Posts Tagged ‘NetApp’

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.

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To a worm in horseradish, the whole world is horseradish. Or why IBM XiV is still relevant.

30/11/2009

Mrs. PL and I have been trying to add another PL Junior to our tribe.  That’s the good news.  The bad news is …and how do I say this …we’ve had some very robust conversations as of late regarding upgrading to a larger house to accommodate a new PL Junior.  I think it is commonly referred to as ‘a full and frank discussion’ in diplomatic circles  …all I know is I’ve been getting my not inconsiderably sized posterior whupped regularly in our little fireside chats.  Oxbridge debating teams have nothing on a determined Mrs. PL, in my opinion.  Truth be told, I can kind of see Mrs. PL’s point and, to be fair to her, she is genuinely interested in more space as opposed to playing postcode bingo with the yummy mummy brigade who inhabit our little corner of northwest London.

Whilst we have been married for six years and together for almost ten, I still naively cling to the belief that if I just keep talking and present a coherent and factually based argument that Mrs. PL will come round to my way of thinking.

Me: ‘But we can’t really afford a new house, and I’ve been upgrading our house recently …what about our new supercharged home office?’

Mrs. PL: ‘Nice try, but weren’t you …by your own admission …indulging your own inner geek?  How does you being able to Twitter or tweet or whatever the heck it’s called build a new baby room?’

Me: ‘Yeah, okay …but what about the new shower stall, or the new washing machine?  It spins at 1400 rpm!  And has a 20 minute steam cycle to freshen up shirts when they’re wrinkled!’

Silence.  I’m pretty sure Mrs. PL is melting my inner organs with her glare.

Me: ‘And what about the new refrigerator?  It’s like a magic superfridge made by wizards and Hobbits …nothing ever goes bad in there!  We’ve eaten things that are like three weeks over the use by date!’

Mrs. PL: ‘Tell me something, my dearest chucklehead.  How do these upgrades fit into this equation you keep banging on about?  Wouldn’t a new house as opposed to siloed upgrades have a better five year cost benefit?’

Silence.  I hate it when she’s right.

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

Mrs. PL has got me thinking about Howard Moskowitz, horizontal segmentation and a great talk I heard from Malcolm Gladwell.  I don’t want to steal any of Malcolm’s thunder or take too long explaining horizontal segmentation so click here if you have about fifteen minutes, well worth your while.

Put simply, the thought is that there is no such thing as a ‘perfect’ product nor, by extension a ‘perfect’ solution.  Rather, each product or solution should be developed and subsequently recommended based upon the good it can do for a particular customer situation.

I was reading a blog post from an analyst recently which questioned Is IBM XiV Still Relevant?  Whilst the blog post makes some interesting points, I kept coming back to the same thought …yes, I suppose you could ask this question but only really if you are viewing IBM XiV next to other storage array products in a ‘bikini contest’ fashion.

But judging arrays in a Miss World style lineup isn’t the real value of grid storage …and not at all the way I would advocate our articulating a solution in any case.

No, I think that grid storage …in this case IBM XiV, but you could also make the same argument with EMC Vmax or NetApp ONTAP v8 …is a basic building block of the virtualised datacentre.

If we wanted to view IBM XiV as a building block, one of the more interesting announcements around IBM XiV was actually buried in an announcement IBM made on 10 November which was talking about asynchronous mirroring …but the very next paragraph of the announcement talks about new support for instant space reclamation.

Why is this important?  Well, if you think back to this post about thin provisioning, what this means is that IBM XiV is making the software APIs which make thin provisioning possible available to third party products such as Symantec Storage Foundation such that Symantec software can now ‘recognise’ unused space and return it to the storage pool quickly.  We could easily add an IBM N Series gateway to provide NFS/CIFS NAS in addition to the block level storage from IBM XiV, as well as Storewize to give us data compression from 45% or higher for stale data.

What would this give us?  What we want …and need …to see, with vendors working together to ensure their products ‘glue’ together such that we can build a horizontally capable virtualised datacentre which is efficient, optimised, and fully flexible for customer needs both now and in the future.

But we wouldn’t stop with just the first building block if we wanted to derive true ROI and cost benefit.  We would need to consider virtualising the servers, converging the network, optimising the physical servers with blades, and automating the whole lot.

And here’s where it could get tricky if we start trying to articulate such a solution with stories of Prego, Howard Moskowitz, or Malcolm Gladwell and horizontal segmentation.

I think one of the easiest ways to visualise this concept is to picture a virtualised datacentre as a solved Rubik’s cube with each of the six sides a different solid colour made up of nine blocks.  Each solved side represents one of the discipline areas required for a virtualised datacentre …Data Storage & Protection, Networks, Platforms, Virtualisation, Automation, and Workspace / Collaboration.

Our customers …all of them …have unsolved Rubik’s cubes with the coloured blocks in any of a number of different iterations.

Our job, in my humble opinion, is not to articulate a storage product …or products …in the context of the proverbial bikini contest but, rather, in the context of exactly how our recommended solution will help our customers solve one, then two, then three sides until they reach all six for a fully virtaulised datacentre which delivers true ROI, cost benefit, and little or no disruption to their production business.

Please contact me if you would like assistance in taking this journey.

-Matthew

Click here to contact me.

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.

Weight loss revisited.

25/09/2009

I wrote some time ago …24 April 2009, to be exact …about my challenges with weight and new initiatives using to lose four and a half stone to get to a slim new me by 09 September 2009. I won’t go into further depth about how and why I wanted to do this, although you can click here to read the archived Weekly View discussing this if you wish.

By way of an update, as 09 September has well and truly come and gone,I have had very mixed results. I had a full medical workup prior to starting and, whilst no specific problems were noted at the time by my doctor, it was observed that my blood pressure was a bit higher than it should be and …I should lose weight. I thanked him for his sage advice and got on with it. Five months on and my test results are marginally better, I feel a bit better than I did …but my clothes don’t feel significantly looser, I still have my dreaded moobs, and I haven’t lost anything like the amount of weight I set out to.

I won’t deny that I am somewhat frustrated by this, but I’m not one to sit idly by without analysing how I got here …or didn’t, in this case… and what to do to get back on track.

In its simplest terms, what does one have to do to actually lose weight? Well, wouldn’t it be a great excuse for not losing any weight if this were a complicated equation, but it really ain’t …[Reduce Caloric Intake] + [Increase Metabolic Output] = Lose Weight. Put even more simply …eat less, exercise more, shed the pounds. Whilst I have at times considered a ‘radical’ diet, such as a liquid diet for a few weeks or even months, I know that this isn’t really the answer. Given the equation above, simply cutting out the odd Krispy Kreme I’ve eaten …mmmmm, Krispy Kreme!… and reducing the odd gin and slimline or glasses of wine will reduce the caloric intake even further. But that isn’t the part of the equation with the problem, so loading that up isn’t really going to help. Nope, I need to increase my metabolic output …or, put simply again… get off my lardy backside and get into the gym as, the last time I checked, geeking out on my MacBook Air and creating home NAS devices with 802.11n weren’t considered contact sports.

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

I have been a member of a gym for almost eighteen months now, so the hardest bit …joining… is already done. The real challenge lies in actually going to the gym or, more to the point …making time in my diary to do so. In what I suspect is not an uncommon or isolated challenge for me alone, finding time to the gym when one works and has a family can be very challenging indeed. However, the gym doesn’t really care if I show up or not and will continue to take £50 from my account each month. Given I’ve been to the gym about three times in the last six months, I make that almost £100 a trip. Ouch. On the other hand, if I went three times a week as the doctor has suggested …that would work out to £4.16 a trip. And I would be healthier. And I probably wouldn’t have moobs any longer. And I would likely be around a lot longer for PL Junior as well as Mrs. PL getting to dress me in new slimmer togs.

So what we have here is a low utilisation problem and I am paying way too much for my gym. This is a challenge that our customers face as well, and I have yet to meet a customer who is completely happy with their storage utilisation. We know that, on average, a customer reaps just 40% utilisation out of their storage yet, just as I have to pay full whack for my gym membership, so they have to pay for 100% of their storage infrastructure whether they are using it all or not.

What to do? I won’t wax lyrical about how great data deduplication is …although it is and works a treat in backup environments …nor will I bore you silly talking about thin provisioning, zero page reclamation, universal connectivity, or grid storage. They are all fantastic solutions …nay, features… which warrant Weekly Views in their own right and do play a major part in solving the challenge of low storage utilisation.

It can certainly be a fairly complicated discussion, but, just as I know that balancing an equation will help me lose weight, one of the surest ways I know in helping a customer work through this potential minefield is by using the Computacenter consultative equation. [ROI] + [CBA] + [DPB] = Composite Solution Score …Return on Investment + Cost Benefit Analysis + Disruption to Production Business = Composite Solution Score. How quickly will I recoup my investment, how much money will I save, can I implement in a ‘cost neutral’ manner are but some of the questions that this equation helps us to solve.

Before I talk about one place where we’re using this equation today, I should mention that we employ this equation when working with all of our Tier One vendor partners and use both the Carnegie Mellon Capability Maturity Model and IDC Storage v3.0 criteria to help reach accurate scores …in other words, what I’m about to say would also work with HDS, EMC, IBM, or HP given different customer criteria.

That said, one of the more interesting projects on the go right now using this equation is a campaign and project we are running with NetApp and F5 for a major customer in Scotland. This customer already knows the great ROI and CBA they can reap from server virtualisation, but with a storage infrastructure stretching into the petabytes the next question was how to achieve the same with storage. We are currently executing a storage assessment and analysing the environment to show how, by consolidating a majority of their servers and much of the existing storage supporting these servers to a NetApp NAS environment, we will save ££ by reducing power, cooling, storage management and so on. And you may be thinking, why NetApp and not someone else? Well, to be fair, we did the initial indicative analysis using this customer’s specific issues and a comparative vendor matrix derived from the [ROI] + [CBA] + [DPB] and NetApp consistently came out on top as their technology which includes thin provisioning, universal connectivity, et al which result in particularly high ROI and CBA scores for this customer.

Put simply, we have been able to show our customer how we can help them increase their storage utilisation to save money both now and for the life of the storage deployment.

And as for me, I’m off to review my diary and make sure I get to the gym and increase my utilisation to lose weight.

Have a great weekend and, as always, please contact me if you feel we can help you save money with your storage.

-Matthew

Click here to contact me.

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

What comes after books?

14/07/2009

I recently received a Sony eReader [PRS-505] from Mrs. PL and PL Junior for Father’s Day and, knowing me as you probably do by now, I love gadgets and anything technical that will help me save time.  However, I must admit that I was incredibly sceptical when I received the eReader at first.  Now, I had read more than one article which pitted the Sony eReader against the Amazon Kindle and other like devices …but not matter how greatly improved they said the electronic ‘ink’ is which comprises the secret sauce of these eBook readers, I am very much in love with the visceral experience of reading a traditional paper book.  The sound of the pages turning, the smell of the paper, the different fonts each publisher chooses to use, the sense of accomplishment of looking at a 900 page tome and thinking ‘I read that!’ …not easily replicated in the world of eBooks.  I know what you’re saying …but you’re a data guy!  You are constantly banging on about how to increase efficiencies with storage!  Yep, I know …all arguments that Mrs. PL had used with me before when she tried to convert me to the ways of the eReader.

More than that, Mrs. PL also likes to read …a lot …and between the pair of us I suppose I have lost sight of just how cluttered our house has become with books we’ve read.  Always happy to lend or give to a friend, would never dream of throwing a book out.  Throwing away a book is tantamount to sacrilege in both Mrs. PL and my extended families, but I think the warning signs that we had too many books to be sustainable came when we contemplated building PL Junior’s cot out of used books [but you could use a hardening shellac to make the pillars from old hardbacks!] and Mrs. PL looking at five bedroom houses [we live in a 2.5 bedroom house at the moment in North London] …not because we have other little PL Juniors on the way, sadly, but because Mrs. PL was seriously considering converting a bedroom or two into floor to ceiling library space.

Thankfully Mrs. PL was the realistic and rational of our little tribe and made the leap to the eReader …gave me one for Father’s Day so she could guilt me into using it if needs be …and then proceeded to cull our house of better than 80% of the books we’ve read and don’t need any longer.  Fifty seven black bin bags full of books, at last count.  Has it made a difference?  Who knew that we had a dining room?!

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

I’ve had the eReader for a little over two weeks know and, truth be told …I love it.  Seriously.  It’s not perfect, and it does have some drawbacks [no native support for my MacBook Air …although I have a cunning workaround!] but being able to download the next ten or more books I want to read to the eReader is hugely useful and doesn’t take up any more space than the physical device does already.  Equally, after having used the device for a while, I am utterly convinced that this is the future for many magazines and newspapers …think about it, instant and automated delivery via your existing home or corporate WiFi connection …the device already knows what you have and haven’t read so it can automatically delete/replace based on your preferences …and all without the clutter of unread/read newspapers and magazines [also a bit of a problem in the Yeager household]!

When it comes to data storage, we have a very similar challenge.  Five or more years ago, heck maybe up to only a year ago …simply adding more storage capacity was an oft pursued storage strategy …and deemed perfectly valid when we had shed loads of cheap datacentre space and power wasn’t an issue.  Indeed, in the heady days before the recession many of our customers had a desperate need to stay ahead of their competition and so adding more capacity was the order of the day …trouble was, much of the capacity that was added was tier one / high end / monolithic / enterprise [however you wish to describe it!] storage.  Now, nothing wrong with this type of storage …but we don’t need it for 100% of our infrastructure!  We know that the average customer environment is comprised of 20% structured data [the important stuff …you know, the data which makes us money!] and 80% unstructured [MP3s, old or duplicate spreadsheets, joke emails …you know, the data which COSTS us money to store!].

I don’t think in the span of my career have I seen customers so evenly split into two camps …those that have run out of space and power due to continued purchase and provisioning of high end enterprise storage alone …and those that will.

Now, our solutions aren’t designed to go in and tell customers ‘you’re doing it all wrong!’ or that you need to ‘rip and replace’ …no, our solutions are designed to save customers money whilst helping them utilise assets they already have.  I wouldn’t dream of ever calling someone’s baby ugly, Mr. Burton!  But how do we articulate our solutions in a way which will resonate?

A few examples for those that know they have a problem NOW:

Problem: I’ve run out of datacentre space, my datacentre power is costing me too much …but I need to find more storage space with a tight budget!  And I have been buying nothing but enterprise storage and/or have more than one storage vendor already!

Solution: Let’s look at storage virtualisation such as HDS USPV or HP XP  to help us consolidate without disrupting the production business…we can create virtual storage pools universally available for our server hosts without needing to worry about what vendor badge the existing storage arrays have …migrate to thin provisioning so we only allocate what we are physically using …and give you in year ROI because we can use Zero Page Reclaim [ZPR] to return 30% or more of their existing allocated storage into usable unallocated storage.  And finally we automate the storage provisioning to greatly reduce ongoing manpower costs. Et voila!  Reduced power, cooling, space, and manpower whilst enabling business innovation to continue!

Problem: I’m running out of datacentre space as I’ve too many servers, my power and cooling for the servers is costing me too much, I can’t afford to hire more administrators to look after more servers …but I need to add more servers with a tight budget!

Solution: Let’s look at consolidating all of the existing server shares to one or more NAS devices such as NetApp, HP Lefthand SAN, or IBM N series …we can then create a universal NAS namespace using F5 Acopia so we can manage the NAS devices as one and make the NAS storage universally available for server hosts …and then virtualise the remaining servers with automated provisioning of storage AND servers to greatly reduce ongoing manpower costs.  Et voila!  Reduced power, cooling, space, and manpower whilst enabling business innovation to continue!

Problem: I’ve run out of datacentre space, my datacentre power is costing too much …I need to reduce costs and find more storage space with a tight budget!  And I’d like to have access to tier one functionality as I may need it …but I’d prefer tier three pricing!

Solution: Let’s look at consolidating the storage to a grid storage architecture such as IBM XiV …we can migrate from existing tier one arrays to a grid storage architecture with tier one functionality but at greatly reduced cost, up to 25% of what tier one would normally be in some cases …and it uses SATA drives, which consume 97% less power and cooling over traditional tier one FC drives …whilst also giving us thin provisioning so we only allocate what we are physically using …and give you in year ROI because we can use Zero Page Reclaim [ZPR] to return 30% or more of their existing allocated storage into usable unallocated storage.  And finally we automate the storage provisioning to greatly reduce ongoing manpower costs. Et voila!  Reduced power, cooling, space, and manpower whilst enabling business innovation to continue!

I could give you more examples, but I’m running out of space [and you may be running out of patience!] so I want to talk about the other half of the customer stack …those who haven’t run into the same problems …yet.  What do we say to them?

Well, Mrs. PL and PL  Junior went out and bought me a tool which they knew would allow me to keep only the 20% of books I truly need whilst giving me a much more efficient way to read and store the other 80%.  They knew there was a problem there, although I was loathe to admit it …but am very much loving our ‘newly’ discovered dining room in addition to my eReader!

We need to engage our customers to discuss their business problems now and not wait  until they issue an RFP.  What if they say ‘we’re not bothered about storage optimisation at the moment as enterprise tier one storage from [insert vendor here] is so cheap it’s more cost effective for us to add to our [insert vendor here] arrays’?

Fair enough.  On balance, over the next month or three months or even six months they might be right.  But what about after that?  Do we know what their 20% of structured data is and how fast their storage is growing per annum?  Can we extrapolate these figures to show them when they will run out of datacentre space and/or be consuming more power than a small Yorkshire village?  Can we marry this data to the total cost of ownership manpower costs to show them how expensive this storage will be to maintain in the future?

You bet we can.  And we absolutely should.  We won’t win them all, but I would be surprised if we didn’t find something that we can help them with …automated storage and server provisioning, data deduplication, reducing backup windows, consolidating server shares, virtualising their servers …to name but a few.

I’m up for it if you are … and I bore everyone I meet at cocktail parties, wine tastings, Waitrose, my dry cleaners something silly with how proud I am to work for Computacenter and how insanely great our solutions are.  Let’s get out there and talk to all of our customers about how we can Sharpen Their Business and save them money by optimising their storage now.