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Big Ideas

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!

New Service Offering…

I like sales people and marketeers; they are often nice, genuine and good people….mostly!

But..

I’ve got a new service to offer; if you think that you’ve invented a new product sector, a new market, a new concept…email me and we’ll arrange a call.

If you can convince me that you’ve invented a completely new concept; the call is free and I’ll even write a blog on it but I won’t pimp your product. If I call ‘Bullsh*t’, you buy me something off my Amazon wishlist and I won’t laugh at you in public!

And I’ll give you a starter…if your new concept is Anything Defined Anything….it’s ‘Bullsh*t…total and utter crap…’!

 

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!

 

 

A Press Release From The Future…

Future-View, CA – March 2018

Evian Storage – Storage so Pure it’s like a torrent of glacial water announced today the end of the All-Flash-Array with the announcement of it’s StupendoStore 20000 based around the HyperboleHype-based storage device.

Our research shows that All Flash Arrays are slowing down businesses in their move to meet the new business paradigms brought about by computing at the quantum scale. Their architectures simply can’t keep up and storage is yet again the bottle-neck and yet scaling economically also seems to be beyond them.  Customers have found themselves locked into an architecture which promised no more fork-lift upgrades but has delivered technology lock-in and all the agility of a dancing hippo. Forget about fork-lifts, we are talking cranes!

Fortunately our team’s experience in delivering hybrid arrays at such companies as EMC, HDS, NetApp and other vendors has enabled us to take advantage of the newest technology on the block but also leverage the economies of flash and indeed the huge capacity and scale of magnetic disk; we know that your data should live in the right place and although we admit that our arrays might not be as fast the Purest arrays…I’m sure we’re not the only ones who prefer their rocket fuel with a little mixer…

Yes, this is a dig at the All-Flash players…but it doesn’t matter how great your technology is today; there will always be something newer and faster round the corner. And as a customer, it is worth remembering that the future is always closer than you think. It could be only a single depreciation cycle away, a single tech-refresh away. The challenge for all vendors is delivering a sustainable model and product-set.

And no-one product will meet all your needs….no matter what the vendor tells you!

VSANity?

So VSAN is finally here in a released form; on paper, it sure looks impressive but it’s not for me.

I spend an awful lot of time looking at Scale-Out Storage systems; looking at ways to do them faster, cheaper and better. And although I welcome VMware and VSAN to the party; I think that their product falls some-way from the mark but I don’t think that I’m really the target market; it’s not really ready or appropriate for Media and Entertainment or anyone interested in HyperScale.

But even so I’ve got thoughts that I’d like to share.

So VSAN is better because it runs in the VMware kernel? This seems logical but this has tied VSAN to VMware in a way that some of the competing products are not; if I want to run a Gluster Cluster which encompasses not just VMware but also XEN, bare-metal and anything else, I could. And there might be some excellent reasons why I would want to do so, I’d transcode on bare-metal machines for example but might present out on VM-ed application servers. Of course, it is not only Media and Entertainment who have such requirements; there are plenty of other places where heavy lifting would be better done on the bare-metal.

I think that VMware need to be much more open about allowing third party access to the kernel interfaces; they should allow more pluggable options; so I could run GPFS, ScaleIO, Gluster, Stornext within the VMWare kernel.

VSAN limits itself by tying itself so closely to the VMware stack; it’s scalability is limited by the current cluster size. Now there are plenty good architectural reasons for doing so but most of these are enforced by a VMware-only mindset.

But why limit to only 35 disks per server? An HP ProLiant SL4540 takes 60 disks and there are SuperMicro chassis that take 72 disks. Increasing the spindle count not only increases the maximum capacity but the RAW IOps of the solution. Of course, there might be some saturation issues with regards to the inter-server communication.

Yet, I do think it is interesting how the converged IT stacks are progressing; the differences in approach; VMware itself is pretty much a converged stack now but it is a software converged stack; VCE and Nutanix converge onto hardware as well. And yes, VMware is currently the core of all of this.

I actually prefer the VMware-only approach in many ways as I think I could scale computer and storage separately within some boundaries; I’m not sure what the impact of having unbalanced clusters will be on VSAN? Whether it would make sense to have some Big Flipping Dense VSAN appliances rather than distributing the storage equally across the nodes?

But VSAN is certainly welcome in the market; it certainly validates the approaches being taken by a number of other companies…I just wish it were more flexible and open.

 

Disrupt?

So you’ve founded a new storage business; you’ve got a great idea and you want to disrupt the market? Good for you…but you want to maintain the same-old margins as the old crew?

So you build it around commodity hardware; you use the same commodity hardware as I can buy off the shelf; basically the same disks that I can buy off the shelf from PC World or order from my preferred Enterprise tin-shifter.

You tell me that you are lean and mean? You don’t have huge sales overheads, no huge marketing budget and no legacy code to maintain?

You tell me that it’s all about the software but you still want to clothe it in hardware.

And then you tell me it’s cheaper than the stuff that I buy from my current vendor? How much cheaper? 20%, 30%, 40%, 50%??

Then I do the calculations; your cost base and your BoM is much lower and you are actually making more money per terabyte than the big old company that you used to work for?

But hey, I’m still saving money, so that’s okay….

Of course, then I dig a bit more…I want support? Your support organisation is tiny; I do my due diligence,  can you really hit your response times?

But you’ve got a really great feature? How great? I’ve not seen a single vendor come up with a feature that is so awesome and so unique that no-one manages to copy it…few which aren’t in a lab somewhere.

In a race to the bottom; you are still too greedy. You still believe that customers are stupid and will accept being ripped off.

If you were truly disruptive….you’d work out a way of articulating the value of your software without clothing it in hardware. You’d work with me on getting it onto commodity hardware and no I’m not talking about some no-name white-box; you’d work with me on getting it onto my preferred vendor’s kit; be it HP, Dell, Lenovo, Oracle or whoever else…

For hardware issues; I could utilise the economies of scale and the leverage I have with my tin-shifter; you wouldn’t have to set-up a maintenance function or sub-contract it to some third party who will inevitably let us both down.

And for software support; well you could concentrate on those…

You’d help me be truly disruptive…and ultimately we’d both be successful…

Gherkins

I can only write from my experience and your mileage will vary somewhat but 2014 is already beginning to get interesting from a storage point of view. And it appears to have little to do with technology or perhaps too little technology.

Perhaps the innovation has stopped? Or perhaps we’re finally beginning to see the impact of Google/Amazon and Azure on the Enterprise market. Pricing models seem to be being thrown out of the window as the big vendors try to work out how to defend themselves against the big Cloud players.

Historically high margins are being sacrificed in order to maintain footprint; vendors are competing against themselves internally. Commodity plays are competing with existing product sets; white-box implementations, once something that they all liked to avoid and FUD, are seriously on the agenda.

It won’t be completely free-for-all but expect to start seeing server-platforms certified as target-platforms for all but the highest-value storage. Engineering objections are being worked around as hardware teams transition to software development teams; those who won’t or can’t will become marginalised.

Last year I saw lip-service being paid to this trend; now I’m beginning to see this happening. A change in focus…long overdue.

If you work in the large Enterprise, it seems that you can have it your way….

And yet, I still see a place for the hardware vendor. I see a place for the vendor that has market leading support and the engineering smarts that means that support does not cost a fortune to provide or procure.

Reducing call volumes and onsite visits but still ensuring that the call is handled and dealt with by smart people. This is becoming more and more of a differentiator for me; I don’t want okay support, I want great support.

The move to commoditisation is finally beginning….but I wonder if we are going to need new support models to at least maintain and hopefully improve the support we get today.

 

2014 – A Look Forward….

As as we come to the end of another year, it is worth looking forward to see what if anything is going to change in the storage world next year because this year has pretty much been a bust as to innovation and radical new products.

So what is going to change?

I get the feeling not a huge amount.

Storage growth is going to continue for the end-users but the vendors are going to continue to experience a plateau of revenues. As end-users, we will expect more for our money but it will be mostly more of the same.

More hype around Software-Defined-Everything will keep the marketeers and the marchitecture specialists well employed for the next twelve months but don’t expect anything radical. The only innovation is going to be around pricing and consumption models as vendors try to maintain margins.

Early conversations this year point to the fact that the vendors really have little idea how to price their products in this space; if your software+commodity-hardware=cost-of-enterprise-array, what is in it for me?  If vendors get their pricing right; this could be very disruptive but at what cost to their own market position?

We shall see more attempts to integrate storage into the whole-stacks and we’ll see more attempts to converge compute, network and storage at hardware and software levels. Most of these will be some kind of Frankenpliance and converged only in shrink-wrap.

Flash will continue to be hyped as the saviour of the data-centre but we’ll still struggle to find real value in the proposition in many places as will many investors. There is a reckoning coming. I think some of the hybrid manufacturers might do better than the All-Flash challengers.

Hopefully however the costs of commodity SSDs will keep coming down and it’ll finally allow everyone to enjoy better performance on their work-laptops!

Shingled Magnetic Recording will allow storage densities to increase and we’ll see larger capacity drives ship but don’t expect them to appear in mainstream arrays soon; the vibration issues and re-write process is going to require some clever software and hardware to fully commercialise these. Still for those of us who are interested in long-term archive disks, this is an area worth watching.

FCoE will continue to be a side-show and FC, like tape, will soldier on happily. NAS will continue to eat away at the block storage market and perhaps 2014 will be the year that Object storage finally takes off.

Feeling Lucky?

And here we go again, another IT systems failure at RBS; RBS appear to have been having a remarkable run of high-profile core-system failures but I suspect that they have been rather unlucky or at least everyone else has been lucky. Ross McEwan, the new Chief Executive of RBS has admitted that decades of under-investment in IT Systems is to blame.

Decades seems to be an awful long-time but may well be accurate; certainly when I started working in IT twenty-five years ago, the rot had already set in. For example, the retail-bank that I started at had it’s core standing order system written in pounds, shillings and pence with a translation routine sitting on top of it; yet many of these systems were supposed to have been re-written as part of the millenium-bug investigations. Most of this didn’t happen, whole-scale rewrites of systems decades old and with few people who understood how they worked, this was simply not a great investment; just patch it up and move on.

RBS are not going to be the only large company sitting on a huge liability in the form of legacy applications; pretty much all of the banks do and many others. Applications have been moved from one generation of mainframe to the next and they still generally work but the people who know how they really work are long gone.

Yet this is no longer constrained to mainframe operations; many of us can point at applications running on kit which is ten years or more old on long-deprecated operating-systems. Just talk to your friendly DBA about how many applications are still dependent on Oracle 8 and in cases even earlier. Every data-centre has an application sitting in the corner doing something but no-one knows what it is and no-one will turn-off just in case.

Faced with ever declining IT budgets; either a real decline or being expected to do more with the same amount; legacy applications are getting left behind. Yes, we come across attempts to encapsulate the application in a VM and run it on the latest hardware but it still does not fix the legacy issue.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it…but the thing is, most software is broken but you’ve just not yet come across the condition that breaks it. Now the condition that breaks it may well be the untrained operator who does not know the cunning work-around to keep an application running; work-arounds simply should not become standard operating procedure.

Question is as we chase the new world of dynamic operations with applications churning every day; who is brave enough to argue for budget to go back and fix those things which aren’t broken. Who is going to be brave enough to argue for budget to properly decommission legacy systems, you know those systems who only have one user who happens to have a C at the beginning of their job title?

Now it seems that Ross McEwan may be one who is actually being forced into taking action; is anyone else going take action without a major failure and serious reputational damage? Or do people just feel lucky?

 

 

 

In With The New

As vendors race to be better, faster and to differentiate themselves in an already busy marketplace, the real needs of the storage teams can be left un-met and also that of the storage consumer. At times it is as if the various vendors are building dragsters, calling them family saloons and hoping that nobody notices. The problems that I blogged about when I started out blogging seem still mostly unsolved.

Management

Storage management at scale is still problematic; it is still extremely hard to find a toolset that will allow a busy team to be able to assess health, performance, supportability and capacity at a glance. Still too many teams are using spreadsheets and manually maintained records to manage their storage.

Tools which allow end-to-end management of an infrastructure from rust to silicon and all parts in-between still don’t exist or if they do, they come with large price-tags which invariably do not have a real ROI or a realistic implementation strategy.

As we build more silos in the storage-infrastructure; getting a view of the whole estate is harder now than ever. Multi-vendor management tools are in general lacking in capability with many vendors using subtle changes to inflict damage on the competing management tools.

Mobility

Data mobility across tiers where those tiers are spread across multiple vendors is hard; applications are generally not currently architected to encapsulate this functionality in their non-functional specifications. And many vendors don’t want you to be able to move data between their devices and competitors for obvious reasons.

But surely the most blinkered flash start-up must realise that this needs to be addressed; it is going to be an unusual company who will put all of their data onto flash.

Of course this is not just a problem for the start-ups but it could be a major barrier for adoption and is one of the hardest hurdles to overcome.

Scaling

Although we have scale-out and scale-up solutions; scaling is a problem. Yes, we can scale to what appears to be almost limitless size these days but the process of scaling brings problems. Adding additional capacity is relatively simple; rebalancing performance to effectively use that capacity is not so easy. If you don’t rebalance, you risk hotspots and even under-utilisation.

It requires careful planning and timing even with tools; it means understanding the underlying performance characteristics and requirements of your applications. And with some of the newer architectures that are storing metadata and de-duping; this appears to be a challenge to vendors. Ask questions of vendors as to why they are limited to a number of nodes; there will sheepish shuffling of feet and alternative methods of federating a number of arrays into one logical entity will quickly come into play.

And then mobility between arrays becomes an issue to be addressed.

Deterministic Performance

As arrays get larger; more workloads get consolidated onto a single array and without the ability to isolate workloads or guarantee performance; the risk of bad and noisy neighbours increases. Few vendors have yet grasped the nettle of QoS and yet fewer developers actually understand what their performance characteristics and requirements.

Data Growth

Despite all efforts to curtail this; we store ever larger amounts of data. We need an industry-wide initiative to look at how we better curate and manage data. And yet if we solve the problems above, the growth issue will simply get worse..as we reduce the friction and the management overhead, we’ll simply consume more and more.

Perhaps the vendors should be concentrating on making it harder and even more expensive to store data. It might be the only way to slow down the inexorable demand for ever more storage. Still, that’s not really in their interest.

All of the above is in their interest…makes you wonder why they are still problems.