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Dead Flesh…

If in doubt rebrand…have IBM completely run out of ideas with their storage offerings? The Spectrum rebrand of their storage offerings feels like the last throw of the dice. And it demonstrates the problems that they currently have.

In fact, it is not all of their storage offerings but appears to be the software offerings? DS8K for example is missing from the line-up but perhaps Spectrum Zombie – the Storage Array that Will Not Die was a step too far. We do however have Spectrum Virtualise; this is a hardware offering offering in the form of SVC currently but is this going to morph into a software offering? There is little reason why it shouldn’t.

But there are also products such as the hardware XIV, the Vxxxx series and also the ESS GPFS appliance that are missing from the Spectrum family? Are we going to see IBM exit these products over time; it feels like the clock is ticking on them?

The DS8K is probably a safe product because of the mainframe support but users of the rest of them are going to be nervous.

Why have IBM managed to completely mess up their storage portfolio? There are still massive gaps in it after all this time; Object Storage, Scalable NAS and indeed an ordinary workaday NAS of their own.

The products they have are generally good; I’ve been a fan of SVC for a long time, a GPFS advocate and a TSM bigot. Products that really work!

I feel sorry for the folks who develop them; they have been let down again and again by their product marketing; the problem isn’t the products!

Brownie points for anyone who gets the reference in the title..


A fool and his money….

And the madness continues…

DON’T BUY THIS CRAP! Give your money to charity or burn it as a piece of performance art! But don’t buy this crap!

This makes me so annoyed! Do something useful with your money….please!

Interesting Question?

Are AFAs ready for legacy Enterprise Workloads? The latest little spat between EMC and HP bloggers asked that question.

But it’s not really an interesting question; a more interesting question is why would I put traditional Enterprise workloads on an AFA? Why even bother?

More and more I’m coming across people who are asking precisely that question and struggling to come up with an answer. Yes, an AFA makes a workload run faster but what does that gain me? It really is very variable across application type and where the application bottle-necks are; if you have a workload that does not rely on massive scale and parallelism, you will probably find that a hybrid array will suit you better and you will gain pretty much all the benefits of flash at a fraction of the cost.

The response often received when asked what the impact of being able to run batch jobs, often the foundation of many legacy workloads, in half the time is a ‘So what?’ As long as the workload runs in the window; that is all anyone cares about.

If all your latency is the human in front of the screen; the differences in response times from your storage become pretty insignificant.

AFAs only really make sense as you move away from a legacy application infrastructure; where you are architecting applications differently, moving many of the traditional capabilities of an Enterprise infrastructure up the stack and into the application. Who cares if the AFA can handle replication, consistency groups and other such capabilities when that is taken care of by the application?

Yes, I can point to some traditional applications that will benefit from a massive amount of flash but these tend to be snowflake applications and they could almost certainly do with a re-write.

I’d like to see more vendors be honest about the use-cases for their arrays; more vendors working in a consultative manner and less trying to shift as much tin as possible. But that is much harder to achieve and requires a level of understanding beyond most tin-shifters.

Happy New Year

Or is it April already, I really cannot tell from this post

So I am going to kickstart a new product; AudioNAS – sounds expensive because it is!

There are very many complaints and issues that I have dealt with when dealing with the creative types that are my user-base but never have they complained that one storage system sounds better than the other storage system. They have never asked for better quality HDMI cables, better quality USB or even better quality Ethernet cables because their current ones just don’t render their work sufficiently well.

But perhaps there is a need for AudioNAS that allows you to get more from your files…improving the bits so that they sound better. Look, believe what you want to believe but if the storage system impacts on the sound of the files being stored there, there are horrible implications…because it means it is changing the data and that would be bad.

‘Sorry, Mr Audiophile….the storage improved your medical files and has smoothed out the fact that you are allergic to penicillin’

We call such improvements data corruption…this is bad!

But I’ll take your money for my new AudioNAS…

Another Year In Bits…

So as another year draws to a close, it appears that everything in the storage industry is still pretty much as it was. There have been no really seismic shifts in the industry yet. Perhaps next year?

The Flash start-ups still continue to make plenty of noise and fizz about their products and growth. Lots of promises about performance and consolidation opportunities, however the focus on performance is throwing up some interesting stuff. It turns out that when you start to measure performance properly; you begin to find that in many cases that the assumed IOP requirements for many workloads isn’t actually there. I know of a few companies who have started down the flash route only to discover that they didn’t anything like the IOPs that they’d thought and with a little bit of planning and understanding, they could make a little flash go an awful long way. In fact, 15K disks would probably have done the job from a performance point of view. Performance isn’t a product and I wish some vendors would remember this.

Object Storage still flounders with an understanding or use case problem; the people who really need Object Storage currently, really do need it but they tend to be really large players and there are not a lot of them. All of the Object Storage companies can point at some really big installs but you will rarely come across the installs; there is a market, it is growing but not at a stellar rate at moment.

Object Storage Gateways are becoming more common and there is certainly a growing requirement; I think as they become common and perhaps simply a feature of a NAS device, this will drive the use of Object Storage until it hits a critical mass and there will be more application support for Object Storage natively. HSM and ILM may finally happen in a big way; probably not to tape but to an Object Store (although Spectralogic are doing great work in bringing Object and Tape together).

The big arrays from the major vendors continue to attract premium costs; the addiction to high margins in this space continues. The usability and manageability has improved significantly but the premium you pay cannot really continue. I get the feeling that some vendors are simply using these to fund their transition to a different model; lets hope that this transition doesn’t take so long that they get brushed away.

The transition to a software dominated model is causing vendors some real internal and cultural issues; they are so addicted to the current costing models that they risk alienating their customers. If software+commodity hardware turns out to be more expensive than buying a premium hardware array; customers may purchase neither and find a different way of doing things.

The cost of storage in the Cloud, both for consumers and corporates continues to fall; it continues to trend ever closer to zero as the Cloud price war continues. You have to wonder when Amazon will give it up as Google and Microsoft fight over the space. Yet for the really large users of storage, trending to zero is still too expensive for us to put stuff in the Cloud; I’m not even sure free is cheap enough yet.

The virtualisation space continues to be dominated by the reality of VMware and promise of OpenStack. If we look at industry noise, OpenStack is going to be the big player; any event that mentions OpenStack gets booked up and sells out but the reality is that the great majority are still looking to VMware for their virtualisation solution. OpenStack is not a direct replacement for VMware and architectural work will needed in your data-centre and with your installed applications but we do see VMware architectures that could be easily and more effectively replaced with OpenStack. But quite simply, OpenStack is still pretty hard-work and hard-pushed infrastructure teams aren’t well positioned currently to take advantage of it.

And almost all virtualisation initiatives are driven and focussed on the wrong people; the server-side is easy…the storage and especially the changes to the network are much harder and require signfiicantly more change. It’s time for the Storage and Network folks to gang-up and get their teams fully involved in virtualisation initiatives. If you are running a virtualisation initiative and you haven’t got your storage and network teams engaged, you are missing a trick.

There’s a lot bubbling in the Storage Industry but it all still feels the same currently. Every year I expect something to throw everything up in the air and it is ripe for major disruption but the dominant players still are dominant. Will the disruption be technology or perhaps it’ll be a mega-merger?

Can I take this chance to wish all my readers a Merry Christmas and a Fantastic New Year…

Stop Selling Storage

In the shower today, I thought back over a number of meetings with storage vendors I’ve had over the past couple of weeks. Almost without exception, they mentioned AWS and the other large cloud vendors as a major threat and compared their costs to them.

We’ve all seen the calculation and generally we know that for many large Enterprises that the costs often favour the traditional vendors; buying at scale and at the traditionally large discounts mean that we get a decent deal. Storage turns out to be free at the terabyte  level and only becomes an appreciable cost once we start getting to the petascale; this is pretty much true for both the Cloud providers and the traditional vendors.

But when I look round the room in a normal sales presentation/briefing; it is not uncommon for the vendor to have four or five people present, often outnumbering the number of customers in the room; account salesman, product salesman, account technical specialist, product technical specialist and probably a couple of hangers-on. A huge cost to the vendor and hence to me as a customer.

And then if we decide that we want to purchase the storage; we then drift into the extended procurement mode. Our procurement and finance teams will talk to the vendor teams; there may well also be legal teams and other meetings to deal with. The cost to both the vendor and the customer is enormous.

However if we go to a cloud vendor; we generally deal with a website. The cost is there; it’s displayed to all and the only discounts we get are based around volume. Now, I know that there are deals to be done with the larger cloud vendors; otherwise I wouldn’t be fielding calls from their recruitment people looking for people to work in their technical consultancy/sales teams but their sales efforts and costs are a lot less.

It seems to me that if the traditional storage vendors really want to compete with the cloud vendors, they need to change their sales model completely. This means stripping out huge amounts of the cost of sale; this means that they also need to consider how they equalise the playing field for customers both large and small; published volume discounts and reduced costs for all, especially the smaller customers. The Enterprise customers will not initially see a huge difference in their cost base but smaller customers will have greater choice and long-term it will benefit all; perhaps even some vendors.

Basically stop selling storage; build better products, sensible marketing and reduced friction to acquisition.

I kind of hope that the move to storage delivered as software designed to run on commodity hardware could drive this but at the moment, I see many traditional vendors really struggling to come up with a sales and marketing strategy to support this transition.

The one who gets this right, could or should do very well. The ones who continue with sales-model that is based on how they sold hardware in the past…could fail very hard.

Yes, there are customers who still like the idea of buying hardware and software in an integrated package; arguably, that’s what the cloud-providers do with serious limitations; but they will look at disaggregated models and do the cost modelling. Your prices should not attract some of the serious premium that you believe that you deserve….so look at ways of taking out cost.


Wish I was there?

It’s an unusual month which sees me travel to conferences twice but October was that month but there is a part of me who wishes that I was on the road again and off to the OpenStack Summit in Paris. At the moment, it seems that OpenStack has the real momentum and it would have been interesting to compare and contrast it with VMworld.

There does seem to be a huge overlap in the vendors attending and even the people but it feels like it is the more vibrant community at the moment. And as the OpenStack services continue to extend and expand; it seems that it is a community that is only going to grow and embrace all aspects of infrastructure.

But I have a worry in that some people are looking at OpenStack as a cheaper alternative to VMware; it’s not and it’s a long way off that and hopefully it’ll never be that…OpenStack needs to be looked as a different way of deploying infrastructure and applications, not to virtualise your legacy applications. I am sure that we will at some point get case-studies where someone has virtualised their Exchange infrastructure on it but for every success in virtualising legacy, there are going to be countless failures.

If you want an alternative to VMware for your legacy; Hyper-V is probably it and it may be cheaper in the short-term. Hyper-V is still woefully ignored by many; lacking in cool and credibility but it is certainly worth looking at as an alternative; Microsoft have done a good job and you might want to whisper this but I hear good things from people I trust about Azure.

Still, OpenStack has that Linux-type vibe and with every Tom, Dick and Harriet offering their own distribution; it feels very familiar…I wonder which distribution is going to be Redhat and which is going to be Yggdrasil.


Fujitsu Storage – With Tentacles..

So Fujitsu have announced the ETERNUS CD10000; their latest storage product designed to meet the demands of the hyperscale and the explosion in data growth and it’s based on….Ceph.

It seems that Ceph is quickly becoming the go-to scale-out and unified system for those companies who don’t already have an in-house file-system to work-on. Redhat’s acquisition of Ink-Tank has steadied that ship with regards to commercial support.

And it is hard to see why anyone would go to Fujitsu for a Ceph cluster; especially considering some of the caveats that Fujitsu put on it’s deployment. The CD10000 will scale to 224 nodes; that’s a lot of server to put on the floor just to support storage workloads and yet Fujitsu were very wary about allowing you to run workloads on the storage nodes despite the fact that the core operating system is Centos.

CephFS is an option with the CD10000 but the Ceph website explicitly says that this is not ready for production workloads; even with the latest release .87 Giant. Yes, you read that right; Ceph is not yet a v1.0 release; now that in itself will scare off a number of potential clients.

It’s a brave decision of Fujitsu to base a major new product on Ceph; it’s still very early days for Ceph in the production mainstream. But with large chunks of IT industry betting on OpenStack and Ceph’s close (but not core) relationship with OpenStack, it’s kind of understandable.

Personally, I think it’s a bit early and the caveats around the Eternus CD10000 deployment is limiting currently; I’d wait for the next release or so before deploying.


Could VMAX3 possibly be the last incarnation of the Symmetrix that ships?

As an Enterprise Array, it feels done; there is little left to do, arguably this has been the case for some time but the missing feature for VMAX had always been ease of use and simplicity. The little foibles such as the Rule of 17, Hypers, Metas, BCVs vs Clones all added to the mystique/complexity and led to many storage admins believing that we were some kind of special priesthood.

The latest version of VMAX and the rebrand of the Enginuity into HyperMax removes much of this and it finally feels like a modern array…as easy to configure and run as any array from their competitors.

And with this ease of use; it feels like the VMAX is done as an Enterprise Array…there is little more to add. As block array, it is feature complete.

The new NAS functionality will need building upon but apart from this…it’s done.

So this leaves EMC with VNX and VMAX; two products that are very close in features and functionality; one that is cheap and one that is still expensive. So VMAX’s only key differentiator is cost…a Stellar Artois of the storage world.

I can’t help but feel that VNX should have a relatively short future but perhaps EMC will continue to gouge the market with the eye-watering costs that VMAX still attracts. A few years a go; I thought the Clariion team might win out over the Symm team, now I tend to believe that eventually the Symm will win out.

But as it stands, VMAX3 is the best enterprise array that EMC have shipped but arguably it should be the last enterprise array that they ship. The next VMAX version should just be software running on either your hardware or perhaps a common commodity platform that EMC ship with the option of running the storage personality of choice. And at that point; it will become increasingly hard to justify the extra costs that the ‘Enterprise’ array attracts.

This model is radically different to the way they sell today…so moving them into a group with the BURA folks makes sense; these folks are used to selling software and understand that is a different model..well some of them do.

EMC continue to try to re-shape themselves and are desperately trying to change their image; I can see a lot of pain for them over the next few years especially as they move out of the Tucci era.

Could they fail?

Absolutely but we live a world where it is conceivable that anyone of the big IT vendors could fail in the next five years. I don’t think I remember a time when they all looked so vulnerable but as their traditional products move to a state of ‘doneness’; they are all thrashing around looking for the next thing.

And hopefully they won’t get away with simply rebranding the old as new…but they will continue to try.


Scrapheap Challenge

On the way to ‘Powering the Cloud’ with Greg Ferro and Chris Evans, we got to discussing Greg’s book White Box Networking and whether there could be a whole series of books discussing White Box storage, virtualisation, servers etc and how to build a complete White Box environment.

This lead me to thinking about how you would build an entire environment and how cheap it would be if you simply used eBay as your supplier/reseller.  If you start looking round eBay, it is crazy how far you can make your money go; dual processor HP G7s with 24Gb for less than £1000.; 40 port 10 GbE switch for £1500; 10 GbE cards down to £60.  Throw in a Supermicro 36 drive storage chassis and build a hefty storage device utilising that; you can build a substantial environment for less than £10,000 without even trying.

I wonder how far you could go in building the necessary infrastructure for a start-up with very few compromises. And whether you can completely avoid going into the cloud at all?  The thing that itsstill going to hurt is the external network connectivity to the rest of the world.

But instead of ‘White Box’…perhaps it’s time for junk-box infrastructure. I don’t think it’d be any worse than quite a few existing corporate infrastructures and would probably be more up-to-date than many.

What you could build?