Storagebod Rotating Header Image


Time to Build?

Any half-way competent storage administrator or systems administrator should be able to build a storage array themselves these days. It’s never really been easier and building yourself a dual-head filer that does block and network attached should be a doddle for anyone with a bit of knowledge, a bit of time and some reasonable google-fu skills. I built a block-storage array using an old PC, a couple of HBAs and linux about five years ago; it was an interesting little project, it could present LUNs via FC/iSCSI and file-share via SMB and NFS. It couldn’t do Object but if I was doing it again today, it would.

And it was a single-head device but it was good enough to use as a target device to play about with FC and generally support my home devices. I only recently switched it off because I’m not running FC at home any more.

But if I could build a storage array five years ago; you can do so today. I am not that good a storage/server guy; I’m a tinkerer and dilettante. You are probably much more competent than me.

Another factor that makes it easier is that FC is slowly going away; it’s slow progress but iSCSI making headway for those who really need block, 10 GbE is coming down in price. I’m also interested to see whether some the proposed intermediate speeds of Ethernet have an impact in this space; many data-centres are not yet 10 GbE and there is still quite a cost differential but 1 GbE is not really good enough for a data-centre storage network but 5 GbE and maybe even 2.5GbE might good enough in some cases. And as FC goes away; building your own storage endpoints becomes a lot simpler.

Throw in commodity flash with one of ‘new’ file-systems and you have a pretty decent storage array at a cost per terabyte that is very attractive. Your cost of acquistion is pretty low, you’ll learn a whole lot and be positioned nicely for Infrastructure as Code tsunami.

If you do a great job, you might even be able to spin yourself out as a new flash-startup. Your technology will very similar to a number of start-ups out there.

So why are you sitting here, why are you still raising POs against the three or four letter name vendors?

Imagine never having to speak to them again, what a perfect world.

2016 and Beyond…

Predictions are a mug’s game…the trick is to keep them as non-specific as possible and not name names…here are mine!

What is the future for storage in the Enterprise? 2016 is going to pan out to be an ‘interesting’ year; there’s company integrations and mergers to complete with more to come so I hear; cascading acquisitions seem likely as well.

There will IPOs; they will be ‘interesting’! People are looking for exits, especially from the flash market. A market that looks increasingly crowded with little to really tell between the players.

Every storage vendor is going to struggle with maintaining growth; technology changes has meant that it is likely that just to maintain current revenues that twice as much capacity is going to have to be shipped. Yet data efficiency improvements from thin-provisioning to compression to dedupe mean that customers are storing more data on less capacity.

Add in the normal year-on-year decline of the price of storage, this is a very challenging place.

Larger storage customers are becoming more mecurial about what they buy; storage administration has got so easy that changing storage vendors is not the big deal it used to be. The primary value these days of having some dedicated storage bods is that they should be pretty comfortable with any storage put in front of them.

As much as vendors like to think that we all get very excited by their latest bell or whistle; I’m afraid that we don’t any more. Does it make my job easier; can I continue to more with less or best case the same.

Data volumes do continue to grow but the amount of traditional primary data growth has slowed somewhat in my experience.

Data from instrumentation is a real growth area but much of this is transitory; collect, analyse, archive/delete…and as people start to see an ever increasing amount of money flowing to companies like Splunk expect some sharp intakes of breath.

Object Storage will continue to under-perform but probably less so. S3 will continue its rise as the protocol/API of choice for native object. Many file-stores will become object at the back-end but with traditional SMB/NFS front-ends. However, sync and share will make inroads formally into the enterprise space; products like Dropbox Enterprise will have an impact there.

Vendors will continue to wash their products in ‘Software Defined’ colours; customers will remain unimpressed. Open-source storage offerings will grow and cause more challenges in the market. Some vendors might decide to open-source some of their products; expect at least one large company to take this route and be accused of abandonware. And watch everyone try to change their strategy to match this.

An interesting year for many…so with that, I shall be off and wrap presents!

May you all have a Happy Christmas, a prosperous New Year and may your bits never rot!!

Friday Doom

More and more people seem to think that we are moving to some kind of bimodal storage environment where all your active data sits on AFA and everything else in an object store.

Or as I like to think of it; your data comes rushing in as an unruly torrent and becomes becalmed in a big data swamp which stinks up the place; it then sits and rots for many years, eventually becoming the fuel that you run your business on and leads to the destruction of the planet due to targeted advertising of tat that people simply must have!

So just say No to Flash and No to Object Storage!

Happy New Year

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

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

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

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

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

We call such improvements data corruption…this is bad!

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

So I wouldn’t start from here…

We’ve had a few announcements from vendors and various roadmaps have been put past me recently; if I had one comment, it would be if I was designing an array or a storage product; I probably wouldn’t start from where most of them are….both vendors, old and new.

There appears to be a real fixation on the past; lots of architectures which are simply re-inventing what has gone before. And I although I understand why; I don’t understand why.

Let’s take the legacy vendors; you can’t change things because you will break everything; you will break the existing customer scripts and legacy automation; you break processes and understanding. So, we can’t build a new architecture because it breaks everything.

I get the argument but I don’t necessarily agree with the result.

And then we have the new kids on the block who want to see to continue to build yesterday’s architecture today; so we’ll build something based on a dual-head filer because everyone knows how to do that and they understand the architecture.

Yet again I get the argument but I really don’t agree with the result now.

I’m going to take the second first; if I wanted to buy a dual-head filer, I’d probably buy it from the leading pack. Certainly if I’m a big storage customer; it is very hard for one of the new vendors get it down to a price that is attractive.

Now, you may argue that your new kit is so much better than the legacy vendors that it is worth the extra but you almost certainly will break my automation and existing processes. Is it really worth that level of disruption?

The first situation with the legacy vendors is more interesting; can I take the new product and make it feel like the old stuff from a management point of view? If storage is truly software and the management layer is certainly software; I don’t see that it should be beyond the wit of developers to make your new architecture feel like the old stuff.

Okay, you might strip out some of the old legacy constructs; you might even fake them…so if a script creates a LUN utilisng a legacy construct; you just fake the responses.

There are some more interesting issues around performance and monitoring but as a whole, the industry is so very poor at it; breaking this is not such a major issue.

Capacity planning and management; well how many people really do this? Although it is probably the really big customers who do so but they might well be the ones who will look at leveraging new technology without a translation layer.

So if I was a vendor; I would be looking at ways to make my storage ‘plug compatible’ with what has gone before but under the covers, I’d be looking for ways to do it a whole lot better and I wouldn’t be afraid to upset some of my legacy engineering teams. I’d build a platform that I could stick personalities over.

And it’s not just about a common look and feel for the GUI; it has to be for the CLI and the APIs as well.

Make the change easy…reduce the friction…

Doctors in the Clouds

At the recent London Cloud Camp; there was a lot of discussion about DevOps on the UnPanel; as the discussion went on, I was expecting the stage to be stormed by some of the older members in the audience. Certainly some of the tweets and the back-channel conversations which were going on were expressing some incredulity at some of the statements from the panel.

Then over beer and pizza; there were a few conversations about the subject and I had a great chat with Florian Otel who for a man who tries to position HP as a Cloud Company is actually a reasonable and sane guy (although he does have the slightly morose Scandinavian thing down pat but that might just be because he works for HP). The conversation batted around the subject a bit until I hit an analogy for DevOps that I liked and over the past twenty-four hours, I have knocked it around a bit more in my head. And although it doesn’t quite work, I can use it as the basis for an illustration.

Firstly, I am not anti-DevOps at all; the whole DevOps movement reminds me of when I was fresh-faced mainframe developer; we were expected to know an awful lot about our environment and infrastructure. We also tended to interact and configure our infrastructure with code; EXITS of many forms were part of our life.

DevOps however is never going to kill the IT department (note: when did the IT department become exclusively linked with IT Operations?) and you are always going to have specialists who are required to make and fix things.

So here goes; it is a very simple process to instantiate a human being really. The inputs are well known and it’s a repeatable process. This rather simple process however instantiates a complicated thing which can go wrong in many ways.

When it goes wrong, often the first port of call is your GP; they will poke and prod, ask questions and the good GP will listen and treat the person as a person. They will fix many problems and you go away happy and cured. But most GPs actually have only a rather superficial knowledge of everything that can go wrong; this is fine, as many problems are rather trivial. It is important however that the GP knows the limits of their knowledge and knows when to send the patient to a specialist.

The specialist is a rather different beast; what they generally see is a component that needs fixing; they often have lousy bedside manners and will do drastic things to get things working again. They know their domain really well and you really wouldn’t want to be without them. However to be honest, are they a really good investment? If a GP can treat 80% of the cases that they are faced with, why bother with the specialists? Because having people drop dead for something that could be treated is not especially acceptable.

As Cloud and Dynamic Infrastructures make it easier to throw up new systems with complicated interactions with other systems; unforeseeable consequences may become more frequent, your General Practitioner might be able to fix 80% of the problems with a magic white-pill or tweak here or there….but when your system is about to collapse in a heap, you might be quite thankful that you still have your component specialists who make it work again. Yes, they might be grumpy and miserable; their bedside manner might suck but you will be grateful that they are there.

Yes, they might work for your service provider but the IT Ops guys aren’t going away; in fact, you DevOps have taken away a lot of the drudgery of the Ops role. And when the phone rings, we know it is going to be something interesting and not just an ingrown toe-nail.

Of course the really good specialist also knows when the problem presented is not their speciality and pass it on. And then there is the IT Diagnostician; they are grumpy Vicodin addicts and really not very nice!

2013 – The Year of Stew!

Bubble, bubble…there’s lots of things bubbling away in the storage pot at the moment and it appears to be almost ready to serve. Acquisitions are adding ingredients to the stew and we will see a spate in early 2013 as well; the fleshing out of the next generation of storage arrays will continue.

Yes, we will see some more tick-tock refreshes; storage roadmaps have become tied to the Intel/AMD roadmap as they have become commoditised.  More IOPs, more capacity and more features that you will possibly never use. And the announcements will make you yawn, certainly the roadmap presentations that I have had are not exactly stimulating.

It is the Flash announcements and finally shipping product that will generate the most interest; latency, long the enemy of performance and utilisation will be slain or at least have GBH visited upon it.

The question is going to be how to implement Flash and the options are going to be myriad; there is going to be significant focus on how to bring this low-latency device closer to the server. I would expect to see an explosion in Cache devices both in the server but also in appliance format.

And we will finally see some all-Flash arrays starting to ship from the big boys; this will bring credibility to some of the smaller players. It is easier to compete with something than trying to introduce a completely new class of array.

But I think the really interesting stuff is going to be happening in the file-system space; Ceph will grow in maturity and with OpenStack gaining traction, expect this to mature fast. This is going to force some of the object storage vendors to move away from their appliance model and also encourage some more mature vendors to look at their file-systems and see them as potential differentiators.

CDMI also appears to be actually beginning to happen; I have been very sceptical about this but the number of vendors who are beginning to ship CDMI-compatible product is gaining momentum.

Another trend I am seeing is the deployment of multiple storage solutions within a data-centre; few people are currently standardising, there’s a lot of experimentation and there is an acknowledgement that one size really does not fit all.

Expect a lot of pain as infrastructure teams try to make things just work; Dev-Ops teams will continue to forge ahead, traditional infrastructure teams will be playing catch-up until new ways of working can be put in place.  This is not one way traffic though; expect some fun and games in 2014/2015 as some chickens come home to roost.

Management tools are going to be big again….expect lots of attempts to build single-pane of glass management tools which cater for everything. APIs and Automation will be held up as some kind of universal magic toolset; expect that cauldron to bubble over and cause a mess as the Sorceror gets more apprentices who try to short-cut.

I see a year of fun and change….and some tasty bowls of nourishment with some really soggy horrible dumplings floating about.

Storagebod’s Fashion Tips for Storage Engineers

Greg recently wrote his Fashion Tips for Network Engineering Men and in doing so, I think he has highlighted some of the differences between Network Engineers and Storage Engineers. So I thought I would take the challenge of giving the sartorially challenged Storage Engineer some help.

Fortunately, I have some fashion pedigree being related to both the Duchess of Cambridge and the Head Buyer for Harvey Nichols; in fact of the three of us, I suspect I am the true fashion leader in the family.


Every Storage Engineer needs a good collection of ties; these should rarely be worn in the conventional manner but at times, they come in handy for keeping sweat out of your eyes whilst trying to explain why Fibre Channel is a far superior protocol to anything that a Network Engineer might use. Indeed, a number of them can be deployed to prevent said Engineer escaping.

The exception to this is the Black Tie; you should have at least one which can be worn to the many storage award ceremonies which you might get invited to. These are deeply meaningful events where awards are given on a strictly meritorious basis. And they are not an excuse to simply drink large quantities of cheap champagne and wine.


Vendor polo shirts should be worn whenever possible; these allow you to demonstrate what high esteem your vendor holds you in. However never let said vendor feel too comfortable, always wear a different vendor polo shirt to the one you are having a meeting with.

For days when you want to dress to impress, nothing says engineer like a dress shirt with the sleeves completely removed.

And for those dress down days, can I suggest a t-shirt with the sleeves removed? Never a vest, that simply looks tacky!


Face it, no-one looks good in a hat; if you need to keep the sun off your head (and that is unlikely, you are shut away from the sun most of the time), a knotted hankie should suffice.

Portable Computing

Portable computing is not for the Storage Engineer! If you can carry it, it’s non-enterprise kit and we don’t do non-enterprise. Wireless? Pah, if it’s not a fibre cable; it’s not connectivity!


Belts should be elasticated and not leather. They should be capable of being used as a catapult or if there are a number of you; a ballista.

For the particular daring of you; they can be used for bungee jumping after an awards ceremony.

A diving belt can be used as an albeit for carrying a diving knife but a diving knife is normally overkill for most occasions.


A dinner suit is the only suit you will likely require, to be worn to important awards ceremonies.

The old favourite boiler suit needs to be worn with care unless you end up making a political statement that you do not wish.

If you end up in court after an awards ceremony, may I suggest your birthday suit; it always impresses the court that you really have nothing to hide.


A real engineer would never wear shoes; boots are the preferred wear. Site boots are especially effective wear when bringing complex vendor negotiations to a close.

Converse can be worn but never with a suit; you’ll just end up looking like to you want to be David Tennant in Doctor Who!


Preferably clean or at least the ones from the bottom of the laundry basket. It is one the place that I really agree with Greg though; simply buy a dozen or so pairs of black socks. That’s unless you are ignoring my footwear advice and are wearing shoes, then white socks are preferred. So much more stylish!


Yes! In general trousers are a good idea! Although, a kilt can be an acceptable alternative.

Shorts, especially lycra cycling shorts just make you look like a cycle courier and you are better than that.

Be Amazing

If you take my advice, everyone will know you are a Storage Engineer and you will get the respect due!

Let the Campaign Begin!

So Zilla has fired the starting pistol for the race for EMC’s new CEO.

I would like to start the campaign to get Zilla appointed as EMC’s new CEO; he is the obvious choice and on that I think that we can all agree.

An EMC with Zilla in charge would be aggressive, ambitious and above all, amusing for us all to watch. He would be the Bond villain of the Storage Industry…planning for world domination from his underground base or at least his games room of doom!

Make EMC’s Court Jester the King!

Make EMC stand for Evil Mark’s Company!

IBM – cool and bonkers!

The first time I saw this on a Powerpoint, I laughed and it still makes me laugh. It’s probably rather childish of me but I want to see what happens when it breaks and there’s a tape stuck in it between the libraries! I’m looking forward to engineers turning up with ladders to try and extricate stuck tapes!

I am just disappointed that IBM didn’t make the casing out of a completely clear material so that you could see the tapes whizzing between the libraries; that’d have been awesome and with some flashing lights; it would have been the best thing since open-reel tape!

EMC have nothing as cool and as bonkers!