Archive for February, 2010

Shoot the users.


Are geeks born or are they made?  Is technoweenism (def. ‘of to or pertaining to being a technoweenie’; see Matthew Yeager) genetic or is it environmental?

To be sure, I’ve been a geek for as long as I can remember.  My first video game was Star Trek on an IBM mainframe whilst my father did the reel to reel backups.  Seriously.  Try as I might, I never did beat Khan nor the Klingons.  Khaaaan!  My father tells me that he was once called in to a parent/teacher conference to enquire where I had got the copy of Newsweek which I was boring the kids to death within the playground.  Laugh if you must, but the Soviets shooting down KAL007 was a hugely important incident and led to Ronald Reagan ordering the military to allow the use of the US GPS systems by civilians.  And I still believe to this day that’s waaay more important than kickball.

So, nothing much has changed although now I bore people at dinner parties as opposed to the playground, my video games tend to be of the PS3 variety, and instead of reading about planes I’d much rather be flying them.

But, as big a geek as I may be, I’ve never really been a petrol head.  Indeed, I hate driving and view it as a colossal waste of time …time which could be spent doing far more productive things.  As such, I don’t really care too much about cars.  This isn’t to say I don’t love Top Gear or would turn away a Maserati Quattroporte, but in the absence of someone giving me one I can’t really justify £100k on a hunk of metal …okay, a terribly fast hunk of metal with lovely leathery bits …and so plan to drive my humble BMW 320D until the wheels fall off.

Now, I like car maintenance almost as much as I like being called ‘Matt’ or ‘reseller’ but BMW have done something very clever.  They’ve put what amounts to a countdown timer in the car so that as the miles increase, the car tells you how many more you can travel before the next service.  Genius.  And what happens if you go over the service threshold?  It starts counting the miles in negative digits and ‘bongs’ every time you get in or out to remind you that you really must get a service organised.

Gentle nagging works, but the simplistic countdown is what drives me (no pun intended) to organise services regularly.  And at £180 or more a go, I reckon BMW continues to make a tidy profit from me.

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

I wrote in my year end post that, along with the march to the virtualised datacentre, subscription models would change the way we consume just about everything.

One of the questions I inevitably get asked by customers when discussing optimised storage and virtualised datacentres is so what?  What business benefit do I get by deploying the elements of optimised storage such as thin provisioning, storage virtualisation, storage compression and so on.

It is a fair question and customers are right to ask it.  Let’s be clear, whilst I am a geek, deploying technology for technology’s sake is not something I would ever advocate.  Nor would I advocate just buying more ‘stuff’ in the absence of a proper strategy.  Frankly, this is partially the cause that we ended up with unsolved Rubik’s cubes for infrastructures.

Now, whilst we will publish TCO metrics and projected cost savings for optimised infrastructures and/or virtualised datacentres …and in some cases underwrite these costs …one of the unintended consequences of optimising/virtualising a datacentre is it gives the IT guys room to breathe.

Why room to breathe?  By automating certain datacentre tasks and removing the need to deploy more data storage for even a few weeks …although it often ends up to be months …the IT folks get time to manage data.  The elephant in most datacentres is not whether we should virtualise or optimise but, rather, how we manage data.  This is one of the biggest questions I get from customers …‘How do we manage our data?  How do we keep our internal customers from creating more?’ and I generally give them the exact same answer.

Shoot the users.

Not trying to be flippant, but seriously …no users, no more data.  Job done, crack tubes.

‘But we can’t shoot the users!’

Indeed.  So how do we manage the data if users are going to keep creating it?  Yes, there are technical solutions available in archiving and data deduplication, but why throw technology at a people problem?  Why create the data in the first place?

What if we gave the users a yearly and monthly subscription for data storage?

Try phoning your mobile phone company when you’ve used up your minutes and demanding more now and for free because hey …your moby is fundamental to your job!

The challenge is not in having adequate tools for data management …three of the best are , in my opinion…

  1. Storage Fusion for enterprise data infrastructure.  SF is brilliant at showing you exactly what the storage devices are doing; how much raw storage is deployed/consumed, how much power they’re consuming, how the storage is tiered, and so on.
  2. Symantec CommandCentral Storage.  Symantec CommandCentral is fantastic for managing infrastructures comprised of more than one storage vendor, and lets you manage storage down to the file level.
  3. Northern Storage Suite.  I really love Northern because it has robust LDAP hooks, which is geekspeak for ‘it analyses the data and tells me who, specifically, created it’.  Imagine being able to run reports to tell you which users and departments are creating the most duplicate data, data which isn’t accessed often if ever …and what they are likely to create in future …and you can see why I love these guys.

But the tools are only half the solution.  The other half is what we do with the information.  In the past we’d try to nicely ask the user to delete duplicate or old data.  We’ve even tried ‘quotas’ which rarely, if ever, work.

In 2010 I think we should be asking ‘How much space does a user need and how can I build a subscription model to monitor …and report to them …their usage.’

Shoot the users?  A bit harsh.  But perhaps charge them after they use up their subscription is the answer to user managed data.

Have a great weekend, and please contact me if I can be of any assistance in helping you manage data.

I promise I won’t shoot your users.


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Garlic bread. It’s the future. I’ve tasted it.


For those of you who don’t understand the reference, I recommend you run out and buy Phoenix Nights and watch every episode.  Absolutely hilarious!  You’re welcome.

Sorry I haven’t blogged since, well …2009!  A belated Happy New Year to you all and, needless to say, with the holidays, designing virtual datacentre cubes …plus my day job …things have been very hectic and I’ve got a bunch of posts swirling round in this little brain of mine.

I was going to discuss the snowcalypse we had and how mobile technology has changed the IT landscape forever, but was reminded of a favourite phrase of my grandmother’s …‘Snow is like family.  You’re delighted to see them when it has been a while, but they both stink after three days.’  Then again, she also says ‘If you’re right 98% of the time, why worry about the other 3%?’ so I wouldn’t believe everything that my grandmother says.

Over the recent winter holidays …okay, they were almost two months ago now but they feel recent … I gave two gifts, one physical and one not, which got me thinking about technology.

My grandmother lives quite some distance away …about 3,803 miles to be exact, but who’s counting …so visiting her frequently is a bit challenging, as is her spending time with her great-grandson, PL Junior.  I’ve taken to using the great and vaunted cloud computing technologies Facebook and Skype to enable my grandmother to see videos we’ve taken of PL Junior and also interact with him now that, at three and a half, he is fully interactive!  In fact, he doesn’t shut up from the moment he wakes until he goes to sleep.  Honestly, I just don’t know where he gets that from!  My grandmother has taken to co-opting my sisters, neighbours, aunt …pretty much anyone with any technological ability …into teaching her how to use a computer so she can access Facebook and interact with her great-grandson.  At the tender age of 84, that’s not bad going!

My mother-in-law, by stark contrast, lives remarkably close to us and is also a lover of all things java.  Coffee, mind, not the software developed by Sun …ooops, I meant Oracle.  Sorry Uncle Larry!  But I digress.  In any case, I thought I would be a good son-in-law and buy her an automated coffee maker like the one we have and have fallen in love with over the past six years.  She and my father-in-law were delighted by the gift, asked me to show them how to use it, and made Mrs. PL and I coffee the next time we were around for Sunday brunch.  Imagine my surprise when, recently when we had to stay with my in-laws whilst our boiler was repaired, I heard not the sounds of the Nespresso machine being engaged in the morning but …the kettle and the distinctive sound of Nestle instant coffee being spooned into mugs.

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

People, whether they be consumers or the CXOs of large businesses, tend not to change anything unless they can see cost benefit and an improvement in the way that they were previously doing things which we sometimes call agility.

I would love to be able to visit my grandmother more often, but with the a young family and career this isn’t always possible.  My grandmother can see the benefit in using technologies such as Facebook and so has learned how to use them to allow her to enjoy PL Junior as much as possible.

My mother-in-law, on the other hand, loved the gift of the Nespresso machine but has remarked to Mrs. PL that she doesn’t use it very often as, frankly, boiling the kettle is much quicker and she can live with the difference in quality.

And so it is with customers and cloud computing, virtualisation, et al.

Why haven’t more adopted cloud computing?  Sure, there are the standard arguments regarding data security and the like, but I think one of the biggest reasons is that very few …if any …cloud providers have shown trust cost benefit analysis for customers choosing to adopt cloud solutions.

Equally, whilst virtualised datacentres are the way of the future it won’t really matter whether it be VCE vBlock, VCN NetApp Virtualise Anything, IBM Dynamic Infrastructure, HP Converged Infrastructure or indeed some other ‘flavour’ …or an open VDC …if you can’t show a customer demonstrable cost benefit and how a customer will be able to increase business agility it becomes nothing more than an interesting idea and a big ‘so what’ that folks won’t adopt for some time.

My predictions?

1.  VDCs will reduce datacentre costs.

Deploying fully virtualised datacentres will see us reduce CAPEX and OPEX costs by as much as 50% or more …forever.  We’re currently building VDCs in the Hatfield Solution Centre to test, test, and test some more …and you can bet that total cost of ownership validation will be high on the list of testing.

2.  Customers who deploy VDCs will be able to innovate and become more agile by looking after their structured data and ‘out-tasking / outsourcing’ their unstructured data.

If we accept the industry standard metric that an average customer environment is comprised of 20% structured data [ERP, customer billing systems, customer databases, etc.] and 80% unstructured [PPTs, email, MP3s] …not to mention all of the deuplicate and dormant data in the unstructured data …we can assume that customers don’t really make any money on unstructured data.  I’m betting that in five years time …or less …we will see structured data catered for by GUI / virtualised mainframes [e.g. Oracle Exadata, IBM zSeries] with corporate IT departments focussed on the structured data and how to use it to be more agile and competitive in their respective market.  But what to do with all of that unstructured data?

3.  Unstructured data will be catered for by virtualised datacentres; VDCs will allow users to containerise applications and shrink datacentre space by an order of magnitude.  Think ‘buckyballs’.

VDCs will enable customers to containerise whole applications where a container will be comprised of a virtualised application [e.g. email] plus the virtualised grid storage [e.g. IBM XiV, NetApp, or EMC vMax] virtualised compute [e.g. Cisco UCS], plus the hypervisor [e.g. VMware] and virtual network to operate it.  If you have a container, you can move that container …real time …to a service provider like Computacenter thus freeing up critical datacentre space.  Just like a buckyball customers will be able to shrink their datacentres without losing the structural integrity of their businesses.

4.  There’s too much religion in technology.

As I’ve said many times in the past, I’ve got a religion …and it ain’t storage.  Steve Jobs made a mistake by being too messianic about the iPad.  Will it change the world?  Not likely, but it is a very sexy bit of technology that will allow Apple to potentially control yet another media distribution model with newspapers, magazines, and books delivered automatically to your iPad much in the same way that iPods have made listening to digital music ridiculously easy and ultra-convenient.  Equally, the iTunes app store is now worth $1.4b per annum …and Gartner are predicting the mobile application market to overtake desktop apps by 2013.  Underestimate Jobs and mobile apps at your peril, but I would also argue that so vendors made a mistake about being too messianic regarding cloud.  But this is not to say that this isn’t the future, and we need to show how you reduce costs and increase agility with such technology.

5.  Subscription models have …and will continue …to change the way we consume.

There was a time, not so long ago, when we would stop in a high street shop such as Carphone Warehouse to buy a mobile phone.  Why?  Because it was a new technology and we didn’t really understand how the minutes and related fine print of a contract work.  When’s the last time you visited a high street shop to buy a mobile phone?  As consumers became au fait with the contract model, suppliers met them half way by giving them a ‘free’  phone based upon how many minutes the user contracted to.  I don’t think it is so very far away to believe that a customer purchasing a managed service contract for three or five years will be given a ‘free’ virtualised datacentre.  Don’t believe me?  Think it won’t work for ‘big ticket’ items?  We see this model already changing the way electric cars are sold …Shai Agassi bets he can get you to drive an electric car if he gives you one for free, and the experience is no worse than that you currently have with your motor.  If he’s right, we may be on the way to cracking global warming.

In any case, have a great weekend and here’s to a virtual virtual virtual world!


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