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Death of the Salesman

Reflecting recently on the changes that I have seen in the Enterprise IT market, more specifically the Enterprise storage market; I have come to the conclusion that over the past five years or so, the changes have not been so much technological but everything  around the technology and it’s packaging.

There appears to be significantly less selling going on and a lot more marketing. This is not necessarily a good thing; there is more reliance than ever on PowerPoint and fancy marketing routines. More gimmick than ever, more focus on the big launch and less on understanding what the customer needs.

More webinars and broadcasting of information and a lot less listening than ever from the vendors.

Yet this is hardly surprising; as the margins on Enterprise hardware slowly erode away and the commoditisation continues; it is a lot harder to justify the existence of the shiny suit.

And many sales teams are struggling with this shift; the sales managers setting targets have not yet adjusted to the new rhythms  and how quickly the market can shift.

But there is a requirement for sales who understand their customers and understand the market. Sales who understand that no one solution fits all; that there is a difference between the traditional IT and the new web-scale stuff.

However, if the large vendors continue to be very target focussed; panicking over the next quarter’s figures and setting them and their staff some unrealistic targets; not realising that the customer now has a lot of choice on how they buy technology and from whom, then they are going fail.

Customers themselves are struggling with some the new paradigms and the demands that their businesses are making of them. The answers are not to be found in another webinar; another meag-launch but perhaps in the conversation.

We used to say that ears and mouth need to be used in proportion; this is never more true but has never been more ignored.

 

 

 

Pay it back..

Linux and *BSD have completely changed the storage market; they are the core of so many storage products, allowing start-ups and established vendors to bring new products to the market more rapidly than previously possible.

Almost every vendor I talk to these days have their systems built on top of these and then there are the number of vendors who are using Samba implementations for their NAS functionality. Sometimes they move on from Samba but almost all of version 1 NAS boxen are built on top of Samba.

There is a massive debt owed to the community and sometimes it is not quite as acknowledged as it should be.

So next time you have a vendor in; make sure you ask the question…how many developers do you have submitting code into the core open-source products you are using? What is your policy for improving the key stacks that you use?

Now, I probably wouldn’t reject a product/company that did not have a good answer but I’m going to give a more favourable listen to those who do.

An Opening is needed

As infrastructure companies like EMC try to move to a more software oriented world; they are having to try different things to try to grab our business. A world where tin is not the differentiator and a world where they are competing head-on with open-source means that they are going to have to take a more open-source type approach. Of course, they will argue that they have been moving this way with some of their products for sometime but these have tended to be outside of their key infrastructure market.

The only way I can see products like ViPR in all it’s forms gaining any kind of penetration will be for EMC to actually open-source it; there is quite a need for a ViPR like product, especially in the arena of storage management but it is far too easy for their competitors to ignore it and subtly block it. So for it to gain any kind of traction; it’ll need open-sourcing.

The same goes for ScaleIO which is competing against a number of open-source products.

But I really get the feeling that EMC are not quite ready for such a radical step; so perhaps the first step will a commercial free-to-use license; none of these mealy mouthed, free-to-use for non-production workloads but a proper you can use this and you can put it into production at your own risk type license. If it breaks and you need support; these are the places you can get support but if it really breaks and you *really* need to to pick up the phone and talk to somone, then you need to pay.

It might that if you want the pretty interface that you need to pay but I’m not sure about that either.

Of course, I’m not just bashing EMC; I still want IBM to take this approach with GPFS; stop messing about, the open-source products are beginning to be good enough for much, certainly outside of some core performance requirements. Ceph for example is really beginning to pick-up some momentum; especially now that RedHat have bought Inktank.

More and more, we are living with infrastructure and infrastructure products that are good enough. The pressure on costs continues for many of us and hence good enough will do; we are expected to deliver against tighter budgets and tight timescales. If you can make it easier for me, by for example allowing my teams to start implementing without a huge upfront price negotiation; the long-term sale will have less friction. If you allow customers to all intents and purposes use your software like open-source; because to be frank, most companies who utilise open-source are not changing the code and could care less whether the source is available; you find that this will play well in the long-term.

The infrastructure market is changing; it becomes more a software play every week. And software is a very different play to infrastructure hardware..


							

Silly Season

Yes, I’ve not been writing much recently; I am trying to work out whether I am suffering from announcement overload or just general boredom with the storage industry in general.

Another day hardly passes without receiving an announcement from some vendor or another; every one is revolutionary and a massive step forward for the industry or so they keep telling me. Innovation appears to be something that is happening every day, we seem to be leaving in a golden age of invention.

Yet many conversations with peer end-users generally end up with us feeling rather confused about what innovation is actually happening.

We see increasingly large number of vendors presenting to us an architecture that pretty much looks identical to the one that we know and ‘love’ from NetApp; at a price point that is not that dissimilar to that we are paying from NetApp and kin.

All-Flash-Arrays are pitched with monotonous regularity at the cost of disk based on dedupe and compression ratios that are oft best-case and seem to assume that you are running many thousands of VDI users.

The focus seems to be on VMware and virtualisation as a workload as opposed to the applications and the data. Please note that VMware is not a workload in the same way that Windows is not a workload.

Don’t get me wrong; there’s some good incremental stuff happening; I’ve seen a general improvement in code quality from some vendors after a really poor couple of years. There still needs to be work done in that area though.

But innovation; there’s not so much that we’re seeing from the traditional and new boys on the block.

Not So Cold Fusion?

Can SanDisk make a go of moving into the Enterprise especially with the purchase of Fusion-IO?

It is a very different market to the consumer space and although the margins are considerably higher; it brings with it many challenges. I think it’ll depend on the go-to market strategy that SanDisk take and I fully expect them to carry on the current partnership strategy that appears to work well for them at present.

I don’t see SanDisk moving into the enterprise space as a sales-organisation just yet and I suspect that the ION Accelerator line may well be dropped.

And I expect to see some very close ties being built between SanDisk and HP; HP already resell the ioDrive cards and the new 3Par 7450 array utilises SanDisk  Enterprise drives; it has been heavily pushed as a partnership between them.

Funny really that some people are touting SanDisk as the next EMC; EMC’s first really big partner and arguably the partnership that enabled EMC to grow into the behemoth that it is…was HP. Well until they fell out quite so badly.

What does this mean for the other flash-upstarts? Nothing yet, most of them are in a very different space to Fusion but there’s a whole raft of them who are currently parading themselves in none too subtle ways.

They need to get bought…they can’t all survive. And the list of suitors is rather short at the moment.  But with non-traditional vendors moving such as SanDisk acquiring; I think they’ll be feeling a little more positive.

YMMV

Storage Marketing is one of maddest and craziest parts of the technology industry; so many claims that don’t necessarily stand-up to scrutiny and pretty much all of them need to be caveated with the words

‘It Depends….’

And actually it is very important to understand that it really does depend; for example, when your flash vendor claims that they can supply flash at the price of spinning rust; they may well be making assumptions about deduplication or compression and your data.

If you are in a highly virtualised environment, you might well get a huge amount of deduplication from the operating systems..actually, even if you are not and you utilise SAN-boot, it’ll dedupe nicely. But what if you store your operating system on local disk?

What if you are already utilising compression in your database? What if your data is encrypted or pre-compressed media?

Of course this is obvious but I still find myself explaining this at times to irate sales who seem to assume that their marketing is always true…and not ‘It Depends’.

Understand your data…understand your access patterns…decide what you are trying to achieve…understand true costs…

The problem is that many of us don’t have time to carry out proper engineering tests; so I find it best to be as pessimistic as possible…I’d rather be pleasantly surprised than have an horrible shock. This means at times I am quite horrible to vendors but it saves me being really nasty later.

 

 

 

Hype Converges?

In a software-defined data-centre; why are some of the hottest properties, hardware platforms? Nutanix and Simplivity are two such examples that lead to mind; highly converged, sometimes described as hyper-converged servers.

I think that it demonstrates what a mess our data-centres have got into that products such as these have any kind of attraction. Is it the case that we have built in processes that are so slow and inflexible; that a hardware platform that resembles nothing more than a games-console for virtualisation has an attraction.

Surely the value has to be in the software; so have we got so bad at building out data-centres that it makes sense to pay a premium for a hardware platform and there is certainly a large premium for some of them.

Now I don’t doubt that deployment times are quicker but my real concern is why have we got to this situation. It seems that the whole infrastructure deployment model has collapsed under it’s own weight. But is the answer expensive converged hardware platforms?

Perhaps it is time to fix the deployment model and deploy differently because I have a nasty feeling that many of those people who are struggling to deploy their current infrastructure will also struggle to deploy these new hyper-converged servers in a timely manner.

It really doesn’t matter how quickly you can rack, stack and deploy your hypervisor if it takes you weeks to cable it to to talk the outside world or give it an IP address or even a name!

And then the questions will be asked….you couldn’t deploy the old infrastructure in a timely manner; you can’t deploy the new infrastructure in a timely manner even if we pay a premium for it….so perhaps we will give public cloud a go.

Most of problems at present in the data-centre are not technology; they are people and mostly process. And I don’t see any hardware platform fixing these quickly….

Peak-y NAS?

So it seems that IBM have finally decided to stop reselling NetApp filers and focus on their own products; I’m also waiting for the inevitable announcement that they will stop selling the rebadged Engenio products as well as there is fairly large cross-over there.

In fact there is more cross-over between IBMs own Storwize range and the Engenio range than there is between IBM’s NAS and NetApp’s NAS. So I guess we’ll probably see V5000u and V3700U announcements in the future. And if IBM really want to be a little bit nasty, they’ll push the external virtualisation capabilities of the Storwize Unified Devices and their much larger current support matrix for external devices.

But have we reached ‘Peak NAS’? I’m beginning to feel that we might have; certainly in the traditional filer-space. Sure there is growth but people simply don’t want to store their oceans of data on expensive filer devices and pretty much all of the filer devices are expensive; they are certainly more expensive than some of the commodity plays but they also are fairly close to the cost of AFAs, especially when you start looking at the inevitable software options that you have to license to make them work well.

NetApp really grew on the back of VMware; it was always amusing that when the VMware sales-team used to turn-up, it would often be with a NetApp salesman in tow and never an EMC salesman; embarrassed by the relationship it seemed. It is only in the last couple of years that there has appeared to be a closer relationship between VMware and EMC..of course VSAN means that they don’t really want to turn up with any storage partner these days.

NetApp’s challenge is going to be how to make themselves relevant again and re-invent themselves; from what I know about FlashRay, this is probably the most promising AFA technology from a mainstream vendor but they need to ship.

And they need to work out how to survive in market that is going to be driven by price…no-one is going to pay $1000s per terabyte to store home-directories and unstructured data; compressed or deduped.

I guess the same challenge that every vendor is currently struggling with…it just feels that NetApp are struggling more than most.

Announcement Ennui

Despite my post of approval about IBM’s V7000 announcements; there’s a part of me who wonders who the hell really cares now? The announcements from IBM, HDS, NetApp and the  inevitable EMC announcement later in the year just leave me cold. The storage-array is nearly done as a technology; are we going to see much more in way of genuine innovation?

Bigger and faster is all that is left.

Apart from that, we’ll see incremental improvements in reliability and serviceability. It does seem that the real storage innovation is going to be elsewhere or down in the depths and guts; practically invisible to the end-user and consumer.

So things I expect to see in the traditional array market include a shift from a four-five year refresh cycle for centralised storage arrays to a six-seven year refresh cycle; centralised arrays are getting so large that migration is a very large job and becomes an increasingly large part of an array’s useful life. We will see more arrays offering data-in-place upgrades; replacement of the storage controllers as opposed to the back-end disk.

An Intel-based infrastructure based on common commodity components means that the internal software should be able to run on more generations of any given hardware platform.

We’ll also see more work on alternative to the traditional RAID-constructs; declustered, distributed, micro-RAIDs.

There are going to be more niche devices and some of the traditional centralised storage array market is going to be taken by the AFAs but I am not sure that market is as large as some of the valuations suggest.

AFAs will take off once we have parity pricing with spinning rust but until then they’ll replace a certain amount of tier-1 and find some corner-cases but it is not where the majority of the world’s data is going to sit.

So where is the bulk of the storage market going?

Object storage is a huge market but it is mostly hidden; the margins are wafer-thin when compared to the AFAs and it does not directly replace the traditional centralised array. It is also extremely reliant at the moment on application support. (Yes, I know everyone…I’m a broken record on this!).

The bulk of the storage market is going to be the same as it is now….DAS but in the form of ServerSAN. If this is done right, it will solve a number of problems and remove complexity from the environment. DAS will become a flexible option and no longer just tiny silos of data.

DAS means that I can get my data as close to the compute as possible; I can leverage new technologies in the server such as Diablo Memory Channel Storage but with ServerSAN, I can also scale-out and distribute my data. That East/West connectivity starts to become very important though.

Storage refreshes should be as simple as putting in a new ServerSAN node and evacuating an older node. Anyone who has worked with some of the cluster file-systems will tell you that this has become easy; so much easier than the traditional SAN migration. There is no reason why a ServerSAN migration should not be as simple.

I would hope that we could move away from the artificial LUN construct and just allocate space. The LUN has become increasingly archaic and we should be no longer worrying about queue depths per LUN for example.

There are still challenges; synchronous replication over distance, a key technology for active/active stretched clusters is still a missing technology in most ServerSAN cases. Personally I think that this should move up the stack to the application but developers rarely think about the resilience and other non-functional requirements.

And at some point, someone will come up with a way of integrating ServerSAN and SAN; there’s already discussion on how VSAN might be used with the more traditional arrays.

The storage array is certainly not dead yet and much like the mainframe, it isn’t going away but we are going to see an increasing slowing in the growth of array sales; business appetite for the consumption of storage will continue to grow at a crazy rate but that storage is going to be different.

The challenge for mainstream vendors is how they address the challenge of slowing growth and address the new challenges faced by their customers. How do they address the ‘Internet of Things’? Not with traditional storage arrays…

Hursley Heroes….

It has been very gratifying to see the V7000 and SVC getting some real love from IBM over the past couple of years; it’s a product which is going from strength to strength. The latest bunch of announcements are good; bigger, faster and yet presented with realism; Barry is not one to try and pull the wool over our eyes by quoting nonsensical performance figures.

The two features that catch the eye are the compression capabilities that should work very well for databases and the likes; Storage Pool Balancing, ensure that all disks in a pool are delivering the same performance is the feature which is most important.

I wonder if the Storage Pool Balancing is the first step to putting a disk-hospital into the V7000; allowing a much lower-touch maintenance and a subsequent reduction in maintenance costs (to IBM, not to the customer obviously). Identifying disks that are performing slower than their peers even minuscule levels is often the first indication that something is going wrong; it is also very important in IBM’s declustered RAID…something not yet announced in the V7000/SVC range but must be expected as disks get ever bigger.

The use of Intel’s QuickAssist technology to enable the compression chip should bring future enhancements such as encryption and deduplication.

So the future is pretty bright for the SVC and V7000…as long as IBM can actually manage to market and sell it.

If you also factor in the common look and feel across the storage range; you’d almost believe that IBM have a real future in storage…

p.s I see that IBM are persisting with the V7000U as well; I keep wondering whether the next V7000U announcement will be a withdrawal from market but I guess IBM need to keep trying to sell a traditional filer.