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Something’s missing?

Yes, I know…I’m getting very lazy about blogging; I’m still not sure if the industry is boring me or simply exasperating me so much that I cannot be bothered to vent my spleen any more. I suspect that it is a bit of both! This should be an interesting year for the industry with the mergers, takeovers and companies simply thrashing around trying to reinvent themselves. So apart from life still being somewhat stressful, I amuse myself trying to get my home-office perfectly set-up. I might even put up pictures once I have done so!!

Anyway the recent announcements from companies large and small around All Flash Arrays has temporarily pricked me awake; hopefully at some point soon, the All Flash Array Announcment will no longer be a thing, it’ll just be another array announcement. Flash will eventually subsume rotational rust as the primary storage medium of choice for all workloads; well until the next big thing comes along. Opinion as to when this is does vary from pundit to purveyeor but it is going to happen.

That time is not here though and perhaps it is still worth considering the best use of our storage capacity and how to get the most from it. And it seems that some vendors don’t really want to help us poor customers in this space.

If you ship an AFA variant of existing array and you either add new features that aren’t supported on the exisiting variant across all tiers of storage be it flash or rotational rust or vice versa; I want good architectural reasons as to why you can’t do so. Compression for example works very well on both traditional disk and flash; in-line deduplication is harder, so you might get a pass on the latter but not the former. If you want to try to convince me that your expensive Flash tier is actually as cheap as the traditional tier you also ship; you are going to have work extra hard to do so when competing with vendors who can actually enable features across all of their tiers.

I shall leave it to the reader’s imagination as to which vendor might be attempting to play this game.

Punish the Pundits!!

A day rarely goes by without someone declaring one technology or another is dead…and rarely a year goes by without someone declaring this is the year of whatever product they happen to be pimping or in favour of.

And yet, you can oft find dead technologies in rude health and rarely does it actually turn out to be the year of the product it is supposed to be the year of.

It turns out that pundits (including me) really have little idea what technology is going to die or fly. And that is what makes the industry fun and interesting.

The storage industry is especially good for this; SAN is dead, DAS lives, NAS is obsolete, Object is the future, iSCSI will never work, Scale Up, Scale Out…

We know nothing…

The only thing we do know is that data volumes will keep getting bigger and we need somewhere to put it.

In the past three months; I’ve seen technologies in what everyone will have you believe are innovation-free zones that have made me stop and think ‘But I thought that was going to die….’

Yes we have far too many start-ups in some parts of the industry; far too many people have arrived at where they thought the puck was going to be.

A few people seem to be skating round where the puck was.

And there’s a few people who have picked the puck, stuck in their pocket and hidden it.

So my prediction for the next eighteen months…

‘Bumpy….with the chance of sinkholes!’

My advice…

‘Don’t listen to the pundits, we know nothing….we just love the shinies!!’

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.


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.




FUD Returns?

Are we drifting into another round of the storage wars where FUD starts to fly? It always makes for good copy. The little guy complaining about the big guy who is complaining about the little guy; David with his sling versus Goliath with his rocket launcher.

EMC versus 3Par NetApp Pure Storage?

The thing with FUD is that it doesn’t really work unless there is the tiniest grain of truth in their somewhere; you take the smallest and most inconsequential thing and magnify it. And in storage, it is really easy to do it….why?

Because it depends!

Storage workloads can be very different and have very different characteristics; a great majority of my workloads are very different to most peoples. And I find myself taking exception to almost every marketing message out there from all vendors.

Tape Is Dead? Not in my workloads; tape is really the only current economical media for long term digital archives.

Disk is cheaper than tape? Only if you can get significant dedupe and compression.

SSD is better than disk? When throughput is king; disk and SSD end-up about the same.

SSD same price as disk?   Only if you can get significant dedupe and compression.

Scale-Up versus Scale-Out? I happen to think that Scale-Out is the best architecture, it suits my applications..if you have a large legacy estate, you might find that Scale-Up works better for you.

There are so many factors to account for in many workloads; from application design to the nature of the data…

Storage doesn’t really distil down into a nice simple marketing message but it doesn’t stop them from trying and hence we get FUD.

It’s sometimes Funny

It’s mostly Useless

It’s written by Drones…

And we’ll get more of it this year than we have had for a few years…

And where’s Marc Farley when you need him…



Viperidae – not that venomous?

There’s a lot of discussion about what ViPR is and what it isn’t; how much of this confusion is deliberate and how much is simply the normal of fog of war which pervades the storage industry is debateable. Having had some more time to think about it; I have some more thoughts and questions.

Firstly, it is a messy announcement; there’s a hotch-potch of products here, utilising IP from acquisitions and from internal EMC initiatives. There’s also an attempt to build a new narrative which doesn’t seem to work; perhaps it worked better when put into the context of an EMC World event but not so much from the outside.

And quite simply, I don’t see anything breathtaking or awe-inspiring but perhaps I’m just hard to impress these days?

But I think there are some good ideas here.

ViPR as a tool to improve storage management and turn it into something which is automatable is a pretty good idea. But we’ve had the ability to script much of this for many years; the problem has always been that every vendor has some different way of doing this, syntax and tools are different and often not internally consistent between themselves.

Building pools of capability and service; calling it a virtual array…that’s a good idea but nothing special. If ViPR can have virtual arrays which federate and span multiple arrays; moving workloads around within the virtual array, maintaining consistency groups and the like across arrays from different vendors; now that’d be something special. But that would almost certainly put you into the data-path and you end up building a more traditional storage virtualisation device.

Taking an approach where the management of array is abstracted and presented in a consistent manner; this is not storage virtualisation, perhaps it is storage management virtualisation?

EMC have made a big deal about the API being open and that anyone will be able to implement plug-ins for it; any vendor should be able to produce a plug-in which will allow ViPR to ‘manage’ their array.

I really like the idea that this also presents a consistent API to the ‘user’; allowing the user to not care about what the storage vendor is at the other end; they just ask for disk from a particular pool and off it goes. This should be able to be done from an application, a web-front-end or anything else which interacts with an API.

So ViPR becomes basically a translation layer.

Now, I wonder how EMC will react to someone producing their own clean-room implementation of the ViPR API? If someone does a Eucalyptus to them? Will they welcome it? Will they start messing around with the API? I am not talking about plug-ins here, I am talking about a ViPR-compatible service-broker.

On more practical things, I am also interested on how ViPR will be licensed? A capacity based model? A service based model? Number of devices?

What I am not currently seeing is something which looks especially evil! People talk about lock-in? Okay, if you write a lot of ViPR based automation and provisioning, you are going to be kind of locked-in but I don’t see anything that stops your arrays working if you take ViPR out. As far as I can see, you could still administer your arrays in the normal fashion?

But that in itself could be a problem; how does ViPR keep itself up to date with the current state of a storage estate? What if your storage guys try to manage both via ViPR and the more traditional array management tools?

Do we again end up with the horrible situation where the actual state of an environment is not reflected in the centralised tool.

I know EMC will not thank me for trying to categorise ViPR as just another storage management tool ‘headache’ and I am sure there is more to it. I’m sure that there will be someone along to brief me soon.

And I am pretty positive about what they are trying to do. I think the vitriol and FUD being thrown at it is out of all proportion but then again, so was the announcement.

Yes, I know have ignored the Object on File or File on Object part of the announcement. I’ll get onto that in a later post.



2011 – A Vendor Retrospective….

So, we’re winding down to Christmas and looking forward to spending time with our families, so I guess it’s time for me to do a couple of Christmas blog entries. It’s been a funny year really, a lot has happened in the world of technology but nothing really has changed in my opinion; there’s certainly some interesting tremors and fore-shadowing though.

HP started the year in a mess and finish the year in a mess; they got themselves into a bigger mess in the middle of the year but appear to have pulled themselves from the brink of the abyss. I can still hear the pebbles bouncing of the walls of the abyss as HP scramble but I think they’ll be okay. 3Par is going to turn into a huge win for them.

EMC started the year with a Big Bang of nothing announcements and some fairly childish marketing but their ‘Big Data’ meme appears to be building up a head of steam. Isilon appears to be doing great for them and although EMC still don’t appear to understand some of the verticals that they play in now, they seem to understand that they don’t and are generally letting the Isilon guys get on with it. Yes, they’ve lost a few people but that’s always the case. Their JV with Cisco; I hear mixed reviews, I think that they are doing well in the Service Provider space but less well in the other verticals; still, they are certainly marketing well to partner organisations.

HDS still struggle around message but they seem to be getting a better selling stuff and are going aggressively after business. Much of this seems to be by ‘ripping the arse’ out of prices but a newly hungry and aggressive HDS is not such a bad thing. I still think that they are not quite sure how to sell outside of their comfort zone but some of the arrogance has gone.

IBM; Incoherent Basic Marketing. There’s a huge opportunity for IBM and yet they seem to be confused. They do have a vision and they do have technology but they do seem to struggle with the bit in the middle.  And they never seem to finish a product; so much feels half-done.

NetApp bought Engenio; a great buy but have they confused themselves? Revenues appear to be plateauing and from my anecdotal evidence, adoption of OnTap 8 is slow. I think in hindsight that some within NetApp may agree that OnTap 8 shipped too early and it was a ‘release anything’ type move; OnTap 8.1 is really OnTap 8.

Oracle ‘bought’ Pillar and still have no storage story. Larry should bite the bullet and buy NetApp; much as that might upset some of  my friends at NetApp.

I started the year with great hopes for Dell and I finish the year with some great hopes for Dell but they need to move fast with a sober HP on the horizon. HP could shut them out.

Elsewhere in the industry, pure-play SSD start-ups seem to be hot and there’s a lot of new players in that space. There’s going to be more in that space as people start to treat SSDs as a new class of storage as opposed to simply faster spinning rust. I do worry at the focus on VMware by some of these start-ups and their exposure to VMware doing something which impacts the start-up’s model and technology. Design with virtualisation in mind but ensure that you are agile enough to dodge the slings and arrows of misfortune.

One thing which has saddened me over the past eighteen months is the fall off in blog entries by some of the more notable bloggers. I know you are busy guys but is an entry every other week or so too much to ask? I miss reading some of you!! Hey, I even miss some of the heated spats in the comments.



So who do I trust to bring me independent and objective views; where do I get information from about the products out there? I’ve been asked this question recently and there’s also been some mutterings on Twitter about the lack of transparency about some of the things out there.

I get my information from a variety of sources as I suspect we all do

Journalists: Now, I must lament some of the technology journalism; it’s sheer churnalism, the regurgitating and almost copy and pasting of press releases. I might as well go direct to the PR agency or the vendor. But we do have the odd good one who do try to hunt down a story, not take the vendor’s word on everything; yes, Mr Mellor, I’m thinking of you.

But even the churnalists, I generally trust that they are not being paid directly by the vendors with the exclusion of advertising revenue. I trust that you are not spinning a story to make the vendor look better. This may be naive but I hope this is true.

Bloggers: Well there are regrettably few independents left in the Storage World, it is nice to have a voice which is both speaking from experience but also from neutrality. Yes at times, I question whether anyone can be truly neutral and the FTC rules around disclosure are pretty good in allowing me to make a judgement. I think we have to be careful that we don’t become the ‘tech liggers’, turning up at every tech event on expenses paid for by a sponsoring vendor.

This does make life a bit hard, certainly for those of us who have corporate jobs but I think in general we do pretty well at managing this.

Peers: Probably the most useful of all my information sources, swapping experiences and opinions about technology. Sometimes having the conversation which the vendor really does not want you to have and puncturing the unreality bubble surrounding some technologies is incredibly useful. It would be great if we could have these conversations more publicly but we have families to feed. By the way, having worked the other side of the fence; I know the conversations about customers and shared experiences there could be equally career limiting if made public.

Analysts: Unfortunately I have to the stage where I believe almost nothing an analyst writes unless somewhere in the piece it discloses who paid for the piece. If there is no disclosure, I just don’t trust it; the analyst companies such as Gartner have been so opaque about their dealings with vendors that none of you are trusted.

And you really don’t help yourselves, lets take ‘The Cube’ for example; how many people who watch those videos realise that it’s a pay to play thing? They are generally flagged as interviews but you need to flag-up that these are paid for slots. So Wikibon who were supposed be a new form of analyst find themselves in that mire.

I hear conflicting stories about all analyst companies so it is probably unfair to pick on Wikibon and Gartner specifically but I think that all analyst companies should have a piece on their Business Model and how they make money. If you are taking money from both vendors and subscribers, I would like a disclosure of the proportion of your revenues are from each sector.

Squeaky clean is what you have to be.

Vendors: I trust all of the information I get from vendors….to show their product in the best possible light at the expense of the competition. I expect praise for competitors to be faint at the very best. But I do get good information from vendors and if you filter well you at times get the odd nugget about a competitor.

If a vendor tells me there’s an issue with another vendor’s technology; I generally will ask and often there is a grain of truth. Sometimes it’s an historical thing, sometimes not but it’s a whilst since I had a vendor tell me a blatant untruth. Of course I much prefer vendors to talk about their own stuff.

But when vendors get my goat is when they selectively quote from a piece which shows them in a good light and when you dig, you find it’s a piece that they paid for or with a company that they have a commercial relationship with.

And don’t be weasels and hide the relationship in small print; no-one reads small print.


Just answer the question

Every now and then I dive into the forums on places on Linked In and come across discussions where people ask for advice about which piece of kit to buy;  they list some requirements and then various people dive in with answers and recommendations.

It never ceases to amaze me the way that people completely ignore the requirements and just pimp the piece of kit that they are selling.

But of course this is the way that the Internet and forums have always worked. No-one ever reads what the original question was; if they did, the forums would actually be pleasant and useful.

People talk about the the Wisdom of Crowds but that only works if the crowd can read.

So next time you are on a forum, trying to pimp your kit; try reading the question and if you can’t answer the question with your kit…..

Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt

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