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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.

 

 

Stretching…

So EMC have finally productised Nile and given it the wonderful name of ‘Elastic Cloud Storage’; there is much to like about it and much I have been asking for…but before I talk about what I like about it, I’ll point out one thing…

Not Stretchy

It’s not very Elastic, well not when compared to the Public Cloud Offerings unless there is a very complicated finance model behind it and even then it might not be that Elastic. One of the things that people really like about Public Cloud Storage is that they pay for what they use and if their consumption goes down….then their costs go down.

Now EMC can probably come up with a monthly charge based on how much you are using; they certainly can do capacity on demand. And they might be able to do something with leasing to allow downscaling as well at a financial level but what they can’t easily do is take storage away on demand. So that 5 petabytes will be on premise and using space; it will also need maintaining even if it spins down to save power.

Currently EMC are stating 9%-28% lower TCO over Public Cloud…it needs to be. Also that is today; Google and Amazon are fighting a price-war, can EMC play in that space and react quickly enough? They claim that they are cheaper after the last round of price cutting but after the next?

So it’s not as Elastic as Public Cloud and this might matter…unless they are relying on the fact that storage demands never seem to go away.

Commodity

I can’t remember when I started writing about commodity storage and the convergence between storage and servers. Be it roll-your-own or when vendors were going to start doing something very similar; ZFS really sparked a movement who looked at storage and thought why do we need big vendors like EMC, NetApp, HDS and HP for example.

Yet there was always the thorny issue of support and for many of us; it was a bridge too far. In fact, it actually started to look more expensive than buying a supported product..and we quite liked sleeping at night.

But there were some interesting chassis out there that really started to catch our eyes and even our traditional server vendors were shipping interesting boxes. It was awfully tempting.

And so I kept nagging the traditional vendors…

Many didn’t want to play or were caught up in their traditional business. Some didn’t realise that this was something that they could do and some still don’t.

Acquisition

The one company who had the most to loose from a movement to commodity storage was EMC; really, this could be very bad news. There’s enough ‘hate’ in the market for a commodity movement to get some real traction. So they bought a company that could allow commoditisation of storage at scale; I think at least some of us thought that would be the end of that. Or it would disappear down a rabbit hole to resurface as an overpriced product.

And the initial indications were that it wasn’t going to disappear but it was going to be stupidly expensive.

Also getting EMC to talk sensibly about Scale-IO was a real struggle but the indication is that it was a good but expensive product.

Today

So what EMC have announced at EMC-World is kind of surprising in that it looks like that they may well be willing to rip the guts out of their own market. We can argue about the pricing and the TCO model but it looks a good start; street prices and list prices have a very loose relationship. The four year TCO they are quoting needs to drop by a bit to be really interesting.

But the packaging and the option to deploy on your own hardware; although this is going to be from a carefully controlled catalogue I guess; is a real change from EMC. But you will also notice that EMC have got into the server-game; a shot across the bows of the converged players?

And don’t just expect this to be a content dump; Scale-IO can do serious I/O if you deploy SSDs.

Tomorrow

My biggest problem with Scale-IO is that it breaks EMC; breaks them in a good way but it’s a completely different sales model. For large storage consumers, an Enterprise License Agreement with all you can eat and deploying onto your chosen commodity platform is going to be very attractive. Now the ELA might be a big-sum but as a per terabyte cost; it might not be so big and the more you use; the cheaper it gets.

And Old EMC might struggle a bit with that. They’ll probably try to sell you a VMAX to sit behind your ViPR nodes.

Competitors?

RedHat have an opportunity now with Ceph; especially amongst those who hate EMC for being EMC. IBM could do something with GPFS. HP have a variety of products.

There are certainly smaller competitors as well.

And then there’s VMware with VSAN; which I still don’t understand!

There’s an opportunity here for a number of people…they need to grasp it and compete. This isn’t going to go away any more.

 

 

Missing – One Big Iron

There appears to be a missing announcement at EMC-World; I think the world and their dog were expecting a VMAX announcement. I certainly was; we’ve not had a big VMAX announcement at EMC-World for a couple of years.

So what gives?

Now, have no doubt….there is a new VMAX coming and EMC’s high-end array sales show that the market is expecting it and might well be holding off on new purchases and refreshes. Question is, is it late or is it something else entirely?

I’m tending towards the latter; I think EMC are trying their hardest to transition to a new culture and product-set; they can’t do this if they have a VMAX announcement as a distraction.

So I’m guessing we’ll see a special event later in the year…won’t that be great! Looking forward to it!!

May Means Marketing Malarkey…

Okay, storage vendor posts another stupid guarantee; it’s like deja-vu all over again.

And EMC, if you are so confident about your claims…make the guarantee unlimited, not time-bound and so when there are enough of the arrays around to ensure that there is a decent sample-base of strange corner-cases to cause problems.

Otherwise it’s just another marketing stunt!

 

Not So Potty

Virtual Openness

I don’t always agree with Trevor Pott but this piece on ServerSAN, VSAN and storage acceleration is spot on; the question about VSAN running in the kernel and the advantages that brings to performance; and indeed, I’ve also heard comments about reliability, support and the likes over competing products is very much one which has left me scratching my head and feeling very irritated.

If running VSAN in the kernel is so much better and it almost feels that it should be; it kind of asks another question, perhaps I would be better running all my workloads on bare-metal or as close as I can.

Or perhaps VMware need to be allowing a lot more access to the kernel or a pluggable architecture that allows various infrastructure services to run at that level. There are a number of vendors that would welcome that move and it might actually hasten the adoption of VMware yet further or at least take out some of the more entrenched resistance around it.

I do hope more competition in the virtualisation space will bring more openness to the VMware hypervisor stack.

And it does seem that we are beginning towards data-centres which host competing virtualisation technologies; so it would be good if that at a certain level that these became more infrastructure agnostic. From a purely selfish point of view; it would be good to have the same technology to present storage space to VMware, Hyper-V, KVM and anything else.

I would like to easily share data between systems that run on different technologies and hypervisors; if I use VSAN, I can’t do this without putting in some other technology on top.

Perhaps VMware don’t really want me to have more than one hypervisor in my data-centre; the same way that EMC would prefer that all my storage was from them…but they have begun to learn to live with reality and perhaps they need to encourage VMware to live in the real world as well.  I certainly have use-cases that utilise bare-metal for some specific tasks but that data does find its way into virtualised environments.

Speedy Storage

There are many products that promise to speed-up your centralised storage and they work very well, especially in simple use-cases. Trevor calls this Centralised Storage Acceleration (CSA); some are software products, some come with hardware devices and some are mixture of both.

They can have some significant impact on the performance of your workloads; databases can benefit from them especially (most databases benefit more with decent DBAs and developers how-ever); they are a quick fix for many performance issues and remove that bottleneck which is spinning rust.

But as soon as you start to add complexity; clustering, availability and moving beyond a basic write-cache functionality…they stop being a quick-fix and become yet another system to go wrong and manage.

Fairly soon; that CSA becomes something a lot closer to a ServerSAN and you are sticking that in front of your expensive SAN infrastructure.

The one place that a CSA becomes interesting is as Cloud Storage Acceleration; a small amount of flash storage on server but with the bulk of data sitting in a cloud of some sort.

So what is going on?

It is unusual to have such a number of competing deployment models for infrastructure; in storage, we have an increasing number of deployment models.

  • Centralised Storage – the traditional NAS and SAN devices
  • Direct Attached Storage – Local disk with the application layer doing all the replication and other data management services
  • Distributed Storage – Server-SAN; think VSAN and competitors

And we can layer an acceleration infrastructure on top of those; this acceleration infrastructure could be local to the server or perhaps an appliance sitting in the ‘network’.

All of these have use-cases and the answer may well be that to run a ‘large’ infrastructure; you need a mixture of them all?

Storage was supposed to get simple and we were supposed to focus on the data and providing data services. I think people forgot that just calling something a service didn’t make it simple and the problems go away.