Archive for the ‘storage optimisation’ Category

Is your array easy enough to manage for a four year old?

14/03/2011

Sixty Second Synopsis

Customers are rapidly moving from having a storage strategy to having a data strategy. This is important as the criteria for a storage strategy, i.e. ‘how do I store more stuff’, are fundamentally different from a data strategy which seeks to provide more intelligent management, access, security, and ultimately looks to move data from a cost centre to a wealth generator.

Many thanks to those of you, from customers to colleagues to vendor partners and all points in between, who have asked ‘why aren’t you blogging’?

I honestly thought that it had only been a few weeks, but on closer inspection realised it had been almost eight weeks!  So, why haven’t I been blogging comes down to a few things …and it certainly isn’t that I don’t have an opinion on data, technology, okay just about anything! …but without sounding too Eddie Haskell on the point I have a fantastic job that I love working for a great company and things have been a bit ‘busy’ as of late.

But that is no excuse, so from this post consider me back on at least a weekly basis …perhaps more moving forward …and feel free to applaud, sigh, or hit the delete button as appropriate.

As I was getting ready to write this post, it occurred to me that there has been an interesting and recurring theme of ‘back again’ since I last blogged.

Steve Jobs left his post as CEO of Apple on indefinite medical leave …only to return, if but briefly, to launch the iPad 2.

Speaking of iPads, my iPad left me (or, more to the point …I left it) on the DLR as I was travelling to present at Cisco Live …only to come back to me barely a fortnight later.

Eric Schmidt left Google …with Larry Page back again as CEO.

I plan to blog about these and similar topics over the next few weeks, but I wanted to come back to something interesting that happened to me after I returned from Barcelona on business this week.  I came home to find Mrs. PL on her iPad in bed …at 01:00 in the morning. Playing Doodle Jump.

‘Hello dear …erm, perhaps it’s time to put the iPad away and go to bed?’

No answer.

‘Sweetheart? Don’t you want to hear how my business trip was and I’d love to hear about what you and PL Junior got up to.’

‘Shhhh. I’m trying to concentrate.’

‘I see that. How long have you been playing?’

‘Erm …dunno, about three hours I think.’

‘Right, okay …and time to go to bed now perhaps?’

‘I’m not going to bed until I beat PL Junior’s Doodle Jump score. Little blighter scored 49,000 whilst you were away!’

I should note that PL Junior is four years old.

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

I must admit, I’m not surprised to learn that my four year old son has become the title holder for a video game in our home …after all, he is a third generation geek and my first video game was ‘Star Trek’ on an IBM mainframe …albeit I was eight years old.

Now, I should mention that we don’t let PL Jnr sit around playing video games all day long …he is limited to weekends only and then only for limited periods of time …but he has only ever known the ease of the Apple iOS, Sony PS3, and Nintendo Wii interfaces and so I do wonder if this has something to do with his intuitive interaction and play.

I was reminded of this as I was reading a great post by storage blogger Storagebod who equated the different storage vendors and their array management interfaces with different video gaming platforms and games …and it got me thinking on a few things.

1. Data storage arrays are becoming more application centric.

Data proliferation or, put more simply, the enormous amount of data being created every day, means that amongst many challenges data management remains very high on the list of items keeping customers awake at night. However, I do see an interesting and positive trend in the data storage market right now as storage vendors move towards more application centric arrays …in other words, array management which caters more towards how the users need to consume and manage data from an application perspective [e.g. ‘How do I add more Exchange users?’] and less from a storage perspective [e.g. ‘How do I create disk groups, RAID groups, LUNS?’].

NetApp has arguably been application centric for quite some time, and I was very impressed with the EMC megalaunch on 18 January where the new VNX and VNXe products were displayed and demoed which introduced application centric management to the EMC product lines. This isn’t necessarily a new trend, but certainly one that I see taking more centre stage in the months and years to come as customers demand ever greater ease of use for their data systems …less geek more cowbell, if you will.

There’s much more I could talk about here with regards to unified storage, application integration, cloud integration, and management simplification but I’ll leave these to future blog posts.

2. If you think you’re user interface is simple enough, give it to a four year old.

One of the things that made me chuckle during the EMC megalaunch was when they let a fourth grader manage the VNX storage platform with an Apple iPad. Click here if you want to watch this, skipping to minute 32:00 of the presentation.

Now, managing storage platforms from Apple iOS devices is nothing new for us here at Computacenter …indeed, Alan Senior has been managing IBM XiV with his iPhone for over two years and was coding his own iOS app for storage management when I spoke with him last …but my point is that customers want simple and easy to use management interfaces for their data storage.

If you think your interface is easy enough for a fourth grader to use, ask yourself ‘but is it easy enough for a four year old to use?’ as this may be nearer the true litmus test.

Watch this space as I may find out first hand once we get our VNX series up and operable in the Hatfield Solution Centre.

3. Then again, why not automate the storage provisioning?

Ease of use and reducing management complexity in the user interface is important and a hot topic in the storage world, however we should also ask the question …why are we managing the data storage manually in the first place?

I’ve blogged about automated storage provisioning previously, and again this is going to be a hot topic and trend in data storage moving forward as customers will seek to implement Service Catalogues and automate as many services as is possible and practical.

Again, something I will be blogging about in the weeks and months to come.

4. As we continue towards more integrated solutions, transparency is everything.

Ease of management and reducing complexity with provisioning is only one part of this battle …another major part and, some would argue a much larger and more important aspect, is the transparency required to accurately and easily view the data being created, stored, application integration and access …and the associated costs.

There are no easy answers with this one, and I’ve blogged about this previously, however I think it is fair to assume that just as storage vendors are understanding that they need to do more to help users simplify provisioning and management so too do they need to provide more transparent tools for data consumption …particularly with the advent of virtual datacentre solutions such as VCE vBlock, NetApp FlexPod …and the cloud.

But that’s another post for another day.

Have a great week and, as always, please don’t hesitate to contact me if I can be of any assistance in helping you understand data storage.

-Matthew

 

 

 

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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

Boil the kettle, data rationalisation and reduction could take a while.

23/07/2010

UPDATE Mon 26 July: My interview with The BBC World Service ‘The World Today’ programme covering this topic aired this morning.  Click here for the full thirty minute podcast, or here for just my interview excerpt.

I thought perhaps I would begin this Weekly View with a quick experiment …now, you’ll need a kettle for this exercise …and in this context we need this to be a kettle of the electric variety … so if you don’t have one, or reading this blog where ‘lectric kettles may be a foreign concept, here’s a picture of one which will suffice for now.

Okay, ready?  Great.  Now, I’d like you to go and boil your kettle seventeen and a half times.  It’s okay, I know it takes a bit for each boil.  I’ll wait.  See you in a few minutes …or if you’re feeling generous, mine’s a PG Tips with milk and two Splendas.

Right …all done?  Great!  You’ve just expended as many greenhouse gases as you would by sending an email with a 4.7 megabyte attachment.

That’s right, campers … boiling your kettle 17.4 times consumes as many resources (electricity, water, and the like) and produces as much greenhouse gas as sending an email with a 4.7MB attachment in a traditional IT environment.

Source: Life-cycle analysis carried out by Mark Mills of Digital Power Group, translated into kettle boilings with help from the Energy Savings Trust [UK].

Now, I know what you’re thinking as I was thinking the same thing when I first read that statistic …what?  How can this be?!

Without getting overly geeky on the topic, the short answer is that traditional IT environments tend not to be overly efficient at scale and we’ve known for quite some time that the traditional IT infrastructure …server plus storage plus network plus operating system plus application …tends to be siloed with each individual component connected physically to the others with wastage and efficiencies lost between these connections and within the physical devices themselves.

And, to be fair, traditional datacentres don’t fare much better …indeed, the datacentre industry as a whole has reached parity with the airline industry in CO2 production with 2% of all man-made CO2 comeing from computers and communications technology.

Source: Green IT: A New Industry Shock Wave by Simon Mingay [Gartner]

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

I suppose that there is the obvious ‘think before you send emails with 4.7 meg attachments’.  I’m somewhat bemused …well, saddened really …that with the green revolution of the past ten years or so I now get emails with the tagline ‘Think before you print!’ with pretty green trees from just about everyone these days.  But what about having a tagline which gently asks the user …’Do you really need to send this, and, if so …please consider an alternative method rather than sending the attachment.’  Or, ‘Think before you send!’ for short.

Email has been the bane of many a storage administrator’s life as it has morphed from a purely text based system …remember SNDMSG, CICS, and OS/400? …to the rich text and inefficient file distribution model we find today.  Why do people attach large files to email and send them to a large distribution list?  I suppose the short answer is …it’s easy and they would argue they’ve more important things to be getting on with.  Fair enough.

But this isn’t a blog post having a whack at email and email vendors …and we should consider the fact that the ubiquity of smart phones, high definition cameras, et al mean we’ll continue to create ever larger files …indeed, we’re uploading 24 hours worth of video to YouTube every minute up from 12 hours a minute just two years ago …so how do we reduce the amount of resources we’re consuming …electricity, datacentre space, and people to run the show cost dosh you know! …and the CO2 we’re creating when we need to share files with others?

I think there are five answers which are worth considering.

1. Introduce proactive limits for users.

Let’s face facts, reactive limits with users tend not to work and/or are quickly circumvented to keep the business moving.  Telling users ‘your email mailbox cannot grow beyond 20MB or we’ll cut you off so you can’t send/receive email’ rarely works in my experience.  Rather, we need to evolve this theory to be proactive.

For example, I use a great cloud based application called Evernote.  I could write a whole post on just how great this app is …it allows me to take notes anywhere I am on my MacBook Air, iPod, Blackberry and keeps the notes and related notebooks in sync so that where ever I am, all of my notes are up to date without me having to do anything.  Brilliant.

But here’s where it gets even better …it’s free.  Provided I don’t exceed a 20MB monthly limit, of course …and therein lies the true genius in my mind.  Evernote resets my 20MB limit at the beginning of each month so, providing I don’t exceed the 20MB in a month …sorted!  This is the type of proactive limit I’m thinking of for users …we give you a limit and then count down monthly to zero.  Stay in your limits, you’re good to go …exceed them, we charge you more on a graduated basis.

2. Rethink service levels for workloads.

So what are Evernote doing with the 20MB that I created last month …it doesn’t get deleted from my syncronised notes as they remain available to me, so what gives?  To be honest, I’m not quite sure …my guess would be they move the data previously created to a lower tier of storage, such as dense 2TB SATA drives, or even archive.

To be fair, I don’t much care.  I don’t notice any performance degradation and I get to carry on consuming the service for free.

Perhaps this is the key to the answer with our users …we’ll keep your data in a highly performant architecture for one month and then demote to a lower less performant tier thereafter and reset your limit.  And we won’t ‘charge’ you unless you exceed your limit.

3. Introduce datacentre technology optimisation in the form of virtualised datacentres [VDC]s.

I’ve talked a lot about VDCs in previous posts starting with this one and many more since, so there’s no reason for me to labour the point more here other than to say that what VDCs deliver is optimisation by removing wastage as well as increasing business agility.

How much optimisation?  Chad Sakac, Vice President of VMware Strategic Alliance and the general in charge of ‘Chad’s Army’ of VCE vBlock gurus, blogged in 2009 about the potential benefits of deploying a vBlock against deploying technology silos.  An excerpt follows below:

  • 30% increase in server utilization (through pushing vSphere 4 further, and denser memory configurations)
  • 80% faster dynamic provisioning of storage and server infrastructure (through EMC Ionix UIM, coupled with template-oriented provisioning models with Cisco, VMware, and EMC)
  • 40% cost reduction in cabling (fibre / patch cords etc.) and associated labor (through extensive use of 10GbE)
  • 50% increase in server density (through everything we do together – so much it’s too long to list)
  • 200% increase in VM density (through end-to-end design elements)
  • Day to day task automation (through vCenter, UCS Manager and EMC Ionix UIM)
  • 30% less power consumption (through everything we do together)
  • Minimum of 72 VMs per KW (note that this is a very high VM/power density)

Now, I say potential benefits as, at present, these numbers have been derived from product datasheets and lab work by EMC …however we at Computacenter are looking to put more substantive quantitative analysis behind these benefits (and those of other VDC variants such as NTAP SMT, HDS UCP, ‘open VDC’) as we deploy VDCs with our customers locally in the UK.  Watch this space.

4.  Use alternative distribution tools for large attachment distribution and filesharing.

I really try not to use email as a file distribution these days, preferring instead to use cloud applications such as Dropbox to share large files with others such as internal, customers, and our vendor partners.  Now, this isn’t perfect as a) in the absence of my using encryption I wouldn’t wish to use this for sensitive corporate data, and b) it does have a ‘hard stop’ limit where I can only store 2.5GB for free with no reset limit like we have with Evernote.

But using tools such as Dropbox, uploading personal photos to Facebook instead of emailing them, if I must send an attachment trying to shrink it by converting to PDF or similar …every little helps!

That said, I accept that I’m a geek by trade and we need to find ‘easy’ ways for everyday users which replace email as a distribution system without increasing complexity.

After I’ve done that I’m planning to sort world peace, famine, and poverty.

5. Rethinking how we create data.

Only about 20% of the data we create today is ‘text’, with rich media [high def videos, pictures, etc.] representing well over 50% or more of the new data being created.

Equally, the text data we are creating is rarely just text …by the time we save it in MS Word or similar we have increased the file size with the formatting and related metadata, and many users choose to use PPT to communicate ideas such as business plans and so on …a large file type if ever there was one …and that’s without even adding any pictures, charts, or videos to the PPT.

Again, I’m not having a go at the use of PPT or MS Word …but I do believe we are going to have to begin to think about how we create data so that the data ‘footprint’ is smaller in addition to the optimisation and alternative distribution models we’ve discussed above.

Which has me thinking …it’s time for a nice cuppa before Mrs. PL needs my help setting the table for dinner with she and PL Junior …the highlight of my week!

Have a great weekend and remember your kettle the next time you send an attachment.

-Matthew

#awesomesauce isn’t cricket, part two.

21/06/2010

Whilst we are in the throes of one of the most wide open World Cups in memory with some predictable results and some less so …Switzerland beat favourites Spain one nil?! …Germany lose to Serbia one nil after having trounced Australia four nil?! …Brazil predictably found their ‘gear’ and now look to be getting on form …and understanding our all important qualifier with Slovenia on Wednesday afternoon …please excuse me for taking us back to cricket for a few moments.  If you missed the first part in this two part series, click here.

I promised to give you four more reasons why #awesomesauce isn’t cricket in addition to the first I began a fortnight ago so let’s get going before that kickoff on Wednesday.

2. The whole will always be greater than the sum of the parts.

One of the things I love about cricket is the consistency and concentration required for a good batter to become a great batter …standing at the crease for hours to score his century, and the like.  In that respect, being a great batter means being able to hit against different bowlers, deliveries, in differing conditions …consistently.

Whilst there have been some significant improvements in data storage over the past five years in the form of thin provisioning, data deduplication, grid, and so on I wouldn’t look at any of these developments as saviours in and of themselves.  What many of them represent are the evolution of data storage technologies and not the revolutions which the marketing hyperbole would have you blieve.  Equally, I must admit that I struggle when I see either a vendor partner presentation or customer RFP which seems intent on focussing on just one particular feature as opposed to what a complete feature set would deliver over not just an ROI period but, rather, over a period of five years.

I’m not saying that our vendor partners shouldn’t be proud of what they develop to help customers, but I do think that to focus on just one feature …or call it a ‘product’ …runs the very real risk of devaluing a positive by turning it into #awesomesauce.

3. A good cricket captain knows his side so he can select a great batting order and setup his fielders as conditions change.  So too should our customers have a usable Service Catalogue for IT which focusses on much more than simply cost.

We have some exceptionally talented Service Designers in Computacenter, so I won’t pretend to be an expert in the design and implementation of Service Catalogues and leave that to our experts …but what I do know is that as IT has evolved so too have our business challenges …and Service Catalogues aren’t just for managed/outsourcing contracts, they have much to offer the day-to-day running of IT within a modern organisation.  Indeed, I would go so far as to say that a good Service Catalogue is the foundation to an organisation utilising their internal IT department as a true service provider as opposed to treating it as a cost centre.

So what is a Service Catalogue?  I think Chris Evans …the Storage Architect, not the ginger bloke from Radio Two …has written what I would consider to be one of the easiest to understand and well written definitions on the subject.  In fact, Chris has taken the time to write a series of posts on what he calls the ‘Four Pillars of Storage Management’ which are well worth a read.

My short view is that when we are discussing data storage in the context of a Service Catalogue we need to be focussing on what the storage needs to do and, ideally, how much we would like to pay per user per year as opposed to selecting #awesomesauce componentry.

How would we do this?  Well, there are many ways but I would start with defining the workload …how quickly do users require response time? …in the event of an outage, to what point do we need to return [Recovery Point Objective, or RPO]? …in the event of an outage, how quickly should we be able to recover to the RPO [Recovery Time Objective, or RTO]? … and so on.  The answers to these queries will enable us to define the storage infrastructure required to support the workload(s) and fit into the Service Catalogue along with compute, network, application, et al.

4. Watching live cricket will always trump watching on the telly but, either way, show me.

I’m not a huge fan of slideware as it is often a two dimensional solution to what is a three dimensional challenge.  Our customers rarely have 2D issues which can be solved by my throwing some slides at them, so to my mind slides should be aide-mémoire as opposed to the solution.

So what should we be using as opposed to slides?  I don’t think this is a zero sum game, so in addition to any slides I think we should be showing our customers live demos where possible …and demo videos where they aren’t possible.  In an ideal world, the demo would be using the customer application, data, etc.

Demos give us the ability to describe the why and how as opposed to what …I could describe why I love cricket, or I could take you to Lord’s and you could see cricket for yourself and decide.

Do demos always come 100% right in the first instance?  Not in my experience!  And that is half of the ‘fun’ …working with a customer so that they can see the solution for what it is and decide if the why of our solution is sufficient for selection.

Heck, even Steve Jobs has a demo fail every now and again.  And I’m not sure that I’ll reach the lofty heights of having a demo fail in front of millions of users, analysts, and the like!

5. What are you spending today and how will this enable me to spend less both now and over the next five years?

Finally, in what may be the most challenging of the sequence …what are you spending on data storage today?  If we understand this metric, we should next calculate the cost benefit of deploying the storage solution over the next five years.

We would of course need to understand how much data is being created …known as the CAGR or Compound Annual Growth Rate …such that we would be able to understand how much data storage will cost us at the present rate of growth multiplied by the amount we are spending per GB, per TB, per user, what have you.

And, to be fair …if we can’t show how the proposed solution will reduce the storage spend over the next five years, we do have to ask ourselves …is this solution appropriate, or have we just found ourselves some #awesomesauce which is best avoided?

Right, Mrs. PL is giving me ‘the look’ which means time to wrap this up and take PL Junior to school and then off to work so have a great week and COME ON ENGERLAND!

Click here to contact me.

#awesomesauce isn’t cricket, Part One.

07/06/2010

Before I get started with this week’s Weekly View, quite a few people have asked me how the VDC: VCE vBlock 2 launch went on Friday 21 May.  I’ve thought a lot about the answer as I don’t wish to appear flippant, so I’d say we should be pleased …but not satisfied.  There were many positives, indeed it isn’t every day that we get Simon Walsh and a vendor partner MD in Adrian McDonald of EMC to host an exclusive customer launch for a market leading solution where we continue to hold first mover advantage.  Of the forty customers who had confirmed to attend only three didn’t show to an event held on a Friday from 13:00 – 15:30.  In Hatfield.  When it was 24C without a cloud in the sky.

And here I was convinced 50% of attendees wouldn’t show as they were firing up their barbecues!  My sincere thanks to the customers who came out and worked with us on the day.

Not a single customer dropped out through the presentation and demos, and what was fascinating to me was that after we had presented the solution and during the panel Q&A with Simon, Adrian, Paul Casey, a customer from a legal firm, Chris Vance of Cisco, and yours truly …not a single customer asked why deploy a virtualised datacentre but, rather, how and when.  There were some great customer queries and the Q&A could have easily gone on for another hour …needless to say, we learned as much from the questions being asked as perhaps attendees did from the answers being given.  Heck, we even impressed an analyst from IDC who said in an email after the event, “It was an excellent event. To see the vBlock system in operation, plus the evident commitment and expertise of CC, was a very compelling proposition.”

We also launched the eagerly anticipated Optimised Environment app, based on the original VDC cube.  Click here to view a brief video of the Optimised Environment app in action!

Watch out for more VDC customer events as we continue to build VDC solutions in the Solution Centre and, as always, feel free to bring your customers to Hatfield for presentations and demonstrations of our VDC solutions.

And so it was perhaps the 24C weather which got me thinking about cricket and my getting engaged to Mrs. PL in what seems like a world away.

I met the future Mrs. PL, born and raised in London, when I was working in Ireland [long story, but I promise to tell it in the Weekly View someday if you like] and I’ll never forget a brief conversation I overhead between herself and a family friend during our engagement party.

‘So tell me, are you excited to be getting married?’

‘Yes, absolutely …and I’m delighted that he was born in the United States.’

‘Really, how so?’

‘Well, I’ve always wanted to live in Manhattan and I’d be eligible for a passport …and then there’s the fact that I won’t be a football, rugby, or cricket widow!’

Hope may have been permanently dashed after Mrs. PL and I had a long chat about how living in NYC is nothing like ‘Sex and the City’ and I much prefer London.  Couple this with the fact that I woke up at 05:00 on our honeymoon in St. Lucia so I could watch a French TV transmission from Martinique of the 2003 Rugby World Cup final, have a season ticket to Watford FC, and have got into more than one ‘robust discussion’ with Mrs. PL when I refused to go out due to a key cricket test and you can see why perhaps Mrs. PL is somewhat peeved at having thought marriage to an immigrant meant freedom from sporting widow status.  Best not to discuss living arrangements for the forthcoming World Cup.

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

It wouldn’t be hyperbole to say that I love cricket.  Indeed, I can think of no better way to spend a day than watching the cricket with cucumber sandwiches and jugs of Pimms and, whilst I promise not to turn this Weekly View into a cricket column, how can you not love a sport which takes lunch and tea intervals?!

But when I say cricket, I mean cricket of the test variety.  Try as I might, I just can’t get into the Twenty20 nor One Day International varieties.  I suppose this is because I am fascinated by the strategy and skill required to win a test and a test series which could be papered over or prove not relevant in the shorter Twenty20 and ODIs.  The preparation to win an Ashes series, from the strategy to team selection to batting order and the captain’s field plan, can often begin years in advance.

Having been born in the United States I do have an appreciation for cricket’s distant cousin in American baseball, but there is one critical difference between the two …with baseball a team can not do particularly well for 8 and a half innings and then, but a stroke of luck [no pun intended] a solid hit here and there loads the bases.  Send in your designated batting lumper and hey, presto …you’ve won the game.  With cricket, it’s all about consistency.  You have to have a batting order comprised of batsmen who can stand at the crease and bat for hours against all types of deliveries and delivery speeds.  There really is no lucky ‘home run’ concept to be found in cricket.

One of my favourite cricket books which has much to teach not only about cricket but about life and business is The Art of Captaincy by Mike Brearley where many of the concepts I’ve described above are discussed in great detail.  My other favourite cricket book is Penguins Stopped Play by Harry Thompson as I suppose I hold out hope that as PL Junior gets older I’ll have the good fortune to live a vicarious cricketing life through him or even get the chance to play with other cricket fanatics who are more than likely a bit hopeless when it comes to actually playing.

But I digress …I see many parallels between the skills and strategy required to win at cricket as I do with the design and execution of data storage specifically and virtualised datacentres generally.

I’ll discuss one of them now with a view to completing this series in next week’s Weekly View.

1. Without a plan, it becomes difficult to direct resources efficiently and effectively …particularly when events change ‘on the ground’.

No great test series, from the great Ashes Bodyline Tour of 1932-1933 to the closely fought Ashes of 2005 which saw the Ashes returned to England for the first time in 18 years, were won by individual heroics alone.  Rather, the planning began years in advance of the series with different scenarios played out well beforehand to ensure consistency if indeed events changed on the ground.

This equally, if even more true, with data storage.  As I’ve discussed in recent posts, nothing is designed to deliver miracles …especially data storage.  Whilst others in our industry may choose to think differently, my view is that thin provisioning, data deduplication, automated storage provisioning, automated storage tiering such as FAST, zero page reclamation are technology enablers and not saviours.

How you use these technologies is probably of far greater importance than what they actually are.

Having a storage strategy which looks at what the current business issues are, what they might be in the future, budget considerations, and so on is of prime importance.  I’ve discussed how we look at these variables and design solutions in other posts and we also have a Storage Assessment & Strategy Service including a customer free to use Storage Resource Analysis portal.

In keeping with the theme of cricket and test series, we’ll complete this series by reviewing four more parallels between cricket and technology in next week’s Weekly View.

-Matthew

Click here to contact me.

Nothing is designed to deliver miracles, especially data storage.

16/05/2010

I got a serious ticking off from Mrs. PL in bed recently.  Wait, it’s not what you think!

I have been trying to get better about not bringing my MacBook Air to bed over the past few weeks reading storage blogs and industry analysis documentation …besides, Mrs. PL knows all too well the glow of a laptop or Blackberry screen and won’t hesitate to have a full and frank discussion regarding bringing ‘work’ to bed.  ‘But it’s not work, I’m reading an aeroplane blog!’ doesn’t cut ice with herself.

Soooo …there I was, thinking Mrs. PL had drifted off to sleep when I thought I would just flip open my MBA for a few minutes and listen to a little live Air Traffic Control from Sydney before falling asleep.

Now, as a bit of background, don’t go acting all surprised that a) I’m a geek, and b) I’m an aeroplane geek.  Indeed, I have blogged about this several times.  Equally, I’ve come to learn that Mrs. PL attempts to hide my Airliner World magazines from me in a vain attempt to save me from my geek self …or perhaps to shield PL Junior from inheriting too many of the geek traits.  Although I submit that geekery is genetic and hey …the Geeks shall inherit the Earth.

But I digress.  I thought Mrs. PL was asleep and a cheeky few minutes on the laptop listening to ATC through my headphones wouldn’t hurt, would it?

Oh, how wrong I was.

Thinking you’ve plugged in your headphones and verifying that you have …two different things, I’m afraid.

Mrs. PL sat bolt upright in bed when she heard ATC guiding a Qantas flight Q432 from London to Sydney.  At full volume.  Out of my laptop speakers.

As this is a family blog I won’t tell you exactly what Mrs. PL said, but let’s just say that I’m fairly certain that my laptop probably wouldn’t fit there but it wouldn’t be for a lack of trying on her part.

Look, I’m an aeroplane geek ‘tis true …and after Mrs. PL calmed down the next day she agreed I could listen to ATC on my iPod on future before drifting off.

But you don’t have to be an aeroplane geek not to have been impressed with the ‘Miracle on the Hudson’ where Captain Chesley ‘Sully’ Sullenberger successfully crash landed or ‘ditched’ his A320 on the Hudson River and saved all 155 passengers and crew.

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

One of the most remarkable things about this event …and there are many remarkable things about the six minutes of this flight  …is that the bird strike which incapacitated the airplane occurred two minutes after takeoff at 15:27:01 and Capt. Sullenberger and his crew ran through three page emergency checklist to attempt to save the aircraft …twice …yet were still able to remain calm and ‘ditch’ the aircraft at 15:31 just four minutes later.

When a plane goes down, there is an immediate public outcry for investigation and possibly regulation to ensure that this never happens again, but where is the same outcry to study what went right when a pilot and his crew …aided by Air Traffic Control and other authorities …save all on board in four minutes following a bird strike which turned an A320 into one of the world’s most expensive gliders?  Yes, there were possibly too many things that went ‘right’ that day to count but a concerted effort has been made to try.

Expressed another way, was the Miracle on the Hudson truly a miracle …or a triumph of technology, process, and training?

I often see the same thing occur with technology generally and storage technologies specifically.

1.  Technology is an enabler, but not a saviour.  Leave the #awesomesauce at home.

The A320 wasn’t going to fly or, more to the point …ditch …itself.  But the design of the plane and the safety controls surely contributed to the successful ditching on the Hudson.

As I discussed in a recent post, it isn’t the ‘awesomesauce’ but, rather, what are we proposing to do with technologies such as thin provisioning, data deduplication, automated storage provisioning, automated storage tiering such as FAST, zero page reclamation that matter.  There is no ‘silver bullet’ technology …none of the aforementioned technologies will ‘save’ you …hence the business benefit should be studied closely and articulated properly.

2. People + Documented and Qualified Processes = Best Use of Technology.

Would the outcome have been different had the A320 on that fateful day not been piloted by Captain Sullenberger …who just so happened to have started his career piloting gliders and also helped develop protocols for airline safety?  Who is to say, although it probably didn’t hurt!  But no matter how good a pilot ‘Sully’ is, he’s also the first to have praised the emergency procedures which were verified and kept very close to hand …sometimes referred to by pilots as ‘kneeboards’ which meant he and the copilot were able to run through procedures quickly without having to ‘remember’ what to do next.

It doesn’t matter how proficient with data storage may be, there is no harm in verifying key procedures and then ensuring they are to hand when performing operations such as data recovery, upgrades to a storage array, and so on.  The array will do what you tell it to [normally!], but to not verify upgrade or data migration procedures …and codify them post verification …well prior to key transitions seems folly at best to me.

3. One size rarely fits all.  Are you sure you’ve got the right equipment for the job?

Captain Sullenberger has praised the safety features of the Airbus A320 in several interviews, but I think it is important to bear in mind that much of the context has been around short ‘commuter’ flights.  Would he select the same aircraft given different conditions, such as coast to coast or transcontinental ‘long haul’ flights?  Perhaps yes, perhaps no …but there are charts and matrices which help pilots and airlines select the most appropriate aircraft for flights, payloads, etc.

When discussing data storage …or indeed just about any technology …one of the first questions we should be asking is ‘what are we going to do with it’?  Now, whilst it is perfectly understandable why customers select the technology on a case by case basis in an RFP style format …what I think would be far more effective would be the creation of a service catalogue as a matrix to help customers make such decisions.  The service catalogue is designed to codify workload characteristics …SLA [Service Level Agreement], IOPS/VOPS [desired throughput], RPO [Recovery Point Objective], RTO [Recovery Time Objective], VTB [Value to Business] …and so on.

4. An ounce of prevention could be worth many more pounds than you could imagine.

Everything went right on the day such that, even after the mechanical failure caused by the bird strike, the plane retained structural integrity and performed as the captain expected.  In short, the last thing he needed in the four minutes when he was rapidly making decisions and executing urgently to land on the Hudson was something to go wrong because proper regular maintenance hadn’t been carried out.

Now, I enjoy talking about scale out data storage devices like IBM XiV and EMC Vmax or data deduplication and data compression just as much as the next storage guy but with customers reaping less than 40% utlisation on average from their storage infrastructures there’s no getting away from the benefits of good storage management.  Yes, it may not be as ‘sexy’ as the wizz bang #awesomesauce being touted by competitors and, in some cases our vendor partners, but there is much to be said about the positive business benefits of proactive storage management.  Chris Evans, a.k.a. The Storage Architect not the ginger bloke on Radio 2, is writing a series of great articles on the Four Pillars of Storage Management which are more than worth reading and consuming.

Right, so …with the Icelandic ash cloud looming large my flight to Edinburgh tomorrow to deliver storage Academy and Masterclasses remains in doubt so I think its off to bed …but not before perhaps a few minutes of ATC radio.

Next week …federation is the new buzzword, but is data storage your internal service provider?  No?  That’s not cricket.

Click here to contact me.

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.

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.

Magic Quadrants are good, but working equations are better.

21/11/2009

For those of you who know me well …or have joined me for a Chief Wine Officer event …you’ll know that my two favourite hobbies which I’m most passionate about are aeroplanes and wine.  Not always in that order, and never enjoyed together as the Civil Aviation Authority takes a dim view of such interaction.

But I’ll tell you a secret …I don’t actually have a favourite bottle of wine, nor do I have any silly rules like ‘no bottle under £20’ or some such.  I admit that I do subscribe to Decanter, read Jancis Robinson online, and subscribe to more wine blogs and Twitter feeds than I care to mention.  Whilst data can be very useful, you always run the risk of ‘analysis paralysis’ and, at the end of the day …much of what is written about wine is frankly someone’s subjective opinion.

No, I firmly believe that wine should be had for enjoyment …and I’ve tasted exceptional wine at £5 as well as wine costing much more which I wouldn’t clean Mrs. PL’s motor engine with.  Equally, as each one of us has an idea of the tastes we like and don’t like …who am I to tell someone else whether a bottle is good or not?  All I can do is tell you if I like it, although this does introduce the small problem of what to serve at dinner parties or when Mrs. PL and I are sharing a bottle.

So, what to do?  I do have a little formula in my head that I use which takes things into account when I choose a bottle …why are we drinking this, is it a celebration or a weekday? …how much does it cost, and is that a fair price? …what kind of food are we eating, or are we not eating until later? …and so on.  I want to get on to the crux of this post, but at the bottom of this post there are a few wines which make the PL Wine List.

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

I’ll tell you another secret …contrary to what some might believe …including a few of our vendors …I don’t have a ‘favourite’ vendor or product any more than I have a favourite bottle of wine.  Without getting too Eddie Haskell about this, what is truly important to me …and I know I am far from alone in this within Computacenter …are our customers and how our solutions can help them remain competitive in their respective markets in the midst of a difficult economy.

Great, fantastic, huzzah.  But so what.  Isn’t that, you know …your job?  Indeed it is, but just as it can be difficult to select a wine for an occasion where it will be shared with others …how do we select a solution for a customer in a selective and demonstrably valuable way?

Some customers work directly with vendors and often use Gartner Magic Quadrants as a way to select their preferred solution.  Nothing wrong with that, but just as some winemakers and wineries are now openly criticising scoring systems they see as subjective scoring techniques such as the Robert Parker 100 Point Scale …so too are some vendors criticising the Gartner Magic Quadrants claiming the research methodologies are something less than scientific.  Indeed, a vendor recently brought a suit against Gartner claiming exactly this, with the suit having been initially thrown out but likely to be appealed.

Now, this post isn’t about criticising or having a go at Gartner or their Magic Quadrants …indeed, I applaud Gartner for being very open and transparent regarding their research techniques leaving folks to make up their minds for themselves.

That said, I believe research provided by companies such as Gartner to be but one part of the solution equation.

In an effort to inject more science into a solution decision, rather, I would argue that the solution equation should be expressed as [ROI] + [CBA] + [DPB] = CSS.

ROI, or Return on Investment.  How does our proposed solution return ROI within our customer’s stated period?  How can we leverage the existing infrastructure and investment to improve upon the ROI period?

CBA, or Cost Benefit Analysis.  Once the solution has been implemented, how much cost can be removed from our customer’s infrastructure and related budgets?  Exactly how will this be achieved (e.g. thin provisioning, data deduplication and/or data compression, storage virtualisation)?  What is the CBA not just for one to three years, but for five years from implementation?

DPB, or Disruption to Production Business.  What disruption is the recommended solution likely to have on the customer’s production business?

We give each of the above blocks …[ROI], [CBA], and [DPB] each a possible score of 100 such that a perfect solution would give us 300 expressed as CSS, or the Composite Solution Score.

How do we score each of the blocks such that we aren’t scoring subjectively?  Well, firstly we ensure that our data consultants retain the highest credentials in the industry …but we then couple their knowledge with a point system derived from IDC Storage v3.0 criteria as well as the Carnegie Mellon Capability Maturity Model.

The findings, CSS, are then presented to the customer in either a ‘leader table’ format or as an executive review comparative matrix based upon the vendor solutions the customer informed us they were most interested in.  In addition, the findings often form the basis on which we can offer to underwrite / gainshare the proposed cost savings for up to and including five years from implementation.

How do we do that, exactly?  Well, I can certainly provide you some samples but it does very much remain Computacenter intellectual property …and it probably doesn’t hurt to have a Practice Leader for Data Storage & Protection who studied neuroscience and Technology Leader for Data Consultants in Bill McGloin who studied applied mathematics.

Does it always work?  Yes …and no.  Just as people have reasons for liking or disliking different wines, so too customers will have reasons for agreeing or disagreeing with our findings.

But I believe this is just about the fairest way I know to present a proposed solution in an agnostic way …and, at the very least, absolutely articulates our value to a customer as a true service and solution provider.

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

Have a great weekend,

-Matthew

Click here to contact me.

PL Winter 2009/10 Wine List

If you like champagne as a pre-dinner drink or to celebrate, you won’t go far wrong with Heidseck Monopole Gold Top vintage 2004.  Always a quality drop, but at £19.99 from the normal £40 …or even £18.99 if you are near a Budgens …this is a steal!

If you are looking for something more ‘unique’ in the champers department, why not try Nyetimber?  Produced in Sussex, which has geographical features identical to the champagne region, this the the tipple good enough for Her Majesty to serve at the Royal Garden Parties.

I’m a huge fan of pinot noir from New Zealand, and you won’t go wrong with the bottle which won the International Wine Challenge for Best Red Wine, Wild Earth.  At £18 a bottle …and if you hunt around I’ve seen it as low as £13 …how affordable is the world’s best red wine?!

One of the most complex and interesting reds I’ve recently is Lillian Shiraz Mataro 2005.  At £11.75 a bottle, I challenge you to blind taste it and tell me it doesn’t taste about three times more expensive.  I’m stocking up on this one!

Finally, to round out the reds I give you Château Méaume ‘Château Matured’ 2003 Bordeaux Supérieur.  A bit of a mouthful for a wine costing a very affordable £8.99, yet if you open it 45 minutes before dinner I guarantee your guests will think you spent a whole lot more than that!