Archive for August, 2009

1984 revisited.

28/08/2009

I remember watching the Super Bowl XVIII with my father in 1984 when, unexpectedly during an otherwise boring third quarter, an advert came on which would change the way we think about computing forever.  The advert was directed by Ridley Scott …who would go on to make such classics as Blade Runner, Alien, and Gladiator …cost millions of dollars and months to make, lasted exactly sixty seconds, and was shown exactly …once.  I remember watching the advert speechless and wishing to see it again …but I wouldn’t see it again until many years later when You Tube made such things possible.

I won’t go into the advert in any great detail as it deserves to be seen and digested [click here to view], but it purported to introduce the Apple Macintosh to the world on 24 January 1984.  What it actually did was fire the first salvos of the ‘open system’ movement against the traditional mainframe world.  My father, who was an executive in the ‘data processing’ department …Information Technology, or ‘IT’ didn’t exist yet …watched the advert, turned to me, and proceeded to tell me how we would someday watch movies without going to the cinema, watch any movie ever made when and where we wanted to, listen to any piece of music ever recorded when and where we wanted to …and carry the sum total of the world’s library content in our pockets.

Now, my old man was heavy into Star Trek [still is, as am I, and I’ve passed on this geekdom to PL Junior!] and I have to admit that, at the time, I thought he had been watching one too many episodes with JT Kirk and the boys and/or had had one too many G&Ts during the course of the Super Bowl.  I nodded politely and went back to noshing on the nachos and sour cream my mum had made.

What has this got to do with Data Storage and Protection?

Far from being doolally, my father was describing things to me in 1984 that we now take for granted.  iPods, You Tube, Spotify, e-ink eReaders …all have become reality and, it is projected that within 15 years we will have personal storage systems capable of holding the contents of all of the world’s libraries in a form factor small enough to fit in your pocket.  Really.  But how did my father predict such things?  Was he a futurist who missed out on the big time?  Sadly, no.  He went to uni with people who would go on to work for DARPA and they would often sit up late into the evening over G&Ts discussing the latest developments in data networking technology.  They could see the practical applications of the internet they were developing, and I would argue that there are many parallels to be found in the success of the internet and the future of data storage.

The internet was not originally designed to be the delivery mechanism for fine purveyors of pornography but, rather, a way for the US government and military to communicate from coast to coast and all throughout the US in the event of WWIII …and the Soviet Union had wiped entire communication nodes …and cities …off the map with nuclear weapons.  It is a system that is designed to fail …a resilient system which can continue to operate even after multiple and massive failures.  Another interesting feature of the internet is it is designed to use standard ‘off the shelf’ components such that, as the components’ quality and processing power increases, they can be put into the internet without having to take down or redesign the whole flippin’ thing.  Think dial up modem to ‘wired’ broadband to ubiquitous WiFi and you get the picture.

A similar revolution is happening in storage.  The original storage arrays were really more like massive servers on steroids …in fact, they looked and behaved much like the mainframes they were meant to replace.  They have a central processor known as a controller, cache which acts much like the memory in a server, and well …disks.  The disks provide the massive and shared storage, but are connected to the controllers and cache.  A great architecture to start with, but as the amount of data we are creating has exploded exponentially it has become less and less efficient and more difficult to manage.  Indeed, whilst functionality has been added to the architecture …data replication, modular arrays, iSCSI, NAS, and so on …the central principle of architecture design hasn’t changed all that much in quite a while.  Most importantly, they are designed to never fail …and as a result of that principle, we find ourselves in something programmers call an ‘infinite loop’ which becomes ever more expensive to manage.

So what’s the answer?  Well, we need to turn the central principle on it’s head and design systems which fail.  Now, I know that may seem counterintuitive, but bear with me.  The quality of standard components has increased significantly over the past ten years …we now have hard drives and Intel processors in our laptops which would have powered supercomputers ten years ago …but, things still fail from time to time.

My view is parallel processing or ‘grid architecture’ storage is the answer, and these systems will soon eclipse the traditional storage architectures.  What is grid architecture storage?  The specifics can be somewhat complicated, but in principle you have data and communication modules which replace the controllers and cache with software to connect all of the modules together.  What does this give us?  The ability to use algorithms which write data to all of the data drives simultaneously …and as each module uses standard components with CPU and memory on board, I can lose a module without losing data as well as increasing system performance by replacing the standard components with the new whizz bang models as they become available.  The secret sauce of the software which connects the modules is what allows us to provide performance and reliability equivalent or greater to traditional systems …at an acquisition and management cost much lower than traditional storage systems.

So who is using grid architecture?  If you have Googled anything recently, you’ve used grid storage architecture.  And, if grid storage is the answer, who makes it?  Well, IBM XiV was the first past the mark but now EMC Vmax has joined the scene …and NetApp, HDS, HP aren’t far behind.  What will set each of them apart, in my opinion, is how they implement grid architecture as well as the functionality they provide as standard.

If you aren’t thinking about grid architecture storage, you should be …this is a tidal wave which is already transforming the storage marketplace and, whilst we  have ‘first mover’ advantage with the promise of fair pricing at the moment this won’t last forever.

Please feel free to contact me if I can help you understand grid architeture more fully and in greater depth, including the very real cost savings which can be gained.

-Matthew
Click here to contact me

It’s about much more than socks.

16/08/2009

As many of you may know, the UK is my adopted home and not the place of my birth.  I spent the formative years of my life in the United States and, during that time, picked up both some good and, frankly, bad habits.  It took me a while to recognise that there are an abundance of words which should be spelt with an s and not a z …that z is pronounced ‘zed’ …that colour is indeed meant to be spelt with a ‘u’ …that a fortnight is fourteen days …that there is a difference between while and whilst …I could go on and on, but I won’t.  One of the most dramatic changes I have noticed in the ten plus years I have lived in my new homeland [beside the flattening of my accent!] has been the clothes I wear.  Now, I know that I still sometimes dress like a technoweenie [stop laughing Terry] but if you had seen me when I first moved to Ireland you would wonder as I often have just what Mrs. PL saw in me before we got married.  Yes, dear reader, I thought there was nothing wrong with a dark blue shirt, green tie, tan trousers, and tan tartan checked sports jacket.  Worn together.  And we needn’t discuss the fact that my trousers were shortened in that grand American style which would leave you wondering where the flood was that I was expecting.

What does this have to do with data storage and protection?

The Computacenter Sharpen Your Business initiative is certainly about how we can demonstrably save a customer money across the length and breadth of their organisation.  However, if we look deeper one could also argue that the Sharpen Your Business initiative also addresses a common flaw in the development of technology solutions …often, in my expereience, technology solutions can be patchy when it comes to customers …we’re virtualising their environment, but perhaps we haven’t asked how they will store or backup the data.  We have a great reputation for providing desktop support, but perhaps the customer has no idea of the other great service and solution offerings we have which could help them realign their internal resources away from simply managing ‘stuff’ and back to helping their business innovate and stay competitive in a difficult market.  And this got me thinking.  IBM refer to this as ‘clothing’…we sold them the socks but forgot to ask him about the suit.  Now that Mrs. PL dresses me properly [I do have my off days when she isn’t around … let’s not talk about the pink socks] I can more fully appreciate just what it means to be ‘the finished article’ and the importance of wearing colours that are not only found in nature …but are meant to be worn together.  It gives a much bigger impact to others, and with neuroscientists telling us that most humans make a decision within three minutes of meeting someone new as to whether they will work with and trust them I need all the help I can get and can’t allow my clothing to be a barrier.

Our customers are faced with a similar problem.  Virtualising their ‘stuff’ is valuable and has ROI and demonstrable long term cost benefit …but won’t help them achieve true end to end cost benefit which translates into their ability to be more competitive.  Neither does storage tiering.  Nor data ‘dedupe’.  No, these are all point solutions that, left in isolation, will only yield limited benefit.  Tie them all together, mix in a bit of enterprise content management …file virtualisation …virtualised backup …consolidated maintenance contracts …automated storage and server provisioning …now we’re talking!  Imagine taking twenty internal IT personnel who understand your business intimately and redeploying them to business units to help your business stay competitive in a declining market …would you talk to a service and solutions provider who could help you do that?  Yeah, me too.

So when you get dressed on Monday, remember …we need to buy the whole suit, not just the socks.

-Matthew

Click here to contact me

I need to learn Norwegian!

14/08/2009

I need to be brief with this Weekly View as it is PL Junior’s birthday today, and Mrs. PL has made it quite clear that I am required to help setup for his party …and ensuring I don’t bore our guests with analogies of birthday cake slices and how they remind me of data deduplication.

But with guests coming over later this evening, I got to thinking again about our recent holiday.  As I said last week, this is the second year running that we went to the same resort in Malta on holiday.  Last year PL Junior as just learning how to swim and, as he was just turning two, wasn’t yet to the point where he would play with children he didn’t know.  Equally, as only about twenty percent of the folks holidaying in this resort are British, there were many children speaking a multitude of languages that PL Junior didn’t understand.  This year saw many changes, from PL Junior spending nigh on six hours a day in the pool and, interestingly PL Junior developed a relationship with three Norwegian children whom he played with non stop.  Did PL Junior suddenly become a fluent Norwegian speaker?  Nope, didn’t understand a word of what the three children aged three, five, and nine were saying …nor they him …but between my German, my wife’s French, and the Norwegian parents’ English we were able to find enough common ground to enable us to go out to dinner together and generally enjoy one another’s company.  PL Junior continues to ask for Markhus, Khristof, and Nikolay and when we are going to go back to Malta to play with them …and Mrs. PL and I have a standing invitation to come to Norway with PL Junior to ski in their family chalet.

What does this have to do with data storage and protection?

The sale of enterprise [e.g. EMC Symmetrix] and modular storage [e.g. EMC CLARiiON] ‘crossed over’ during the last recession in 2000 / 2001, with modular storage sales overtaking enterprise for the first time and, since then, modular storage sales have continued to rise whilst enterprise have continued to decline.  There are many reasons for this, but customers realised that they could achieve similar performance and reduced complexity with modular storage at a price significantly lower to enterprise.  We are about to see a similar ‘paradigm shift’ as enterprise and modular storage converge.  You can tell your friends that you heard it here first, and there are storage products on the market today which represent the future converged enterprise/modular arrays as I’ve described …think IBM XiV and EMC Vmax …and trust me when I tell you that other major vendors such as NetApp, HDS, and HP aren’t far behind.

As the storage arrays converge we will be able to provide customers performance, high utilisation, and decreased management complexity without sacrificing quality and, perhaps most importantly, at a competitive cost.  But as this convergence occurs, how will customers be able to differentiate one solution from another to satisfy their business needs …or will they all look the same?

No, I can assure you that, whilst they will seek to achieve the same outcomes, how they get there will continue to be different.  IBM XiV solves the grid architecture question by using a massively parallel SATA array and using software to allow storage to be ‘written‘ across all the drives thus giving high performance to all applications equally …whereas EMC takes a different view with Vmax useing mixed solid state drives, fibre channel drives, and SATA drives with software to ‘promote‘ and ‘demote‘ storage as application demands require.  Equally, storage vendors will seek to differentiate their products with features …whilst they will all provide thin provisioning, vendors are now going to war re how their thin provisioning works.  To wit, they go to great pains to explain ‘chunklets’, or how large a thin provisioned block they will use.  It is now being argued that use a chunk too large and you may negate the very applicability of thin provisioning long term, whereas use a chunk too small and you may overrun the onboard storage cache and negatively affect performance.  HDS uses 42 MB chunk sizes to allow for their thin provisioning solution to execute zero page reclamation, thus ‘reclaiming’ up to 30% of previously allocated storage back into the storage pool as fully usable …thus equating to cost savings …whilst EMC uses 768K chunklets as this is optimised for performance on their systems.

Who is right and, more importantly …what to do?  Firstly, they are all correct …and all incorrect!  The solutions will all technically ‘work, however what matters is what the customer is trying to accomplish and the business issue(s) we are trying to solve.  This is where Computacenter comes in as our vendor agnostic yet vendor selective consultancy practice enables us to firstly understand how each of our vendor partners accomplish things like grid architecture, thin provisioning, and chunklet size …and secondly, which vendor or vendors can demonstrably solve the customer business issue(s).  Just like PL Junior and our new Norwegian friends, there are folks who can translate what is being said at the bits an bytes level into real world cost reduction and the solving of business issues.

What sometimes happens, however, is that the most applicable solution could actually involve more than one vendor …but as we’re trying to reduce complexity, not introduce more many customers decide to go ‘sole vendor’.  Again, this is where Computacenter come in as …just as we parents helped PL Junior and the Norwegian children understand one another …Computacenter can provide consultancy, implementation, and support services which span multiple vendors thus providing customers with the best of breed solution at a fair cost without increasing complexity.

Mrs. PL and PL Junior have already stated their intention for us to holiday with our new Norwegian friends next year, and I plan to work a bit more on my Norwegian before we go away.  In the interim, please don’t hesitate to contact me if I can be of any assistance in helping to articulate the ‘why Computacenter’ for you  …our customers.

Have a great weekend.

-Matthew

Click here to contact me

Is ILM dead? And what does the Queen have to do with it anyway?

13/08/2009

Firstly, I do hope you and yours are having an enjoyable summer break and relaxing break as I did with Mrs. PL and PL Junior recently in Malta.  As I’m sure with most families, to escape the intensity of the sun during the midday we watched a fair bit of television over our holiday and after watching Doctor Who it got me thinking…television hasn’t always been as visually appealing and interactive as it is today.  Indeed, when television was first broadcast, the presenters sat around a table or stood in front of microphones and simply read the same script they would have read on the radio!  Why is that?  Well, put simply…the producers at that time just didn’t understand the power of television as a story telling medium through a more visual context and just tried to use the new technology much in the same way they had radio.  Needless to say people weren’t over the moon at paying what was a serious amount of money at the time to acquire a technology like television that simply did what their existing radios already did.  It wouldn’t be until producers started producing material that wasn’t available on radio that people started buying televisions en masse…one of those key events was the coronation of Elizabeth II on June 2nd, 1953 which saw many people rushing to buy televisions…or huddle around the set purchased by their family or friends.  Many people I have talked to and met since moving to the UK years ago have told me that they remember watching telly for the first time during the coronation!

What does this have to do with data storage and protection?

Information lifecycle management is dead.  You would be forgiven for thinking this is true given the lack of media coverage ILM receives these days, and customers often ask me just what happened to ILM and is cloud computing the new answer to their data storage challenges.  The long answer to ‘is ILM dead’ can be somewhat complicated as I accept that trade magazines and newspapers need to sell copies to make money and, frankly, cloud computing is the current hot topic that everyone seems to be talking about.  Equally, I believe that cloud computing will play an increasingly important role for both SMBs and enterprise customers alike; for SMBs the promise of cloud computing is the agile and cost effective implementation and support of IT without massive overhead, and for enterprise customers cloud computing could prove a useful and economical adjunct for road warriors as well as a worthwhile strategy for data in their private cloud behind corporate firewalls.  In addition, cloud computing is designed to address the storage architecture and make it easier for users access this infrastructure whilst allowing corporate customers to increase their storage utilisation and reduce costs.  Cloud computing doesn’t really answer what to do with the continued creation of unstructured data and, frankly, why should it when some vendors would be happy to become utility companies in their own right with customers paying for storage as they do electricity today?  Cloud computing is a much deeper topic which deserves it’s own discussion and the short answer for me is no, ILM is by no means dead and is just as valid today as it ever was.  Perhaps even more so given the explosion of the growth of unstructured data coupled with sometimes confusing data compliance and retention regulations.  When I relate this view to customers, their natural response is, ‘So why then haven’t more customers implemented ILM?’

Part of the issue with the relative lack of take up in ILM has been in the marketing of ILM to customers by vendors, resellers, and systems integrators; ILM has often been marketed and discussed as if it were a single shrink wrapped product that customers can buy off the shelf and implement quickly.  This strategy was most likely taken due to the fact that ILM can be a confusing and complicated topic to discuss with customers, but we mustn’t lose sight of the fact that Information Lifecycle Management is actually a series of data storage technologies and techniques designed to automate the movement of corporate data from creation to eventual cremation based upon established business rules and/or service level agreements.  This is an important distinction as this leads to two principal reasons customers haven’t implemented ILM; one, they haven’t aligned their corporate data to business value and two, they rightly view the implementation of ILM as potentially disruptive to their production business.  What to do?

The first step, in my opinion, is we need to help customers to align their data to business value.  This is an easy thing to say but, in actuality, becomes somewhat more challenging when you take on board the fact that each customer will be at a different stage of aligning data to business value as well as the fact that each customer often interprets data compliance and retention regulations slightly different.  This is not to say that aligning data to business value is not a worthwhile exercise as I fundamentally believe that this is the cornerstone to the adoption and implementation of ILM.  As with ILM, there isn’t a shrink wrapped product available off the shelf which helps a customer to automate the alignment of data to business value.  The most assured way I have found in helping customers to achieve this alignment is through fixed cost and fixed deliverable consultancy.  These engagements make use of software discovery tools which identify structured and unstructured data, including the hugely useful classification of data, and result in a consultant delivering a report which details a coherent and practical approach to the customer’s implementation of ILM over a set period of time.  Customers can sometimes react cynically to this approach, and my experience is that vendor supplied storage assessments and consultancy have too often given a very limited, immediate, and short sighted approach to recommendations which simply point to the acquisition of more kit.  We must actively work with our customers to help demystify the consultancy process by showing them how we conduct such engagements, how long it will take to deliver, and what business benefits they will receive by investing in such an engagement.  Computacenter have a well defined storage strategy engagement which does just this, and the documentation can be found here.

The second step, following the successful consultancy engagement which establishes how a customer will align their data to business value, is the implementation of technologies which will move data to the appropriate ILM tier in a non-disruptive way.  This is critical as no matter how great an ILM implementation strategy is, and irrespective of the return on investment and cost benefit analysis which supports the strategy, no customer will implement ILM if it is going to be disruptive to their production business.  To be fair, they need to be conducting business and increasing their revenue whilst implementing ILM in a way which is transparent to their internal users and external customers alike.  One of the foremost storage technologies for achieving this movement of data in a non-disruptive way is storage virtualisation.

Storage virtualisation has actually been in the market for longer than server virtualisation, however many customers have not seen the value and import in the implementation of data block level storage virtualisation.  There are several ways to achieve storage virtualisation, and I don’t wish to digress into an esoteric argument about the merits of array versus fabric storage virtualisation.  That’s what the Computacenter Storage Academy bootcamp sessions and related Masterclasses are for!  What I will say is that I believe it is important to consider such technologies which have a proven track record.  There are several Computacenter business partner products such as HDS USPV, the HP XP array which is based on the HDS USPV range, and IBM SVC all have referenceability worldwide as storage virtualisation products capable of virtualising data in a mult-vendor environment.  Again, there are are several applicable options and solutions within storage virtualisation and the key takeaway is the need to move data from tier to tier within existing corporate environments in a non-disruptive way.

I hope that I have been able to prove that ILM is by no means dead…and that we’re not looking to use technologies the same way we have before ala early television adoption…but, rather, ILM has not been taken up by customers in a significant way due to confusing market messages and a perception that ILM implementation will disrupt their business.  I don’t claim to have all the answers, but within Computacenter we are seeing a much great customer acceptance of ILM when we structure the conversation around the alignment of business data to business value as the ‘what’ in the ILM equation and the virtualisation of data to introduce non-disruptive data movements as the ‘how’.  Perhaps you will find similar positive responses through such techniques, but feel free to contact me if I can be of assistance in helping to articulate these messages …and long live Information Lifecycle Management!

-Matthew

Click here to contact me

Avoiding industry buzzword bingo.

12/08/2009

When I was in university I became extremely good friends with the librarians across campus.  This was more out of necessity than anything else as the information I required for papers and course research were often hidden in the private university stacks or considered ‘privileged’  material which had to be used in the library as opposed to being checked out an returned again.  Put simply, if I had any chance of meeting often aggressive timescales for my university coursework a strategically placed box of chocolates or cup of coffee was often a good way of ensuring I got access to the materials I needed.  Looking back I now realise just how labour intensive a process this was not only for me but for those poor librarians!

Flash forward seventeen years and now my niece will come in to ask me what she should Google and Wikipedia to get similar data.  Think about that for just a moment …people now use Google as a verb …when was the last time you saw a technology introduced just ten short years ago enter the lexicon as not only a noun, but also a verb?  Don’t worry, I am not going to wax lyrical about Google but what I do think is that Google as a technology and a company is having a profound impact on our lives.  Gone are the labour intensive librarian lookups as information is rapidly becoming accessible anytime anywhere.

What does this have to do with data storage and protection?

Whilst I am fascinated by the mathematic logarithms and high performance computing / data storage technologies required to optimise data searches, what also interests me are the very real operating expense reductions that technologies like Google can bring.  By allowing students to ‘google’ their data or, more to the point, by giving them the ability to find and access data without librarian intermediaries, the university gets to reduce operating expenditures [OPEX] as well as the student reducing their OPEX as the research and retrieval processes become far shorter.

In saying that, someone recently highlighted to me that we need to ensure that we don’t fall prey to the buzzword bingo of our industry in bandying terms like ‘CAPEX/OPEX reduction’ about without ensuring we are articulating what is behind these terms.  Fair point.  What sets us apart from our competition is our ability to understand and articulate the difference between return on investment and cost benefit analysis …how quickly can I get a return on my investment and what money will I save long term after it has been installed are hugely important during this recession and, arguably at all times frankly …but also our ability to demonstrably show a customer HOW we would help them achieve capital expenditure avoidance and operating expense reduction.  This is what the Sharpen Your Business initiative is all about within Computacenter, and here’s the kicker …we can show them WHERE we have done this for other customers.  Link this all up and we’re miles ahead of our competition!

Backup consolidation and virtualisation is one such area.  For the life of me I don’t know why data backup and restoration sometimes becomes a poor cousin with IT projects, but in my experience it represents one of the best ROI and CAPEX avoidance / OPEX reduction scenarios going.  Some vendors such as EMC, IBM, Fujitsu, HP, and Symantec are introducing backup products or upgrade to their existing backup products which consolidate technologies such as data deduplication and data archiving directly into the backup product to reduce backup data sizes and the amount of active data being stored …and hey, why not?  If the data hasn’t been accessed in 6 weeks or more …or is duplicated several times over …why would I want to back it all up and store it?!  Another interesting angle is CommVault who have introduced a Google-like front end to their product which allow business users to search for a file or files they have lost and …here’s the clever bit …restore it themselves with no interaction from a backup admin.  Brilliant!  Now that is demonstrable OPEX reduction and not buzzword bingo!

My guess is that in these uncertain economic times customers are already looking for solutions which help them reduce their costs so that they can not only survive but thrive.  Bill McGloin and the Data consultancy team have done a great job to design and deliver backup consolidation projects, so if you might be interested in understanding how a consolidated and virtualised backup environment could help you reduce costs [and frankly I’d be surprised if you didn’t!] please contact me as I’m only too happy to help.

Have a great day and keep on Googlin’.

-Matthew

Click here to contact me

Is walking the answer to global warming?

12/08/2009

When I lived in the United States I was somewhat addicted to the Tennessee Volunteers college football team, an addiction which has since been replaced by Watford FC and England rugby union in my adopted home of London.  Going to football games in Tennessee is like no other experience in the world as the stadium seats 110,000 people, and Tennesseeans view their football team as being just about the most important thing on the planet.  Tales of weddings being arranged around key match dates are not uncommon, and I greatly enjoyed each and every time I went to a match.  Two things that always left a huge impression on me were the noise the crowd made and the amount of energy expended by people walking to and from the stadium.  The decibel levels of the crowd surpass that of a 747 airliner taking off [didn’t think I would send out a view without an aviation reference, now did you?] and it has been estimated that if the footfalls of the crowd were captured for one match alone …it could power Knoxville, Tennessee for three days.  Interestingly, scientists are currently developing technologies which could capture heel strike power in high human traffic areas.  Engineers who have modelled the effects of the technology at Victoria Underground station in central London have calculated that the 34,000 travellers passing through every hour could power 6,500 lightbulbs.  One station alone …now imagine the power generated by capturing footfall at all of the Tube stations, and we could be well on our way to reducing dependence on fossil fuels et al for power generation.

What does this have to do with data storage and protection?

Investing money into developing foot strike mini-generators means that power is becoming a real issue.  I know of major UK businesses investigating moving their datacentres to Iceland to make use of the geothermal power and natural cooling there.  Iceland is volcanically active and makes use of this to produce power virtually for free …indeed, Iceland will be power independent by 2050.  Oil prices continue to rise so UK companies are taking datacentre power and cooling costs very seriously indeed.  The inefficient use of technology and continued growth of unstructured data largely contribute and exacerbate datacentre power and cooling issues.  Server vendors have realised this and have been producing blade servers for quite a while, and technologies such as VMware, Microsoft Hyper V, and Parallels enable customers to get much higher utilisation out of their server environments whilst reducing the server footprint in the datacentre.  Remember that for every 100W of power required for a server, you need at least another 70W to cool it.  The more virtual servers you can eke out of a single physical server, the lower the power and cooling costs.

The same is true for storage, but storage consolidation can be somewhat more complicated and sometimes viewed as more disruptive to a business than server virtualisation.  It needn’t be so, however.  Computacenter storage solutions are designed to reduce the storage footprint …indeed, the active managed storage …within a customer datacentre without being disruptive to the business.  Introducing data deduplication, archiving dormant data, consolidating the backup environment to remove large tape powderhorns with virtual tape libraries and much smaller tape libraries, and virtualising the storage infrastructure to ‘pool’ storage are but a few ways that we do this.

Computacenter’s thought leadership in Green Datacentre and the use of return on investment as well as cost benefit analysis models and calculations to justify expenditures which enable Green Datacentres is, in my estimation, unique in the marketplace and miles ahead of our competition.  If you’ll pardon the pun, we shouldn’t hide this light under a bushel …and should strive to make use of this thought leadership when discussing datacentre power and cooling issues.

Challenge your internal customers.  Challenge your vendor partners.

Challenge me and others within Computacenter to speak with you in demonstrable ways aand about topics such as datacentre power and cooling reduction which perhaps our competition are not as doing as this further differentiates Computacenter and our value to you …our customers.

-Matthew

Click here to contact me

Have I mentioned I don’t like moving?!

11/08/2009

I have a confession to make.  I hate moving house.  I don’t mean gently despise, gosh I could really do without having to move…we’re talking would rather poke my eyes out with red hot knitting needles hatred here.  You would think that having had to move from my family home to university, from uni to many and several cities in the USA where I worked, from Atlanta to Dublin, from Dublin to London, from flat in London to nice house in Mill Hill, that I would be old hat at this and moving would be no big deal.  Errr, no…couldn’t be further from the truth.  Moving house ranks up there as something that I would do just about anything to have done for me, although even having the work physically done for me if but a small fraction of why I hate moving.  I’ll try to explain why.

I like reading.  A lot.  And so it takes next to no time at all for whereever I might be living to become inundated with books, magazines, newspapers…you get the picture.  But I also have a dirty little secret….I don’t throw away anywhere near as much read stuff as I should!  I read an article/book/whatever and I either know someone that would also enjoy reading this or naievely believe that I will need this article/book/whatever at a later date.  Yes, I know with the internet I could probably find it again in an archive somewhere but logic has precious little to do with this!  I also love music and have a collection of LPs, cassette tapes, CDs, et al that I will probably never listen to again now that I have an iPod.  But have I thrown the old stuff away?  I think you can guess that I haven’t.  And let’s not talk about my obsessive collection of DVDs as I think you are getting the picture.

So what happens when I have to move?  There’s the rub.  If I was going to stay in one place, I would probably just get a skip every few years and cull my collections of reading material, music, and DVDs to make space for more reading material, music, and DVDs.  But I could do this in my own time and at my own leisure.  Moving accelerates this whole process and I then have to stand there with boxes deciding whether to take it with me, cull it, give it away, and so on.  Just thinking about having to do this is enough to make my teeth itch and desperately want a nice cold G&T.

What does this have to do with data storage and protection?

Information Lifecycle Management, or ILM for short, has been one of the biggest buzzwords in storage over the past 6 or 7 years.  What began with storage virtualisation and other similar products designed to increase storage utilisation has resulted in end-to-end ILM vendor portfolios.  I should mention at this point that some folks call ILM Hierarchical Storage Management or HSM…horses for courses, ILM and HSM are pretty well the same thing and I view this in somewhat the same vein as football versus soccer.  It’s football, by the way, but if my wayward American brethren insist on calling it soccer well…let’s just hope they can at least understand the offside rule.  But I digress.  ILM at it’s best is the ability to move data from high tier to mid tier to low tier to archive seamlessly with no manual intervention and without disruption to the user.  Great.  What the heck does that mean?

What if I could have someone [let’s call him Bob] at my beck and call 24/7/365 to manage my books/newspapers/magazines/music et al.  I would tell Bob that, when I’m done with a newspaper or magazine, go ahead and digitise it and catalog it for me on a hard drive.  After I’ve read a book, wait three months and if I haven’t given it to someone go ahead and move it to an off-site storage box but catalog that too so that I know where my books are.  And if I don’t ask about my book for a further nine months after that, digitise it and put it on the same hard drive as my newspapers and magazines.  With the hard drive, make sure that any data that I haven’t accessed in six months gets moved to a lower cost data archive and if I haven’t accessed it from the archive in another six months back it up to a tape and send it to the book storage area.  But remember, Bob…I want to access the data I just mentioned any time I want and I don’t want to wait more than 10 minutes to get it.  Forever.  And all of this needs to happen without my seeing or knowing it is happening.  And don’t eat too much either, Bob…Mrs. PL takes a dim view of that and may make me move you [and me!] out to the garden shed.

Imagine the space I would save!  I would never have to cull again!  I could move at will, or at the very least be able to talk to Mrs. PL about nice houses without dreading the book/music/DVDs to move.  Sheer unadulterated bliss!  Put another way, ILM on a very personal level.

Let’s look at a vendor ILM solution…when EMC began to acquire companies such as Data General, Legato, Documentum, Kashya, and RSA many people were scratching their heads.  Why would EMC, known for their high availability / high throughput systems in the upper end of the market, want to acquire a mid tier disk company [Data General made the CLARiiON platform] a backup software company who also had archiving capability [Legato Networker] a content and document management company [Documentum] and so on?  The answer was they were [and still are] building an ILM portfolio so that they can offer an enterprise solution to a customer which will move data seamlessly, preferably at the block level, between tiers transparent to the users…data storage at the appropriate price point from cradle to grave.  Nirvana!  Does it work?  Well, yes and no.  EMC, IBM, HDS have all been working on ILM and we are a lot further along now than we were five years ago but it isn’t as ‘seamless’ and transparent to the user as it could be.  Thankfully within the CC Storage Practice we understand the ILM portfolios of each vendor and so can implement the solution in a non-disruptive way, and the ILM solutions get better each day.

I’ll leave you with a very interesting ILM solution which has recently entered the market.  Compellent.  Compellent offer ILM ‘in a box’ whereby they have a rack of disks capable of moving data from tier to tier based upon business rules at the block level.  Confused?  Think ILM as described above, but if I only partially read a book with the intention of coming back to it later Compellent would be able to move the pages I’ve already read whilst I would still think that there is an entire book sat on my bedside table.  Clever stuff, and ILM at the block level may very well be the answer in future.

Computacenter services and solutions within Storage and related software are very much underpinned by best of breed vendor ILM solutions, please contact me if we can help you discuss Computacenter ILM solutions with your environment.

-Matthew

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The storage black box.

10/08/2009

As many of you may know, I am a bit of an aviation enthusiast.  Yes, okay for those that I have bored with discussions about the fuel consumption of an Airbus A380 versus the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner would say that I’m an airplane geek.  Fair enough.

One of the things that I wondered when I first became seriously interested in airplanes was, if the black box is the only thing guaranteed to survive a crash why don’t they just make the whole plane out of the black box material?  The answer is actually a bit more complicated than you might expect, but the short answer is that it is down to compromises and tradeoffs.  Put simply, the airplane would be too expensive to make and would be far too heavy to fly were it to be made to the same exacting standards and of the same material as the black box.

I have been thinking about these tradeoffs and comprimises a lot recently as we still find ourselves in the perfect storm of a credit crunch, increasing oil prices, and increasing C02 legislation.  As I’m sure you have seen, oil is now topping $139 with the largest two day increases back to back in history, many of the top banks have greatly reduced and changed their mortgage portfolios, and the UK government recently changed the air tax from a per passenger fee to a per plan fee.  Individually these events would be interesting enough, taken together they are likely to have a profound effect on our economy and world both now and in the future.

In such circumstances this will inveitably lead our customers to make compromises.

What does this have to do with data storage and protection?

As we head into H2 for 2009 and through the current recession, we must constantly bear these events and customer needs for compromise [e.g. we’d like to introduce storage consolidation but just can’t afford it….sell me some more disk please!] in mind to ensure that we are uncovering all opportunities and mapping them to the Computacenter end-to-end value proposition and individual point propositions.  No doubt we can certainly help a customer make compromise without sacrificing quality whilst transforming their estate for the better.  Here’s a few ways how.

1. ROI – Our ROI calculators go some way in showing a customer how investment in a CC proposition is not only the right thing to do technically, but also cost effective and generates real cost savings.  Even if a customer hasn’t asked for ROI calculations specifically, remember that we must give the customer what he has asked for in addition to the things he hasn’t asked for.  Storage Consolidation, Storage Virtualisation, and Virtualised Backup Consolidation, and related propositions all have real world and industry proven ROI.  Equally, they give us an opportunity to provide cost underwriting for our customers where required.  Please contact me if you need help calculating ROI for any storage challenges you are working on now or in future.

2. Virtualise, Virtualise Virtualise! – If location, location, location is the mantra of property development virtualisation should surely be the mantra of cost reduction in the datacentre.  Server virtualisation, application virtualisation, desktop virtualisation, and let’s not forget storage virtualisation all have the capacity to reduce the customer datacentre footprint which leads to greatly reduced management costs, power costs, floor space costs, etc.  Please contact me if you need help formulating a virtualisation strategy for any business propositions you are working on now or in future.

3. Data deduplication / File & DB Archiving – 12 to 18 months ago a customer had to engage at the third party level to introduce data deduplication and/or effective file & DB archiving.  Recently we have seen data deduplication moving directy into the storage fabric, directly on to storage hardware, and being included in backup software.  IBM’s acquisition of Diligent, EMC’s acquisition of Data Domain, Symantec’s inclusion of dedupe within their backup suite, and deduplication offerings within major vendor arrays [e.g. Netapp, EMC, IBM, HDS, et al] are but of few of the many examples we now have.  This is great news for us and great news for our customers as well as dedupe and file & DB archiving have real world cost savings associated wtih them.  Please contact me if you need help in presenting data dedupe / file & DB archiving for any storage propositions you are working on now or in future.

4. Reduce the Physical Storage Footprint – The reduction of the physical storage footprint through consolidation represents a very easy way for customers to reduce costs whilst transforming their estate.  The introduction of a virtual tape library with data deduplication abilities into an ageing customer tape backup environment, consolidation of file server shares to a shared storage fabric, and the virtualisation of existing and future storage arrays are but some of the many examples we could cite in this space.  Remember that consolidation leads to a reduction in physical footprint / DC space thus leading to cost savings.  Please contact me if you need help positioning consolidation for any propositions you are working on now or in future.

Finally, what does the future hold for storage in our current economic and environmental climate?  All of the major vendors have recognised that business as usual is anything but and are moving to introduce technologies which will improve storage management, reduce customer costs, and introduce greener equipment.  To wit, I know of a customer in the City who hires two complete datacentre floos for their DR site…one floor to hold the equipment and another floor which remains empty but has all power diverted to the other floor’s equipment.  Not what we would call efficient!

IBM are currently working on new power and cooling technologies for their equipment, EMC are introducing solid state disk and disk ‘spin down’ technologies to reduce power consumption in their equipment, HP’s introduction of Thermal Zone Mapping and Dynamic Smart Cooling…the list grows larger each day and, whilst we remain produly vendor agnostic and solution centric, it is always good to be able to discuss how major vendors are aligning to Computacenter’s market leading Green Datacentre initiatives. (more…)

Storage sushi?

07/08/2009

I’m delighted to be back at work after having spent a fortnight on holiday with Mrs. PL and PL Junior in Malta.  I hadn’t been away from work for a full fortnight since Mrs. PL and I went on honeymoon almost six years ago, so it was nice to get away from the hectic pace of London life for a while and relax in almost perpetual sunshine.  This was our second holiday to Malta as we’d has such a pleasant and relaxing time last year, and if you’ve not considered Malta as a holiday destination …I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Many interesting things happened whilst we were away …a nearly three year old PL Junior ensured endless entertainment …but one of the more interesting occurred when we decided to visit Malta’s premier sushi destination.  Now …I know what you’re thinking …on a 70 square mile island in the middle of nowhere, surely the sushi will be substandard?  Erm, no as it happens …it was stunning, possibly the best sushi I have had anywhere in many years.  The fish was incredibly fresh, the miso soup was lovely …and the service was second to none.  I suppose it helps that the owner is from Japan and almost all the staff Japanese …but the thing which really shocked me was PL Junior insisting to eat a bowl of miso soup …which he loved …followed by his swift devouring of all of Mrs. PL’s salmon and tuna nigiri!  Who knew PL Junior liked sushi?!  The sushi chef was so impressed that he taught PL Junior how to bow and say ‘arigato‘ …which he now does just about everywhere.  So if you are ever in Malta and are looking for a good meal, stop by Zen restaurant in Portomaso, St. Julians and tell them the little boy from Mill Hill sent you.

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

Becoming a sushi chef is no trivial matter and can often take years.  When we tried to leave the restaurant, PL Junior refused as he was fascinated watching the sushi chef prepare the orders and wanted to watch more.  I have to be honest, I was pretty fascinated myself and was happy to stick around a bit longer and I’m pleased I did as the sushi chef explained something that I never knew about sushi …the sharpness of the knife and the way in which the fish is cut can make all the difference in the taste of the fish.  I know, I know …I thought he was having me on as well, but he cut me a piece of sashimi where he brought the blade straight down as well as one where he rocked the blade properly and believe me …there is a discernible difference!

I am sometimes asked by both customers and Computacenter sales folks alike, ‘If we don’t make anything, why wouldn’t a customer just work directly with the vendor directly?‘  A fair point, but I could try to make the same point with sushi.  It is, after all, just raw fish …and I’m quite sure that on an island surround by Mediterranean water such as Malta …I could find good quality ingredients.  But what happens when I want to make some mouth watering nigiri or sashimi?  And what happens if I want salmon and Mrs. PL wants yellow fin (as often happens)?  And what if there are other equally delectable types of sushi which I might love, but have never been exposed to yet …like PL Junior?  I suppose I could train to become a sushi chef …or find a nice restaurant like Zen.

Having read Malcolm Gladwell’s ‘Outliers’ recently on holiday, there is a very interesting chapter which talks about a study which showed that, to truly become an expert at something, requires on average about 10,000 hours of dedicated training and practice.  Now,  our Computacenter storage consultants retain some of the highest accreditations in the industry …and to be fair I’ve never asked them if they’ve spent 10,000 hours studying and practicing data storage …however, I wouldn’t be surprised if many of them weren’t far off that number.  And here’s the critical point …they often have gained this experience across multiple vendor products and within customers which span right the way from banks through to merchants through the public sector …and beyond.  Indeed, I have storage expertise which spans several countries [USA, Ireland, United Kingdom, Luxembourg] as well as several vendors [EMC, HP, IBM, NetApp, HDS] and can happily tell you what I think works well and perhaps not as well given different business issues and drivers.  And I’m not alone …we have dozens of such ‘storage masters’ within our organisation.  Sushi storage masters, if you will!

We will continue to work with vendor partners who make exceptional storage products which help our customers to align their data to business value in the pursuit of reduced costs and increased efficiencies.  The freshest fish, if we are using our sushi analogy.

Our job is to understand these technologies at an expert level to ensure that we produce solutions which not only demonstrably reduce costs …but also do so in a way which is non-disruptive to our customer’s business.  How to produce the best sushi at the right cost, if we are going to extend our sushi analogy.

To do that takes expertise and experience not easily gleaned without deciding to become a sushi master …to know which fish to select to produce the best sushi …to know how to cut in just the right way to produce the best tasting product you can.

Please feel free to contact me if I can be of any assistance in articulating how Computacenter adds significant value to vendor products in the pursuit of market leading solutions for our customers.