Archive for July, 2009

Telly can be good for you!

17/07/2009

This will be the last Weekly View for a couple of weeks as I am off to Malta with Mrs. PL and PL Junior on our yearly family holiday.  I’ll be taking notes whilst there to see what Malta has to do with storage, and if you’re really missing the Weekly View that much in my absence remember that you can catch up on past installments here on the blog.

Having been born in the States, you might think that my favourite television programmes growing up were Diff’rent Strokes, The Dukes of Hazard, or Family Ties.  Nope.  My father inherited an exceedingly dry sense of humour from my grandfather (z”l) which he then instilled in me …growing up my favourite programmes were actually Are You Being Served?, Monty Python, Fawlty Towers, Yes Minister, and Red Dwarf.  For someone who was already viewed by his classmates as a ‘bit weird’, I don’t suppose this helped …and the real problem, in the days before satellite television and BBC America was that the only time we could see these programmes was to watch the four hour block each Friday night broadcast by our local PBS [Public Broadcast System] whom had purchased these programmes from the BBC.  To say that my mother was less than enamoured with what she saw as a weekly four hour geek humour fest would be an understatement …and we were often made to video the four hour sessions on to VCR tapes to be be viewed on Sunday when mum went out shopping.  Equally, the way the PBS purchased the programmes was somewhat erratic …and in the days before Google and the internet …we were often left to our own devices to piece together the correct order for the programme series.  Difficult at the best of times, and winding/rewinding VCR tapes was a less than efficient method.

What does this have to do with Data Storage and Protection?

People sometimes ask me when I’m going ‘home’, by which they mean the USA.  Truth be told, London is my home and as my family are spread all over the USA …and I haven’t lived there in any capacity for over ten years …I’d be more likely to be making wine in New Zealand [which I hear is much like England in the 1950s] than hunting in vain for Weetabix in the local Piggly Wiggly.  For me the invention of SKY+ has made a huge impact on living and working in the UK …I can search from my favourite programmes, I hit a little red button and hey …presto …it’ll record no bother.  Hit the little green button and whammo …I have a series link to record every episode.  I can even log on remotely to my SKY+ over the internet using Skyplayer to setup a record on my SKY+ box …from anywhere in the world!  No bulky VCR tapes …I can record more than one programme at a time …no need to wind/rewind tapes …sheer unadulterated telly bliss.

But here’s something to think about …if you have SKY+, where are your telly programmes being stored?  The simple answer is on a hard drive, but what is the data structure?  Do you open up SKY+ and see a directory structure that looks like ‘My Documents’ gone wild?  Do you have to search for the file for the programme you want to watch and then double click to watch it?  Nope.  You have an interface that shows you the programmes recorded (and set to record in future), when they were recorded, and so on …and you simply press the big ‘ol PLAY button and you’re away.  The ‘secret sauce’ of SKY+ takes care of the rest via indexing and so forth.  Do you worry if your SKY+ box is going to ‘crash’?  Do you back it up religiously each night?  Not likely as the reputation of the SKY+ product is such that most people treat it like the appliance it truly is and get on with more important things in their lives.

A similar ‘revolution’ is happening within data storage and protection.  There are many ways to describe this, and I don’t wish to get bogged down in nomenclature, so let’s call this automated data placement.  Put simply, the data storage system in question is designed to understand where the data ‘is’ at a block level and then move/promote/demote as business needs warrant without any administrative interaction nor, most importantly, any disruption to the users of said data blocks.  ‘Cloud computing’ is predicated on this very idea, however I feel that this is an important solution for our customers in the datacentre as well.

There are several solutions which make great use of automated data placement, and I don’t have the space to list them all here, but I did want to highlight three solutions briefly which I think our customers want and need.

IBM XiV introduced grid storage to the marketplace and is a massively parallel SATA array which allows for scale out without sacrificing performance.  How does it do this?  Well, the full answer can be a bit complicated …and we’ll soon have some videos up on Browza+ to explain more fully …but in short the IBM solution is to write data to all drives simultaneously.  This allows for tier one performance capabilities at a greatly reduced cost, but some customers have asked …how do we know where the data ‘is’ in the array?  Well, there are no storage or RAID groups in the array so you cannot locate it in the traditional sense …but the ‘secret sauce’ of IBM XiV allows for logical drive units [LUNs] to be created with an index effectively understanding where all of the blocks are …not unlike SKY+.

But what if I’ve a customer who likes grid storage architecture but wants the comfort factor of having fibre channel and solid state drives in addition to SATA?  Enter EMC Vmax, the next iteration of the DMX family.  Working in a similar fashion to IBM XiV, EMC allows a customer to also have fibre channel [FC] disk drives, SATA, and solid state disk drives all in the same array.  Why?  Well, some customers still feel more comfortable knowing they have ‘supercharged’ storage throughput available to them …and are willing to pay for it …even if they never use it.  The Vmax will monitor the workload coming into the array and, if the situation warrants it, move the data up from SATA into FC and finally into solid state drives for performance if needs be.  Think of it as taking your SKY+ box and sticking it into a Ferrari …just in case you really really really need to watch Fawlty Towers from zero to sixty in 3.4 seconds.

Finally, we have HDS HCP v3.0, which will be HDS upcoming release to their already hugely popular HDS HCAP content management platform.  Given that, in a typical customer environment, better than 80% of stored data is unstrucutured …and of that 80%, much of the data will be dormant not having been accessed for a considerable period of time …content management platforms, sometimes known as ‘archive’, can be hugely useful and reduce storage costs by an order of magnitude.  We’ll be running an NDA session internally to help explain what HCP v3.0 does specifically, however what has me excited is that this platform sees the emergence of SKY+ for content management.  HCP will be able to support object ‘versioning’ so that I can replicate and/or archive …at the block level …only the bits of data which are evolving.  In addition, HCP will allow me to have one archive device …working with multiple storage devices!  Think of it as one SKY+ box for the whole neighbourhood.  You could easily argue that HCP v3.0 is the first content management for the ‘cloud’ as, by utilising the ‘secret sauce’ of automated data placement fully such that it won’t matter where the data ‘lives’ anymore …HCP v3.0 can handle it anywhere.

As always, I hope that you are excited as I am about the solutions available both in the here and now as well as coming down the line which can help save our customers money …please don’t hesitate to contact me if you require any assistance or need more information on the solutions I’ve discussed.

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A kneeboard for IT?

16/07/2009

I’m sure that I’ve spoken about my love of flying several times in this blog, but for those of you who don’t know …I’m a bit of an aviation nut.  To put that into context, I subscribe to ‘Airliner World’ (which Mrs PL tries to hid when it arrives each month) but I wouldn’t go so far as to be found ‘plane spotting’ near Luton or Heathrow.  I tell you this because 9/11 was certainly traumatic enough as it was …seeing a city I know intimately attacked using objects I love as weapons was horrible to watch, and I felt especially helpless having to watch from here in the UK.  My sister phoned from her home near NYC on the day (when the lines were finally cleared) in tears to say that they were broadcasting on all local TV channels ‘If you’re parents haven’t returned home, please dial 1-800-…..for help.’  That really brought the tragedy home, and it is something I won’t ever forget.

But I digress.  What upsets me terribly regarding 9/11, beyond the human tragedy of course, is that a handful of murdering eejits have ruined something I (and others) used to enjoy greatly.  Growing up in the States, flying had been no more difficult than taking the bus.  Get the the airport 30 minutes before your flight, hop on, fly off.  Easy peasy!  For a few months after 9/11, most people really didn’t mind the extra security measures but now almost eight years on …we mind.  A lot.  Flying now has become quite onerous and not particularly pleasant …I flew to Edinburgh yesterday from Luton, and as a Watford supporter I already had enough to dislike about Luton.  After yesterday’s security hassle I’m coming to the opinion that, in the not too distant future, the government is going to expect me to show up naked and wrapped in cling film to speed through security.  Now there’s an interesting mental picture for your Bank Holiday weekend!  And the hassle doesn’t stop there …no liquids over 100ml, unless of course you buy them from the vendors who just happen to charge £9 for a water after security.  Then we are herded like cattle just before being bused (and why a bus? I thought we were meant to be FLYING to Edinburgh, not driving!) to fight for seats which recline about 33mm at best and smell like someone’s been cooking a curry on them at worst.  And don’t get me started on the people who bring on ‘hand luggage’ the size of a cello case which could easily hide a dead body …all because the airline will now charge you for putting bags in the hold.  Eeeeejits.

I do sometimes wonder what the economic effect of all of this has been …do some folks simply decide it isn’t worth the hassle to do business outside of their immediate area?

What does this have to do with Storage and Data Protection?

9/11 changed the world in many ways perhaps forever, certainly within air travel.  But people don’t like change at the best of times, particularly when it complicates their lives or makes something which should be easy …difficult.  Humans like simplicity!  Airports, airlines, and governments have tried to respond to this by introducing ‘quick queues’ through security, priority boarding passes for budget airlines, and prescreening for immigration into places like the USA.  And there’s the rub …firstly, these aren’t free as customers have to buy priority boarding or priority queueing …and secondly, they aren’t ‘silver bullets’ as they haven’t solved the original problem, just made it ‘simpler’ to get through a complicated and unwieldy process.

There are many parallels in storage, and vendors are busy introducing ways of simplifying storage allocation [thin provisioning, storage virtualisation], storage migration [file virtualisation], backups [virtual tape libraries, deduplication], storage management, and so on.

But how can we make the sale of the Computacenter solution ‘simple’ as simplicity resonates with our customers?  Well, there are a few ways.  For myself, I’ve stopped producing slide decks which look like I’ve vomited up every thought I’ve ever had about storage …fact is, people find it difficult to grasp a concept and listen to me and read all at the same time …so I’ve started to use pictures to illustrate the concept I’m talking about.  For customers, we’ve already introduced some customer demo videos [e.g. automated storage provisioning] and we’ll carry on doing so for more solutions as a six minute video can often tell a customer mostly everything they really need to know.  For the market we’re openly talking about how Computacenter can underwrite the real savings our recommendations can bring in an effort to make is simpler (and quicker!) to engage for the implementation of a great solution.  And there’s one more ‘silver bullet’ I wanted to talk about.

Flying a plane is not the simplest thing in the world, and even vastly experienced pilots use a tool known as a ‘knee board’ …the knee board contains vital information about the flight [compass headings, expected airspeed, flight plan, etc.] as well as something most people don’t know about …standard procedures for just about everything.  Shouldn’t a vastly experienced pilot know how to land a plane?  Well, yes …but in the heat of the moment (or perhaps when we’ve done something many times before) we can sometimes forget things and so the standard procedures are there as a simple checklist to ensure that nothing vital is missed.

We have something remarkably similar and hugely powerful in Computacenter …which our competition doesn’t …known as Tempo.  The Tempo tools [e.g. Stages and Milestones, Workbook, Document Templates] are there to make your life simple whilst also leveraging the very best of what Computacenter has to offer …and also what we’ve learned works (and doesn’t!) when working with customers.  If you haven’t sat in a Tempo education session run by Andy Poole, I would highly recommend it as it is a great way to spend 1.5 hours and learn how to make life a whole lot more simple.

I do hope that these blogs, the Computacenter Storage Masterclasses, and related collateral are all demystifying storage a bit in addition to helping you understand how we can make storage …a challenging and potentially complicated topic at the best of times …‘simple’ for our customers.

Please don’t hesitate to contact me with any ideas or recommendations on how we can continue to make these decisions more simple for our customers …and have a look at Tempo if you haven’t already!

Is optimisation really that difficult?

15/07/2009

I absolutely love working for Computacenter generally and what I do for a living specifically.  I get to work with some amazing people, meet with interesting customers, work on challenging solutions, see fascinating technologies from vendors …what’s not to like?!  That said, I know that the most important job I will ever truly have is that of father and husband …and that time is the most precious and finite commodity we have.  I can easily and without reservation name the two best days of my life thus far; getting married to my wife Sarah [aka Mrs PL] and the birth of our son Louis [aka PL Junior].

I’m quite sure that I am not alone in this …and I always smile when someone boots up their laptop and their family is smiling back as the screensaver, but let’s be honest …none of us really truly knows how much time we have, and yet we often spend it like it was in limitless supply.

Now, I sometimes get the balance wrong, but truth be told I would like to spend more time with my family as I’m sure we all would.  Having a child changes things forever, and I have noticed that I am much more ‘precious’ with my time since PL Junior was born almost three years ago.  Indeed, I am always on the lookout for new and more efficient ways of doing things and one of the biggest lessons I’ve learnt in the past three years is that trying to find a half day here or a full day there to ‘make up’ time is next to impossible and has a low probability of success.  What does seem to be possible, and I’ve had much success with, is finding more efficient methods of doing things which ‘give back’ 5 minutes here or 10 minutes there …add them up and you will find the half day, full day [or more] that you were looking for.

Don’t believe me?  Why don’t people use VCRs anymore …because Sky+ is much more efficient and better quality.  When is the last time you heard the digital squelch of a dial-up modem …broadband gets faster with each year, and WiFi has made access remarkably simple in the home …and the time we spend on the internet trying to get information that much more efficient.  Do you still have a Sony Walkman or play records on a turntable  ….nah, me neither as iPods, iTunes, and Spotify have made downloading and listening to music ridiculously easy and far more efficient than popping down HMV to buy the latest ‘Take That’ album which will only play tracks in succession anyway.

What does this have to do with Storage and Data Protection?

I have been amused recently to have some vendors remark that they have heard I am ‘in love’ with this or that vendor’s storage technology.  For the record [no pun intended], I’m not ‘in love’ with any technology …I don’t give a badgers backside if vendor A can move a data bit faster from Edinburgh to London faster than vendor B.  Truth is ‘speeds and feeds’ are not really what impress customers, and I can see why vendor A’s solution would be applicable for a customer under certain circumstances and vendor B’s solution would be applicable given others …it is futile, in my opinion, to turn such things into ‘religious’ arguments …I’ve got a religion, and it’s not storage.

What I am ‘in love’ with is how a vendor solution can demonstrably reduce a Computacenter customer’s costs and optimise their business infrastructure.  The recent launch of our Sharpen Your Business initiative is hugely useful to our customers as it shows them how to demonstrably lower their IT costs without sacrificing functionality or putting their business at risk.

Picking up on this theme, I would argue that our customers in the current climate are both carefully controlling their expenditures as well as seeking ways to gain back time …in other words, trying to make sure that every minute they spend is useful to the bottom line without sacrificing quality or customer service with their customers in turn.  Equally, I’m quite certain that were we to walk into a customer meeting and state ‘I can show you how you could spend more time with your family without sacrificing any quality at work, in fact you might be able to increase your quality’ we would get their attention!

We often talk about the ‘what’ when it comes to technology …and I’ll put my hand up in that sometimes it can be confusing as to what, exactly thin provisioning, virtualised backup and zero page reclamation are for example.  Watch this space as I am working on some collateral which should, hopefully, make this a bit less confusing.

More importantly, however, we’ve begun to speak in earnest about the ‘why’ to consider implementing technology, for example the Sharpen Your Business initiative…and, to be fair, the decision makers in our customers want to know both why from a cost benefit perspective and from a return on investment perspective our solution makes sense to implement now.  We’ve plenty of collateral in this area, and again …watch this space as more will be released over the coming weeks / months.

I’d like to also see us ‘cut to the chase’ with customers around key storage technologies and how they can save them time by increasing their efficiency, understanding that the collateral exists regarding the ‘what’ and ‘how’ should the customer wish to know more.

Why automated storage provisioning? Because we can automate highly repeatable storage provisioning tasks, allowing you to reallocate storage admins to more meaningful work …because we’ve saved you time.

Why virtualised backup? Because we can optimise your backup environment from a pure tape environment to a virtualised backup environment, allowing you to reallocate backup admins to more meaningful work … because we’ve saved you time.

Why thin provisioning? Because it is a more efficient method of storage allocation and will allow you to buy far less storage following implementation and perhaps no new storage required for several years to come …and because we’ve saved you time.

Why data deduplication? Because you are storing band backing up multiple copies of the same pieces of data, and data deduplication can remove all of this inefficiency allowing you to reallocate backup and storage admins to more meaningful work … because we’ve saved you time.

Why ZPR [Zero Page Reclamation]? Because we can give you back 30% of the storage you think you are using but aren’t actually, thus saving you money and giving you in year ROI.

Just a few ‘starters for ten’, and comments always welcome for more!

Time is precious, let’s help our customers save every minute they possibly can by optimising their datacentres.

What comes after books?

14/07/2009

I recently received a Sony eReader [PRS-505] from Mrs. PL and PL Junior for Father’s Day and, knowing me as you probably do by now, I love gadgets and anything technical that will help me save time.  However, I must admit that I was incredibly sceptical when I received the eReader at first.  Now, I had read more than one article which pitted the Sony eReader against the Amazon Kindle and other like devices …but not matter how greatly improved they said the electronic ‘ink’ is which comprises the secret sauce of these eBook readers, I am very much in love with the visceral experience of reading a traditional paper book.  The sound of the pages turning, the smell of the paper, the different fonts each publisher chooses to use, the sense of accomplishment of looking at a 900 page tome and thinking ‘I read that!’ …not easily replicated in the world of eBooks.  I know what you’re saying …but you’re a data guy!  You are constantly banging on about how to increase efficiencies with storage!  Yep, I know …all arguments that Mrs. PL had used with me before when she tried to convert me to the ways of the eReader.

More than that, Mrs. PL also likes to read …a lot …and between the pair of us I suppose I have lost sight of just how cluttered our house has become with books we’ve read.  Always happy to lend or give to a friend, would never dream of throwing a book out.  Throwing away a book is tantamount to sacrilege in both Mrs. PL and my extended families, but I think the warning signs that we had too many books to be sustainable came when we contemplated building PL Junior’s cot out of used books [but you could use a hardening shellac to make the pillars from old hardbacks!] and Mrs. PL looking at five bedroom houses [we live in a 2.5 bedroom house at the moment in North London] …not because we have other little PL Juniors on the way, sadly, but because Mrs. PL was seriously considering converting a bedroom or two into floor to ceiling library space.

Thankfully Mrs. PL was the realistic and rational of our little tribe and made the leap to the eReader …gave me one for Father’s Day so she could guilt me into using it if needs be …and then proceeded to cull our house of better than 80% of the books we’ve read and don’t need any longer.  Fifty seven black bin bags full of books, at last count.  Has it made a difference?  Who knew that we had a dining room?!

What does this have to do with Storage & Data Protection?

I’ve had the eReader for a little over two weeks know and, truth be told …I love it.  Seriously.  It’s not perfect, and it does have some drawbacks [no native support for my MacBook Air …although I have a cunning workaround!] but being able to download the next ten or more books I want to read to the eReader is hugely useful and doesn’t take up any more space than the physical device does already.  Equally, after having used the device for a while, I am utterly convinced that this is the future for many magazines and newspapers …think about it, instant and automated delivery via your existing home or corporate WiFi connection …the device already knows what you have and haven’t read so it can automatically delete/replace based on your preferences …and all without the clutter of unread/read newspapers and magazines [also a bit of a problem in the Yeager household]!

When it comes to data storage, we have a very similar challenge.  Five or more years ago, heck maybe up to only a year ago …simply adding more storage capacity was an oft pursued storage strategy …and deemed perfectly valid when we had shed loads of cheap datacentre space and power wasn’t an issue.  Indeed, in the heady days before the recession many of our customers had a desperate need to stay ahead of their competition and so adding more capacity was the order of the day …trouble was, much of the capacity that was added was tier one / high end / monolithic / enterprise [however you wish to describe it!] storage.  Now, nothing wrong with this type of storage …but we don’t need it for 100% of our infrastructure!  We know that the average customer environment is comprised of 20% structured data [the important stuff …you know, the data which makes us money!] and 80% unstructured [MP3s, old or duplicate spreadsheets, joke emails …you know, the data which COSTS us money to store!].

I don’t think in the span of my career have I seen customers so evenly split into two camps …those that have run out of space and power due to continued purchase and provisioning of high end enterprise storage alone …and those that will.

Now, our solutions aren’t designed to go in and tell customers ‘you’re doing it all wrong!’ or that you need to ‘rip and replace’ …no, our solutions are designed to save customers money whilst helping them utilise assets they already have.  I wouldn’t dream of ever calling someone’s baby ugly, Mr. Burton!  But how do we articulate our solutions in a way which will resonate?

A few examples for those that know they have a problem NOW:

Problem: I’ve run out of datacentre space, my datacentre power is costing me too much …but I need to find more storage space with a tight budget!  And I have been buying nothing but enterprise storage and/or have more than one storage vendor already!

Solution: Let’s look at storage virtualisation such as HDS USPV or HP XP  to help us consolidate without disrupting the production business…we can create virtual storage pools universally available for our server hosts without needing to worry about what vendor badge the existing storage arrays have …migrate to thin provisioning so we only allocate what we are physically using …and give you in year ROI because we can use Zero Page Reclaim [ZPR] to return 30% or more of their existing allocated storage into usable unallocated storage.  And finally we automate the storage provisioning to greatly reduce ongoing manpower costs. Et voila!  Reduced power, cooling, space, and manpower whilst enabling business innovation to continue!

Problem: I’m running out of datacentre space as I’ve too many servers, my power and cooling for the servers is costing me too much, I can’t afford to hire more administrators to look after more servers …but I need to add more servers with a tight budget!

Solution: Let’s look at consolidating all of the existing server shares to one or more NAS devices such as NetApp, HP Lefthand SAN, or IBM N series …we can then create a universal NAS namespace using F5 Acopia so we can manage the NAS devices as one and make the NAS storage universally available for server hosts …and then virtualise the remaining servers with automated provisioning of storage AND servers to greatly reduce ongoing manpower costs.  Et voila!  Reduced power, cooling, space, and manpower whilst enabling business innovation to continue!

Problem: I’ve run out of datacentre space, my datacentre power is costing too much …I need to reduce costs and find more storage space with a tight budget!  And I’d like to have access to tier one functionality as I may need it …but I’d prefer tier three pricing!

Solution: Let’s look at consolidating the storage to a grid storage architecture such as IBM XiV …we can migrate from existing tier one arrays to a grid storage architecture with tier one functionality but at greatly reduced cost, up to 25% of what tier one would normally be in some cases …and it uses SATA drives, which consume 97% less power and cooling over traditional tier one FC drives …whilst also giving us thin provisioning so we only allocate what we are physically using …and give you in year ROI because we can use Zero Page Reclaim [ZPR] to return 30% or more of their existing allocated storage into usable unallocated storage.  And finally we automate the storage provisioning to greatly reduce ongoing manpower costs. Et voila!  Reduced power, cooling, space, and manpower whilst enabling business innovation to continue!

I could give you more examples, but I’m running out of space [and you may be running out of patience!] so I want to talk about the other half of the customer stack …those who haven’t run into the same problems …yet.  What do we say to them?

Well, Mrs. PL and PL  Junior went out and bought me a tool which they knew would allow me to keep only the 20% of books I truly need whilst giving me a much more efficient way to read and store the other 80%.  They knew there was a problem there, although I was loathe to admit it …but am very much loving our ‘newly’ discovered dining room in addition to my eReader!

We need to engage our customers to discuss their business problems now and not wait  until they issue an RFP.  What if they say ‘we’re not bothered about storage optimisation at the moment as enterprise tier one storage from [insert vendor here] is so cheap it’s more cost effective for us to add to our [insert vendor here] arrays’?

Fair enough.  On balance, over the next month or three months or even six months they might be right.  But what about after that?  Do we know what their 20% of structured data is and how fast their storage is growing per annum?  Can we extrapolate these figures to show them when they will run out of datacentre space and/or be consuming more power than a small Yorkshire village?  Can we marry this data to the total cost of ownership manpower costs to show them how expensive this storage will be to maintain in the future?

You bet we can.  And we absolutely should.  We won’t win them all, but I would be surprised if we didn’t find something that we can help them with …automated storage and server provisioning, data deduplication, reducing backup windows, consolidating server shares, virtualising their servers …to name but a few.

I’m up for it if you are … and I bore everyone I meet at cocktail parties, wine tastings, Waitrose, my dry cleaners something silly with how proud I am to work for Computacenter and how insanely great our solutions are.  Let’s get out there and talk to all of our customers about how we can Sharpen Their Business and save them money by optimising their storage now.

What’s the house wine?

13/07/2009

I have been asked several times over the course of my career, “If you weren’t working in technology, what would you want to be doing?”  Given my love of aviation, I suppose the obvious choice would be airline pilot, but knowing how often long haul pilots are away from their families I’m not sure this profession would be a good outlet for my passion for aviation.  No, if I weren’t in technology I would probably want to be a winemaker in New Zealand with my private pilot’s license so I could fly back and forth to Australia.

Why wine, you may ask?  Well, I do enjoy drinking it for a start!  But I am also continually fascinated by just how complex making wine is …stay with me here, this isn’t a ‘wine snob’ blog.  From the selection of the right area for a vineyard, to the selection of the right grape(s) to grow in your vineyard, when to plant and when to pick, whether to use automated machines to pick and de-stem your grapes or do this all by hand, to blend or keep it single varietal, whether to age in stainless steel vats or wooden barrels …and if barrels, what kind of wood?  You get the point I’m sure …this stuff can be fairly complicated, and the iterations can keep even the most accomplished of winemakers busy for years making decision after decision.  So complicated, in fact, that there is a special designation known as a Master of Wine …of which there are only 287 …in the world!

Now, were I to listen to the French they would tell me that, whilst we have been making wine in just about every region of the world for over three thousand [or more …no one is quite sure!] years …only the French truly know wine, and only French wines can truly be ‘elite’.  Ahem.  Not quite sure I agree with that, and I have a few friends who happen to be Masters of Wine who wouldn’t agree either.  Yes, yes …it is true that French wines are generally ‘safe’ bets when dining out …but they can be awfully expensive  safe bets!  A good sommelier will listen to your likes / dislikes [Mrs. PL abhors oaky white wines, for example] and what you are eating and will then delicately guide towards a few selections …one will almost always be a ‘safe’ …but almost always pricey …French wine.  But, and here’s the key, the very good sommeliers I have known will give you their opinion but then not look down their nose in the slightest if you select the £12 bottle instead of the £70 bottle.

What does this have to do with Storage and Data Protection?

Something very interesting happened on 24 May 1976 to change the way many of us think about wines forever.  Known as the Judgment of Paris, a British wine merchant [Steve Spurrier] challenged some Masters of Wine, other distinguished mavens of the wine world , and most importantly …the French world to a ‘blind tasting’ of their wines [Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon in particular] against some of the best known wineries in California.  What happened was fascinating and a bit too involved to go into here, but let’s just say the French didn’t win.  Similar tastings have taken place over the past 30 years [New Zealand pinot noir and sauvignon blanc against ‘Old World’ equivalents being a recent example] to show time and again that French wines aren’t always ‘the best’ and other alternatives certainly exist.

I see many parallels in the world of storage.  Some customers have been convinced by our competition, sometimes even vendors, that the only wine worth drinking is a 1982 Chateau  Margaux.  And you should buy a case …just in case there’s a rainy day.  Now, Chateau Margaux 1982 is a lovely bottle …and I’m sure Mrs. PL would love you to drop one by …but at £860 a bottle I’m not convinced it is really good value for money.  And here’s the key …we have customers who have bought CASES of this stuff and haven’t even drunk 30% of what they’ve bought, yet keep getting told that the only ‘safe’ choice is another case of the same!
There is an argument to made for blind tastings in the storage world, and to be fair there are independent consulting companies who do these types of ‘speeds and feeds’ testing.  However, this isn’t the point I’m driving to …and not where our value as Computacenter truly lies.

No, I’m arguing two things; one, we need to be better sommeliers and listen to our customers business issues so that we can help them select the most appropriate wine …and two, we shouldn’t be afraid to recommend the Computacenter house wine when the customer doesn’t express a preference.

What does this mean?  Well, if we take storage consolidation for example, why couldn’t we  blend IBM XiV plus IBM nSeries plus F5 Acopia plus Softek bottled with a Computacenter label which shows predictive storage spend and predictive customer savings.  If monsieur would prefer another winery or vintage we would of course be happy to oblige, but the house wine is lovely, very attractively priced, and the quality is guaranteed!  If we took storage virtualisation as another area, we could certainly recommend a nice bottle of HDS USPV which not only tastes great, but also has the ability to give you 30% more wine even after you’ve consumed the bottle! [More on that in another Weekly View.]

After all, that is what customers are truly after whether it be wine or storage.  A reasonable price with a predictable outcome.  Will you get a great tasting wine for £860?  Probably, although nothing is guaranteed …and for my money, I’d much prefer the £12 which the sommelier has assured me tastes just fine.

So you want to thin provision storage …

12/07/2009

Did you know that the human brain doesn’t actually need you to spell correctly in order to discern context?

I cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg. The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid, aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit a porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.

What does this have to do with Storage and Data Protection?

Firstly, please allow me to apologise if you had any challenges reading the previous paragraph as I am categorically not trying to take the michael as regards dyslexia or related conditions.  Indeed, my sister is dyslexic and I have nothing but respect for the way that she hasn’t allowed this to slow her down in life or studies in the slightest.

But the question remains, where is the link between the opening paragraph and data storage?

The best storage device yet invented is the human brain, although admittedly it sometimes isn’t as performant as we would like after a night on the tiles, and we have much to learn about storage specifically and technology in general from studying neuroscience.

You may recall that I have talked about thin provisioning in this blow previously, affectionately known as the ‘Northern Rock’ method of storage allocation internally here at Computacenter, thin provisioning is a block level storage technology which allows us to more effectively control the storage allocation to hosts by only allocating [or provision, hence the term thin provisioning] that which is physically required.  Great.  That clears it up, simple right!  See you next week.

Only kidding …what that means in English is that we know that data is really only zeroes and ones [‘on’ bits and ‘off’ bits, actually], so who cares if it is a PowerPoint or Excel spreadsheet or joke email …what we care about are the zeroes and ones of the data, which is what we mean when we say ‘block level’.

Okay, now we move on to ‘fat’ provisioning in traditional storage environments …an email administrator tells the storage administrator he needs 10 terabytes [10,000 gigbaytes], so the storage admin adds a little ‘fluff’ just in case and we’re now into say 12 terabytes …and here’s the thing …the email admin won’t use the entire 12 terabytes in one go, he’ll use that gradually … in actuality he asked for the storage he reckons he’ll need for his users over the next year or more.  But the 12 terabytes has been allocated to him and cannot be used for anyone else.  Multiply that over multiple storage arrays and multiple hosts and you can see just how quickly storage is traditionally allocated which won’t be used for a considerable period of time …if ever …but locked into a single host allocation unable to be used for anyone else.  This certainly puts a big dent in utilisation!

Wouldn’t it be great if we could let other people have access to the storage we’re not using ?

Well, yes …and that is primarily what storage virtualisation is all about …and thin provisioning is a great feature of storage virtualisation.  A feature, mind …not a product …and the better vendor storage offerings have storage virtualisation built in as a feature so that you don’t have to go out and but a separate product or products to facilitate this.

Put simply, thin provisioning will tell the server that I have access to however many terabytes I have requested but the storage array will only dole out the zeroes and ones the server needs as it needs them thus freeing up a serious amount of storage for others to use.  And before you go worrying about it, we monitor how quickly data is being created to ensure we aren’t caught out with everyone requesting the storage they believe they are entitled to simultaneously thus crashing the system …a la Northern Rock.

Fandabbydoozy!  Everyone should be using this, right?  Absolutely.  In fact, buy three and we’ll have a great quarter!  But Houston, we have a problem.  Budgets are tight, and storage virtualisation and thin provisioning are predicated on the avoidance of future spend …and many, if not all, of our customers are looking for in year ROI …game over?

No, it doesn’t have to be …Zero Page Reclamation [ZPR] to the rescue!  Oh dear …what on Earth is ZPR I hear you shout.  Remember the first paragraph and the fact that our brains only need to see the first and the last letter to discern context?  Thought I’d forgotten about that, didn’t you?

Storage is allocated in a ‘fat’ provisioned traditional environment much in the same way …the array ‘writes’ a zero page to the beginning and the end and leaves the bits in between blank so that it remains allocated to the server host and won’t be accidentally allocated to someone else.  But we don’t want that as it is inefficient, so we buy an array with thin provisioning on board but …and here’s the kicker …if we don’t clear those ‘zero pages’ when we migrate from fat to thin provisioning [shouldn’t that be called a storage diet migration, by the way?] the new thin provisioned array will view the migrated data volumes as ‘full and allocated’ even though we know this isn’t the case.

Enter ZPR which ‘erases’, or removes if you prefer, the zero pages and returns this storage back to the pool.  Hey presto …in year ROI, money for old rope, instant storage!

There are some arrays which do this for themselves when you migrate to them alone [e.g. IBM XiV] but there are also arrays like HDS USPV which allow us to virtualise storage from heterogenous arrays [i.e from other vendors] into a pool, thin provision, and use ZPR to reclaim upwards of 30% of storage which would have otherwise remained ‘allocated’.   ZPR gives us a great way to not only help our customers control storage spend in the future, but use their existing assets to achieve ROI now …today …immediately.

I can’t think of a more powerful solution to ‘kick the door in’ when we’re talking to our customers about why Computacenter and not someone else when it comes to their storage partner.

I’ll be running a webinar re ZPR soon and a Masterclass in August to help you understand storage virtualisation more fully, but please don’t hesitate to contact me or your friendly neighbourhood Solution Specialist if you would like to position storage virtualisation and Zero Page Reclamation with your customer.