Posts Tagged ‘EMC’

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.

The Hanukkah Armadillo and predictions for 2010.

18/12/2009

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

‘Daddy, when will it be dark?’

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

‘Is tonight Hanukkah?’

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

‘When it gets dark we light the candles?’

‘Yes, are you excited?’

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

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

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

‘What else does the Hanukkah Armadillo do?’

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

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

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

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

Thanks dad.

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

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

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

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

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

That said, my predictions for 2010:

1.  The emergence of the virtualised datacentre.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. Automation, automation, automation.

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

6. Automation gives birth to policy based storage.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Matthew

Click here to contact me.

My mother-in-law and data storage.

13/12/2009

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

It was time for me to meet her parents.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Silence.

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

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

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

*slight chuckle*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that’s where selling insurance comes in.

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

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

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

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

-Matthew

Click here to contact me.

I need to learn Norwegian!

14/08/2009

I need to be brief with this Weekly View as it is PL Junior’s birthday today, and Mrs. PL has made it quite clear that I am required to help setup for his party …and ensuring I don’t bore our guests with analogies of birthday cake slices and how they remind me of data deduplication.

But with guests coming over later this evening, I got to thinking again about our recent holiday.  As I said last week, this is the second year running that we went to the same resort in Malta on holiday.  Last year PL Junior as just learning how to swim and, as he was just turning two, wasn’t yet to the point where he would play with children he didn’t know.  Equally, as only about twenty percent of the folks holidaying in this resort are British, there were many children speaking a multitude of languages that PL Junior didn’t understand.  This year saw many changes, from PL Junior spending nigh on six hours a day in the pool and, interestingly PL Junior developed a relationship with three Norwegian children whom he played with non stop.  Did PL Junior suddenly become a fluent Norwegian speaker?  Nope, didn’t understand a word of what the three children aged three, five, and nine were saying …nor they him …but between my German, my wife’s French, and the Norwegian parents’ English we were able to find enough common ground to enable us to go out to dinner together and generally enjoy one another’s company.  PL Junior continues to ask for Markhus, Khristof, and Nikolay and when we are going to go back to Malta to play with them …and Mrs. PL and I have a standing invitation to come to Norway with PL Junior to ski in their family chalet.

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

The sale of enterprise [e.g. EMC Symmetrix] and modular storage [e.g. EMC CLARiiON] ‘crossed over’ during the last recession in 2000 / 2001, with modular storage sales overtaking enterprise for the first time and, since then, modular storage sales have continued to rise whilst enterprise have continued to decline.  There are many reasons for this, but customers realised that they could achieve similar performance and reduced complexity with modular storage at a price significantly lower to enterprise.  We are about to see a similar ‘paradigm shift’ as enterprise and modular storage converge.  You can tell your friends that you heard it here first, and there are storage products on the market today which represent the future converged enterprise/modular arrays as I’ve described …think IBM XiV and EMC Vmax …and trust me when I tell you that other major vendors such as NetApp, HDS, and HP aren’t far behind.

As the storage arrays converge we will be able to provide customers performance, high utilisation, and decreased management complexity without sacrificing quality and, perhaps most importantly, at a competitive cost.  But as this convergence occurs, how will customers be able to differentiate one solution from another to satisfy their business needs …or will they all look the same?

No, I can assure you that, whilst they will seek to achieve the same outcomes, how they get there will continue to be different.  IBM XiV solves the grid architecture question by using a massively parallel SATA array and using software to allow storage to be ‘written‘ across all the drives thus giving high performance to all applications equally …whereas EMC takes a different view with Vmax useing mixed solid state drives, fibre channel drives, and SATA drives with software to ‘promote‘ and ‘demote‘ storage as application demands require.  Equally, storage vendors will seek to differentiate their products with features …whilst they will all provide thin provisioning, vendors are now going to war re how their thin provisioning works.  To wit, they go to great pains to explain ‘chunklets’, or how large a thin provisioned block they will use.  It is now being argued that use a chunk too large and you may negate the very applicability of thin provisioning long term, whereas use a chunk too small and you may overrun the onboard storage cache and negatively affect performance.  HDS uses 42 MB chunk sizes to allow for their thin provisioning solution to execute zero page reclamation, thus ‘reclaiming’ up to 30% of previously allocated storage back into the storage pool as fully usable …thus equating to cost savings …whilst EMC uses 768K chunklets as this is optimised for performance on their systems.

Who is right and, more importantly …what to do?  Firstly, they are all correct …and all incorrect!  The solutions will all technically ‘work, however what matters is what the customer is trying to accomplish and the business issue(s) we are trying to solve.  This is where Computacenter comes in as our vendor agnostic yet vendor selective consultancy practice enables us to firstly understand how each of our vendor partners accomplish things like grid architecture, thin provisioning, and chunklet size …and secondly, which vendor or vendors can demonstrably solve the customer business issue(s).  Just like PL Junior and our new Norwegian friends, there are folks who can translate what is being said at the bits an bytes level into real world cost reduction and the solving of business issues.

What sometimes happens, however, is that the most applicable solution could actually involve more than one vendor …but as we’re trying to reduce complexity, not introduce more many customers decide to go ‘sole vendor’.  Again, this is where Computacenter come in as …just as we parents helped PL Junior and the Norwegian children understand one another …Computacenter can provide consultancy, implementation, and support services which span multiple vendors thus providing customers with the best of breed solution at a fair cost without increasing complexity.

Mrs. PL and PL Junior have already stated their intention for us to holiday with our new Norwegian friends next year, and I plan to work a bit more on my Norwegian before we go away.  In the interim, please don’t hesitate to contact me if I can be of any assistance in helping to articulate the ‘why Computacenter’ for you  …our customers.

Have a great weekend.

-Matthew

Click here to contact me

Avoiding industry buzzword bingo.

12/08/2009

When I was in university I became extremely good friends with the librarians across campus.  This was more out of necessity than anything else as the information I required for papers and course research were often hidden in the private university stacks or considered ‘privileged’  material which had to be used in the library as opposed to being checked out an returned again.  Put simply, if I had any chance of meeting often aggressive timescales for my university coursework a strategically placed box of chocolates or cup of coffee was often a good way of ensuring I got access to the materials I needed.  Looking back I now realise just how labour intensive a process this was not only for me but for those poor librarians!

Flash forward seventeen years and now my niece will come in to ask me what she should Google and Wikipedia to get similar data.  Think about that for just a moment …people now use Google as a verb …when was the last time you saw a technology introduced just ten short years ago enter the lexicon as not only a noun, but also a verb?  Don’t worry, I am not going to wax lyrical about Google but what I do think is that Google as a technology and a company is having a profound impact on our lives.  Gone are the labour intensive librarian lookups as information is rapidly becoming accessible anytime anywhere.

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

Whilst I am fascinated by the mathematic logarithms and high performance computing / data storage technologies required to optimise data searches, what also interests me are the very real operating expense reductions that technologies like Google can bring.  By allowing students to ‘google’ their data or, more to the point, by giving them the ability to find and access data without librarian intermediaries, the university gets to reduce operating expenditures [OPEX] as well as the student reducing their OPEX as the research and retrieval processes become far shorter.

In saying that, someone recently highlighted to me that we need to ensure that we don’t fall prey to the buzzword bingo of our industry in bandying terms like ‘CAPEX/OPEX reduction’ about without ensuring we are articulating what is behind these terms.  Fair point.  What sets us apart from our competition is our ability to understand and articulate the difference between return on investment and cost benefit analysis …how quickly can I get a return on my investment and what money will I save long term after it has been installed are hugely important during this recession and, arguably at all times frankly …but also our ability to demonstrably show a customer HOW we would help them achieve capital expenditure avoidance and operating expense reduction.  This is what the Sharpen Your Business initiative is all about within Computacenter, and here’s the kicker …we can show them WHERE we have done this for other customers.  Link this all up and we’re miles ahead of our competition!

Backup consolidation and virtualisation is one such area.  For the life of me I don’t know why data backup and restoration sometimes becomes a poor cousin with IT projects, but in my experience it represents one of the best ROI and CAPEX avoidance / OPEX reduction scenarios going.  Some vendors such as EMC, IBM, Fujitsu, HP, and Symantec are introducing backup products or upgrade to their existing backup products which consolidate technologies such as data deduplication and data archiving directly into the backup product to reduce backup data sizes and the amount of active data being stored …and hey, why not?  If the data hasn’t been accessed in 6 weeks or more …or is duplicated several times over …why would I want to back it all up and store it?!  Another interesting angle is CommVault who have introduced a Google-like front end to their product which allow business users to search for a file or files they have lost and …here’s the clever bit …restore it themselves with no interaction from a backup admin.  Brilliant!  Now that is demonstrable OPEX reduction and not buzzword bingo!

My guess is that in these uncertain economic times customers are already looking for solutions which help them reduce their costs so that they can not only survive but thrive.  Bill McGloin and the Data consultancy team have done a great job to design and deliver backup consolidation projects, so if you might be interested in understanding how a consolidated and virtualised backup environment could help you reduce costs [and frankly I’d be surprised if you didn’t!] please contact me as I’m only too happy to help.

Have a great day and keep on Googlin’.

-Matthew

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Have I mentioned I don’t like moving?!

11/08/2009

I have a confession to make.  I hate moving house.  I don’t mean gently despise, gosh I could really do without having to move…we’re talking would rather poke my eyes out with red hot knitting needles hatred here.  You would think that having had to move from my family home to university, from uni to many and several cities in the USA where I worked, from Atlanta to Dublin, from Dublin to London, from flat in London to nice house in Mill Hill, that I would be old hat at this and moving would be no big deal.  Errr, no…couldn’t be further from the truth.  Moving house ranks up there as something that I would do just about anything to have done for me, although even having the work physically done for me if but a small fraction of why I hate moving.  I’ll try to explain why.

I like reading.  A lot.  And so it takes next to no time at all for whereever I might be living to become inundated with books, magazines, newspapers…you get the picture.  But I also have a dirty little secret….I don’t throw away anywhere near as much read stuff as I should!  I read an article/book/whatever and I either know someone that would also enjoy reading this or naievely believe that I will need this article/book/whatever at a later date.  Yes, I know with the internet I could probably find it again in an archive somewhere but logic has precious little to do with this!  I also love music and have a collection of LPs, cassette tapes, CDs, et al that I will probably never listen to again now that I have an iPod.  But have I thrown the old stuff away?  I think you can guess that I haven’t.  And let’s not talk about my obsessive collection of DVDs as I think you are getting the picture.

So what happens when I have to move?  There’s the rub.  If I was going to stay in one place, I would probably just get a skip every few years and cull my collections of reading material, music, and DVDs to make space for more reading material, music, and DVDs.  But I could do this in my own time and at my own leisure.  Moving accelerates this whole process and I then have to stand there with boxes deciding whether to take it with me, cull it, give it away, and so on.  Just thinking about having to do this is enough to make my teeth itch and desperately want a nice cold G&T.

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

Information Lifecycle Management, or ILM for short, has been one of the biggest buzzwords in storage over the past 6 or 7 years.  What began with storage virtualisation and other similar products designed to increase storage utilisation has resulted in end-to-end ILM vendor portfolios.  I should mention at this point that some folks call ILM Hierarchical Storage Management or HSM…horses for courses, ILM and HSM are pretty well the same thing and I view this in somewhat the same vein as football versus soccer.  It’s football, by the way, but if my wayward American brethren insist on calling it soccer well…let’s just hope they can at least understand the offside rule.  But I digress.  ILM at it’s best is the ability to move data from high tier to mid tier to low tier to archive seamlessly with no manual intervention and without disruption to the user.  Great.  What the heck does that mean?

What if I could have someone [let’s call him Bob] at my beck and call 24/7/365 to manage my books/newspapers/magazines/music et al.  I would tell Bob that, when I’m done with a newspaper or magazine, go ahead and digitise it and catalog it for me on a hard drive.  After I’ve read a book, wait three months and if I haven’t given it to someone go ahead and move it to an off-site storage box but catalog that too so that I know where my books are.  And if I don’t ask about my book for a further nine months after that, digitise it and put it on the same hard drive as my newspapers and magazines.  With the hard drive, make sure that any data that I haven’t accessed in six months gets moved to a lower cost data archive and if I haven’t accessed it from the archive in another six months back it up to a tape and send it to the book storage area.  But remember, Bob…I want to access the data I just mentioned any time I want and I don’t want to wait more than 10 minutes to get it.  Forever.  And all of this needs to happen without my seeing or knowing it is happening.  And don’t eat too much either, Bob…Mrs. PL takes a dim view of that and may make me move you [and me!] out to the garden shed.

Imagine the space I would save!  I would never have to cull again!  I could move at will, or at the very least be able to talk to Mrs. PL about nice houses without dreading the book/music/DVDs to move.  Sheer unadulterated bliss!  Put another way, ILM on a very personal level.

Let’s look at a vendor ILM solution…when EMC began to acquire companies such as Data General, Legato, Documentum, Kashya, and RSA many people were scratching their heads.  Why would EMC, known for their high availability / high throughput systems in the upper end of the market, want to acquire a mid tier disk company [Data General made the CLARiiON platform] a backup software company who also had archiving capability [Legato Networker] a content and document management company [Documentum] and so on?  The answer was they were [and still are] building an ILM portfolio so that they can offer an enterprise solution to a customer which will move data seamlessly, preferably at the block level, between tiers transparent to the users…data storage at the appropriate price point from cradle to grave.  Nirvana!  Does it work?  Well, yes and no.  EMC, IBM, HDS have all been working on ILM and we are a lot further along now than we were five years ago but it isn’t as ‘seamless’ and transparent to the user as it could be.  Thankfully within the CC Storage Practice we understand the ILM portfolios of each vendor and so can implement the solution in a non-disruptive way, and the ILM solutions get better each day.

I’ll leave you with a very interesting ILM solution which has recently entered the market.  Compellent.  Compellent offer ILM ‘in a box’ whereby they have a rack of disks capable of moving data from tier to tier based upon business rules at the block level.  Confused?  Think ILM as described above, but if I only partially read a book with the intention of coming back to it later Compellent would be able to move the pages I’ve already read whilst I would still think that there is an entire book sat on my bedside table.  Clever stuff, and ILM at the block level may very well be the answer in future.

Computacenter services and solutions within Storage and related software are very much underpinned by best of breed vendor ILM solutions, please contact me if we can help you discuss Computacenter ILM solutions with your environment.

-Matthew

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The storage black box.

10/08/2009

As many of you may know, I am a bit of an aviation enthusiast.  Yes, okay for those that I have bored with discussions about the fuel consumption of an Airbus A380 versus the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner would say that I’m an airplane geek.  Fair enough.

One of the things that I wondered when I first became seriously interested in airplanes was, if the black box is the only thing guaranteed to survive a crash why don’t they just make the whole plane out of the black box material?  The answer is actually a bit more complicated than you might expect, but the short answer is that it is down to compromises and tradeoffs.  Put simply, the airplane would be too expensive to make and would be far too heavy to fly were it to be made to the same exacting standards and of the same material as the black box.

I have been thinking about these tradeoffs and comprimises a lot recently as we still find ourselves in the perfect storm of a credit crunch, increasing oil prices, and increasing C02 legislation.  As I’m sure you have seen, oil is now topping $139 with the largest two day increases back to back in history, many of the top banks have greatly reduced and changed their mortgage portfolios, and the UK government recently changed the air tax from a per passenger fee to a per plan fee.  Individually these events would be interesting enough, taken together they are likely to have a profound effect on our economy and world both now and in the future.

In such circumstances this will inveitably lead our customers to make compromises.

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

As we head into H2 for 2009 and through the current recession, we must constantly bear these events and customer needs for compromise [e.g. we’d like to introduce storage consolidation but just can’t afford it….sell me some more disk please!] in mind to ensure that we are uncovering all opportunities and mapping them to the Computacenter end-to-end value proposition and individual point propositions.  No doubt we can certainly help a customer make compromise without sacrificing quality whilst transforming their estate for the better.  Here’s a few ways how.

1. ROI – Our ROI calculators go some way in showing a customer how investment in a CC proposition is not only the right thing to do technically, but also cost effective and generates real cost savings.  Even if a customer hasn’t asked for ROI calculations specifically, remember that we must give the customer what he has asked for in addition to the things he hasn’t asked for.  Storage Consolidation, Storage Virtualisation, and Virtualised Backup Consolidation, and related propositions all have real world and industry proven ROI.  Equally, they give us an opportunity to provide cost underwriting for our customers where required.  Please contact me if you need help calculating ROI for any storage challenges you are working on now or in future.

2. Virtualise, Virtualise Virtualise! – If location, location, location is the mantra of property development virtualisation should surely be the mantra of cost reduction in the datacentre.  Server virtualisation, application virtualisation, desktop virtualisation, and let’s not forget storage virtualisation all have the capacity to reduce the customer datacentre footprint which leads to greatly reduced management costs, power costs, floor space costs, etc.  Please contact me if you need help formulating a virtualisation strategy for any business propositions you are working on now or in future.

3. Data deduplication / File & DB Archiving – 12 to 18 months ago a customer had to engage at the third party level to introduce data deduplication and/or effective file & DB archiving.  Recently we have seen data deduplication moving directy into the storage fabric, directly on to storage hardware, and being included in backup software.  IBM’s acquisition of Diligent, EMC’s acquisition of Data Domain, Symantec’s inclusion of dedupe within their backup suite, and deduplication offerings within major vendor arrays [e.g. Netapp, EMC, IBM, HDS, et al] are but of few of the many examples we now have.  This is great news for us and great news for our customers as well as dedupe and file & DB archiving have real world cost savings associated wtih them.  Please contact me if you need help in presenting data dedupe / file & DB archiving for any storage propositions you are working on now or in future.

4. Reduce the Physical Storage Footprint – The reduction of the physical storage footprint through consolidation represents a very easy way for customers to reduce costs whilst transforming their estate.  The introduction of a virtual tape library with data deduplication abilities into an ageing customer tape backup environment, consolidation of file server shares to a shared storage fabric, and the virtualisation of existing and future storage arrays are but some of the many examples we could cite in this space.  Remember that consolidation leads to a reduction in physical footprint / DC space thus leading to cost savings.  Please contact me if you need help positioning consolidation for any propositions you are working on now or in future.

Finally, what does the future hold for storage in our current economic and environmental climate?  All of the major vendors have recognised that business as usual is anything but and are moving to introduce technologies which will improve storage management, reduce customer costs, and introduce greener equipment.  To wit, I know of a customer in the City who hires two complete datacentre floos for their DR site…one floor to hold the equipment and another floor which remains empty but has all power diverted to the other floor’s equipment.  Not what we would call efficient!

IBM are currently working on new power and cooling technologies for their equipment, EMC are introducing solid state disk and disk ‘spin down’ technologies to reduce power consumption in their equipment, HP’s introduction of Thermal Zone Mapping and Dynamic Smart Cooling…the list grows larger each day and, whilst we remain produly vendor agnostic and solution centric, it is always good to be able to discuss how major vendors are aligning to Computacenter’s market leading Green Datacentre initiatives. (more…)