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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.

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…

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.

 

 

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.

 

Too Cheap To Manage…

Five years or so when I started this blog, I spent much time venting my spleen at EMC and especially the abomination that was Control-Center; a product so poor that a peer in the inudstry once described it as being too expensive even if it was free.

And yet still the search for the perfect storage management product still continues; there have been contenders along the way and yet they still continue to fall short and as the administration tools have got better and easier to use, the actual management tools have still fallen some way short of the mark.

But something else has happened and it was only a chance conversation today that highlighted this to me; the tenuous business case that many have been purchased on has collapsed…many storage management products are purchased with the business case that ultimately that they will save you money by allowing you to right-size your storage estate….they will maximise the usage of the estate that you have on the floor.

Unfortunately and it surprises to say this; the price of enterprise storage has collapsed…seriously, although it is still obviously too expensive (I have to say that); the price of storage management products has not declined at the same rate. This means that it is doubtful that I can actually save enough capacity to make it worth my time trying too hard and putting in a tool to do so, the economics don’t actually stack up.

So there has to be whole new business case around risk mitigation, change-planning, improved agility…or the licensing model that tends to be capacity-based in some form or another has to be reviewed.

Do we still need good storage management tools? Yes but they need to focused on automation and service delivery; not on simply improving the utilisation of the estate.

Thin-provisioning, deduplication, compression and the likes are already driving down these costs; they do this ways that are easier than reclaiming orphaned storage and even under-utilised SAN ports.And as long as I am clever, I can pick-up a lot of orphaned storage on refresh.

If ‘Server-SAN’ is a real thing; these tools are going to converge into the general management tools, giving me a whole new topic to vent at..because most of these aren’t especially great either.

p.s If you want to embarrass EMC and make them sheepish…just mention Control-Center…you’d think it’d killed someone..

Buying Any Kind of IT..

Thanks to Sean Horne for reminding me of this…

I think we’ve all been there and at times the feature lists seem to defy the brightest salesbod to explain. Although, the sales audience seems to be rather too interested in what the product they are expected to sell actually does and what value it might bring..

Buying High-End Storage

I was in the process of writing a blog about buying High-End storage..then I remembered this sketch. So in a purely lazy blog entry, I think this sums at the experience of many storage buyers…

 

I think as we head into a month or so of breathless announcements, bonkers valuations and industry nonsense..it is worth a watch…

But I do have some special audiophile SAN cables which will enhance the quality of your data if you want some!! It may even enbiggen it!

Buy Savvy….

Howard has a piece titled ‘Separating Storage Startups From Upstarts’; it actually feels more like a piece on how to be a technology buyer and how to be a savvy buyer. As someone who on occasion buys a bit of technology or at least influences buying decisions…here’s some of my thoughts.

List price from any vendor is completely meaningless; most vendors only seem to have list prices to comply with various corporate governance regimes. And of course having a list price means that the procurement department can feel special when they’ve negotiated the price down to some stupidly low percentage of the original quote; in a world where 50%+ discounts are common, list is nonsense.

What is true is that often a start-ups list price will be lower than the traditional vendor; it’s got to be even to start a conversation.

In my experience; the biggest mistake an end-user can make is not being willing to take any bid competitive; dual supplier type arrangements are good but often can lead to complexity in an environment. If you can split your infrastructure into domains; say for example you buy all your block from one vendor and your file from another vendor..or perhaps, you have a tiering strategy that allows you to do something similar.

But loyalty can bring rewards as well; partnership is thrown around but learning to work with your vendor is important. Knowing which buttons to press and learning how a vendor organisation works is often key to getting the most out of infrastructure procurement.

Howard’s assertion about a three-year life of an array in a data centre? This doesn’t seem to ring true for me and many of my peers; four-five years seems  to the minimum life in general. If it were three years, we would generally be looking at an actual two-year useful life of an array; six months to get on, two years running and six months to get off. Many organisations are struggling with four years and as arrays get bigger; this is getting longer.

And the pain of going through a technology refresh every three years; well we’d be living in a constant sea of moving data whilst trying to do new things as well. So my advice, plan for a five year refresh cycle…

My advice to any technology buyer is to pay close attention to the ‘UpStarts’ but also pay attention to your existing relationships; know what you want and what you need. Make sure that any vendor or potential vendor can do what they say; understand what they can do when there are problems. Test their commitment and flexibility.

Look very carefully at any new offering from anyone; is it a product or a feature?  If it is a feature; is it one that is going to change your world substantially? Violin arguably fell into the trap of being a feature; extreme performance…it’s something that few really need.

And when dealing with a new company; understand where their sales-culture has come from…if you had a bad experience with their previous employer, there’s a fair chance that you might have a similar experience again.

 

Hats and Homes..

As Chad breaks his principles to pimp his product and go negative on the other guy here; he hits on something interesting, well I think it’s interesting. It’s how a product becomes a feature; in this case ‘sync n’ share’ functionality.

We’ve seen products become features before; deduplication has moved from being a product to becoming a feature of most storage arrays. And I don’t think it’ll be too long before we see it beginning to appear in consumer storage devices either.

But ‘Sync n’ Share’ is of a whole different order; the valuations of some the companies is quite scary and Chad is probably right about the general unrealism of them. The ‘Sync n’ Share’ companies are vulnerable to attack via a number of vectors; this is not a criticism of the products…Dropbox for example is a great product on many levels; it has great functionality but maybe some questions about security and privacy.

However its ease of use and access means that it has been embraced by both the consumer and the business user (Yes, I know they are consumers); this has scared the crap out of the IT department who find it very hard to compete with ‘free’…you try and build a business case which competes with free; you can talk till you are tired about security concerns.

Few want to pay for it, certainly at scale; it starts to amount to a frightening figure. [Hmmm, business cases and responsibility for presenting them; that's a whole different blog.] So what happens; the end-users, even if banned by security policies, will continue to use the services. The services are just too damn useful.

And as mobile/BYOD/desktop/laptop/home-working proliferates; they become necessary. People’s home directories are migrating to these services. Work on a document on your desktop, present it on your tablet…without having to transfer it; this workflow simply works.

What we are going to see is vendors of operating systems and storage systems start to build this functionality into their products as a feature. If you are a NAS vendor; you are going to provide an app that allows the user to access their home directories from their mobile device or the web etc…If you are Microsoft or Apple; you are going build this into the operating system. If you are sensible, you are not going to charge a huge amount to provide this functionality; those business cases become a lot simpler, especially if you are simply layering on top of existing home directories and shares.

And what was once a product..is now simply a feature.

Those valuations are going to plummet; I don’t think that application integration and APIs will save them. If I were Dropbox or Box…I’d be looking to sell myself off to a vendor who wants the feature. 

Comparisons with the fate of Netscape might well be made…

 

Fundamental…

I’m a big fan of Etherealmind and his blog; I like that it is a good mix of technical and professional advice; he’s also a good guy to spend an hour or so chatting to, he’s always generous with his time to peers and even when he knows a lot more than you about a subject, you never really feel patronised or lectured to.

I particularly liked this blog, myself and Greg are really on the same page with regards to work/life balance but it is this paragraph that stands out..

 

Why am I focussed on work life ? After 25 or so years in technology, I have developed some level of mastery.  Working on different products is usually just a few days work to come up to speed on the CLI or GUI. Takes a few more weeks to understand some of the subtle tricks. Say a month to be competent, maybe two months. The harder part is refreshing my knowledge on different technologies – for example, SSL, MPLS, Proxy, HTTP, IPsec, SSL VPN. I often need to refresh my knowledge since it fades from my brain or there is some advancement. IPsec is a good example where DMVPN is a solid advancement but takes a few weeks to update the knowledge to an operational level.

Now although he is talking about networking technologies; what he says is true about storage technologies and actually pretty much all of IT these days. You should be able to become productive on most technologies in a matter of days providing you have the fundamentals; spend your early days becoming knowledgeable about the underlying principles and avoid vendor-specific traps.

Try not to run a translation layer in your mind; too many storage admins are translating back to the first array that they worked on; they try to turn hypers and metas into aggregates, they worry about fan-outs without understanding why you have to in some architectures and not necessarily so in others.

Understanding the underlying principles means that you can evaluate new products that much quicker; you are not working why product ‘A’ is better than product ‘B’, this often results in biases. You understand why product ‘A’ is a good fit for your requirement and you also understand why neither product is a good fit.

Instead of iSCSI bad, FC good…you will develop an idea as to the appropriate use-case for either.

You will become more useful…and you will find that you are less resistant to change; it becomes less stressful and easier to manage. Don’t become an EMC dude, become a Storagebod…Don’t become a Linux SysAdmin, become a SysAdmin.

Am I advocating generalism? To a certain extent, yes but you can become expert within a domain and not a savant for a specific technology.

And a final bit of advice; follow Etherealmind….he talks sense for a network guy!