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#storagebeers – London March 11th

So I know it’s a bit late notice however after a conversation in a pub last week; it has been suggested that we need another #storagebeers event and a pretty good opportunity has presented itself.

It is Cloud Expo next week (March 11th – March 12th) at the Exhell Centre. So for those of you interested, we have decided that on the evening of March 11th; there will be a #storagebeers. It is possible that there will be a number of vendors in attendance and there might be a possibility of the odd sponsored beer.

Normal #storagebeers rules are in force; anyone is welcome. All normal vendor hostilities are suspended for the evening..gentle banter and ribbing is allowed tho’!

But we don’t want force people to schlep out to the soul-less halls of despair that are the environs of the Excel and those of us attending might want to escape.

So the venue is ‘The Counting House’ near Bank for about 6pm; some of us will be grabbing food between 8 and 9pm.

Please come along…

Another Year In Bits…

So as another year draws to a close, it appears that everything in the storage industry is still pretty much as it was. There have been no really seismic shifts in the industry yet. Perhaps next year?

The Flash start-ups still continue to make plenty of noise and fizz about their products and growth. Lots of promises about performance and consolidation opportunities, however the focus on performance is throwing up some interesting stuff. It turns out that when you start to measure performance properly; you begin to find that in many cases that the assumed IOP requirements for many workloads isn’t actually there. I know of a few companies who have started down the flash route only to discover that they didn’t anything like the IOPs that they’d thought and with a little bit of planning and understanding, they could make a little flash go an awful long way. In fact, 15K disks would probably have done the job from a performance point of view. Performance isn’t a product and I wish some vendors would remember this.

Object Storage still flounders with an understanding or use case problem; the people who really need Object Storage currently, really do need it but they tend to be really large players and there are not a lot of them. All of the Object Storage companies can point at some really big installs but you will rarely come across the installs; there is a market, it is growing but not at a stellar rate at moment.

Object Storage Gateways are becoming more common and there is certainly a growing requirement; I think as they become common and perhaps simply a feature of a NAS device, this will drive the use of Object Storage until it hits a critical mass and there will be more application support for Object Storage natively. HSM and ILM may finally happen in a big way; probably not to tape but to an Object Store (although Spectralogic are doing great work in bringing Object and Tape together).

The big arrays from the major vendors continue to attract premium costs; the addiction to high margins in this space continues. The usability and manageability has improved significantly but the premium you pay cannot really continue. I get the feeling that some vendors are simply using these to fund their transition to a different model; lets hope that this transition doesn’t take so long that they get brushed away.

The transition to a software dominated model is causing vendors some real internal and cultural issues; they are so addicted to the current costing models that they risk alienating their customers. If software+commodity hardware turns out to be more expensive than buying a premium hardware array; customers may purchase neither and find a different way of doing things.

The cost of storage in the Cloud, both for consumers and corporates continues to fall; it continues to trend ever closer to zero as the Cloud price war continues. You have to wonder when Amazon will give it up as Google and Microsoft fight over the space. Yet for the really large users of storage, trending to zero is still too expensive for us to put stuff in the Cloud; I’m not even sure free is cheap enough yet.

The virtualisation space continues to be dominated by the reality of VMware and promise of OpenStack. If we look at industry noise, OpenStack is going to be the big player; any event that mentions OpenStack gets booked up and sells out but the reality is that the great majority are still looking to VMware for their virtualisation solution. OpenStack is not a direct replacement for VMware and architectural work will needed in your data-centre and with your installed applications but we do see VMware architectures that could be easily and more effectively replaced with OpenStack. But quite simply, OpenStack is still pretty hard-work and hard-pushed infrastructure teams aren’t well positioned currently to take advantage of it.

And almost all virtualisation initiatives are driven and focussed on the wrong people; the server-side is easy…the storage and especially the changes to the network are much harder and require signfiicantly more change. It’s time for the Storage and Network folks to gang-up and get their teams fully involved in virtualisation initiatives. If you are running a virtualisation initiative and you haven’t got your storage and network teams engaged, you are missing a trick.

There’s a lot bubbling in the Storage Industry but it all still feels the same currently. Every year I expect something to throw everything up in the air and it is ripe for major disruption but the dominant players still are dominant. Will the disruption be technology or perhaps it’ll be a mega-merger?

Can I take this chance to wish all my readers a Merry Christmas and a Fantastic New Year…

Wish I was there?

It’s an unusual month which sees me travel to conferences twice but October was that month but there is a part of me who wishes that I was on the road again and off to the OpenStack Summit in Paris. At the moment, it seems that OpenStack has the real momentum and it would have been interesting to compare and contrast it with VMworld.

There does seem to be a huge overlap in the vendors attending and even the people but it feels like it is the more vibrant community at the moment. And as the OpenStack services continue to extend and expand; it seems that it is a community that is only going to grow and embrace all aspects of infrastructure.

But I have a worry in that some people are looking at OpenStack as a cheaper alternative to VMware; it’s not and it’s a long way off that and hopefully it’ll never be that…OpenStack needs to be looked as a different way of deploying infrastructure and applications, not to virtualise your legacy applications. I am sure that we will at some point get case-studies where someone has virtualised their Exchange infrastructure on it but for every success in virtualising legacy, there are going to be countless failures.

If you want an alternative to VMware for your legacy; Hyper-V is probably it and it may be cheaper in the short-term. Hyper-V is still woefully ignored by many; lacking in cool and credibility but it is certainly worth looking at as an alternative; Microsoft have done a good job and you might want to whisper this but I hear good things from people I trust about Azure.

Still, OpenStack has that Linux-type vibe and with every Tom, Dick and Harriet offering their own distribution; it feels very familiar…I wonder which distribution is going to be Redhat and which is going to be Yggdrasil.


Fujitsu Storage – With Tentacles..

So Fujitsu have announced the ETERNUS CD10000; their latest storage product designed to meet the demands of the hyperscale and the explosion in data growth and it’s based on….Ceph.

It seems that Ceph is quickly becoming the go-to scale-out and unified system for those companies who don’t already have an in-house file-system to work-on. Redhat’s acquisition of Ink-Tank has steadied that ship with regards to commercial support.

And it is hard to see why anyone would go to Fujitsu for a Ceph cluster; especially considering some of the caveats that Fujitsu put on it’s deployment. The CD10000 will scale to 224 nodes; that’s a lot of server to put on the floor just to support storage workloads and yet Fujitsu were very wary about allowing you to run workloads on the storage nodes despite the fact that the core operating system is Centos.

CephFS is an option with the CD10000 but the Ceph website explicitly says that this is not ready for production workloads; even with the latest release .87 Giant. Yes, you read that right; Ceph is not yet a v1.0 release; now that in itself will scare off a number of potential clients.

It’s a brave decision of Fujitsu to base a major new product on Ceph; it’s still very early days for Ceph in the production mainstream. But with large chunks of IT industry betting on OpenStack and Ceph’s close (but not core) relationship with OpenStack, it’s kind of understandable.

Personally, I think it’s a bit early and the caveats around the Eternus CD10000 deployment is limiting currently; I’d wait for the next release or so before deploying.

A Ball of Destruction…

I’m not sure that EMC haven’t started an unwelcome trend; I had a road-map discussion with a vendor this week where they started to talk about upcoming changes to their questioning ‘but surely that’s not just a disruptive upgrade but destructive?’ was met with an affirmative. Of course like EMC; the upgrade would not be compulsory but probably advisable.

The interesting thing with this one is that it was not a storage hardware platform but a software defined storage product. And we tend to be a lot more tolerant of such disruptive and potentially destructive upgrades. Architecturally as we move to more storage as software as opposed to being software wrapped in hardware; this is going to be more common and we are going to have design infrastructure platforms and applications to cope with this.

This almost inevitably means that we will need to purchase more hardware than previously to allow us to build zones of availability to allow upgrades to core systems to be carried out out as non-disruptively as possible. And when we start to dig into the nitty-gritty; we may find that this starts to push costs and complexity up…whether these costs go up so much that the whole commodity storage argument starts to fall to pieces is still open to debate.

I think for some businesses it might well do; especially those who don’t really understand the cloud model and start to move traditional applications into the cloud without a great deal of thought and understanding.

Now this doesn’t let EMC off the hook at all but to be honest; EMC have a really ropey track-record on non-disruptive upgrades in the past…more so than most realise. Major Enginuity upgrades have always come with a certain amount of disruption and my experience has not always been good; the levels of planning and certification required has kept many storage contractors gainfully employed. Clariion upgrades have also been scary in the past and even today, Isilon upgrades are no-where as near as clean as they have you believe.

EMC could have of course got away with the recent debacle if they’d simply released a new hardware platform and everyone would have accepted that this was going to involve data-migration and move data around.

Still, the scariest upgrade I ever had was an upgrade of an IBM Shark which failed half-way and left us with one node at one level of software and one at a different level. And IBM scratching their heads. But recently, the smoothest upgrades have been even elephants can learn to dance.

As storage vendors struggle with a number of issues; including the setting of the sun on traditional data protection schemes such as RAID; I would expect the number of destructive and disruptive upgrades to increase. And the marketing spin around them from everyone to reach dizzying heights. As vendors manipulate the data we are storing in more and more complex and clever ways; the potential for disruption and destructive upgrades is going increase.

Architectural mistakes are going to be made; wrong alleys will be followed…Great vendors will admit and support their customers through these changes. This will be easier for those who are shipping software products wrapped with hardware; this is going to be much harder for the software-only vendors. If a feature is so complex that it seems magic; you might not want to use it…I’m looking for simple to manage, operate and explain.

An argument for Public Cloud? Maybe, as this will take the onus away from you to arrange. Caveat Emptor though and this may just mean that disruption is imposed upon you and if you’ve not designed your applications to cope with this…Ho hum!





Singing the lowest note…

The problem with many discussions in IT, is that they rapidly descend into one that looks and feels like a religious debate; whereas reality is much more complex and the good IT specialist will develop their own syncretic religion and pinch bits that work from everywhere.

One of the things that many of us working in Enterprise IT is that our houses have many rooms and must house many differing belief systems; the one true way is not a reality. And any organisation more than fifteen years old has probably built up a fair amount of incompatible dogmas.

For all the pronouncements of the clouderatti; we are simply not in the position to move whole-scale to the Cloud in any of its many forms. We have applications that are simply not designed for scale-out; they are certainly not infrastructure aware and none of them are built for failure. But we also have a developer community who might be wanting to push ahead; use the language du jour and want to utilise cloud-like infrastructure, dev-ops and software defined everything.

So what do we in the infrastructure teams do? Well, we are going to have to implement multiple infrastructure patterns to cater for the demands of all our communities. But we really don’t want to bespoke everything and we certainly don’t want to lock ourselves into anything.

Many of the hyper-converged plays lock us into one technology or another; hence we are starting to look at building our own rack-converged blocks to give us lowest common denominator infrastructure that can be managed with standard tools.

Vendors with unique features are sent packing; we want to know why you are better at the 90%. Features will not sell; if I can’t source a feature/function from more than one vendor, I probably will not do it. Vendors who not play nice with other vendors; vendors who insist on doing it all and make this their lock-in are not where it’s at.

On top of this infrastructure; we will start to layer on the environment to support the applications. For some applications; this will be cloudy and fluffy. We will allow a lot more developer interaction with the infrastructure; it will feel a lot closer to dev-ops.

For others where it looks like a more traditional approach is required; think those environments that need a robustly designed SAN, traditional fail-over clustering; we’ll be a lot more proscriptive about what can be done.

But all of these will sit on a common, reusable infrastructure that will allow us to meet the demands of the business.  This infrastructure will be able to be quickly deployed but also quickly removed and moved away from; it will not require us to train our infrastructure teams in depth to take advantage of some unique feature.

Remember to partner well with us but also with your competitors; yes, it sometimes makes for an amusing conversation about how rubbish the other guy is but we’ll also have exactly that same conversation about you.

Don’t just play lip-service to openness, be prepared to show us evidence.

ESXi Musings…

VMware need to open-source ESXi and move on; by open-sourcing ESXi, they could start to concentrate on becoming the dominant player in the future delivery of the 3rd platform.

If they continue with the current development model with ESXi; their interactions with the OpenStack community and others will always be treated with slight suspicion. And their defensive moves with regards to VIO to try to keep the faithful happy will not stop larger players abandoning them to more open technologies.

A full open-sourcing of ESXi could bring a new burst of innovation to the product; it would allow the integration of new storage modules for example. Some will suggest that they just need to provide a pluggable architecture but that will inevitably will also leave people with the feeling that they allow preferential access to core partners such as EMC.

The reality is that we are beginning to see more and more companies running multiple virtualisation technologies. If we throw in containerisation into the mix, within the next five years, we will see large companies running three or four virtualisation technologies to support a mix of use-cases and the real headache on how we manage these will begin.

I know it is slightly insane to be even talking about us having more virtualisation platforms than operating systems but most large companies are running at least two virtualisation platforms and probably many are already at three (they just don’t realise it). This ignores those with running local desktop virtualisation by the way.

The battle for dominance is shifting up the stack as the lower layers become ‘good enough’..vendors will need to find new differentiators…


An Opening is needed

As infrastructure companies like EMC try to move to a more software oriented world; they are having to try different things to try to grab our business. A world where tin is not the differentiator and a world where they are competing head-on with open-source means that they are going to have to take a more open-source type approach. Of course, they will argue that they have been moving this way with some of their products for sometime but these have tended to be outside of their key infrastructure market.

The only way I can see products like ViPR in all it’s forms gaining any kind of penetration will be for EMC to actually open-source it; there is quite a need for a ViPR like product, especially in the arena of storage management but it is far too easy for their competitors to ignore it and subtly block it. So for it to gain any kind of traction; it’ll need open-sourcing.

The same goes for ScaleIO which is competing against a number of open-source products.

But I really get the feeling that EMC are not quite ready for such a radical step; so perhaps the first step will a commercial free-to-use license; none of these mealy mouthed, free-to-use for non-production workloads but a proper you can use this and you can put it into production at your own risk type license. If it breaks and you need support; these are the places you can get support but if it really breaks and you *really* need to to pick up the phone and talk to somone, then you need to pay.

It might that if you want the pretty interface that you need to pay but I’m not sure about that either.

Of course, I’m not just bashing EMC; I still want IBM to take this approach with GPFS; stop messing about, the open-source products are beginning to be good enough for much, certainly outside of some core performance requirements. Ceph for example is really beginning to pick-up some momentum; especially now that RedHat have bought Inktank.

More and more, we are living with infrastructure and infrastructure products that are good enough. The pressure on costs continues for many of us and hence good enough will do; we are expected to deliver against tighter budgets and tight timescales. If you can make it easier for me, by for example allowing my teams to start implementing without a huge upfront price negotiation; the long-term sale will have less friction. If you allow customers to all intents and purposes use your software like open-source; because to be frank, most companies who utilise open-source are not changing the code and could care less whether the source is available; you find that this will play well in the long-term.

The infrastructure market is changing; it becomes more a software play every week. And software is a very different play to infrastructure hardware..


Hype Converges?

In a software-defined data-centre; why are some of the hottest properties, hardware platforms? Nutanix and Simplivity are two such examples that lead to mind; highly converged, sometimes described as hyper-converged servers.

I think that it demonstrates what a mess our data-centres have got into that products such as these have any kind of attraction. Is it the case that we have built in processes that are so slow and inflexible; that a hardware platform that resembles nothing more than a games-console for virtualisation has an attraction.

Surely the value has to be in the software; so have we got so bad at building out data-centres that it makes sense to pay a premium for a hardware platform and there is certainly a large premium for some of them.

Now I don’t doubt that deployment times are quicker but my real concern is why have we got to this situation. It seems that the whole infrastructure deployment model has collapsed under it’s own weight. But is the answer expensive converged hardware platforms?

Perhaps it is time to fix the deployment model and deploy differently because I have a nasty feeling that many of those people who are struggling to deploy their current infrastructure will also struggle to deploy these new hyper-converged servers in a timely manner.

It really doesn’t matter how quickly you can rack, stack and deploy your hypervisor if it takes you weeks to cable it to to talk the outside world or give it an IP address or even a name!

And then the questions will be asked….you couldn’t deploy the old infrastructure in a timely manner; you can’t deploy the new infrastructure in a timely manner even if we pay a premium for it….so perhaps we will give public cloud a go.

Most of problems at present in the data-centre are not technology; they are people and mostly process. And I don’t see any hardware platform fixing these quickly….

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…