To a man with a beaker, everything is a solution.
Or so goes the sage advice of one of my university professors whose name I sadly seem to have forgotten, relegated to the mists of time and memory.
I am often reminded of this and, perhaps a more popular and well known version of the same sentiment, Abraham Maslow’s famous quote … ‘To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.’ … when I’m meeting with customers as the conversation inevitably winds its way round to three common queries.
1. What do you think about storage vendor [x] versus vendor [y] versus vendor [z]?
2. We’re paying too much for storage specifically and/or IT generally. We thought IT was meant to be a commodity which supported the business, yet costs feel wildly unpredictable. What would you recommend, and where should we start?
3. What made you think that that tie went with that shirt?
Oh dear. Where to begin?
Number three is the easiest to deal with as I just need to ensure that I turn the lights on when I dress in the morning or, better still, let Mrs. PL choose my ensemble.
As for numbers one and two, well … they can be slightly more challenging.
When tackling number one, I am as candid as I can be about what we know from experience in deployment and testing both in the field and the Solution Centre as well as my personal opinions based on personal research and visits to our vendor partners development facilities … understanding that the vendors frequently FUD one another, but this is to be expected and always somewhat suspect. Equally, it is worth bearing in mind that there are no silver bullets nor are there perfect solutions … at least I haven’t come across any in the 15+ years I’ve worked in technology and the 30+ years I’ve been around IT. Indeed, when I used to go to work with my father it wasn’t called IT but ‘data processing’.
As for the second, the conversation will almost undoubtedly involve ‘Should I virtualise my servers?’, ‘Should I virtualise my storage?’, ‘Should I thin provision, deduplicate data, archive data, deploy grid storage, consider federated storage … ‘. Unfortunately the answer is always …yes. I do recognise it can be frustrating to hear … and I’m trying desperately to ensure that it doesn’t come across as flippant … when I know full well what many folks want is a direct answer and order to follow to solve what is arguably a three dimensional issue.
Ultimately what this all boils down to is that technology has largely become a three dimensional challenge, as I discussed last week, and that what our customers are asking us for is not technical jargon nor do they want to watch us throw technology at a business issue but, rather, proffer business solutions to business problems.
What’s this got to do with Data Storage & Protection?
I’m sometimes criticised for not getting to the point quickly enough, or for circular speech. Fair enough. But, in my defence, when faced with three dimensional business issues …if I recommend grid storage with a single storage media type but don’t take into account your future VDI and data mobility aspirations, for example …simply throwing a two dimensional solution is not going to get us where we need to be, no matter how pretty the Powerpoint slides. These things need to be thought through and discussed and that takes time …and frequently a glass of wine or two.
So what to do?
1. Magic quadrants are good, but working equations are better.
We do use a consultancy equation …ROI + CBA + DPB = CSS …which attempts to help solve the ‘what to do next’ and ‘what’s the best solution’ for three dimensional business issues. The composite score then points us towards the storage and technology most appropriate to underpin said solution.
2. The Computacenter Virtual Datacentre [VDC] solution is a three dimensional business solution.
VDC seeks to solve business issues by increasing business agility, automating highly repeatable tasks, optimising all aspects of a datacentre to reduce CapEx/OpEx costs by 30% to 50% … and we’ve been working on and have experience with VDC for over 18 months, long before others were even thinking about such solutions. Don’t believe me? Have a look at the date stamp on the Automated Storage Provisioning demo video … it reads 25 March 2009 if you don’t feel like clicking the link.
3. Vendors are rushing to create silver bullets as quickly as they can.
VCE vBlock, Oracle Exadata/Exalogic, NTAP IVA, HDS UCP, IBM Dynamic Infrastructure, HP Converged Infrastructure … it doesn’t really matter what marketing decides to call it, at no point in my technology career have I seen vendors spend this amount of effort trying to create complete datacentre silver bullets for customer business issues. I’m not saying this is good or bad as it is still too early to tell, but the concept does seem to be resonating with customers.
4. If you don’t want to go the VDC route just yet, introduce a 3D storage solution. HDS is trying to create just such a 3D storage solution which scales out, up, and deep.
HDS announced their Virtual Storage Platform this week, effectively replacing the USPV.
HDS VSP page level tiering allows a customer to create a pool of storage which in turn creates 3D tiering; scale up, scale out, scale deep.
Scale up; pooled storage media [FC, SATA, SAS, SSD] allows the VSP to locate the data on the most appropriate tier based upon business needs [e.g. my workload needs faster response during our corporate end of quarter billing] in an automated fashion such that workloads remain performant with zero or minimal administrative action as well as zero intrusion to the users.
Scale out; expand workloads automatically to accommodate greater storage requirements [e.g. users are creating more data so we need to expand the workload container] again in an automated fashion with zero or minimal administrative action as well as zero intrusion to the users.
Scale deep; demote/move data to denser storage for long term retention at lower cost as long term retention has become more important than performance [e.g. move workload to dense but less performant SATA] again with zero or minimal administrative action as well as zero intrusion to the users.
Does the HDS VSP work and is this the 3D answer to data storage? Is page level tiering better than block level automated tiering?
The page level tiering allows a customer to leverage existing storage arrays and their previous storage investments, so there is a valid business case for page tiering. However, to be honest we haven’t received our test unit into the Solution Centre yet, so I don’t want to offer an opinion until Bill McGloin and the CP Data team have finished their evaluation putting the VSP through its paces.
But watch this space as I think 2011 is going to be very interesting indeed as 3D solutions such as VDC begin to find their way into corporate datacentres.
Have a great weekend,