Archive for the ‘thin provisioning’ Category

Is optimisation really that difficult?

15/07/2009

I absolutely love working for Computacenter generally and what I do for a living specifically.  I get to work with some amazing people, meet with interesting customers, work on challenging solutions, see fascinating technologies from vendors …what’s not to like?!  That said, I know that the most important job I will ever truly have is that of father and husband …and that time is the most precious and finite commodity we have.  I can easily and without reservation name the two best days of my life thus far; getting married to my wife Sarah [aka Mrs PL] and the birth of our son Louis [aka PL Junior].

I’m quite sure that I am not alone in this …and I always smile when someone boots up their laptop and their family is smiling back as the screensaver, but let’s be honest …none of us really truly knows how much time we have, and yet we often spend it like it was in limitless supply.

Now, I sometimes get the balance wrong, but truth be told I would like to spend more time with my family as I’m sure we all would.  Having a child changes things forever, and I have noticed that I am much more ‘precious’ with my time since PL Junior was born almost three years ago.  Indeed, I am always on the lookout for new and more efficient ways of doing things and one of the biggest lessons I’ve learnt in the past three years is that trying to find a half day here or a full day there to ‘make up’ time is next to impossible and has a low probability of success.  What does seem to be possible, and I’ve had much success with, is finding more efficient methods of doing things which ‘give back’ 5 minutes here or 10 minutes there …add them up and you will find the half day, full day [or more] that you were looking for.

Don’t believe me?  Why don’t people use VCRs anymore …because Sky+ is much more efficient and better quality.  When is the last time you heard the digital squelch of a dial-up modem …broadband gets faster with each year, and WiFi has made access remarkably simple in the home …and the time we spend on the internet trying to get information that much more efficient.  Do you still have a Sony Walkman or play records on a turntable  ….nah, me neither as iPods, iTunes, and Spotify have made downloading and listening to music ridiculously easy and far more efficient than popping down HMV to buy the latest ‘Take That’ album which will only play tracks in succession anyway.

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

I have been amused recently to have some vendors remark that they have heard I am ‘in love’ with this or that vendor’s storage technology.  For the record [no pun intended], I’m not ‘in love’ with any technology …I don’t give a badgers backside if vendor A can move a data bit faster from Edinburgh to London faster than vendor B.  Truth is ‘speeds and feeds’ are not really what impress customers, and I can see why vendor A’s solution would be applicable for a customer under certain circumstances and vendor B’s solution would be applicable given others …it is futile, in my opinion, to turn such things into ‘religious’ arguments …I’ve got a religion, and it’s not storage.

What I am ‘in love’ with is how a vendor solution can demonstrably reduce a Computacenter customer’s costs and optimise their business infrastructure.  The recent launch of our Sharpen Your Business initiative is hugely useful to our customers as it shows them how to demonstrably lower their IT costs without sacrificing functionality or putting their business at risk.

Picking up on this theme, I would argue that our customers in the current climate are both carefully controlling their expenditures as well as seeking ways to gain back time …in other words, trying to make sure that every minute they spend is useful to the bottom line without sacrificing quality or customer service with their customers in turn.  Equally, I’m quite certain that were we to walk into a customer meeting and state ‘I can show you how you could spend more time with your family without sacrificing any quality at work, in fact you might be able to increase your quality’ we would get their attention!

We often talk about the ‘what’ when it comes to technology …and I’ll put my hand up in that sometimes it can be confusing as to what, exactly thin provisioning, virtualised backup and zero page reclamation are for example.  Watch this space as I am working on some collateral which should, hopefully, make this a bit less confusing.

More importantly, however, we’ve begun to speak in earnest about the ‘why’ to consider implementing technology, for example the Sharpen Your Business initiative…and, to be fair, the decision makers in our customers want to know both why from a cost benefit perspective and from a return on investment perspective our solution makes sense to implement now.  We’ve plenty of collateral in this area, and again …watch this space as more will be released over the coming weeks / months.

I’d like to also see us ‘cut to the chase’ with customers around key storage technologies and how they can save them time by increasing their efficiency, understanding that the collateral exists regarding the ‘what’ and ‘how’ should the customer wish to know more.

Why automated storage provisioning? Because we can automate highly repeatable storage provisioning tasks, allowing you to reallocate storage admins to more meaningful work …because we’ve saved you time.

Why virtualised backup? Because we can optimise your backup environment from a pure tape environment to a virtualised backup environment, allowing you to reallocate backup admins to more meaningful work … because we’ve saved you time.

Why thin provisioning? Because it is a more efficient method of storage allocation and will allow you to buy far less storage following implementation and perhaps no new storage required for several years to come …and because we’ve saved you time.

Why data deduplication? Because you are storing band backing up multiple copies of the same pieces of data, and data deduplication can remove all of this inefficiency allowing you to reallocate backup and storage admins to more meaningful work … because we’ve saved you time.

Why ZPR [Zero Page Reclamation]? Because we can give you back 30% of the storage you think you are using but aren’t actually, thus saving you money and giving you in year ROI.

Just a few ‘starters for ten’, and comments always welcome for more!

Time is precious, let’s help our customers save every minute they possibly can by optimising their datacentres.

So you want to thin provision storage …

12/07/2009

Did you know that the human brain doesn’t actually need you to spell correctly in order to discern context?

I cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg. The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid, aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit a porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.

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

Firstly, please allow me to apologise if you had any challenges reading the previous paragraph as I am categorically not trying to take the michael as regards dyslexia or related conditions.  Indeed, my sister is dyslexic and I have nothing but respect for the way that she hasn’t allowed this to slow her down in life or studies in the slightest.

But the question remains, where is the link between the opening paragraph and data storage?

The best storage device yet invented is the human brain, although admittedly it sometimes isn’t as performant as we would like after a night on the tiles, and we have much to learn about storage specifically and technology in general from studying neuroscience.

You may recall that I have talked about thin provisioning in this blow previously, affectionately known as the ‘Northern Rock’ method of storage allocation internally here at Computacenter, thin provisioning is a block level storage technology which allows us to more effectively control the storage allocation to hosts by only allocating [or provision, hence the term thin provisioning] that which is physically required.  Great.  That clears it up, simple right!  See you next week.

Only kidding …what that means in English is that we know that data is really only zeroes and ones [‘on’ bits and ‘off’ bits, actually], so who cares if it is a PowerPoint or Excel spreadsheet or joke email …what we care about are the zeroes and ones of the data, which is what we mean when we say ‘block level’.

Okay, now we move on to ‘fat’ provisioning in traditional storage environments …an email administrator tells the storage administrator he needs 10 terabytes [10,000 gigbaytes], so the storage admin adds a little ‘fluff’ just in case and we’re now into say 12 terabytes …and here’s the thing …the email admin won’t use the entire 12 terabytes in one go, he’ll use that gradually … in actuality he asked for the storage he reckons he’ll need for his users over the next year or more.  But the 12 terabytes has been allocated to him and cannot be used for anyone else.  Multiply that over multiple storage arrays and multiple hosts and you can see just how quickly storage is traditionally allocated which won’t be used for a considerable period of time …if ever …but locked into a single host allocation unable to be used for anyone else.  This certainly puts a big dent in utilisation!

Wouldn’t it be great if we could let other people have access to the storage we’re not using ?

Well, yes …and that is primarily what storage virtualisation is all about …and thin provisioning is a great feature of storage virtualisation.  A feature, mind …not a product …and the better vendor storage offerings have storage virtualisation built in as a feature so that you don’t have to go out and but a separate product or products to facilitate this.

Put simply, thin provisioning will tell the server that I have access to however many terabytes I have requested but the storage array will only dole out the zeroes and ones the server needs as it needs them thus freeing up a serious amount of storage for others to use.  And before you go worrying about it, we monitor how quickly data is being created to ensure we aren’t caught out with everyone requesting the storage they believe they are entitled to simultaneously thus crashing the system …a la Northern Rock.

Fandabbydoozy!  Everyone should be using this, right?  Absolutely.  In fact, buy three and we’ll have a great quarter!  But Houston, we have a problem.  Budgets are tight, and storage virtualisation and thin provisioning are predicated on the avoidance of future spend …and many, if not all, of our customers are looking for in year ROI …game over?

No, it doesn’t have to be …Zero Page Reclamation [ZPR] to the rescue!  Oh dear …what on Earth is ZPR I hear you shout.  Remember the first paragraph and the fact that our brains only need to see the first and the last letter to discern context?  Thought I’d forgotten about that, didn’t you?

Storage is allocated in a ‘fat’ provisioned traditional environment much in the same way …the array ‘writes’ a zero page to the beginning and the end and leaves the bits in between blank so that it remains allocated to the server host and won’t be accidentally allocated to someone else.  But we don’t want that as it is inefficient, so we buy an array with thin provisioning on board but …and here’s the kicker …if we don’t clear those ‘zero pages’ when we migrate from fat to thin provisioning [shouldn’t that be called a storage diet migration, by the way?] the new thin provisioned array will view the migrated data volumes as ‘full and allocated’ even though we know this isn’t the case.

Enter ZPR which ‘erases’, or removes if you prefer, the zero pages and returns this storage back to the pool.  Hey presto …in year ROI, money for old rope, instant storage!

There are some arrays which do this for themselves when you migrate to them alone [e.g. IBM XiV] but there are also arrays like HDS USPV which allow us to virtualise storage from heterogenous arrays [i.e from other vendors] into a pool, thin provision, and use ZPR to reclaim upwards of 30% of storage which would have otherwise remained ‘allocated’.   ZPR gives us a great way to not only help our customers control storage spend in the future, but use their existing assets to achieve ROI now …today …immediately.

I can’t think of a more powerful solution to ‘kick the door in’ when we’re talking to our customers about why Computacenter and not someone else when it comes to their storage partner.

I’ll be running a webinar re ZPR soon and a Masterclass in August to help you understand storage virtualisation more fully, but please don’t hesitate to contact me or your friendly neighbourhood Solution Specialist if you would like to position storage virtualisation and Zero Page Reclamation with your customer.