst you’re watching that.

But I digress.  My favourite part of this time of year is .. the Starbuck’s Gingerbread Latte.  And when I say favourite, I mean deep down and dirty wookiee love with a capital L .. L-O-V-E the Starbuck’s Gingerbread Latte.  If you don’t like Starbucks and think they are overpriced coloured water merchants, fine .. but I’m here to tell you that I am big time into their Gingerbread Latte.  And as a wise man once said .. ‘Let the wookiee win.’

But since it’s that time of year, here’s a video of Chewbaccah singing ‘Silent Night’ just so there’s no hard feelings.

I went in to Starbucks to buy my first gingerbread latte of the season on the first day they were officially available in the UK .. I probably shouldn’t mention that I also buy the syrup from Starbucks so I can make them at home with my Siemens Nespresso machine .. but, to be fair, they really only taste completely ‘proper’ during the season and from a Starbucks.

And when I went to buy my latte, I got a very pleasant surprise.  The barista, whom I know quite well due to my somewhat severe Starbucks addiction, offered me a Starbucks card.  Why would I want that?, asked I .. It isn’t a credit card so why should I prepay you now for my future lattes?

Because you get free extra shots of coffee, soya milk, flavoured syrup .. and *drum roll* Wifi in all of our stores.  Free.  So that £4.05 grande triple shot sugar free hazelnut latte now costs about £3.50.


What’s this got to do with Data Storage & Protection?

The industry market is quickly consolidating through merger and acquisition .. the most recent being the acquisition of Compellent by Dell, but there have been dozens over the past eighteen months .. indeed, too many to list here.

What has become frightfully obvious through much of this M&A activity is that asking the question ‘is it a product or a feature’ has never been more important as what were once products .. e.g. Data Domain and Diligent with data deduplication, or Storewize and Ocarina for data compression .. were swiftly acquired by much larger storage companies like EMCIBM, and Dell as they surmised that these technologies such as dedupe and compression were actually features and not really products in their own right.

In other words, why not include dedupe, compression, thin provisioning, and automated tiering in the storage array(s) themselves as opposed to individual stand alone products?

Equally, the market seems to be segmenting into three distinct customer behaviours for data storage;

1. Let’s Optimise the Lot – I’m prepared to explore internal change and IT process evolution in the pursuit of lower IT costs and increased business agility, so perhaps a virtual datacentre [VDC] is the right solution as opposed to siloed solutions of storage plus server plus network and so on.  Put more simply .. optimise EVERYTHING, not just storage.

2. Let’s Optimise the Storage – I may want to optimise the lot in the fullness of time, but right now I need to optimise my data storage to reduce my storage costs specifically.

3. I Need a Bucket – I will optimise my storage and possibly everything else when I can, but right now I need an efficient and cost effective bit bucket.

Now, at Computacenter we have solutions which credibly and competitively address each of these areas but this is where the lattes come in in my opinion.

Just like Starbucks have realised that they need to provide unreasonable customer service to continue to get people to buy their coffees .. i.e. give away much of what, perhaps, their competition wouldn’t .. so too must we consider what we could do to give unreasonable customer service to our customers not just in Q4, but throughout the year.

If I’m buying a bucket .. what options and features might be available to me that I haven’t asked you for?  Might I be able to get data dedupe, data compression, or automated tiering to make my purchase even more cost effective?  And how will my purchase enable me to either optimise my storage and/or entire IT infrastructure next year?

If I’m looking to optimise the storage .. what vendor partners include the features as part of the array price versus those, for example, who will make me pay more just to automate the tiering of my data?  How can I get the most storage optimisation per spent pound?  And how can I leverage my optimised storage purchase when I seek to optimise the lot next year?

If I’m looking to optimise the lot .. how will my purchase enable me to connect to external service providers in the future?  How will I be able to retain my structured data internally in a fully optimised state whilst shipping out my unstructured data to an external service provider .. safely, reliably, and securely?

Starbucks with the freebies offered with their Starbucks card is but one example of offering unreasonable customer service .. I think Amazon including free 3G on their Kindle as part of the £149 purchase price is another.

I’m committed to helping Computacenter be another such example, so please feel free to contact me or Bill McGloin if we can help provide you unreasonable customer service either now in the last days of Q4 or in 2011.

For now, here’s a video of Chewbaccah singing the blues .. which is what I hope Australia will be doing when we win the Ashes.

Look out next week for my 2011 predictions and a Happy Christmas/New Years to you and yours.


Yeah, I’m fat … but so is your data.


Sixty Second Synopsis

Throwing technology at what is potentially a ‘people’ issue will have limited benefit long term.  We do need to deploy more intelligent and efficient storage devices, but we also need to help our users understand the negative impacts of unfettered data growth and storage. Transparent reporting of what users consume can help them understand what they are consuming/costing with a view to proactively reducing these costs.

Identity is a very important and, frequently, quite a private thing.

I have seen how our friends from NetApp try to hide the cringe when they hear someone incorrectly call them ‘NetApps’ and, whilst I don’t have this on good authority, I do wonder if Acadia’s recent decision to rebrand themselves as VCE had anything to do with constantly being called ‘Arcadia’.  I’ve no doubts that Michael Capellas would love to sell vBlocks as quickly as Philip Green sells t-shirts and jumpers, but there’s not getting away from the fact that they are different sales skillsets … not to mention price points!

Equally, I have lost count of the number of times I have had to explain to people why Computacenter has an ‘a’ in the middle and isn’t spelled with an ‘re’ at the end … even though we are a European company.  But Computacenter we are, and I am a proud member of the team ready to defend our name and strategy.

Now, anyone that knows me knows that I’m not exactly over the moon when someone calls me ‘Matt’ …  particularly when I introduce myself as Matthew, answer my email as Matthew, answer the phone as Matthew … you get the point.  There are a few personal reasons for this that I won’t bore you with here, but one of the big ones is that when I was younger I was called ‘fat Matt’.  Yes, kids can be cruel, and, whilst I have been blessed with a few attributes … svelte isn’t one of them.  Being reminded of always having to shop with my mother in the ‘husky’ section as a child coupled with the thought that if I get any bigger I may have my own gravitational pull is never fun..

I had two brief moments of sveltedom … once when I started university, and once just before I got married … but being married to a chef who’s family owns a butcher shop, having an interest in wine, and being able to resist everything but temptation was probably never going to end well.

I’ve blogged previously about my struggles with my weight as well as my efforts to lose weight permanently and, unfortunately, there is no getting away from a simple and stark fact … I’ve failed miserably.

The definition of insanity is to do the exact same thing you did before but expect different results so, from today, I’m making a big change.

Liposuction?  No, too expensive and doesn’t change the underlying issues.  Gastric band?  Somehow I doubt swallowing a rubber band is going to change things for the better.

Nope … I’m going public.  That’s right, from today you can access my food diary where I’m logging everything I eat, every bit of exercise I take … open, transparent, no limitations.  No excuses.

What’s this got to do with Data Storage & Protection?

I suppose I believe that a problem shared is a problem halved, and really I have no one other than myself to blame at present for not losing weight.  Perhaps by putting my diary online and making it open will help me to ‘control’ myself and, who knows … perhaps others with a similar issue will want to join me and we can make a bit of a contest out of this.  And it becomes that much more difficult to bend the truth when someone asks you how your diet is going when you know they can check for themselves!

The challenge is, just as I know that by remaining overweight I’m not doing my health any good and potentially shortening my life, so too we know that we are creating data at an alarming and, some would say, unsustainable rate.  Indeed, we’re creating as much data in three days as we did in all of 2003.  And much of the data growth is coming from ‘unstructured’ data … data that, in simple terms, is not likely to be business meaningful.

That this data creation is harmful to us and our world at large is open to examination and robust debate, and there is no doubt that storage vendors are doing everything they can to create ever more intelligent and efficient storage devices.

But this is only half the equation, in my opinion.

Short of shooting the users … not something I would condone, and I’m fairly certain it’s illegal just about, well, everywhere … we have to come up with a way in which we get users to be cognisant of the resources they consume and the costs thereof.  Perhaps if users know the cost of the data storage they are consuming they will think twice before saving yet another copy of the same PowerPoint, forward on a large spreadsheet they could have sent a link to, or send on that high-def video I’m sure is just as hilarious as you think it is.

But how?

1. Baseline the cost of workloads in the organisation.

By workload I mean the application, server, hypervisor [if applicable], network, and data storage required to provide the service to the user.  If you don’t know what it costs, how to break it down by user, et al … I know a nice service provider in the UK who would be more than happy to help!

2. Decide what and how you would charge a user for usage.

I have spoken to some customers who are spending upwards of 50% of their IT budgets on data storage, so I would be surprised if lowering storage costs wouldn’t be of interest … but what would you look to meter?  Cost per gigabyte stored?  Over a month?  Over a year?  You get the point.  And the tools on the market today let you set a cost per gigabyte as well as having LDAP hooks such that they can report exactly what a user is creating … and costing … historically as well as currently.

3. Make the costs per user/department/division transparent.

This isn’t about ‘naming and shaming’ users, but I do think that if users saw what they were costing the company in a ‘leader table’ with their peers perhaps they would be more inclined to reduce those costs through more diligent data management.  Data growth isn’t the fault of the IT department, and their simply deploying more intelligent devices won’t solve the problem alone in my opinion.

4. Make it a competition, with an award for the user/department/division who can reduce their costs the most.

Weight loss is all about targets and realistic expectations, but we all need a reward for good behaviour now and again to help keep us moving in the right direction.  Reducing the amount of data stored is most certainly of value to an organisation, and awards help to show and reward the progress being made.  We’re all in this together, after all, and simply shouting at IT to get better storage stuff or at purchasing to get a better price for the storage thingey isn’t going to solve the underlying issues.

As for me, time to go and take a brisk walk around the block so I can have a glass of wine or two with dinner.

Have a great weekend,


Click here to contact me.

Four reasons why the sky isn’t falling, but storage quadrants are collapsing.


Sixty Second Synopsis:

The average customer achieves 40% or less utilisation from their data storage infrastructure. Increasing efficiencies increases utilisation which, in turn, decreases costs. Next generation storage systems such as grid/scale out and unified represent the natural evolution of the four storage quadrants aimed at reducing costs in both the immediate and for the future.

People love a good story, and humans have been telling stories in one form or another for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.  Indeed, there has been much talk in business consultancy and related journals regarding the ‘art of storytelling’ to help disseminate what can be difficult and often technically complicated topics and ideas to a wide audience.

One of the most well known and widely used methods of storytelling is that of film.  I love a good film …the story and music, the escapism of two hours in a darkened theatre, hot buttered popcorn …. mmm popcorn! …. and I’m sure I’m not alone in having a top ten list of my favourite all time films.

Depending upon what day of the week you ask me, taking the number one slot in my top ten will either be Zulu or Lawrence of Arabia.  Okay, perhaps I have a top eleven list but let’s not let facts get in the way of a good story!  Pun intended, but I digress.

Near the head of my top ten is a film called Searching For Bobby Fischer, released in the UK as Innocent Moves.  The film tells the story of a young chess prodigy and the lengths he and his family go in their trying to understand him and he them all whilst being supportive of and developing his unique gift.  I won’t give the plot or ending away, and would seriously recommend you spending the time to watch the film as it is an excellent object lesson in how we raise and prepare our children for the world in my opinion.  I will, however, share with you my favourite line from the film … ‘The game is already over. You just don’t see it yet.’

What’s this got to do with Data Storage & Protection?

In my career I have never seen the data storage consolidate nor move more quickly than it has in the past 24 months.  Indeed, what were the four storage quadrants …Enterprise, Modular, NAS, and Archive …have rapidly converged and consolidated to leave with what are effectively two categories …Grid/Scale Out and Unified.

But why?  At a high level, the Four Quadrants of storage developed and evolved as they sought to solve different customer issues however none of the quadrants represents a ‘perfect’ solution and all suffer from a serious reduction in utilisation as they attempt to scale.  Given we are creating more data every three days as we did in all of 2003, it isn’t difficult to see why customers need efficient data storage systems which can easily scale to solve utilisation and cost challenges.

I’m not going to go into the Four Quadrants in any detail as I’ve developed masterclasses which cover this from soup to nuts in two hours.  I have also developed separate two hour masterclasses for Grid Storage and Unified Storage.  Please contact me if you’d like me to run a private masterclass(es) session for you and/or your organisation.

1. Customers want …and need … efficient arrays.  What were once products are now features.

Start-up companies such as Data Domain [dedupe] acquired by EMC, Diligent [dedupe] acquired by IBM, Storewize [data compression] acquired by IBM, Compellent [automated storage tiering], XiV [grid] acquired by IBM …the list goes on and on …have either been acquired or seen their ‘unique’ products rolled into existing vendor products as is the case with FAST [Fully Automated Storage Tiering] in EMC products.

2.  The four storage quadrants are collapsing to leave us with two primary solution variants; grid/scale out and unified.

The simple equation is that increased utilisation equals decreased costs, and we’ve seen Grid/Scale Out storage [e.g. EMC VMAX, IBM XiV] evolve from the Enterprise and Modular quadrants to address the ability to scale at cost as well as Unified storage [e.g. NetApp] evolve from the Modular/NAS/Archive quadrants where customers don’t necessarily require massive scale out capabilities but would like a ‘Swiss Army knife’ approach with iSCSI, fibre channel, NAS, dedupe, compression, et al all included in the same storage product.  This is also an effort by the vendors to reduce their R&D costs by delivering fewer but much more efficient storage products.

3. The storage technologies which underpin VDC and the federated service provider model … or private/public cloud hybrid, if you prefer …are waypoints and not the final destination.

At the moment we treat data as either ‘block’ …I’ll whack the data on some block storage systems like EMC VMAX or IBM XiV …or ‘file’ …I’ll whack the data on some file based storage like NetApp or EMC Celerra …but we’re rapidly heading towards data being treated as an object.  In other words, a true convergence of block and file based storage where we treat the data as an individual object as opposed to ‘speeds and feeds’.   However, we need ways in which to optimise our datacentre and storage environments today which reduce costs as well ad provide a bridge to the future.  VDC and the federated service provider model is absolutely that bridge.

4.  The infrastructure to support data will continue to evolve, but data as a construct will not.

Many IT departments truly believe that the barbarians are at the gates with their users seeking to access data whenever and however they wish with ‘unapproved’ mobile devices such as Apple iPads, Google Android phones, et al.   Egads and heavens to Murgatroyd!  I understand the reasons for IT to try and provide high levels of support by restricting usage, but putting up walls by device to restrict data access is a very 1990s method of physical access control and, frankly, a fool’s game.  Nature …and users …always find a way around such barriers if they feel they can be more productive by providing and acquiring their own access devices.  But you can protect the data, and that is where the security and restrictions should be placed in my opinion.  Indeed, we will see geotagging of data and with access and geolocation restrictions based on the data objects …for example, you can view the data in the UK but not when you leave our sunny clime …but I’ll save this for another blog post.  Equally, there may even be a case here for organisations to move what were CapEx costs …laptops, PCs, mobile phones …off the books by allowing employees to acquire and use their own devices.


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ROI calculators won’t save us … but data classification will.


I had the pleasure to present yesterday at the HDS Information Forum in London.  Having flown with Moshe Yanai in his plane when I was in Israel, it was an honour to share the stage with another storage industry luminary in Hu Yoshida … and it’s always great to share a stage with one of my favourite Scots in Steve Murphy.  Now, if I can just figure out a way to share the stage with Dave Hitz, Paul Maritz, and Pat Gelsinger at some stage in my career I’ll have the full deck!

It was only as I was approaching where the event was being held that I realised this was the very hotel … indeed the very ballroom … where Mrs. PL and I got married seven years ago although this time instead of giving the groom’s speech I presented ‘Cloud Isn’t A Four Letter Word: The Practicalities of VDC and the Federated Service Provider Model’.

The central premise of my 25 minute presentation was that cloud needn’t be a four letter word, however I believe that the nomenclature ‘cloud’ is confusing at best as it doesn’t accurately describe the consumption and usage model.  Put simply, cloud as a marketing term is nothing more than the movement of an asset from within a customer environment to external … effectively trying to ‘move’ CapEx but not necessarily doing anything about the OpEx side of the house.

And this is where I have a real challenge with ‘cloud’ … at present course and speed it just looks too much like an economic shell game.  But it needn’t be this way.

Rather, I seek to make the case for addressing the entirety of the solution equation, including total cost of ownership, understanding that ROI represents only 30% of TCO.

In other words, acquisition or CapEx only represents 30% of the TCO equation whereas OpEx represents 70% of the equation and I believe that the practical applications of the virtual datacentre as well as the federated service provider model can absolutely solve this equation.

What’s this got to do with Data Storage and Protection?

Data creation, and the storage devices to store the data we’re creating, holds both the root cause as well as the solution to ever increasing OPEX costs in my opinion.

1. Data creation is rising inexorably and has now reached the point where having humans physically ‘manage’ storage provisioning, the data lifecycle, and the like no longer makes economic sense.

A remarkable statistic is just how quickly the industry standard Compound Annual Growth Rate for data creation is rising for customers.  Just 12 to 18 months ago the standard was 40% …in other words, every three years you had created twice as much data with a little more on top.  Now the industry standard is 60%, and in the three years I have been with Computacenter not a single storage assessment we have run for customers have shown even a 60% CAGR … the vast majority have show 100% to as high as 212% for one retail customer.

2. It’s all virtual, baby.

Or at least is should all be virtual, baby.  Virtualise what?  Put simply … everything.  We’ve been working on and deploying virtual datacentres in Computacenter for 18 months and what we have learned is that first and foremost, VDC is a business solution underpinned by technical components.  Yes, you can manage a storage array manually if you so desire …but if we introduce a grid based storage array, coupled with universal compute and networking components, we can automate provisioning of not only the data storage to support business users but indeed the whole workload.  Why would we want highly skilled technologists plumbing away kit when it would be of higher value for them to be working with the business solving the alignment of data to business value?  But in the absence of a virtualised grid based pool of storage …and server compute, and network …automating this becomes virtually [no pun intended] impossible.  The more you automate, the higher the utilisation …and the lower the OpEx.

Equally, we can drive the OpEx down further as next generation storage arrays are becoming largely self tuning with automated storage tiering and much more efficient with the advent of storage compression, thin provisioning, and data deduplication.

3. Virtualise. Containerise. Mobilise.

Once we’ve virtualised the lot, now we can containerise the workloads.  Containerisation is what allows us to provide this workload automation.  Rather than trying to attempt levitation by harmonising data storage, servers, virtualisation, and networking separately we can define the workload as a container with storage, network, compute attributes.

But whereas we would be limited by workload type [e.g. database, email, web application] in a traditional ‘siloed’ solution, the VDC allows us to run multiple container workloads simultaneously.

To wit, we have been testing a VDC in our Solution Centre which can support 6,000 virtual machines all from a footprint of one datacentre row or six 40U racks effectively.  When you consider that it could take something like four to five rows of equipment to support the same number of virtual machines in a traditional datacentre, the OpEx optimisation begins to become much more apparent.

What VDCs really allows us to do is optimise all three dimensions of a customer datacentre simultaneously such that we can deliver immediate cost benefit …perhaps as high as 30% to 50% CapEx avoidance and OpEx reduction …as well as provide a bridge to what some are calling private/public cloud federation but we prefer to call federated service provider model.

4. Data classification will determine what data is kept inside the corporate VDC and what data gets shipped out to an external service provider.

When I’m discussing the federated service provider model …or private/public cloud hybrid, if you must …one of the inevitable questions relates to data security.  Now, not to be flippant, but why should we ever have to store sensitive data anywhere other than inside a customer VDC?

In a typical environment we see that 20% of the data is ‘business meaningful’ or structured data … ERP systems, customer databases, etc.  This leaves better than 80% as unstructured …email, PPTs, duplicate and dormant data which hasn’t been accessed in some time.

Why wouldn’t we connect the customer VDC to an external service provider such as Computacenter and allow for the unstructured data to be ‘shipped out’ where it can be stored more efficiently and at lower cost than internally?

Some are calling these the ‘stack wars’ but I don’t believe they are …rather, this is the API war as it will be the APIs which make this model possible.

But that’s a story …or presentation? …for another day.

Until then, have a great weekend.

We need business solutions to business problems.


To a man with a beaker, everything is a solution.

Or so goes the sage advice of one of my university professors whose name I sadly seem to have forgotten, relegated to the mists of time and memory.

I am often reminded of this and, perhaps a more popular and well known version of the same sentiment, Abraham Maslow’s famous quote … ‘To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.’ … when I’m meeting with customers as the conversation inevitably winds its way round to three common queries.

1. What do you think about storage vendor [x] versus vendor [y] versus vendor [z]?

2. We’re paying too much for storage specifically and/or IT generally.  We thought IT was meant to be a commodity which supported the business, yet costs feel wildly unpredictable. What would you recommend, and where should we start?

3. What made you think that that tie went with that shirt?

Oh dear.  Where to begin?

Number three is the easiest to deal with as I just need to ensure that I turn the lights on when I dress in the morning or, better still, let Mrs. PL choose my ensemble.

As for numbers one and two, well … they can be slightly more challenging.

When tackling number one, I am as candid as I can be about what we know from experience in deployment and testing both in the field and the Solution Centre as well as my personal opinions based on personal research and visits to our vendor partners development facilities … understanding that the vendors frequently FUD one another, but this is to be expected and always somewhat suspect.  Equally, it is worth bearing in mind that there are no silver bullets nor are there perfect solutions … at least I haven’t come across any in the 15+ years I’ve worked in technology and the 30+ years I’ve been around IT.  Indeed, when I used to go to work with my father it wasn’t called IT but ‘data processing’.

As for the second, the conversation will almost undoubtedly involve ‘Should I virtualise my servers?’, ‘Should I virtualise my storage?’, ‘Should I thin provision, deduplicate data, archive data, deploy grid storage, consider federated storage … ‘.  Unfortunately the answer is always …yes.  I do recognise it can be frustrating to hear … and I’m trying desperately to ensure that it doesn’t come across as flippant … when I know full well what many folks want is a direct answer and order to follow to solve what is arguably a three dimensional issue.

Ultimately what this all boils down to is that technology has largely become a three dimensional challenge, as I discussed last week, and that what our customers are asking us for is not technical jargon nor do they want to watch us throw technology at a business issue but, rather, proffer business solutions to business problems.

What’s this got to do with Data Storage & Protection?

I’m sometimes criticised for not getting to the point quickly enough, or for circular speech.  Fair enough.  But, in my defence, when faced with three dimensional business issues …if I recommend grid storage with a single storage media type but don’t take into account your future VDI and data mobility aspirations, for example …simply throwing a two dimensional solution is not going to get us where we need to be, no matter how pretty the Powerpoint slides.  These things need to be thought through and discussed and that takes time …and frequently a glass of wine or two.

So what to do?

1. Magic quadrants are good, but working equations are better.

We do use a consultancy equation …ROI + CBA + DPB = CSS …which attempts to help solve the ‘what to do next’ and ‘what’s the best solution’ for three dimensional business issues.  The composite score then points us towards the storage and technology most appropriate to underpin said solution.

2. The Computacenter Virtual Datacentre [VDC] solution is a three dimensional business solution.

VDC seeks to solve business issues by increasing business agility, automating highly repeatable tasks, optimising all aspects of a datacentre to reduce CapEx/OpEx costs by 30% to 50% … and we’ve been working on and have experience with VDC for over 18 months, long before others were even thinking about such solutions.  Don’t believe me?  Have a look at the date stamp on the Automated Storage Provisioning demo video … it reads 25 March 2009 if you don’t feel like clicking the link.

3. Vendors are rushing to create silver bullets as quickly as they can.

VCE vBlock, Oracle Exadata/Exalogic, NTAP IVA, HDS UCP, IBM Dynamic Infrastructure, HP Converged Infrastructure … it doesn’t really matter what marketing decides to call it, at no point in my technology career have I seen vendors spend this amount of effort trying to create complete datacentre silver bullets for customer business issues.  I’m not saying this is good or bad as it is still too early to tell, but the concept does seem to be resonating with customers.

4. If you don’t want to go the VDC route just yet, introduce a 3D storage solution.  HDS is trying to create just such a 3D storage solution which scales out, up, and deep.

HDS announced their Virtual Storage Platform this week, effectively replacing the USPV.

HDS VSP page level tiering allows a customer to create a pool of storage which in turn creates 3D tiering; scale up, scale out, scale deep.

Scale up; pooled storage media [FC, SATA, SAS, SSD] allows the VSP to locate the data on the most appropriate tier based upon business needs [e.g. my workload needs faster response during our corporate end of quarter billing] in an automated fashion such that workloads remain performant with zero or minimal administrative action as well as zero intrusion to the users.

Scale out; expand workloads automatically to accommodate greater storage requirements [e.g. users are creating more data so we need to expand the workload container] again in an automated fashion with zero or minimal administrative action as well as zero intrusion to the users.

Scale deep; demote/move data to denser storage for long term retention at lower cost as long term retention has become more important than performance [e.g. move workload to dense but less performant SATA] again with zero or minimal administrative action as well as zero intrusion to the users.

Does the HDS VSP work and is this the 3D answer to data storage?  Is page level tiering better than block level automated tiering?

The page level tiering allows a customer to leverage existing storage arrays and their previous storage investments, so there is a valid business case for page tiering.  However, to be honest we haven’t received our test unit into the Solution Centre yet, so I don’t want to offer an opinion until Bill McGloin and the CP Data team have finished their evaluation putting the VSP through its paces.

But watch this space as I think 2011 is going to be very interesting indeed as 3D solutions such as VDC begin to find their way into corporate datacentres.

Have a great weekend,


Click here to contact me.

The future is 3D and the future is now.


It feels like quite a long time since I blogged just prior to my going on holiday with Mrs. PL and PL Junior, so please do forgive this Weekly View being a) somewhat late and, b) out of sequence.  I am back and into the full swing of things, with the Weekly View commencing each Friday again from this week. 

Many interesting things have happened since I went on holiday; here are just some that caught my attention … PL Junior started reception which left me wondering where the time goes, Lloyds made the front page of the weekend FT by piloting iPads, Paul Maritz [CEO, VMware] stated that ‘in 2009 organisations deployed more virtual machines [VMs] than physical machines for the first time’, and let’s not forget the $2.4b tussle between HP and Dell over 3PAR … with HP winning the tug of war.

Now, I have to make a confession here … I hate packing and unpacking possibly more than anything I can think of and will do just about anything to not have to do it … to wit, when Mrs. PL and I got married I suggested we throw our honeymoon clothes into suitcases dirty and then have housekeeping launder them when we got there.  Made sense to me … no hassle packing, unpacking, and we’d have clean and neatly pressed clothes delivered to our room!  Mrs. PL was less enamoured with this idea and offered some suggestions of her own for my packing which I’m still not sure are anatomically possible.

What’s this got to do with Data Storage & Protection?

I don’t like packing for two primary reasons; 1) I’m rubbish at packing and can never seem to get things packed properly, and 2) what looks like a large suitcase never seems to hold what it should.

Enter Mrs. PL who has a PhD in packing, bringing order to chaos and filling every cubic centimetre of our suitcases.  Which got me thinking … packing is a three dimensional problem and what Mrs. PL does so exceptionally well is to bring three dimensional solutions to this three dimensional problem.

I believe the exact same thing … 3D solutions for 3D issues … is happening with technology generally and with data storage specifically.

1.  Customers tend to reap only 40% utilisation from their storage infrastructures.

Customers want to get 100% utilisation from their storage infrastructures every bit as much as Mrs. PL wants to ensure she has used every cubic centimetre of a suitcase wisely.  When it comes to storage inefficiencies, there are numerous reasons; fat provisioning, orphaned volumes, duplicate data, dormant data which hasn’t been accessed in days/weeks/months/years … even inefficiencies within the storage arrays themselves.  The past two years have seen quite a consolidation of technologies such that the vast majority of tier one storage vendors have worked to introduce thin provisioning, data deduplication/data compression, automated storage provisioning/tiering into their storage arrays and offerings to increase utilisation.  In essence, introducing what were once products in their own right as features into mainstream data storage.  Why?  Put simply, increasing utilisation decreases costs … and as customers continue to store more and more data they require the highest utilisation possible to avoid excessive storage costs.

2.  Three dimensional problems require three dimensional solutions.

Virtualising a server, introducing dedupe into backups, thin provisioning a few volumes … each on their own are two dimensional solutions.  Whilst two dimensional solutions will reduce costs somewhat, it is only when these solutions are coupled holistically into three dimensional solutions that true cost reductions both in the immediate and for future growth can be achieved.  The Computacenter Virtualised Datacentre [VDC] solution is a three dimensional solution, seeking to holistically optimise the network, platform, hypervisor, storage, and automation such that OpEx and CapEx costs can be reduced by as much as 30% to 50% or more both in the immediate and for future workload creation and data retention.

3.  3D solutions, whether at the datacentre level or storage level, are business solutions and not technical solutions.

It is true that VDC is made up of technical components such as hypervisors, universal compute, virtualised 10GB Ethernet, grid storage, and automation … however VDC isn’t a technical solution.  It is a business solution which seeks to reduce costs by optimising and reducing wastage between components, automating highly repeatable tasks such as server and storage provisioning, all with a view to aligning technology [IT] to business value.  Why is this important?  Put succinctly, when calculating Total Cost of Ownership [TCO], only 30% of TCO is represented in acquisition cost … the remaining 70% is OpEx.  Many tools and technologies have focussed heavily on immediate return [e.g. TCO calculators, data dedupe] however the real long term cost savings remains in OpEx reduction.  Helping an IT department optimise OpEx should return significant long term value and cost reductions, and we’ve spent a lot of time putting science behind this such that we can underwrite the business benefits as opposed to peddling the marketing hype.  I’ve written at length about how and why VDCs help internal IT departments transition/evolve into internal service providers, so I won’t rehash that now but click here and here if you’d like to revisit these posts.

4.  Using commoditised hardware in data storage and treating data storage as a commodity are not the same thing.

Grid or ‘scale out’ systems such as IBM XiV and EMC VMAX form the basis of the Virtualised Datacentre … and cloud computing.  The secret to scale out systems is that they use commoditised hardware … Intel chips, SATA, SAS, and SSD drives … and use software to manage data placement and automated tiering.  However, this isn’t the same thing as treating data storage as a commodity and buying ‘good enough’ storage at the lowest price to store yet more data as this strategy is, generally speaking, what leas to low storage utilisation and high IT costs.  These next generation arrays represent the introduction of true business intelligence into the storage fabric and seeking to store data created as efficiently as possible from creation throughout the lifecycle.  Indeed, without scale out storage VDI, service catalogues, automated provisioning, cloud computing, et al wouldn’t be possible at costs low enough to help organisations overcome the inertia of how storage has traditionally been purchased and allocated.

5.  If three dimensional solutions are the future of technology and the key to significant cost reductions, why not introduce them into data storage directly?

A very good question, and certainly one that HDS have put to the market and customers with their recent Virtual Storage Platform [VSP] announcement.  Whereas the arrays mentioned in item 4 are more intelligent than traditional storage arrays, it could be argued that one must connect them to other components to achieve a 3D solution.  HDS would argue that their new VSP introduces 3D storage … scale out, scale up, scale deep … into the market for the first time.

I’ll be tackling the HDS VSP announcement in my next blog post , giving you my thoughts about how I think it stacks up to competitive technologies and solutions.

When did we start thinking that anything less that 100% utilisation was okay?


This will be my last Weekly View for a fortnight as it is that time of year again …holiday!

My fellow Practice Leaders, Paul Casey and Kevin Ebbs, will be enlightening, educating, and entertaining you …all in equal measure, no doubt … with the next few Weekly Views as I recharge my batteries with Mrs. PL and PL Junior.

Before I sign off an help finish the packing, there were a few interesting things that have happened over the past few weeks that I thought I would share with you.

The first is that we’ve launched our Optimised Environment VDC application on the iTunes store as a free of charge download.  I won’t go into this too much as I’ve spoken about this app a few times and even made a demo video, but I did want to thank Nikki Clift and Anna Rosenberg for their help and perseverance to make this app a reality.  It isn’t designed to win any technology or business ‘arguments’ but, rather, serve as a tool whereby one can easily navigate the great collateral we have for Optimising Environments, Virtualised Datacentre, and the like … and I, for one, believe this helps to set us distinctly apart from our competition in the services & solutions provider space as we’re articulating that it isn’t our IP that makes us unique but our ability to execute efficiently and delight our customers with market leading solutions such as VDC and cost benefit underwriting.

The second was Mrs. PL and I attended a ceremony which celebrates an engagement called a vort.  Now, this is a ceremony that has been going on for hundreds of years …possibly longer …but is just as relevant today as it was when it was first thought up and is one of my favourites.  There are many interpretations and much symbolism in the ceremony, but put simply you are firstly giving your word to marry …vort literally means ‘word’ in Yiddish …but it also serves to remind both of the MiLs [mum in laws] that they must be careful with the words they use when their son/daughter comes to seek counsel/complain about their significant other after they are married.  How is this message achieved?  During the vort a plate is broken with each of the MiLs holding opposite ends of the plate …signifying that, once broken, it is impossible to put the plate back together again fully.  And that each MiL has a responsibility for the structural integrity of the  plate and for the counsel they give.

Yes, you can glue it back together …but there will always be the little shards you couldn’t find and it will never look quite the same.  And who wants to eat dinner of a plate glued back together, anyway?!  And so it is with marriage.

What’s this got to with Data Storage & Protection?

I’ve been a geek for as possibly as long as I’ve been alive …Mrs. PL jokes that I had corduroy patches on my pyjamas …and I recall going with my father to work on the weekends where he retensioned the reel to reel backup tapes whilst I played Star Trek on the mainframe.  I was about seven.  Flash forward to my first IT project …a three tier client server project to expand an order entry system from a closed mainframe to an ‘open’ system with CICS, OS/2 Warp 4 servers, and Win95 workstations.

Told you I was a geek, not that I thought any of you doubted me.  But I’ve also spent a fair amount of my life around mainframes.

I’ve always had a soft spot for mainframes and never thought they really got the kudos they deserved, but as with anything in technology …if you wait long enough, the pendulum will swing in the opposite direction and you’ll see the same ideas come back again to solve business issues.

As we democratised technology away from the mainframe and into ‘open’ systems, our job as technologists was to make the pot and allow others to determine how to fill it.  Would Facebook, Twitter, Google, or Wikipedia have happened if the inventors had to submit the jobs on punch cards and provide business justification for the output?  But as data volumes have increased and corporate IT departments have had to scale to meet demand we’ve begun to see how much waste there can be in ‘open’ and distributed technology infrastructures.

Just as we would find it difficult to glue the plate back together if we broke it, so too have we found that it has become costly at scale once we broke the mainframe apart into separate network, storage, computing, and software components.

Now, this isn’t a ‘let’s go back to the mainframe’ rant.  There are many technical advantages to open and distributed infrastructures, but what we’re seeing now with the virtualised datacentre is a return back to a mainframe like device capable of supporting tens of thousands of users from a very dense and efficient footprint.

When did we start thinking that anything less than 100% utilisation on a platform was okay?

I suppose our having had PCs in our homes and on our desktops for almost the past twenty or so years has conditioned us to believe that if we approach 100% CPU, disk, or memory utilisation …bad things happen.  PC slowdowns, mouse won’t move, you know the score.  But mainframes typically operate at 100% utilisation …thats what they are designed to do!  Run multiple workloads on the same infrastructure efficiently.  Yet we know that the average server utilises less than 15% of the total CPU, storage infrastructures operate at best 40% utilisation …put simply, VDC isn’t necessarily a new idea but, rather, we are revisiting the mainframe by virtualising the servers, network, storage simultaneously such that we can run an infrastructure to support 60,000 or more users with just five 40U racks of equipment versus the better than five or more rows of equipment this would take in a traditional distributed infrastructure.

Equally, whilst I recognise that there are some that view VDCs as being ‘cutting edge’ technology they are by no means bleeding edge …indeed, mainframes have been containerising workloads and operating upwards of 100% utilisation for the past forty five years. And the mainframe space is about to get even more interesting as you can run Linux and related workloads on an IBM z196 mainframe.

But I don’t want to steal Martin Boake’s thunder, so if you’ve questions about that or are interested in a mainframe for workloads contact Martin.  He and the team we acquired from Thesaurus are a great bunch of guys and have probably forgotten more about mainframes than most people …myself included …will ever know.

Right …I think that does it for right now and remember, the next time you pick up a plate or consider breaking a workload out …there’s probably a much more efficient way to do that without you having to go and pick up the pieces!

Have a great weekend and see you in a few weeks.

Click here to contact me.

Boil the kettle, data rationalisation and reduction could take a while.


UPDATE Mon 26 July: My interview with The BBC World Service ‘The World Today’ programme covering this topic aired this morning.  Click here for the full thirty minute podcast, or here for just my interview excerpt.

I thought perhaps I would begin this Weekly View with a quick experiment …now, you’ll need a kettle for this exercise …and in this context we need this to be a kettle of the electric variety … so if you don’t have one, or reading this blog where ‘lectric kettles may be a foreign concept, here’s a picture of one which will suffice for now.

Okay, ready?  Great.  Now, I’d like you to go and boil your kettle seventeen and a half times.  It’s okay, I know it takes a bit for each boil.  I’ll wait.  See you in a few minutes …or if you’re feeling generous, mine’s a PG Tips with milk and two Splendas.

Right …all done?  Great!  You’ve just expended as many greenhouse gases as you would by sending an email with a 4.7 megabyte attachment.

That’s right, campers … boiling your kettle 17.4 times consumes as many resources (electricity, water, and the like) and produces as much greenhouse gas as sending an email with a 4.7MB attachment in a traditional IT environment.

Source: Life-cycle analysis carried out by Mark Mills of Digital Power Group, translated into kettle boilings with help from the Energy Savings Trust [UK].

Now, I know what you’re thinking as I was thinking the same thing when I first read that statistic …what?  How can this be?!

Without getting overly geeky on the topic, the short answer is that traditional IT environments tend not to be overly efficient at scale and we’ve known for quite some time that the traditional IT infrastructure …server plus storage plus network plus operating system plus application …tends to be siloed with each individual component connected physically to the others with wastage and efficiencies lost between these connections and within the physical devices themselves.

And, to be fair, traditional datacentres don’t fare much better …indeed, the datacentre industry as a whole has reached parity with the airline industry in CO2 production with 2% of all man-made CO2 comeing from computers and communications technology.

Source: Green IT: A New Industry Shock Wave by Simon Mingay [Gartner]

What’s this got to do with Data Storage and Protection?

I suppose that there is the obvious ‘think before you send emails with 4.7 meg attachments’.  I’m somewhat bemused …well, saddened really …that with the green revolution of the past ten years or so I now get emails with the tagline ‘Think before you print!’ with pretty green trees from just about everyone these days.  But what about having a tagline which gently asks the user …’Do you really need to send this, and, if so …please consider an alternative method rather than sending the attachment.’  Or, ‘Think before you send!’ for short.

Email has been the bane of many a storage administrator’s life as it has morphed from a purely text based system …remember SNDMSG, CICS, and OS/400? …to the rich text and inefficient file distribution model we find today.  Why do people attach large files to email and send them to a large distribution list?  I suppose the short answer is …it’s easy and they would argue they’ve more important things to be getting on with.  Fair enough.

But this isn’t a blog post having a whack at email and email vendors …and we should consider the fact that the ubiquity of smart phones, high definition cameras, et al mean we’ll continue to create ever larger files …indeed, we’re uploading 24 hours worth of video to YouTube every minute up from 12 hours a minute just two years ago …so how do we reduce the amount of resources we’re consuming …electricity, datacentre space, and people to run the show cost dosh you know! …and the CO2 we’re creating when we need to share files with others?

I think there are five answers which are worth considering.

1. Introduce proactive limits for users.

Let’s face facts, reactive limits with users tend not to work and/or are quickly circumvented to keep the business moving.  Telling users ‘your email mailbox cannot grow beyond 20MB or we’ll cut you off so you can’t send/receive email’ rarely works in my experience.  Rather, we need to evolve this theory to be proactive.

For example, I use a great cloud based application called Evernote.  I could write a whole post on just how great this app is …it allows me to take notes anywhere I am on my MacBook Air, iPod, Blackberry and keeps the notes and related notebooks in sync so that where ever I am, all of my notes are up to date without me having to do anything.  Brilliant.

But here’s where it gets even better …it’s free.  Provided I don’t exceed a 20MB monthly limit, of course …and therein lies the true genius in my mind.  Evernote resets my 20MB limit at the beginning of each month so, providing I don’t exceed the 20MB in a month …sorted!  This is the type of proactive limit I’m thinking of for users …we give you a limit and then count down monthly to zero.  Stay in your limits, you’re good to go …exceed them, we charge you more on a graduated basis.

2. Rethink service levels for workloads.

So what are Evernote doing with the 20MB that I created last month …it doesn’t get deleted from my syncronised notes as they remain available to me, so what gives?  To be honest, I’m not quite sure …my guess would be they move the data previously created to a lower tier of storage, such as dense 2TB SATA drives, or even archive.

To be fair, I don’t much care.  I don’t notice any performance degradation and I get to carry on consuming the service for free.

Perhaps this is the key to the answer with our users …we’ll keep your data in a highly performant architecture for one month and then demote to a lower less performant tier thereafter and reset your limit.  And we won’t ‘charge’ you unless you exceed your limit.

3. Introduce datacentre technology optimisation in the form of virtualised datacentres [VDC]s.

I’ve talked a lot about VDCs in previous posts starting with this one and many more since, so there’s no reason for me to labour the point more here other than to say that what VDCs deliver is optimisation by removing wastage as well as increasing business agility.

How much optimisation?  Chad Sakac, Vice President of VMware Strategic Alliance and the general in charge of ‘Chad’s Army’ of VCE vBlock gurus, blogged in 2009 about the potential benefits of deploying a vBlock against deploying technology silos.  An excerpt follows below:

  • 30% increase in server utilization (through pushing vSphere 4 further, and denser memory configurations)
  • 80% faster dynamic provisioning of storage and server infrastructure (through EMC Ionix UIM, coupled with template-oriented provisioning models with Cisco, VMware, and EMC)
  • 40% cost reduction in cabling (fibre / patch cords etc.) and associated labor (through extensive use of 10GbE)
  • 50% increase in server density (through everything we do together – so much it’s too long to list)
  • 200% increase in VM density (through end-to-end design elements)
  • Day to day task automation (through vCenter, UCS Manager and EMC Ionix UIM)
  • 30% less power consumption (through everything we do together)
  • Minimum of 72 VMs per KW (note that this is a very high VM/power density)

Now, I say potential benefits as, at present, these numbers have been derived from product datasheets and lab work by EMC …however we at Computacenter are looking to put more substantive quantitative analysis behind these benefits (and those of other VDC variants such as NTAP SMT, HDS UCP, ‘open VDC’) as we deploy VDCs with our customers locally in the UK.  Watch this space.

4.  Use alternative distribution tools for large attachment distribution and filesharing.

I really try not to use email as a file distribution these days, preferring instead to use cloud applications such as Dropbox to share large files with others such as internal, customers, and our vendor partners.  Now, this isn’t perfect as a) in the absence of my using encryption I wouldn’t wish to use this for sensitive corporate data, and b) it does have a ‘hard stop’ limit where I can only store 2.5GB for free with no reset limit like we have with Evernote.

But using tools such as Dropbox, uploading personal photos to Facebook instead of emailing them, if I must send an attachment trying to shrink it by converting to PDF or similar …every little helps!

That said, I accept that I’m a geek by trade and we need to find ‘easy’ ways for everyday users which replace email as a distribution system without increasing complexity.

After I’ve done that I’m planning to sort world peace, famine, and poverty.

5. Rethinking how we create data.

Only about 20% of the data we create today is ‘text’, with rich media [high def videos, pictures, etc.] representing well over 50% or more of the new data being created.

Equally, the text data we are creating is rarely just text …by the time we save it in MS Word or similar we have increased the file size with the formatting and related metadata, and many users choose to use PPT to communicate ideas such as business plans and so on …a large file type if ever there was one …and that’s without even adding any pictures, charts, or videos to the PPT.

Again, I’m not having a go at the use of PPT or MS Word …but I do believe we are going to have to begin to think about how we create data so that the data ‘footprint’ is smaller in addition to the optimisation and alternative distribution models we’ve discussed above.

Which has me thinking …it’s time for a nice cuppa before Mrs. PL needs my help setting the table for dinner with she and PL Junior …the highlight of my week!

Have a great weekend and remember your kettle the next time you send an attachment.