Posts Tagged ‘HP’

What is Ray lashing now?!

09/10/2009

Mrs. PL and I have a somewhat unhealthy obsession with Ray Mears.

If you have no knowledge of Ray Mears, or are reading this blog from outside the UK, Ray Mears is a ‘master of bushcraft’ …not the ‘I know everything about the former president of the USA’ kind but, rather, a wilderness survival expert. Ray knows an awful lot more about surviving in the wilderness than I ever will …even after having been a Boy Scout when I was much younger I respect Ray’s vast knowledge and experience …and has had several television series on the BBC.

Now, when I say that we have a somewhat unhealthy obsession with Ray in Casa PL, I mean that he is known affectionately as ‘the guy who lashes stuff together’ …although we tend to substitute another word for ‘stuff’, but this is a family blog …as Ray always seems to be taking vines or bark or whatever to lash the daylights out of something to make a tool. To say that Ray ‘overcomplicates’ survival would be an understatement and therein lies our obsession. We watch not because we have any desire to become survival experts …Mrs. PL’s idea of ‘roughing it’ is a hotel without twenty four hour room service …but to see what new bit of overcomplicated nonsense Ray will try to convince us we need to survive in the wild.

Before we had PL Junior, Mrs. PL and I were known to actually go out for a meal *gasp!* and perhaps a bottle of our favourite wine …or two …and it was the morning after one of these outings when we happened upon a Ray Mears omnibus. Too knackered to bother with changing the channel, we were quickly sucked into the warped world that it Ray Mear’s overcomplicated world of survival and ended up turning it into a game …the one who couldn’t accurately guess the next piece of Ray ridiculousness had to run the next errand for the good of the order. I lost and had to go make the tea when I didn’t guess that Ray was cutting down a small tree and planing it down to make a bread board. Yep, you read that right campers …my man Ray decided that, what one really needs when lost in the wilderness after having sourced the ingredients to make bread is …a breadboard. Complexity, thy name is Ray.

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

I’ve been talking a lot recently about the Computacenter Sharpen Your Business programme and I’ll share a secret with you. We’re not manufacturing secret Sharpen Your Business drugs in Hatfield, nor does Sharpen Your Business represent some kind of magic silver bullet that we’ve discovered and decided to brand for the good of all mankind. If we were manufacturing drugs in Hatfield, I’ve no doubts that folks would be asking me if I’m taking them by the pallet full …no, dear readers, this is an all natural technoweenie storage induced sometimes Starbucks assisted high!

At its core, Sharpen Your Business is about …simplicity. Whilst Ray Mears is introducing ever more intricate ways to make breadboards in the wild, we’re advocating our customers remove as much complexity as is possible from their IT infrastructures to reduce costs and optimise their business. If there is a secret to Sharpen Your Business, it is that it is our expertise and demonstrable breadth of experience with a broad spectrum of technologies within Computacenter allow us to introduce the reduction of complexity of IT into a customer without a disruption to their production business.

The seeds of the simplification movement within IT can be found in multiple places, and the race to remove complexity across the board carries on at pace.

VMware and related hypervisors have become ubiquitous within the technology market, and I believe it is just a matter of time until we see the death of the physical instance …everything will be virtual instance, from servers to desktops to software packages. It is this virtualisation of everything, including storage which will enable customers to make real use of cloud computing and remove major amounts of complexity from their environments.

Within storage we see vendors introducing simplicity in different ways.

IBM acquired XiV to give them a simple yet very effective massively parallel SATA array which no longer requires disk groups, RAID groups, and other barriers to simplified storage allocation and consumption. The use of thin provisioning and self healing algorithms in the array help to extend and amplify this simplicity. We were able to setup automated storage provisioning in a little under fours hours …on our very first try. Testament to how simple yet effective XiV can be.

EMC have introduced VMax and are currently working on a ‘unified storage’ platform with the CLARiiON with both platforms introducing a reduction in complexity. VMax, the EMC enterprise storage platform developed around CLARiiON controllers, allows a customer to scale out almost ad infinitum without adding the complexity of managing multiple arrays by hand. A unified storage platform within the CLARiiON range will introduce a ‘Swiss army knife’ approach to storage whereby a customer will have the ability to use NAS, SAN, virtual tape library, and archiving functions ….all within the same array.

NetApp were born of a mantra to remove complexity from storage and this philosophy remains very much part of their DNA. We have seen NetApp NAS devices become increasingly sophisticated in their approach to simplicity, and I would argue that their approach to NetApp storage platform’s tight integration with virtual environments [read VMware and/or virtual desktops] is wholly unique in the storage market and sets them apart from their competitors. When one adds the easy application integration with Oracle and Microsoft Exchange …admins who know nothing of storage can make backup ‘snapshots’ in no time at all using the NetApp integration …you could make an argument that NetApp understands the need for simplicity much better than most.

HDS introduce simplicity by allowing for storage virtualisation …that is to say, creating a storage ‘pool’ by virtualisation of other storage vendor arrays. IBM, EMC, HP, and other SAN attached storage vendor products traditionally don’t like talking to one another so you have to manage them separately. And if you have space on one vendor array, you can’t easily ‘share’ that space with another vendor product. Not so with HDS USPV which allows you to make a storage pool with just about any vendor product you can think of …simplicity in the form of a storage Babelfish! Throw in Zero Page Reclamation [ZPR] whereby we can reclaim unused space from traditional storage arrays as we migrate into the pool and you’re into simplicity amplified.

Not to leave out our friends at HP, I have seen time motion studies which clearly show that HP servers attached to HP storage can have storage provisioned in far fewer mouse ‘clicks’ and in about a third the time required for other products. Not to be outdone in the simplicity stakes, I am watching HP as they may ‘crack the code’ by introducing a massively parallel server/storage infrastructure in the future. Watch this space!

Each vendor introduces the reduction of complexity in a slightly different way, and who is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ is purely a matter of what the business problem is that we’re trying to solve.

In other words, how we apply this simplicity to demonstrably reduce costs and optimise a customer’s business is what Sharpen Your Business is all about.

Hacking down trees so you can make a flippin’ breadboard whilst lost in the great beyond isn’t.

Have a great weekend,

-Matthew

Click here to contact me.

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1984 revisited.

28/08/2009

I remember watching the Super Bowl XVIII with my father in 1984 when, unexpectedly during an otherwise boring third quarter, an advert came on which would change the way we think about computing forever.  The advert was directed by Ridley Scott …who would go on to make such classics as Blade Runner, Alien, and Gladiator …cost millions of dollars and months to make, lasted exactly sixty seconds, and was shown exactly …once.  I remember watching the advert speechless and wishing to see it again …but I wouldn’t see it again until many years later when You Tube made such things possible.

I won’t go into the advert in any great detail as it deserves to be seen and digested [click here to view], but it purported to introduce the Apple Macintosh to the world on 24 January 1984.  What it actually did was fire the first salvos of the ‘open system’ movement against the traditional mainframe world.  My father, who was an executive in the ‘data processing’ department …Information Technology, or ‘IT’ didn’t exist yet …watched the advert, turned to me, and proceeded to tell me how we would someday watch movies without going to the cinema, watch any movie ever made when and where we wanted to, listen to any piece of music ever recorded when and where we wanted to …and carry the sum total of the world’s library content in our pockets.

Now, my old man was heavy into Star Trek [still is, as am I, and I’ve passed on this geekdom to PL Junior!] and I have to admit that, at the time, I thought he had been watching one too many episodes with JT Kirk and the boys and/or had had one too many G&Ts during the course of the Super Bowl.  I nodded politely and went back to noshing on the nachos and sour cream my mum had made.

What has this got to do with Data Storage and Protection?

Far from being doolally, my father was describing things to me in 1984 that we now take for granted.  iPods, You Tube, Spotify, e-ink eReaders …all have become reality and, it is projected that within 15 years we will have personal storage systems capable of holding the contents of all of the world’s libraries in a form factor small enough to fit in your pocket.  Really.  But how did my father predict such things?  Was he a futurist who missed out on the big time?  Sadly, no.  He went to uni with people who would go on to work for DARPA and they would often sit up late into the evening over G&Ts discussing the latest developments in data networking technology.  They could see the practical applications of the internet they were developing, and I would argue that there are many parallels to be found in the success of the internet and the future of data storage.

The internet was not originally designed to be the delivery mechanism for fine purveyors of pornography but, rather, a way for the US government and military to communicate from coast to coast and all throughout the US in the event of WWIII …and the Soviet Union had wiped entire communication nodes …and cities …off the map with nuclear weapons.  It is a system that is designed to fail …a resilient system which can continue to operate even after multiple and massive failures.  Another interesting feature of the internet is it is designed to use standard ‘off the shelf’ components such that, as the components’ quality and processing power increases, they can be put into the internet without having to take down or redesign the whole flippin’ thing.  Think dial up modem to ‘wired’ broadband to ubiquitous WiFi and you get the picture.

A similar revolution is happening in storage.  The original storage arrays were really more like massive servers on steroids …in fact, they looked and behaved much like the mainframes they were meant to replace.  They have a central processor known as a controller, cache which acts much like the memory in a server, and well …disks.  The disks provide the massive and shared storage, but are connected to the controllers and cache.  A great architecture to start with, but as the amount of data we are creating has exploded exponentially it has become less and less efficient and more difficult to manage.  Indeed, whilst functionality has been added to the architecture …data replication, modular arrays, iSCSI, NAS, and so on …the central principle of architecture design hasn’t changed all that much in quite a while.  Most importantly, they are designed to never fail …and as a result of that principle, we find ourselves in something programmers call an ‘infinite loop’ which becomes ever more expensive to manage.

So what’s the answer?  Well, we need to turn the central principle on it’s head and design systems which fail.  Now, I know that may seem counterintuitive, but bear with me.  The quality of standard components has increased significantly over the past ten years …we now have hard drives and Intel processors in our laptops which would have powered supercomputers ten years ago …but, things still fail from time to time.

My view is parallel processing or ‘grid architecture’ storage is the answer, and these systems will soon eclipse the traditional storage architectures.  What is grid architecture storage?  The specifics can be somewhat complicated, but in principle you have data and communication modules which replace the controllers and cache with software to connect all of the modules together.  What does this give us?  The ability to use algorithms which write data to all of the data drives simultaneously …and as each module uses standard components with CPU and memory on board, I can lose a module without losing data as well as increasing system performance by replacing the standard components with the new whizz bang models as they become available.  The secret sauce of the software which connects the modules is what allows us to provide performance and reliability equivalent or greater to traditional systems …at an acquisition and management cost much lower than traditional storage systems.

So who is using grid architecture?  If you have Googled anything recently, you’ve used grid storage architecture.  And, if grid storage is the answer, who makes it?  Well, IBM XiV was the first past the mark but now EMC Vmax has joined the scene …and NetApp, HDS, HP aren’t far behind.  What will set each of them apart, in my opinion, is how they implement grid architecture as well as the functionality they provide as standard.

If you aren’t thinking about grid architecture storage, you should be …this is a tidal wave which is already transforming the storage marketplace and, whilst we  have ‘first mover’ advantage with the promise of fair pricing at the moment this won’t last forever.

Please feel free to contact me if I can help you understand grid architeture more fully and in greater depth, including the very real cost savings which can be gained.

-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