Archive for the ‘Convergence’ Category

Five reasons why catalogue p*rn may be useful.

03/05/2010

As I started to write this blog entry I noticed that, whilst I knew I hadn’t blogged in a few weeks, the inertia of life has well and truly taken over recently as it has been almost five weeks since my last entry.  Along with my normal day to day responsibilities, the last five weeks has seen an unfortunate death in the family, Mrs. PL embarking on the conversion of our garage into a proper playroom for PL Junior …she is a formidable project manager! …the deployment of our first virtualised datacentre [VDC], trying to enjoy the three days of English summer …you get the point!  I’m just now getting back on top of things, more or less, so normal service will resume from this week and I apologise in advance as this week may see a ‘double’ entry as I try to get back to once a week entries each Friday at 17:00.

As we were clearing out the garage in preparation for the conversion I realised that Mrs. PL and I have a strange habit which could get us into trouble some day.  Hold on, bear with me before you delete this more quickly than usual or I get invited for a brief ‘chat’ with HR!  As we were clearing I was struck by the number of old magazines and catalogues we had amassed in the garage and the habit which led to this detritus.

Mrs. PL and I jokingly refer to our nasty habit as ‘catalogue porn’.

It is a nasty habit, possibly worse than biting my nails or picking my nose at traffic lights, which I was convinced  only I was afflicted with before I met Mrs. PL.  Yet one Sunday morning shortly after we got married, as I was filleting the papers and preparing to throw [or hide] the useless catalogues of rubbish we’ll never need or even know how to use …we didn’t have a garden at the time, but I still enjoyed perusing the odd ‘garden scarifier’ or two …when Mrs. PL looked at me and said ‘Don’t throw those away!  I want to look at those’.

It was in this moment, as I looked at her lovingly, I realised that amongst all that we already shared we also shared a perverse desire to look at catalogue upon catalogue of useless items.  I could come out of the closet, free at last to indulge my secret habit in full view of the world safe in the knowledge I was no longer alone.

But that was quite a few years ago and things have moved on a bit for Mrs. PL and I in the strange world of catalogue porn.  We have our favourites, such as Pedlars …otherwise known as ‘I saw you coming dot com’ in our house …and even have a bit of a game challenging each other to find the most outrageous claims and/or marketing hyperbole.  At present I’m in the lead with ‘Nutrileum’ …what in the name of my giddy aunt is that? what, washing my hair with a substance rumoured to require heavy water and centrifuges to produce? …but Mrs. PL is coming up fast with skin cream ‘pentapeptides’ and their related nonsense.

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

Whilst there is the obvious space that our catalogues ‘o crap take up prior to our getting round to throwing them away, the real danger posed by our habit is the very real possibility that …sooner or later …we’re going to buy something from one of these ‘I saw you coming dot com’ merchants.

Why is that a danger?  Well, not to put too fine a point on it, but let’s face facts …the scientific ‘fact’ used to sell this rubbish, when ‘facts’ are even bothered to be used that is, is a bit shady.  I say shady …statistically meaningless would be a more accurate description.  One advert actually states ‘of 84 people polled’ …84 people?!  Ideally a poll should have a sample size of 3,000 to 10,000 to be statistically meaningful …and don’t get me started on randomised distribution!  Suffice it to say, most adverts with their ‘polls’ are about as meaningful as me running in to my local and yelling ‘oi, who likes booze?!’.

But I digress.

We find something similar in technology generally and in storage specifically where I think that sometimes we focus too much on the ‘razzle dazzle’ as opposed to the business benefits.  And yes, I admit I sometimes suffer from this as well!  No comments re my obsession with productivity apps and iPads, thanks, I am all too familiar with my own shortcomings.

1.  Make it statistically meaningful for the customer.

I don’ think that there’s anything wrong with talking about the potential positive effects or business benefits of a technology, so long as you either ‘show your work’ or state that the data may not be available as yet.  For instance, if you’re going to talk about data deduplication and the transformative effects it can have on a customer’s environment by reducing costs …and that you have 522 implementations around the world …don’t you think it would be useful to state ‘we have reduced our customer’s costs by xy% on average’ and back that up with field data?  Yeah, me too.  I’ll continue to challenge our vendor partners on this point and we’re also keen to collect this ROI and TCO data ourselves moving forward.

2. Leave the awesomesauce at home, what’s the benefit?

I fully recognise that I’m a geek and, whilst I often think I’m speaking proper English …albeit slightly accented, admittedly …I may not be speaking in a language easily understood by others.  I’m paid to stay in front of technology and understand not just today’s movements but the technologies of tomorrow most likely to benefit our customers.  But.  There’s always a but, isn’t there?  This must be translated into business benefit for our customers, and I’ve noticed that there are folks in technology who would prefer to focus on the ‘I can move a bit faster than you my competitors’ ‘this one goes to eleven’ style of value description.  Some of our customers call this ‘awesomesauce’.  Sunshine is the best antiseptic, so why not be clear about business benefit?  Geeks like me need to understand the ins and outs of the technology, but we shouldn’t lose sight of aligning technology to business value.

3. One size fits all?

Just as I’m sure there are men in the world who can carry off skin tight spangly leggings …I’m not one of them as you’ll likely have gathered.  Equally, I am not aware of a single ‘one size fits all’ storage technology.  IBM XiV might be appropriate for a customer given certain criteria, where NetApp might be more appropriate for another or EMC vMax for yet another.  This is where true consultancy comes into play and, if I’m honest, we need to work with a customer re the immediate and future challenges in an interactive way that RFPs don’t often satisfy.  Early engagement, in my humble opinion, is key.

4.  The only constant in a customer environment is inertia.

Nothing wrong with inertia, but just because we’ve done a good job of engaging with the customer and articulating how we believe we can help we shouldn’t underestimate the power of how things have been done before or presently.  This is where the Solution Centre in Hatfield, our £10m investment in the technologies we’re discussing, comes into its own.  A Virtualised Datacentre [VDC] might very well be the right answer, but there will surely be the need to test workloads and proposed solutions; it most likely won’t be the technology but, rather, people and processes that will catch you out if you haven’t tested properly.

5. Show me the Nutrileum.

As I’m keen to discuss in future posts, I fundamentally believe that VDCs will help to solve many more customer issues than they may potentially introduce.  At a bare minimum I believe that they can reduce IT costs by as much as 30% – 50% or more.  But here’s the rub …we just don’t have the field referenceable statistics to support these claims as yet.  You can rest assured we will collect these stats as we deploy VDCs for our customers, but in the interim I think it is possible to build a business case based upon field referenceable statistics available from components of a VDC.  We should be able to add £xx saved from   server virtualisation plus £yy saved from grid storage plus £zz saved from network convergence and so on to show a cost benefit over a five year period post VDC deployment, and I see nothing wrong with being honest and up front about where these statistics come from.

If you’ve stayed with me to the end, thanks for reading and I hope that this has been useful as, truth be told …that’s the only reason I blog, hoping that what I’ve learned may be of interest and use to others.

Right, Mrs. PL and I have some catalogues to be getting on with so until next time dear reader.

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And then there was one …erm, well OneConnect actually.

06/11/2009

I had the good fortune this week to have been invited by friends to fly a Boeing 737-300.  I arrived at LHR, went through my preflight checks, boarded the BMI 737-300, and proceeded to prepare for takeoff from runway 27R with flaps 5.  The copilot called out 80 knots …vee one called at 123 knots …I rotated the control column at 125 knots and we called vee two at 135 knots, cleaned up the gear and flaps and climbed to 6000 feet.  A quick right hand circuit around LHR and London, waved to Hatfield, and prepared to land safely at LHR.  I slowed down the airspeed to 136 knots and deployed flaps 15 …six miles to go and I slowed to 127 knots and deployed flaps 30 …four miles to go and we deployed flaps 40 …2500 feet called, down gear …see two reds and two whites on the PAPIS …80 feet to go …flare the nose and …touchdown!  A little bumpy, but a safe landing nonetheless.

Okay, so I didn’t fly a ‘real’ Boeing 737-300 …it was a full motion flight simulator operated by BMI at London Heathrow …but as simulators go this was about as realistic as you can get short of hearing the passengers behind you scream when you bank at 45 degrees over Canary Wharf.  From the time I walked in until the time they had to practically peel me from the captains chair I thought I had died and gone to geek heaven.  Those of you that know me know that I’m not just any run of the mill geek …nope, I’m an aeroplane technoweenie.  Perhaps not to the extent that you would mistake me for Colin Hunt, but Mrs. PL has sometimes come down at 02:00 to tell me that I’m not really flying to Japan its Microsoft Flight Simulator dammit now come to bed!  I know some men who feel they have to hide some magazines of a delicate nature from their wives …in our house, I hide my landing charts and cockpit video DVDs.

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

I have known for quite some time just how difficult it is to fly a commercial airliner, although the experience of flying a Boeing 737-300 full motion simulator brought into even sharper focus the number of processes which must be mastered and continually monitored to ensure a safe flight.  Indeed, with the advent of low cost airlines many of us fly so frequently that we can easily forget to remember just how remarkable a thing it is that we can get on board a metal tube, have a seat, and fly through the air at several hundreds of miles per hour as I was reminded in this humorous clip.

However, it is rare these days that a pilot will fly a plane entirely ‘by hand’ as systems have been designed which can take off a plane, fly to a destination, and land again all on autopilot.  Why?  Well, the reasons are somewhat complicated …and most commercial pilots actually use a mixture of automation and flying ‘by hand’ …but, put simply, computers are far better at automating the speed and direction of an aircraft such that the human pilots can concentrate on more important matters such as not crashing, monitoring airspace to avoid collisions, monitoring the weather to move the plane to smooth altitudes and so on.

One of the more interesting storage products to have been recently announced is the Emulex OneConnect Universal CNAs.  Try as I might, I won’t ever be able to make host bus adapters [HBAs] nor network interface cards [NICs] ‘sexy’ …sorry Emulex! …but what the OneConnect CNA product is capable of is fascinating and deserves attention.

Firstly, the converged nature of the Emulex product is certainly interesting as it means that we can use the same card for both network and storage traffic.  This in and of itself would equate to demonstrable cost savings for our customers …you can essentially use one product where you would have previously used two …however Emulex doesn’t stop there.

The OneConnect products allow me to not only operate and leverage multiple network / storage mediums and protocols [Fibre Channel Over Ethernet a.k.a. FCOE, iSCSI, fibre channel], I can also offload these from the server to the chipset on the Emulex card.

If your eyes are glazing over just like they were when I was geeking out with the flight references above, here’s what that means in English …and why we should care.

The offload of protocols to the humble converged network adapter allows the server to do what it does best without having to carry the overhead of worrying about the network and storage protocols.  Just like we want pilots to worry about the important stuff and we’ll leave the highly repeatable tasks to computers and automation, this offload will allow the server to worry about the more important elements of the technology infrastructure.

How much more?  Well, Emulex claim that by using a OneConnect Universal CNA we can operate 20% more virtual machines on a server than we would otherwise.  Imagine our being able to ‘shrink’ a customer datacentre by upwards of 20% …and all of the management operating costs, power, cooling, etc. that go with it …by simply using another card which costs the same as competitive products and you can see why I’m excited about this product release.  Talk about Sharpen Your Business!

I know that we are all incredibly busy during this time of year and can often overlook which card we select when recommending a server and/or storage solution, but I would urge you to bear Emulex in mind.

As always, please don’t hesitate to contact me if you require any assistance in taking this journey.

Have a great weekend,

-Matthew

Click here to contact me.