Five reasons why cloud isn’t a four letter word.

16/07/2010

This is the second post in the Federated Service Provider series, click here to go to the first post.

Growing up my parents had two aspirations for me …one, to become a doctor and two, to play the piano.

Now, I studied neuroscience in university but didn’t go to medical school …long story, with the jury still out as to whether I get partial credit or ½ a point for that aspiration …and as for playing the piano, well I can play anything brass and was … okay, still kinda am …a band geek having been in marching band, concert band, and jazz/Big Band band.  Heck, I could probably even manage film classics on the vuvuzela.  But piano?  Erm, no …I would most certainly lose a contest to Chuck Hollis no matter how many drinks you gave me.

Why?  Two primary reasons, really …first, I could never could get to coordination required with feet, hand, pedals blah blah …and second, I never practised enough.

Now, before you go castigating me for not practising enough …pianos were expensive to own when I was a kid and keyboards hadn’t really hit the mainstream.  Yeah, okay, there were these things called ‘fingerboards’ with which you could ‘practise’ playing piano but really?  Cardboard fingerboard on the dining room table?  Exactly.  No self-respecting Atari 2600 playing kid is going to pretend playing piano …sorry, ‘practise’ …when there was Tron to be played in the absence of a real piano to practise with.

I hadn’t thought of any of this very much until very recently when I saw amazing piano tutor apps for the Apple iPad.  Would having had an iPad …admittedly much cheaper than a piano and also capable of doing much more than being just a piano …have changed things for me such that I would have become a concert pianist?

This blog post is by no means about the iPad …and gosh knows the iPad does evoke interesting responses from people …I’ve heard everything from the fan boy addict ‘I’ll stand  in queue overnight to buy one’ to people expressing hatred tantamount to ‘Steve Jobs is Hitler and Chairman Mao’s love child’ …and everything in between.

Look …the iPad, just like any technology, is important only inasmuch as what you are going to do with it.  And some are taking the view that perhaps better to test in the field and form a quantitative view as opposed to an emotive qualitative view.  Indeed, Eversheds have embarked on just such a qualitative analysis with Computacenter.

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

Coming back to the topic of this series, the Federated Service Provider model, customers have begun to take steps into understanding how cloud offerings might be able to help transform their environments by executing limited trials …the Daily Telegraph trial of Google Apps is a good example of this.  And yet the market has been somewhat ‘surprised’ that customers haven’t adopted cloud technologies further.

Frankly, I’m not that surprised as cloud offerings offer a different consumption model more analogous to say electricity or water delivery …tell me exactly how much this will cost me by metering my consumption …versus more traditional IT delivery models where the individual components are purchased, integrated, and consumed.

But cloud isn’t a Federated Service Provider model, so what is?

1. Defining and implementing a service catalogue is the key to unlocking the internal service provider.

We have been hearing since the 1970s that we need to align data to business value and that IT should be a service provider to the business.  The challenge is that as we have distributed systems away from centralised systems such as mainframes, it has become more and more difficult to accomplish this as we have developed ‘silos’ of technology …servers, storage, network, desktop …all operating more or less independently although interconnected.  The business says ‘give me reliable data storage, and make it as inexpensive as possible!’ and so we replied ‘Tier One is 300GB 15K drives!’ …we replied with a technical purchasing strategy that the business could understand and we could implement, but it doesn’t align data to business value.

Another way to accomplish this is the definition of a service catalogue; codifying what throughput is required by bands [e.g. 30K > 50K IOPS], the Recovery Time Objective, Recovery Point Objective, retention period, deduplication, and so on such that you can then give this package a name …we’ll call is SLA1 to keep things simple …and then give the business a flat price per user per annum.  We then keep going …SLA2, SLA3, SLA4 …and so on until we have enough packages to satisfy the business requirements.

The business gets SLA1 at £15 per user per annum, and IT becomes an internal service provider by ‘stocking’ against the requests made by the business per SLA package.

2. Virtualised datacentres allow you to automatically provision and deploy resources from the service catalogue, and introduce a fixed cost but fungible and elastic infrastructure.

I’m a geek, in case you haven’t noticed …be kind! …and I both need and want to know how data deduplication, thin provisioning, grid storage, fully automated storage tiering and the like work.  But to be fair, the real advantage to a virtualised datacentre, or VDC, is not the technical whizzy bits but, rather, that wastage is eliminated at each IT level from hypervisor through server, storage, network such that workloads can be automatically deployed and …perhaps most importantly increased and decreased elastically …without necessarily requiring any manual intervention.  Watch this space as we’re developing some demo videos to help describe this process more fully.

What the VDC does deliver, however, is a fungible resource …I don’t necessarily need to know what future workloads will look like, but I know they’ll be £1.35 per user per annum to deploy …capable of expanding and contracting without losing structural integrity.

3. I’m not moving my holy of holies into any cloud!

If we accept that only 20% of data stored is truly business meaningful …some call this structured data; ERP, customer databases, transaction processing, and the like …it is unlikely that any customer will ever go ‘all in’ with cloud storage, preferring instead to house the ‘holy of holies’ locally within their own datacentre.  And why not?  Storing this locally would help to mitigate many of the concerns regarding data security.

But how to stem the tide and control the bleeding of the data being created?

4. Help me connect my internal service provider to external service providers seamlessly.

Controlling cost as data grows inexorably is what VDCs will ultimately provide, in my opinion …through bridges to support the federation of internal and external service providers.

The corporate IT department will continue to be the internal service provider; looking after the corporate service catalogue, managing the corporate structured data housed in the VDC, and evaluating external service providers such as Computacenter Shared Service, Amazon EC2, Google, and the like.

The onsite corporate VDC will enable a customer to virtualise, containerise, and mobilise …effectively mobilising unstructured data created by users to external service providers where it can be housed less expensively than it can internally.  Ah, but ‘aren’t we just shifting the problem elsewhere and creating a tap which can never be closed’ I hear you ask?  Not necessarily, but I’ll save the possible answers to this query to next week’s post.

5. These aren’t the stack wars, they’re the stack battles …the real war will be on of APIs.

Some analysts have been watching the emergence of vendor VDCs such as VCE vBlock, NetApp SMT, HDS Unified Compute, IBM Dynamic Infrastructure, and HP Converged Infrastructure and stated that we are ‘in the midst of the stack wars’ as each rushes to gain dominance in the market for their particular ‘stack’.

I’m not convinced.  Rather, I believe the real ‘war’ will be one of APIs.

The founder of cloud provider Enomaly, Reuven Cohen, recently asked in a blog post ‘Do Customers Really Care About Cloud APIs?’  I believe that they absolutely do …and will …but perhaps not in the way that Reuven was thinking.

If I now have a corporate VDC, I will need something to ‘federate’ my internal and external service providers.  Something, in essence, to move the data seamlessly from my corporate VDC to my external provider …based on defined business rules …without disruption to my production business.  Why wouldn’t this be APIs coupled with policy based engines?  In other words, software which is smart enough to know how to connect to an external service provider …read ‘cloud’ …and move data from the corporate VDC to the cloud seamlessly through the use of a policy based engine.

But how do we keep this from becoming just a shift of the real issue to another source?

And, if this works and we start to move significant amounts of data …how do we move a petabyte of data from the external service provider back into the corporate VDC or to another service provider should we so desire?

Mrs. PL is giving me that look which means it’s time for dinner and we’ll need to save those for next week’s post but, until then, enjoy the sunshine and have a great weekend.

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Accents and the language of cloud.

05/07/2010

I have always had a fascination with language, have studied several, and am always fascinated by the regional dialect or accent of places I visit.  But accents, and language in general, can be a funny thing.

Language continues to evolve, as do accents … I’m as amused to read the use of ‘bespoke‘ to describe bagels and ‘fortnight‘ to denote a period of time in American periodicals such as the New York Times, given these words weren’t widely used by Americans not more than ten years ago  …as I am to listen to my seventeen year old niece and her friends, born and raised in Edgware/Mill Hill both northwest London suburbs, use ‘like‘ as every other word in a sentence and ending the sentence with a rising inflection such that virtually every sentence is no longer a declarative statement but, rather, sounds much like a question.  Like, ya know?

I meet frequently with vendor partners, customers, potential vendor partners, analysts, et  al and, this week I met with a potential vendor partner where I got one of my three favourite ‘frequently asked questions’ when someone is meeting me for the first time.

After introducing myself … ‘Hello, I’m Matthew Yeager, Practice Leader for Data Storage & Protection with Computacenter. How are you?’ I was met with …

‘But …I thought you were American?’

‘Yes, I was born in the United States and have lived here for over ten years … I’m married to a woman born and raised in north London, my son was born here, and of my friends, colleagues, and contacts not one of them is from the USA. The United Kingdom is my adopted home.’

Now, this isn’t by design nor was it a conscious decision, it is just how it evolved over the past ten years.  During this evolution I will admit that my accent has flattened and my sympathetic ear has caused my speech to evolve such that I am sometimes asked, ‘But aren’t you [insert expected/anticipated nationality …American/Canadian/Irish/Other]?’

When my father came from his home in Dallas, Texas to London for Mrs. PL and my wedding he did remark, ‘I’m fascinated, your accent seem to be shifting towards London,’ I remarked that I didn’t think I had an accent … I was just pronouncing all of the syllables and calling the herbs not ‘erbs which is what the good people here tell me one should do.

Thankfully he saw the humour and we had a good laugh.

For the record, I’m not trying to sound like anyone other than me … and accents shift all the time, I’m afraid.  Although the mind boggles at just how Steve McClaren shifted to first Dutch when the manager at FC Twente and, now that he is manager of German side Wolfsburg …has he shifted again to German?

But I digress.

I have friends who emigrated from America to live in Israel and, when speaking English, now have a definitive ‘Israeli’ accent.  I also have friends, born and bred in the UK, who after having moved to the USA and after only a few years have begun developing broad mid-Atlantic accents and using words like ‘cell phone’ and *gasp* ‘soccer’.

If you listen to the Queen, Her Majesty doesn’t sound anything today like what she used to not thirty or so years ago.  Indeed, when is the last time you heard a BBC reporter or news reader use RP.

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

Our customers and indeed the technology market have demanded that we evolve our language, to speak more of the business benefits of technology and how our solutions will help them align data to business value.

Equally, Mrs. PL often tells me that there is a stark difference between listening to someone and hearing them …this is usually just prior to my taking the hint and closing the laptop lid whilst we discuss the day’s goings on and PL Junior’s day at school.

It was with these points firmly in mind that I began reading a very interesting press release on Tuesday last, 29 June 2010, which reported that EMC was closing down its Atmos online storage company.  What?  The world’s largest storage vendor is closing down their cloud storage offering …but weren’t we led to believe the great saviour of all things technical …the vaunted cloud …was the natural evolution of storage?!

Not so fast.  I’m joking a bit as it always amuses me how quickly hyperbole enters any conversation regarding technology, but there may be some clues as to what is really going on here in the actual statement placed on the Atmos website.

“We are no longer planning to support production usage of Atmos Online.  Going forward, Atmos Online will remain available strictly as a development environment to foster adoption of Atmos technology and Atmos cloud services offered by our continuously expanding range of Service Provider partners who offer production services [emphasis mine].  We will no longer be offering paid subscription or support for Atmos Online services.  Any existing production accounts will not be billed either for past or future usage.   We will also no longer provide any SLA or other availability commitment.  As a result, we strongly encourage that you migrate any critical data or production workloads currently served via Atmos Online to one of our partners offering Atmos based services.”

The emergence of the federated service provider model.

I think that this is a perfect example of what is happening today within technology generally and data storage offerings specifically; our customers encourage/insist/demand that we evolve offerings and the way in which data storage is consumed to help them align data to business value, so providers emerge with the advent of the whole new language of ‘cloud’.

But the adoption of cloud has been much slower than the cloud providers would like, with some providers such as Atmos shutting up shop altogether.  And being a cloud provider and service provider are two very different things.

Why?  I think there are a few reasons, but possibly the largest is that in actuality, one could argue …and I often do …that customers weren’t looking for a new language but, rather the evolution of language …a different ‘accent’, if you will.

Indeed, I would pose that what we are witnessing is not so much the emergence of cloud storage or ‘everything as a service’ …we are witnessing the emergence of a federated service provider model.

I’ll talk more about what I think a federated service provider model might look like next week, but a few reasons why cloud storage adoption has been slower than anticipated by cloud providers.

1. What is the cost benefit of placing data in the cloud?

This is probably the biggest reason that cloud adoption for storage has been slow, in my opinion.  Search just about any cloud storage provider’s website and I challenge you to find any statements, calculators, or baseline data which shows what the average cost of storing data for a customer onsite would be versus storing the data in the cloud.  Yes, I’m fully aware that ‘your mileage may vary’ and each customer will be different …but we as an industry need to give our customers real CBA [Cost Benefit Analysis] and TCO [Total Cost of Ownership] data both from our labs and from the field to help them efficiently calculate what the cost savings would be over a five year period when transitioning data from locally held to cloud.  Given the analyst statistics purporting that only roughly 25% of technology assets are likely to be owned by customers outright by 2030, one would think that the prize would be great in helping customers understand these calculations.  Watch this space as we are actively developing these very tools within Computacenter.

2. We’re not really placing data in the cloud are we …isn’t it more like workloads?

This can get somewhat complicated so I’ll go a bit deeper on this in the next Weekly View but, put simply, we can’t just say we’re putting data in the cloud.  We must understand that this data is part of an existing customer workload …which includes compute, network connectivity, application, possibly a hypervisor, recovery time objective/recovery point objective, cost, and so on.  In other words, attributes which must be taken into consideration prior to any consideration of placing the workload in the cloud …or anywhere else for that matter.

3. Help me understand which workloads are applicable for cloud adoption.

All workloads aren’t created equal and each will have different characteristics, as I’ve just described, as well as a different cost or value to the customer business.  Whilst some of the cloud storage providers have become a bit better at publishing how, exactly, their offerings can be consumed by customers I still feel that we could do better as an industry in helping to provide customers with tools and/or collateral which helps them determine which workloads could be migrated to the cloud to offer lower cost without a degradation in performance or service …and define what their workloads look like today.  This is, in my humble opinion, the role of a service provider and exactly where service and solutions providers such as Computacenter fit in.

4. What about security?

Admittedly government mandates and related legalities meant to govern data protection and security remain a bit confusing …I say a bit, learning a new language altogether is often less confusing and time consuming …but security is not an attribute which can be ignored.  But just what is meant by data security?  Does this mean where the data is held, the physical security attributes of the service provider datacentre, data encryption …and is that encryption at the host, from host to provider, throughout the entire stream …all of the above?  This can get very complicated quite quickly, but my belief is that understanding how to solve this issue starts with workload definition as discussed in point three above.

5. How would I use cloud based storage with what I have today?

Too often I have seen cloud storage offerings and ‘anything as a service’ offerings pitched as zero sum all or nothing propositions.  But it needn’t be so, and this is the core of my belief in a federated service provider model …helping the customer to understand how and when to consume external service provider offerings such as cloud and how to use these offerings in conjunction with their existing IT.

But we’ll talk more about that next week.

Until then, have a great week and if we can’t truly enjoy the World Cup now that England are out …perhaps we can enjoy the glorious sunshine we’ve been gifted instead!

Click here to contact me.

#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.

Drinking rubbish wine and deploying silos will both kill you in the end.

19/03/2010

Life is too short to drink crap wine.

In saying that, it is important to read that sentence carefully …I didn’t say ‘Life is too short to drink cheap wine’, or ‘LIfe is too short to drink any wine under £20 a bottle’.

Nope.

I said, ‘Life is too short to drink crap wine.’

I’ve discussed my love of wine, wine production, pretty well all things wine at some point or another in this blog and please let me reiterate …this is not about to become a ‘wine snob’ post nor a ‘wine snob’ blog.

Frankly, wine snobs bore me and, to be fair, I have had bottles of wine which retail for *cough* erm well …a lot …that I thought were crap every bit as much as I have had £4 bottles which I loved.  Equally, I’ve got plenty of other topics I could choose from to bore you without having to resort to wine snobbery …such as listening to live air traffic control from around the world on my iPod with headphones when Mrs. PL and PL Junior are asleep.  And that’s for starters.  Don’t act all surprised …you knew I was a geek of the highest order of technowwenism when you met me.

But back to wine.  See, there’s an awful lot of thought and talent which goes into making a bottle of wine …where to grow to capture the ‘terroir’, what kind of grapes to grow, when to plant, when to harvest …how much of the harvest to use …age in stainless steel or wooden barrels before bottling, if wood what kind of wood, when to bottle …you get the point.

Now …do you care?  As it happens, I do care and am happy to read/research, taste, visit wineries, blah blah.  But does the average punter give a badger’s backside?  I’m guessing a resounding no.

I think the average person …if they’re in the mood for wine …wants to buy a quality bottle of wine at the best cost they can.  The rest is, as they say, commentary.

To that end there are sommeliers in just about every restaurant you go to help you select a wine for your meal, and Masters of Wine who go through some seriously intensive training to achieve accreditation and then work in the wine industry …many MoW are employed as winemakers to make all of the difficult decisions above such that you get a quality bottle of wine at a decent price.  Just walk in (or log on) and buy a bottle or two you fancy, open, enjoy!

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

I am convinced that, as with wine, people like simplicity and transparency when making decisions and would prefer to consume a finished product as opposed to being forced to cobble things together.

Fancy planting vines, hand plucking the harvest, and stomping grapes just to have a nice drop with dinner tonight?  Yeah, me neither.

Since my posts about the virtualised datacentre and the impact VDCs will likely have on corporate technology, I’ve had quite a few queries and comments with many querying ‘just what is a VDC and how is it different to the way we consume IT today’ so I thought I would have a go at explaining some of this whilst I’m waiting for our bottle of claret to breathe for tonight’s dinner.

1.   By 2012, 20% of organisations/businesses will own no IT assets. This is a recent statistic from Gartner and it certainly has the ‘wow’ factor as it would seem to indicate that business consumption of cloud based technology will accelerate.  I generally agree with that statement, but I feel that hype, security concerns, and a lack of demonstrable cost benefit over an extended period of time have all played a part in customers taking a ‘wait and see’ approach to moving IT functions into the cloud.  Virtualised datacentres [VDCs] give us a ‘bridge’ to private/public/federate cloud of the not to distant tomorrow whilst giving us demonstrable cost savings today and in perpetuity.

2.  Virtualised Datacentres [VDCs] are integrated solution stacks. VDCs, and they come in many flavours … VCE vBlock, VCN NetApp Virtualise Anything, IBM Dynamic Infrastructure, HP Converged Infrastructure or indeed some other ‘open flavour’ comprised of multiple vendors …are designed to work at a greatly reduced cost over traditional siloed architectures much in the same way as the bottle of wine we discussed earlier.  A VDC has server compute, server virtualisation, network and network virtualisation, storage, and automation all a single contiguous unit which works as such.  In the past we would have sought to find best of breed server, best of breed hypervisor, best of breed network, best of breed storage …all at the ‘right‘ price …coupled with the complexity of all of the decisions required for each component selection …and whacked them together and hoped they worked.  Is it any wonder why we get such low utilisation and high support / total cost of ownership challenges from traditional architectures?

3.  VDCs are largely comprised of technologies which we use and deploy today. Much as our competitors may try to convince customers otherwise, VDCs are not made of special plutonium 239 isotopes sold in exclusive lead lined boxes.  Rather, they are blueprint reference architecture designs made up largely of existing components [e.g. Cisco UCS blades, Cisco MDS network fabric, Cisco Nexus, VMware, IONIX, and EMC vMax] which are compiled by a service provider such as Computacenter to work as an integrated unit.  The key difference is the VDC is designed to allow for consumption as a unit as opposed to each component being consumed separately.  For example, a the unit would automatically deploy everything required for project manager to run a new application …server, network, storage, etc.

4.  Virtualisation on its own is not a workload, it is an enabler and component technology of a VDC. But I’ve already got VMware or Microsoft Hyper-V, so I guess I don’t need a VDC?  Not quite.  VMware and server/desktop virtualisation is certainly a key component of a VDC …but so is network virtualisation, universal server compute, storage and storage virtualisation, automation …you get the picture.  Equally, the question shouldn’t be ‘how much VMware can I run on a VDC’ as VMware isn’t a workload …an application is.  So the question should be, ‘how many applications, users, at what response speed, over what distance, and at what cost per user’ can said VDC support.

5.  Why take two small steps forward which will unlikely cover the chasm you seek to breach when a large leap has a higher probability of success? It may be that you don’t have the budget to implement or migrate to a VDC today, but working with service providers such as Computacenter we can show you just exactly how you would demonstrably reduce costs both in the immediate and in perpetuity.  Armed with this information, why not ‘draw a line in the sand’ to make the leap which will slash costs and plan implementation/migration of VDC components today with a view to full VDC integration sooner rather than later?  Isolated small steps such as server virtualisation or  storage virtualisation could be far more useful as part of a greater ‘march to VDC’ strategy.

As always, please contact me directly if you would like a VDC demonstration or help in taking the VDC journey.

Have a great weekend,

-Matthew

Click here to contact me.

First, execute with urgency. The rest is commentary.

05/03/2010

‘Real artists ship.’ – Steve Jobs

‘Just do it.’ – Nike

‘To be is to do.’ – Socrates

‘To do is to be.’ – Sartre

‘Do be do be do.’ – Sinatra

I’ve talked before about my desire to lose weight and the ‘eureka’ moment when I realised that the answer was in front of me the whole while, but I must admit …even with the best of intentions I haven’t lost as much weight as I would like.  Yeah, okay …a few pounds here and there …which always prompt Mrs. PL to offer to sew up the hole in my trousers from whence I’ve lost three pounds …har de har har.  The brutal truth is that I need to increase my outgoings and reduce my incomings to lose weight, and that requires me to take control of my diary and make time for taking exercise.

I suppose you could say my challenge is execution over intent …in other words, to just get on with it and do.

You could describe me as a ‘doer’ in many other aspects of my life, but I’ve always had a problem with ‘doing’ when it comes to things that don’t interest me terribly.  And let’s face it, exercise isn’t overly exciting.  But I’ve always had a deep respect for anyone who is a ‘doer’ no matter the circumstances, and one such doer whom I’ve come to respect deeply is one of our account managers …Rob MacAlister.

For reasons that entirely escape me, Mr. MacAlister has decided he would like to visit the North Pole.  Now, that in and of itself would normally be interesting …but Rob has decided to race to the North Pole.

Yes, you read that right.

And he’s spending the next year in training …you know, dragging a 75kg tire around Richmond Park, eating freeze dried Pot Noodles, spending hours on end in walk in freezers to acclimate his body to extreme cold, that sort of thing.  I know, I can think of about a million other hobbies I would prefer to have, but hey …it makes him happy and I applaud anyone with this level of dedication.

Rob is a doer, and rather than talk the talk (how many of us have made pint sozzled plans to rule the universe with mates in a pub?!) he is going to walk the walk.  Applied for and received sabbatical.  Train for a year.  Diet for a year …no boozin‘ or ciggies (prolly for the best in any case)!  Six weeks away from his wife and young family racing 350+ nautical miles in -40C.

Rob, I take my ten gallon yarmulke off to you my friend and Godspeed.

If you want to follow Rob, his blog can be found here http://robmacalister.blogspot.com/

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

One of the storage customer blogs I read regularly is Grumpy Storage written by the inimitable ianhf.  Ian always writes things as he sees them and rarely sugar coats anything.  He wrote a post …actually, it’s damn near a manifesto …towards the end of 2009 called ‘Show Me the Money! (Information)’ and what Ian wrote in this post has been swirling round in my head since the first time I read it.  If you’re in technology, this is essential reading on how to engage and actively work with your customers in a positive fashion …actually, thinking on that, Ian’s commentary is applicable for just about any business you might be in!

I wanted to pick up on point 13, however where Ian writes …”I need electronic copies of any & all materials discussed or presented – no exceptions, without this I can’t use it as reference material in my internal strategy planning. If you hide behind “it’s beyond NDA”, or “NDA prohibits” then I’ll interpret that as “you don’t trust me personally or respect me professionally” and the relationship will be difficult from then on.”

I personally struggled with this one a bit when I first read it as I meet with all of our vendor partners frequently under NDA, and I wouldn’t ever wish to betray their confidence …but I could empathise with where Ian was coming from.

Then it occurred to me …what is an NDA really but protecting intent over execution.

Time was, not so long ago, that within data storage specifically and technology generally that if you came upon an idea such as thin provisioning, data deduplication, automated storage tiering, or data compression you could pretty well rest assured that you had a good 18 months before anyone could bring anything similar to market.

So you used an NDA to protect yourself from competition long enough so you could launch your product, as well as protection from someone launching something that seemed similar when you did but in actuality wasn’t as good.  Customers hate esoteric FUD based arguments …see Ian’s point 12 if you don’t believe me …so you prolly don’t want to be having a ‘but mine goes to eleven’ type argument with customers.

What’s the answer?  For me I think the answer lies in reversing the intent over execution equation with customers.

  1. Show me, don’t tell me. I hate slides and slideware presentations generally, but I recognise their use as a medium for delivering information.  But that shouldn’t be the whole presentation, in fact I would reserve slides for ‘handouts’ post meeting.  Why not show someone what you’re talking about with a videoed demo?  I could give you slides to articulate automated storage provisioning, or I could just show you.  Watch this space as we’ll make similar videos for containerisation, container mobility, and secure multitenancy for virtualised datacentres.  Just don’t expect me to schlep a 75kg bit of vulcanised rubber around the Solution Centre like Rob will be in Richmond Park.
  2. Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker. ROI/TCO calculators are great and very useful, but in the end they are nothing more than numbers which have most likely started in a lab and may or may not have field referenceability.  Firstly, I think we as an industry should stand by cost reductions by underwriting them and, if we’re wrong …we’ll write you a cheque.  Secondly, the TCO data should be field referenceable …and the iPod/iPhone app we’re developing for virtualised datacentres will have the ability to reference the most up to date field TCO data every time you use it.
  3. Let customers consume information when they wish, how they wish. Part of the reason we’re developing an iPod/iPhone app is to allow customers to interact with TCO modelling, virtualised datacentre demonstrations, virtualised datacentre components, application containers moving between our virtualised datacentre and another in the USA ..all without me hovering over you!  Seriously, though …I believe customers want to consume information in ways that are useful to them, and this requires us to present information and data in ways that allow this.

Execution drives true value, intention tells me you might (or might not) get there one day.

I hope you’ll join me in execution and perhaps someday NDAs will become a thing of the past.

Have a great weekend,

-Matthew

Click here to contact me.

Shoot the users.

26/02/2010

Are geeks born or are they made?  Is technoweenism (def. ‘of to or pertaining to being a technoweenie’; see Matthew Yeager) genetic or is it environmental?

To be sure, I’ve been a geek for as long as I can remember.  My first video game was Star Trek on an IBM mainframe whilst my father did the reel to reel backups.  Seriously.  Try as I might, I never did beat Khan nor the Klingons.  Khaaaan!  My father tells me that he was once called in to a parent/teacher conference to enquire where I had got the copy of Newsweek which I was boring the kids to death within the playground.  Laugh if you must, but the Soviets shooting down KAL007 was a hugely important incident and led to Ronald Reagan ordering the military to allow the use of the US GPS systems by civilians.  And I still believe to this day that’s waaay more important than kickball.

So, nothing much has changed although now I bore people at dinner parties as opposed to the playground, my video games tend to be of the PS3 variety, and instead of reading about planes I’d much rather be flying them.

But, as big a geek as I may be, I’ve never really been a petrol head.  Indeed, I hate driving and view it as a colossal waste of time …time which could be spent doing far more productive things.  As such, I don’t really care too much about cars.  This isn’t to say I don’t love Top Gear or would turn away a Maserati Quattroporte, but in the absence of someone giving me one I can’t really justify £100k on a hunk of metal …okay, a terribly fast hunk of metal with lovely leathery bits …and so plan to drive my humble BMW 320D until the wheels fall off.

Now, I like car maintenance almost as much as I like being called ‘Matt’ or ‘reseller’ but BMW have done something very clever.  They’ve put what amounts to a countdown timer in the car so that as the miles increase, the car tells you how many more you can travel before the next service.  Genius.  And what happens if you go over the service threshold?  It starts counting the miles in negative digits and ‘bongs’ every time you get in or out to remind you that you really must get a service organised.

Gentle nagging works, but the simplistic countdown is what drives me (no pun intended) to organise services regularly.  And at £180 or more a go, I reckon BMW continues to make a tidy profit from me.

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

I wrote in my year end post that, along with the march to the virtualised datacentre, subscription models would change the way we consume just about everything.

One of the questions I inevitably get asked by customers when discussing optimised storage and virtualised datacentres is so what?  What business benefit do I get by deploying the elements of optimised storage such as thin provisioning, storage virtualisation, storage compression and so on.

It is a fair question and customers are right to ask it.  Let’s be clear, whilst I am a geek, deploying technology for technology’s sake is not something I would ever advocate.  Nor would I advocate just buying more ‘stuff’ in the absence of a proper strategy.  Frankly, this is partially the cause that we ended up with unsolved Rubik’s cubes for infrastructures.

Now, whilst we will publish TCO metrics and projected cost savings for optimised infrastructures and/or virtualised datacentres …and in some cases underwrite these costs …one of the unintended consequences of optimising/virtualising a datacentre is it gives the IT guys room to breathe.

Why room to breathe?  By automating certain datacentre tasks and removing the need to deploy more data storage for even a few weeks …although it often ends up to be months …the IT folks get time to manage data.  The elephant in most datacentres is not whether we should virtualise or optimise but, rather, how we manage data.  This is one of the biggest questions I get from customers …‘How do we manage our data?  How do we keep our internal customers from creating more?’ and I generally give them the exact same answer.

Shoot the users.

Not trying to be flippant, but seriously …no users, no more data.  Job done, crack tubes.

‘But we can’t shoot the users!’

Indeed.  So how do we manage the data if users are going to keep creating it?  Yes, there are technical solutions available in archiving and data deduplication, but why throw technology at a people problem?  Why create the data in the first place?

What if we gave the users a yearly and monthly subscription for data storage?

Try phoning your mobile phone company when you’ve used up your minutes and demanding more now and for free because hey …your moby is fundamental to your job!

The challenge is not in having adequate tools for data management …three of the best are , in my opinion…

  1. Storage Fusion for enterprise data infrastructure.  SF is brilliant at showing you exactly what the storage devices are doing; how much raw storage is deployed/consumed, how much power they’re consuming, how the storage is tiered, and so on.
  2. Symantec CommandCentral Storage.  Symantec CommandCentral is fantastic for managing infrastructures comprised of more than one storage vendor, and lets you manage storage down to the file level.
  3. Northern Storage Suite.  I really love Northern because it has robust LDAP hooks, which is geekspeak for ‘it analyses the data and tells me who, specifically, created it’.  Imagine being able to run reports to tell you which users and departments are creating the most duplicate data, data which isn’t accessed often if ever …and what they are likely to create in future …and you can see why I love these guys.

But the tools are only half the solution.  The other half is what we do with the information.  In the past we’d try to nicely ask the user to delete duplicate or old data.  We’ve even tried ‘quotas’ which rarely, if ever, work.

In 2010 I think we should be asking ‘How much space does a user need and how can I build a subscription model to monitor …and report to them …their usage.’

Shoot the users?  A bit harsh.  But perhaps charge them after they use up their subscription is the answer to user managed data.

Have a great weekend, and please contact me if I can be of any assistance in helping you manage data.

I promise I won’t shoot your users.

-Matthew

Click here to contact me.

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

19/02/2010

For those of you who don’t understand the reference, I recommend you run out and buy Phoenix Nights and watch every episode.  Absolutely hilarious!  You’re welcome.

Sorry I haven’t blogged since, well …2009!  A belated Happy New Year to you all and, needless to say, with the holidays, designing virtual datacentre cubes …plus my day job …things have been very hectic and I’ve got a bunch of posts swirling round in this little brain of mine.

I was going to discuss the snowcalypse we had and how mobile technology has changed the IT landscape forever, but was reminded of a favourite phrase of my grandmother’s …‘Snow is like family.  You’re delighted to see them when it has been a while, but they both stink after three days.’  Then again, she also says ‘If you’re right 98% of the time, why worry about the other 3%?’ so I wouldn’t believe everything that my grandmother says.

Over the recent winter holidays …okay, they were almost two months ago now but they feel recent … I gave two gifts, one physical and one not, which got me thinking about technology.

My grandmother lives quite some distance away …about 3,803 miles to be exact, but who’s counting …so visiting her frequently is a bit challenging, as is her spending time with her great-grandson, PL Junior.  I’ve taken to using the great and vaunted cloud computing technologies Facebook and Skype to enable my grandmother to see videos we’ve taken of PL Junior and also interact with him now that, at three and a half, he is fully interactive!  In fact, he doesn’t shut up from the moment he wakes until he goes to sleep.  Honestly, I just don’t know where he gets that from!  My grandmother has taken to co-opting my sisters, neighbours, aunt …pretty much anyone with any technological ability …into teaching her how to use a computer so she can access Facebook and interact with her great-grandson.  At the tender age of 84, that’s not bad going!

My mother-in-law, by stark contrast, lives remarkably close to us and is also a lover of all things java.  Coffee, mind, not the software developed by Sun …ooops, I meant Oracle.  Sorry Uncle Larry!  But I digress.  In any case, I thought I would be a good son-in-law and buy her an automated coffee maker like the one we have and have fallen in love with over the past six years.  She and my father-in-law were delighted by the gift, asked me to show them how to use it, and made Mrs. PL and I coffee the next time we were around for Sunday brunch.  Imagine my surprise when, recently when we had to stay with my in-laws whilst our boiler was repaired, I heard not the sounds of the Nespresso machine being engaged in the morning but …the kettle and the distinctive sound of Nestle instant coffee being spooned into mugs.

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

People, whether they be consumers or the CXOs of large businesses, tend not to change anything unless they can see cost benefit and an improvement in the way that they were previously doing things which we sometimes call agility.

I would love to be able to visit my grandmother more often, but with the a young family and career this isn’t always possible.  My grandmother can see the benefit in using technologies such as Facebook and so has learned how to use them to allow her to enjoy PL Junior as much as possible.

My mother-in-law, on the other hand, loved the gift of the Nespresso machine but has remarked to Mrs. PL that she doesn’t use it very often as, frankly, boiling the kettle is much quicker and she can live with the difference in quality.

And so it is with customers and cloud computing, virtualisation, et al.

Why haven’t more adopted cloud computing?  Sure, there are the standard arguments regarding data security and the like, but I think one of the biggest reasons is that very few …if any …cloud providers have shown trust cost benefit analysis for customers choosing to adopt cloud solutions.

Equally, whilst virtualised datacentres are the way of the future it won’t really matter whether it be VCE vBlock, VCN NetApp Virtualise Anything, IBM Dynamic Infrastructure, HP Converged Infrastructure or indeed some other ‘flavour’ …or an open VDC …if you can’t show a customer demonstrable cost benefit and how a customer will be able to increase business agility it becomes nothing more than an interesting idea and a big ‘so what’ that folks won’t adopt for some time.

My predictions?

1.  VDCs will reduce datacentre costs.

Deploying fully virtualised datacentres will see us reduce CAPEX and OPEX costs by as much as 50% or more …forever.  We’re currently building VDCs in the Hatfield Solution Centre to test, test, and test some more …and you can bet that total cost of ownership validation will be high on the list of testing.

2.  Customers who deploy VDCs will be able to innovate and become more agile by looking after their structured data and ‘out-tasking / outsourcing’ their unstructured data.

If we accept the industry standard metric that an average customer environment is comprised of 20% structured data [ERP, customer billing systems, customer databases, etc.] and 80% unstructured [PPTs, email, MP3s] …not to mention all of the deuplicate and dormant data in the unstructured data …we can assume that customers don’t really make any money on unstructured data.  I’m betting that in five years time …or less …we will see structured data catered for by GUI / virtualised mainframes [e.g. Oracle Exadata, IBM zSeries] with corporate IT departments focussed on the structured data and how to use it to be more agile and competitive in their respective market.  But what to do with all of that unstructured data?

3.  Unstructured data will be catered for by virtualised datacentres; VDCs will allow users to containerise applications and shrink datacentre space by an order of magnitude.  Think ‘buckyballs’.

VDCs will enable customers to containerise whole applications where a container will be comprised of a virtualised application [e.g. email] plus the virtualised grid storage [e.g. IBM XiV, NetApp, or EMC vMax] virtualised compute [e.g. Cisco UCS], plus the hypervisor [e.g. VMware] and virtual network to operate it.  If you have a container, you can move that container …real time …to a service provider like Computacenter thus freeing up critical datacentre space.  Just like a buckyball customers will be able to shrink their datacentres without losing the structural integrity of their businesses.

4.  There’s too much religion in technology.

As I’ve said many times in the past, I’ve got a religion …and it ain’t storage.  Steve Jobs made a mistake by being too messianic about the iPad.  Will it change the world?  Not likely, but it is a very sexy bit of technology that will allow Apple to potentially control yet another media distribution model with newspapers, magazines, and books delivered automatically to your iPad much in the same way that iPods have made listening to digital music ridiculously easy and ultra-convenient.  Equally, the iTunes app store is now worth $1.4b per annum …and Gartner are predicting the mobile application market to overtake desktop apps by 2013.  Underestimate Jobs and mobile apps at your peril, but I would also argue that so vendors made a mistake about being too messianic regarding cloud.  But this is not to say that this isn’t the future, and we need to show how you reduce costs and increase agility with such technology.

5.  Subscription models have …and will continue …to change the way we consume.

There was a time, not so long ago, when we would stop in a high street shop such as Carphone Warehouse to buy a mobile phone.  Why?  Because it was a new technology and we didn’t really understand how the minutes and related fine print of a contract work.  When’s the last time you visited a high street shop to buy a mobile phone?  As consumers became au fait with the contract model, suppliers met them half way by giving them a ‘free’  phone based upon how many minutes the user contracted to.  I don’t think it is so very far away to believe that a customer purchasing a managed service contract for three or five years will be given a ‘free’ virtualised datacentre.  Don’t believe me?  Think it won’t work for ‘big ticket’ items?  We see this model already changing the way electric cars are sold …Shai Agassi bets he can get you to drive an electric car if he gives you one for free, and the experience is no worse than that you currently have with your motor.  If he’s right, we may be on the way to cracking global warming.

In any case, have a great weekend and here’s to a virtual virtual virtual world!

-Matthew

Click here to contact me.