Archive for the ‘datacentre virtualisation’ Category

On Wookiees and providing unreasonable customer service.

17/12/2010

It’s been a few weeks since I last blogged and I bet you thought I’d forgotten about you .. or was out frolicking in the snow with the other Storage Wookiees.

No, sorry .. wrong on both counts.  It’s just that Q4 really got me this year, but I’m back now so whether you’re cheering, groaning, or deleting .. I’ll be blogging regularly again.

Now .. there is no getting away from the fact that it is Q4 and, for many of us, there can be quite a bit of stress as we seek to close the year both personally and professionally.  But I have a confession to make .. I really love this time of year.

There are the Chrimbo parties and lunches when you get to meet up and spend time with people that perhaps you haven’t seen all year, the Hanukkah Armadillo, a snowcalypse and Arctic temperatures that bring the UK to a grinding halt .. I mean, hey .. what’s not to love?  London will be back to normal by mid January, and I hear Scotland it due to reopen in June.  And my favourite part of this time of year?  No, not an opportunity for me to use my fireplace app on my iPad. And if you don’t have an iPad, I don’t want you to feel left out so here you go.  Although with the way Adobe Flash lights up a laptop CPU you may not even need a fireplace to keep warm whilst you’re watching that.

But I digress.  My favourite part of this time of year is .. the Starbuck’s Gingerbread Latte.  And when I say favourite, I mean deep down and dirty wookiee love with a capital L .. L-O-V-E the Starbuck’s Gingerbread Latte.  If you don’t like Starbucks and think they are overpriced coloured water merchants, fine .. but I’m here to tell you that I am big time into their Gingerbread Latte.  And as a wise man once said .. ‘Let the wookiee win.’

But since it’s that time of year, here’s a video of Chewbaccah singing ‘Silent Night’ just so there’s no hard feelings.

I went in to Starbucks to buy my first gingerbread latte of the season on the first day they were officially available in the UK .. I probably shouldn’t mention that I also buy the syrup from Starbucks so I can make them at home with my Siemens Nespresso machine .. but, to be fair, they really only taste completely ‘proper’ during the season and from a Starbucks.

And when I went to buy my latte, I got a very pleasant surprise.  The barista, whom I know quite well due to my somewhat severe Starbucks addiction, offered me a Starbucks card.  Why would I want that?, asked I .. It isn’t a credit card so why should I prepay you now for my future lattes?

Because you get free extra shots of coffee, soya milk, flavoured syrup .. and *drum roll* Wifi in all of our stores.  Free.  So that £4.05 grande triple shot sugar free hazelnut latte now costs about £3.50.

Geeeeenius!

What’s this got to do with Data Storage & Protection?

The industry market is quickly consolidating through merger and acquisition .. the most recent being the acquisition of Compellent by Dell, but there have been dozens over the past eighteen months .. indeed, too many to list here.

What has become frightfully obvious through much of this M&A activity is that asking the question ‘is it a product or a feature’ has never been more important as what were once products .. e.g. Data Domain and Diligent with data deduplication, or Storewize and Ocarina for data compression .. were swiftly acquired by much larger storage companies like EMCIBM, and Dell as they surmised that these technologies such as dedupe and compression were actually features and not really products in their own right.

In other words, why not include dedupe, compression, thin provisioning, and automated tiering in the storage array(s) themselves as opposed to individual stand alone products?

Equally, the market seems to be segmenting into three distinct customer behaviours for data storage;

1. Let’s Optimise the Lot – I’m prepared to explore internal change and IT process evolution in the pursuit of lower IT costs and increased business agility, so perhaps a virtual datacentre [VDC] is the right solution as opposed to siloed solutions of storage plus server plus network and so on.  Put more simply .. optimise EVERYTHING, not just storage.

2. Let’s Optimise the Storage – I may want to optimise the lot in the fullness of time, but right now I need to optimise my data storage to reduce my storage costs specifically.

3. I Need a Bucket – I will optimise my storage and possibly everything else when I can, but right now I need an efficient and cost effective bit bucket.

Now, at Computacenter we have solutions which credibly and competitively address each of these areas but this is where the lattes come in in my opinion.

Just like Starbucks have realised that they need to provide unreasonable customer service to continue to get people to buy their coffees .. i.e. give away much of what, perhaps, their competition wouldn’t .. so too must we consider what we could do to give unreasonable customer service to our customers not just in Q4, but throughout the year.

If I’m buying a bucket .. what options and features might be available to me that I haven’t asked you for?  Might I be able to get data dedupe, data compression, or automated tiering to make my purchase even more cost effective?  And how will my purchase enable me to either optimise my storage and/or entire IT infrastructure next year?

If I’m looking to optimise the storage .. what vendor partners include the features as part of the array price versus those, for example, who will make me pay more just to automate the tiering of my data?  How can I get the most storage optimisation per spent pound?  And how can I leverage my optimised storage purchase when I seek to optimise the lot next year?

If I’m looking to optimise the lot .. how will my purchase enable me to connect to external service providers in the future?  How will I be able to retain my structured data internally in a fully optimised state whilst shipping out my unstructured data to an external service provider .. safely, reliably, and securely?

Starbucks with the freebies offered with their Starbucks card is but one example of offering unreasonable customer service .. I think Amazon including free 3G on their Kindle as part of the £149 purchase price is another.

I’m committed to helping Computacenter be another such example, so please feel free to contact me or Bill McGloin if we can help provide you unreasonable customer service either now in the last days of Q4 or in 2011.

For now, here’s a video of Chewbaccah singing the blues .. which is what I hope Australia will be doing when we win the Ashes.

Look out next week for my 2011 predictions and a Happy Christmas/New Years to you and yours.

-Matthew

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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.

Click here to contact me.

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

19/02/2010

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!

-Matthew

Click here to contact me.

The Hanukkah Armadillo and predictions for 2010.

18/12/2009

PL Junior is three years old and a bit, and I thought I’d share an interesting conversation from Friday last week, which was the first night of Hanukkah, whilst I was driving PL Junior to school.

‘Daddy, when will it be dark?’

‘Not until this evening, I’m afraid.  Why do you ask?’

‘Is tonight Hanukkah?’

‘Yes, it is …as soon as the sun goes down.’

‘When it gets dark we light the candles?’

‘Yes, are you excited?’

‘Um hmmm!  After the candles the Hanukkah Armadillo will come and sing me a lullaby.  And bring me presents!’

I start to laugh.  PL Junior isn’t.  He’s deadly serious.

‘Erm, sure. I suppose.‘  Not good to hurt a three year old’s feelings.  Best play along.

‘What else does the Hanukkah Armadillo do?’

‘He has flying powers, just like rocket!  And big jet!  And he comes down with presents each night of Hanukkah!  But he doesn’t like biscuits.  Only water and cucumbers.’

I dropped off PL Junior at school and then phoned Mrs. PL where, after we got done laughing, she tells me that she was channel hopping recently when she happened upon the Friends episode with the Holiday Armadillo.  It being one of her [and my] favourites, she watched and laughed.

PL Junior didn’t.  My father lives in Texas.  PL Junior thought it was real.  So, being a great mum, Mrs. PL decided to just go with it.  And thus was born the legend of the Hanukkah Armadillo in Casa PL.

My father just sent me an email offering to send a stuffed armadillo to place next to our menorah.

Thanks dad.

What’s this got to do with Data Storage & Protection?

One of the many things that I love about living in the UK generally and London specifically is the amazing diversity and breadth of opinion.

I don’t know if there is such as thing as a Universal Truth other than to say that everyone I know and work with would describe family as being paramount.  It doesn’t really matter much if you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Diwali, Eid, Kwanzaa, Christmaskah, or Festivus …or none of these …you tend to do what you do because it makes you and your family happy.  And, frankly, how you observe or celebrate will often vary from family to family …who’s to say if there’s a ‘right’ way or ‘wrong’ way to do it?

Although I must say, there is a lot of merit in the Airing of Grievances around the Festivus pole.  But I digress.

As I’ve said before, I have a religion and it ain’t storage.  I’m not aware of any ‘one size fits all’ solution, but we have developed an equation and methodology which gives us as fair and equitable a way as I know for selecting and recommending solutions.  Just as families celebrate holidays in different ways so too do customers select and implement technologies.

That said, my predictions for 2010:

1.  The emergence of the virtualised datacentre.

What do you get if you add optimised storage, deduplication, storage compression, converged networks, virtualised servers, virtualised applications, integrated backup to disk/replication/tape storage, automation for the whole lot …I’m probably missing a few bits, but you get my point.  Whether you call it VCE Vblock, IBM Dynamic Infrastructure, NetApp Virtualise Everything, HP Converged Infrastructure, they’re all articulations of a virtualised datacentre.  We’re headed towards integrated and virtualised datacentres and one of the fascinating things about IT is stick around long enough and you’ll see the same ideas come back round.  We deconstructed the mainframe in pursuit of open systems, but now open systems are creaking under the load of data proliferation and low utilisation.  What to do?  Well, reconstruct the mainframe conceptually using integrated open systems.  And that’s what customers want …not necessarily flashy marketing schtick, but, rather a self healing/self tuning, policy based datacentre which allows customers to flex up/down depending upon market conditions with predictable and best costs and then sits invisibly in the corner and behaves!

2. Innovative products continue the march to becomes universal features.

There was a time when thin provisioning, data deduplication, disk spindown for underutilised disks, and automated storage tiering were products in their own right.  But if a product is so great that it demonstrably reduces costs and increases utilisation, shouldn’t it be a feature?  Exactly.  Which is why 2009 saw EMC, IBM, NetApp, HP, and HDS introduce or extend these technologies as features in their product sets.  And I don’t think that the list will stop there as I expect to see data compression enter as a feature in primary storage in 2010 as well.  Why should we care?  As features within an infrastructure we can use these technologies holistically, whether in a ‘branded’ virtualised datacentre or one composed of open products which work together seamlessly, to deliver storage at the most appropriate cost from creation to cremation with zero disruption to production business.

3. Server and desktop virtualisation are no longer incorrectly viewed as workloads.

VMware and Microsoft Hyper-V are good examples of server virtualisation, whilst VMware View and Citrix XenDesktop are good examples of desktop virtualisation.  Virtualisation of physical resources undoubtedly delivers higher utilisation and cost benefit, however virtualisation is a technology not a workload.  What’s the difference?  A workload is what you do with the technology, and everyone will do something slightly different with their workload based upon their business needs.  If you forget that and leave out the storage design and tuning, you may fail to achieve cost benefit at best or have to abandon the project at worst.  Don’t believe me though, have a read of this blog post by Chad Sakac, worldwide VP of VMware and all round virtualisation guru who is intimately involved with such deployments worldwide.

4. Grid storage / scale out storage take hold and never look back.

IBM XiV, EMC Vmax, NetApp ONTAP v8 …don’t look now, but everybody’s going grid.  Will it solve global warming, introduce world peace, and cuddle baby seals?  Not exactly.  But it will introduce self healing/tuning highly efficient and utilised storage at attractive price points using commoditised components …and become the bedrock of the virtualised datacentre.

5. Automation, automation, automation.

What use are virtualised servers, virtualised desktops, virtualised applications, self healing/tuning storage systems if you have to provision and manage them manually?  Precisely.  If you can’t automate it, chances are it will be left behind in the march towards the virtualised datacentre.  But don’t stop there as pure automation should give rise to …

6. Automation gives birth to policy based storage.

Remember aligning data to business value?  Of course you did!  Automation will remove the manual nature of managing IT and related resources, but customers don’t just want a conveyer belt of chocolates with Lucy and Ethel.  Automation which allows us to align a customer SLA and/or business value is what we truly want to deliver …policy based movement of data with zero disruption.

7. Customers continue to interact openly and publicly.  Are we listening?

Customers are speaking with us and our vendor partners publicly and openly in ways that we never could have anticipated through the use of technologies such as Twitter and blogs.  If you think that Twitter is just a platform for people to tell you what they’ve had for breakfast, you’ve missed the point entirely.  These platforms are a way for end users/customers to interact with one another as well as business partners efficiently. Storagebod, an end user at a major media company, took the time to write six individual letters to Father Christmas regarding what he would like to see from vendorsIanhf, an influential end user at a major telecoms company, took the time to write about what he expects from business partners.  Think you’re Elite?  See if you can get through all 17 of Ianhf’s points saying ‘yes, we/I do that’.  I’m not sure that I can, and that’s the point …by actively reading and engaging with what our customers are saying we and vendors have two choices …ignore it and continue making products / delivering services which customers find shoddy, or listen and strive to evolve and provide the products / services / solutions which make a difference to them in a positive way.  I know which one I’ll be choosing in 2010, otherwise we’re left just talking to ourselves and what fun or use is that?  Ignore customer public sentiment at your peril, as it would seem AT&T did in the USA with iPhone users.

8. England win the World Cup, Watford FC are promoted to the Premiership, and Mrs. PL stops yelling at me for snoring.

Okay, I kinda made that last one up but a PL can dream can’t he?  And who knows what 2010 will bring but what I do know is this …England, Watford FC, indeed all of us are in control of our destiny for the year ahead.

Have a great Christmas / Hanukkah / Diwali / Eid / Kwanzaa / Christmaskah / Festivus …none of the above …enjoy your holiday with your family and see you in 2010.

I’m off to light the last Hanukkah candle with Mrs. PL, PL Junior …and anxiously await the arrival of the Hanukkah Armadillo.

-Matthew

Click here to contact me.

My mother-in-law and data storage.

13/12/2009

We had been dating for a few months, and I had been eagerly anticipating the moment for a while.  I hadn’t yet asked Mrs. PL to marry me, so she was still a single woman and I still spent my Sundays flying the virtual skies with my flight simulator.  Whilst we hadn’t really talked about it, I knew it was a conversation we wouldn’t be able to avoid much longer.

It was time for me to meet her parents.

As diaries would have it, it was suggested that I meet my possibly future in-laws at Royal Ascot as they had an extra place for me in the Royal Enclosure.  Brilliant, I thought …I’m sure dressing up in a morning suit and wearing a top hat whilst quaffing champagne and Pimms all day will steady my nerves nicely.  And what the heck, if I get into trouble I could surely ask the Queen for help?  I make that Pimms o’clock!  Or so my thinking went when I accepted the invitation.

The arrangements were made and we arrived at the appointed hour for a champagne reception hosted by one of my future in-law’s friends.  I had a glass of very nice champers, and then politely declined a further glass.  I conversed lightly about the events of the day and declined any further glasses of champagne.  I was beginning to get a few ‘looks’ …well, more so than usual anyway …and we made our way to the grounds for the racing.

I was offered another drink almost as soon as we entered the enclosure, which I again politely declined.  Now, as anyone who knows me or reads this blog frequently will know …I rarely shy away from a nice glass of champagne.  Or claret.  Or New Zealand sauvignon blanc.  Or single batch Hendrick’s gin.  Yes, I enjoy the odd tipple and my future mother-in-law was beginning to get worried.

‘Aren’t you having a nice time?’, asked she.

‘Not at all, I’m having a lovely day!’, I replied.

‘Are you teetotal?  Or are the drinks not to your liking?’, she said in a low tone.

‘No, they’re fine and no …I am most certainly not teetotal.  But I was raised to not have more than three drinks in front of your future in-laws.’

Silence.

‘Well, I guess perhaps it as serious as I have been led to believe.  Tell me, what do you do exactly.’

‘Erm, well …I’m in technology, I guess.’

‘Oh!  Great, we’ve had this problem with our PC lately and …’

*slight chuckle*

‘No, I’m sorry I don’t work on that side of technology.  I design and integrate data storage for corporations.’

My future father-in-law had joined my future mother-in-law’s side just as she turned a whiter shade of pale, leaned in to him, and whispered something in his ear.

‘No, no …our daughter will be just fine, I think I understand what he means!’, said my future father-in-law to my future mother-in-law.

The conversation shifted swiftly, and the remainder of the day was enjoyed by all.

It was only years later …at a dinner celebrating the birth of our son, actually …when my mother-in-law finally told me that she turned pale because she thought I bought and sold filing cabinets and self storage for City firms.

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

It is never difficult, in my opinion, to be misunderstood when attempting to explain things which you may be completely au fait with but others mightn’t have even heard of.  Indeed, I have a friend who is a fellow data storage practitioner who often tells people that he ‘sells insurance’ at cocktail parties rather than try to explain the weird and wacky world of storage thus avoiding the situation I found myself in with my future in-laws.  To be honest, I’ve considered this approach a few times but wouldn’t wish to be intentionally misleading nor fallacious.

And yet, the more I think about it …I do ‘sell insurance’ to a degree.

EMC made an announcement that I have been waiting for quite a while, the GA launch of Fully Automated Storage Tiering or ‘FAST’ for short.  FAST introduces automated storage tiering for the EMC Symmetrix Vmax, CLARiiON CX4, and Celerra NS unified storage NAS product.  Great, I hear you say.  What the heck does that mean?

Well, put simply FAST automates the movement of data at the block level between tiers of storage.  For example, a tier of solid state drives, a tier of fibre channel drives, and a tier of SATA drives.  Now, In a normal storage array, we tend to lose a lot of efficiency due to the fact that we need to ‘place’ the data by telling it where it should live through the management interface on which tier and such things as RAID groups, disk groups, and LUNs. What if you want to move the data between tiers after you’ve placed it?  It isn’t exactly an easy process and often requires downtime.  And If you don’t know what those terms above mean, don’t worry …I doubt they’ll be around for very much longer anyway.

What FAST does is essentially automate the placement of data at the block level on the most appropriate tier thus eliminating the inefficiencies noted above with the largely manual placement of data.  Where it will begin to get even more interesting is with the introduction of FAST v2 in 2010 when we can then monitor data workloads and promote/demote data seamlessly between tiers based upon business SLAs.

Before I go any further, it is worth noting that EMC aren’t alone in automating data tiering at the data block level as Compellent and 3PAR have been offering similar solutions in their products for a while.  Equally, there are many opinions about what FAST truly is, and one of the more balanced views I’ve read is Chris Evans’ a.k.a. The Storage Architect blog post on the subject here.

So is EMC’s announcement important?  Yes …and no.  There are two things that I find important about the announcement.

The first is that, just as with thin provisioning and data deduplication before, what was once a product is now …rightfully, in my opinion …becoming a feature.  I recognise that EMC will wish to market FAST as a product …sorry, guys, but I will have to respectfully disagree …but the emergence of automated storage tiering as a feature in storage products is a huge step forward as it allows us to link other automation technologies to storage to create a highly efficient datacentre which is adaptable with predictable costs.

Second, automated storage tiering is but a waypoint on a journey which I believe leads to policy based engines.  This means that, in the future, a Computacenter customer can select a workload package based upon their specific business needs and all of the components of the workload [server, storage, application, network] will be automatically provisioned and then …here’s the clever bit …actively monitored by the policy engine.  If the workload exceeds the capabilities of where it was originally provisioned, not a problem …we’ll move it seamlessly to a higher ‘tier’.  And what if the workload actually under-utilises where it was originally provisioned?  We’ll move it seamlessly to a lower cost ‘tier’.

And that’s where selling insurance comes in.

This is the journey to the virtualised datacentre and, frankly, every customer will be at a different stage of the journey and possibly be expecting different benefits out of their own virtualised datacentre.

Equally, I believe that there will be several different vendor ‘flavours’ of virtualised datacentre each with their own technological and cost benefits.

What makes us unique from our competition is our ability to understand the components of the virtualised datacentre, how to solve each customer’s own individual Rubik’s cube, how to calculate the return on investment as well as the cost benefit analysis to migrate to a fully virtualised datacentre …all whilst identifying and mitigating risk, perhaps even underwriting / gainsharing the calculated benefits

If that isn’t the beginnings of an attractive insurance policy in a challenging economy, I’m not sure what is.

-Matthew

Click here to contact me.

To a worm in horseradish, the whole world is horseradish. Or why IBM XiV is still relevant.

30/11/2009

Mrs. PL and I have been trying to add another PL Junior to our tribe.  That’s the good news.  The bad news is …and how do I say this …we’ve had some very robust conversations as of late regarding upgrading to a larger house to accommodate a new PL Junior.  I think it is commonly referred to as ‘a full and frank discussion’ in diplomatic circles  …all I know is I’ve been getting my not inconsiderably sized posterior whupped regularly in our little fireside chats.  Oxbridge debating teams have nothing on a determined Mrs. PL, in my opinion.  Truth be told, I can kind of see Mrs. PL’s point and, to be fair to her, she is genuinely interested in more space as opposed to playing postcode bingo with the yummy mummy brigade who inhabit our little corner of northwest London.

Whilst we have been married for six years and together for almost ten, I still naively cling to the belief that if I just keep talking and present a coherent and factually based argument that Mrs. PL will come round to my way of thinking.

Me: ‘But we can’t really afford a new house, and I’ve been upgrading our house recently …what about our new supercharged home office?’

Mrs. PL: ‘Nice try, but weren’t you …by your own admission …indulging your own inner geek?  How does you being able to Twitter or tweet or whatever the heck it’s called build a new baby room?’

Me: ‘Yeah, okay …but what about the new shower stall, or the new washing machine?  It spins at 1400 rpm!  And has a 20 minute steam cycle to freshen up shirts when they’re wrinkled!’

Silence.  I’m pretty sure Mrs. PL is melting my inner organs with her glare.

Me: ‘And what about the new refrigerator?  It’s like a magic superfridge made by wizards and Hobbits …nothing ever goes bad in there!  We’ve eaten things that are like three weeks over the use by date!’

Mrs. PL: ‘Tell me something, my dearest chucklehead.  How do these upgrades fit into this equation you keep banging on about?  Wouldn’t a new house as opposed to siloed upgrades have a better five year cost benefit?’

Silence.  I hate it when she’s right.

What has this got to do with data storage and protection?

Mrs. PL has got me thinking about Howard Moskowitz, horizontal segmentation and a great talk I heard from Malcolm Gladwell.  I don’t want to steal any of Malcolm’s thunder or take too long explaining horizontal segmentation so click here if you have about fifteen minutes, well worth your while.

Put simply, the thought is that there is no such thing as a ‘perfect’ product nor, by extension a ‘perfect’ solution.  Rather, each product or solution should be developed and subsequently recommended based upon the good it can do for a particular customer situation.

I was reading a blog post from an analyst recently which questioned Is IBM XiV Still Relevant?  Whilst the blog post makes some interesting points, I kept coming back to the same thought …yes, I suppose you could ask this question but only really if you are viewing IBM XiV next to other storage array products in a ‘bikini contest’ fashion.

But judging arrays in a Miss World style lineup isn’t the real value of grid storage …and not at all the way I would advocate our articulating a solution in any case.

No, I think that grid storage …in this case IBM XiV, but you could also make the same argument with EMC Vmax or NetApp ONTAP v8 …is a basic building block of the virtualised datacentre.

If we wanted to view IBM XiV as a building block, one of the more interesting announcements around IBM XiV was actually buried in an announcement IBM made on 10 November which was talking about asynchronous mirroring …but the very next paragraph of the announcement talks about new support for instant space reclamation.

Why is this important?  Well, if you think back to this post about thin provisioning, what this means is that IBM XiV is making the software APIs which make thin provisioning possible available to third party products such as Symantec Storage Foundation such that Symantec software can now ‘recognise’ unused space and return it to the storage pool quickly.  We could easily add an IBM N Series gateway to provide NFS/CIFS NAS in addition to the block level storage from IBM XiV, as well as Storewize to give us data compression from 45% or higher for stale data.

What would this give us?  What we want …and need …to see, with vendors working together to ensure their products ‘glue’ together such that we can build a horizontally capable virtualised datacentre which is efficient, optimised, and fully flexible for customer needs both now and in the future.

But we wouldn’t stop with just the first building block if we wanted to derive true ROI and cost benefit.  We would need to consider virtualising the servers, converging the network, optimising the physical servers with blades, and automating the whole lot.

And here’s where it could get tricky if we start trying to articulate such a solution with stories of Prego, Howard Moskowitz, or Malcolm Gladwell and horizontal segmentation.

I think one of the easiest ways to visualise this concept is to picture a virtualised datacentre as a solved Rubik’s cube with each of the six sides a different solid colour made up of nine blocks.  Each solved side represents one of the discipline areas required for a virtualised datacentre …Data Storage & Protection, Networks, Platforms, Virtualisation, Automation, and Workspace / Collaboration.

Our customers …all of them …have unsolved Rubik’s cubes with the coloured blocks in any of a number of different iterations.

Our job, in my humble opinion, is not to articulate a storage product …or products …in the context of the proverbial bikini contest but, rather, in the context of exactly how our recommended solution will help our customers solve one, then two, then three sides until they reach all six for a fully virtaulised datacentre which delivers true ROI, cost benefit, and little or no disruption to their production business.

Please contact me if you would like assistance in taking this journey.

-Matthew

Click here to contact me.

The end of history and the last technology?

13/11/2009

Francis Fukuyama wrote The End of History and the Last Man in which he famously postulated that, as far as systems of government and markets were concerned we had reached the ‘end of history’ …democracy and the free market had defeated all comers and, as far as Francis was concerned, the only thing left open to debate was how to implement such systems and what controls were required for regulation.  The book became a bit of a touchstone and rallying point for what would become known as neo-cons, but as time has marched on many of Francis’ original assertions have been challenged by the likes of Robert Kagan in The Return of History and the End of Dreams …as well as real world events like 11 September, the Iraq war, and the recent economic recession.  The end of history?  Doubtful.  Just as surely as we have debated systems of government and markets since Greek and Roman times, so we will surely debate them in the weeks, months, and years ahead. 

What has this got to do with data storage and protection?

There have been many exciting developments in technology generally and storage specifically over the past few weeks.  VMware, Cisco, and EMC …the VCE consortium or coalition, if you will …announced a reference architecture which is essentially a virtualised datacentre in a box called vBlock as a infrastructure package / product in its own right, with Acadia as a private cloud ‘solution provider’ to help enterprise customers migrate their existing infrastructures to said virtualised datacentre and possibly even the much vaunted cloud.  Not to be outdone or left behind, HP also made a similar announcement regarding their converged infrastructure, and then made things very interesting by acquiring 3Com for $2.7 billion.  We also had IBM with their development and test cloud launch and the IBM Cloud Academy, and we mustn’t forget BT having selected NetApp as their provider of choice for BT cloud offerings labelled the Virtual Datacentre.

Now, announcements are all well and good but there remains plenty left for us to more fully understand about just what these solutions will look like …and cost …so I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself nor overstep my bounds prior to more senior Computacenter executive views on what this all means for both us and our customers. 

That said, I am hugely excited about what, at first glance, would appear to be the conversion of hype to reality.  We’ve heard so much about ‘cloud’ computing over the past few years that customers were becoming palpably sceptical …in many cases, cynical …about the ‘cloud’, and I can’t say that I blame them.  Indeed, if you want to have fun ask two industry analysts or vendors to defined cloud and watch the three or more definitions come back.  I say fun, but I’m a geek remember so I tend to find analysts and vendors arguing about these things humorous …but customers don’t and, frankly, don’t really care about the new whizz bang features of a cloud solution.  No, what they care about is how technology can improve their business …or Sharpen it, if you will …to reduce their costs in the pursuit of their being competitive in their respective market.

So are these announcements the signalling of the end of history for technology …will the cloud be the final end point for customer computing infrastructures and datacentres?  I personally don’t think so, and tend to view the announcements as a watershed waypoint rather than an endpoint.  Just as I don’t believe that Spotify will be the death of iPods or iTunes, nor do I believe that customers will take an ‘all or nothing’ approach to cloud computing.

If you look more closely at the recent vendor announcements, what is perhaps most interesting is that the productisation of a virtualised datacentre through the use of a reference architecture is essentially made possible by aligning core products such as VMware, a scale out storage offering, blade servers, a unified network to bring it all together, and software to automate the provisioning and management of the lot. 

And here is where I fundamentally believe we can add real and demonstrable value. 

We are well versed with capabilities which far outweigh our competition in the components which make a virtualised datacentre possible.  Don’t believe me?

We have been involved with VMware since 2002 and won a Supplier Innovation Award in 2007 from BT

I’ve been developing collateral, running customer education events, and providing internal training around grid storage solutions such as IBM XiV, EMC Vmax, and NetApp ONTAP 8 internally for well over a year. 

We have more BMC, BladeLogic, and Tideway datacenter automation experience than anyone in the UK. 

We’ve automated the provisioning of data storage

We have skills in Cisco networking, virtualised I/O solutions such as Xsigo, and unified network architectures such as FCoE.

Put simply, we have demonstrable skills and expertise to advise and assist customers every step of the way from their existing traditional datacentre …and the low utilisation and high costs it undoubtedly entails …to a virtualised and automated datacentre with the high efficiency, increased utilisation, and lowered and predictable costs it promises.  What’s more, we have an equation in [ROI] + [CBA] + [DPB] = CSS which we use to quantifiably measure what our customers will reap by moving to the next step …and, in certain circumstances, we will agree with a customer to underwrite and gainshare the difference between their existing costs and the lowered costs our proposed solution has identified.

The end of history?  No, I think this is just the beginning …and Computacenter are ideally placed to help customers write the next exciting chapters.

As always, please don’t hesitate to contact me if you would like help in taking this journey.

Have a great weekend,

-Matthew

Click here to contact me.