Storagebod Rotating Header Image

March, 2012:

Local Storage, Cloud Access

Just as we have seen a number of gateways to allow you to access public cloud storage in a more familiar way and making it appear as local to your servers, we are beginning to see services and products which do the opposite.

To say that these turn your storage into cloud storage is probably a bit of a stretch but what they do is to allow your storage to be accessed by a multitude of devices where-ever they happen to be. They bring the convenience of Dropbox but with a more comfortable feeling of security because the data is stored on your storage. Whether this is actually any more secure will be entirely down to your own security and access policies.

I’ve already blogged about Teamdrive and I’ll be blogging about it again and also the Storage Connector from Oxygen Cloud in the near future. I must say that some of the ideas and the support for Enterprise storage by the folks at Oxygen Cloud looks very interesting.

I do wonder when or if we’ll see Dropbox offer something similar themselves, Dropbox with it’s growing software ecosphere would be very attractive with the ability to self-host. It would possibly give some of the larger storage vendors something to consider.

These new products do bring some interesting challenges which will need to be addressed; you can bet that your users will start to install these on their PCs, both at work and at home. The boundaries between corporate data and personal data will become ever blurred; much as I hate it, the issue of rights management is going to become more important. Forget the issue of USB drives being lost, you could well find that entire corporate shares are exposed.

But your data any time, any place is going to become more and more important; convenience is going to trump security again and again. I am becoming more and more reliant on cloudy storage in my life but for me it is a knowing transition; I suspect for many others, they are simply not aware of what they are doing.

This is not a reason to simply stop them but a reason to look at offering the services to them but also to educate. The offerings are coming thick and fast, the options are getting more diverse and interesting. The transition to storage infrastructure as software has really opened things up. Smaller players can start to make an impact, let’s hope that the elephants can dance.

Empower the Cloud

As various organisations continue their journey to the Cloud, I wonder how many will be truly successful and how many will simply Cloud-wash their existing IT. As vendors continue to wash their products and make them all fluffy and cloud-like, so I suspect will many end-user organisations. And in that, they will miss many of the benefits.

But what will guarantee a successful Cloud deployment? Well, if you start with infrastructure, you will probably seriously reduce your chances of a successful deployment. You have to start with the organisational culture, this is something that many pundits agree with but there is not a lot of real discussion about what culture needs to be in place.

I think fundamentally, Cloud is about empowerment; an empowered work-force will get the most out of Cloud and without an empowered organisation, Cloud will fail and dissipate on the old hierarchies.

Cloud empowers users to make decisions and more importantly make mistakes; fail early, fail often but fail cheaply. A huge investment does not need to be made in putting together an infrastructure to support an initiative; it can be quickly brought-up and then ripped-back down again without blame and significant cost. You can run innovative projects ‘lean’.

Cloud empowers IT to put in place standards which are not seen as restrictive as they become almost invisible to the users. A change in hardware should not necessitate a huge round of regression testing; hopefully we will get to the stage where a change in platform full-stop will not mean a massive amount of rework and regression.

Cloud should empower your IT teams to work cross-discipline and cross boundaries but if your teams are already siloed and not able to talk to each other, then ask yourself why? Are you so focussed on internal hierarchies and control that you are preventing this? You need to empower your teams to have peer-level conversations and decision-making ability.

Often when people talk about the tools required for Empowerment, they talk about ensuring that people have the right information to make good decisions; in many organisations, information is still hung onto; knowledge is power and many like to hoard power.

If your organisation already has a culture of knowledge sharing, then moving your knowledge infrastructure to Cloud is a logical step but if you have a culture of controlled ignorance, then the journey is going to be hard.

Shiny, shiny..but I fancy a slice of Pi!

So I’ve splashed out on a new iPad; I had an original iPad which was being eyed up avariciously by little Bod and I decided to make us both happy. I’m a great Dad like that, deeply unselfish ;-).

There’s little to write which has not already been written, the screen is gorgeous and leads to interesting speculation about the screens which might make appear in the more traditional Apple products and it is certainly snappier than the original.

I’ve tried the voice input and it works surprisingly well; a big chunk of this has been dictated using it but I am not entirely convinced by voice input in general. Still if anything, it might be good discipline for me as I allegedly talk very quickly at times.

It’s just a better iPad and if you like the iPad you’ll like it and if you don’t like the iPad, you’ll still not like it. But it does get better with each iteration, I still think that the trick with Apple tech is to take every other iteration; that way you get a reasonable delta between them.

I think that for most people, an iOS based device could replace their home computer which leads me to wonder why Apple haven’t gone the whole hog yet. An Apple TV with access to the AppStore and a keyboard&mouse could for many replace their home computer. Of course, Apple would have to allow iOS to use a mouse but it might well be worth the compromise.

We have a device which is pretty close to that in the form of the Raspberry Pi, a device which is closer to Apple’s roots than any of their current devices; I can certainly see Woz appreciating what they are trying to do with the Pi.

Hopefully the Pi will generate a new ecosphere around it and show the way. It would be nice to have a device that was affordable, open and useable. It might just be the spur for all of the big boys to do something similar. I do like my shiny, shiny but I do sometimes hunger for old days.

Personal Cloud Storage

As long term readers and followers of this Blog will know, I really like Dropbox but there are issues with it; especially around security and potential access of others to my data and I have stopped storing confidential data in it. What would be ideal would be for me to host my own Dropbox server but unfortunately, they’ve not gone down that route.

However, I have been introduced to a promising contender; Teamdrive are a German software company who have developed something similar to Dropbox but with the added advantage that you can host your own Teamdrive server on your own hardware.

My friend Rose is doing the PR for them and kindly got hold of license for me to play with so that I could set up my own environment (note: there is a free server license which is limited to 10Gb, the unlimited license appears to be €99 per year).

One of the nice things about the Teamdrive server is that they provide a version which will run on a Synology Home NAS; so I downloaded that and I installed it, quickly VI-ed the configuration file and fired it up. The Windows and Mac versions of the server appear to have a nice GUI so that you don’t have to edit configuration files but there are few options and the lack of GUI for the Linux version is no hardship.

I downloaded the latest Teamdrive Client for my MacBook; installed that and pointed it at the newly installed Teamdrive server. The process of getting it attached was painless and worked quickly and easily.

Teamdrive allows you to configure an existing directory as a Teamdrive share or in Teamdrive terminology, a ‘Space’ or you can create a new ‘Space’ and start from that. Once you have created a ‘Space’, you can invite other users to the share. Please note, it appears that they already need to have registered with Teamdrive to be invited. Not entirely sure why this should be the case if you intend to run an entirely private service.

Running your own server is interesting because it allows you to see how the files are stored on the server; they are encrypted and hence even if someone manages to get access to the server; the files should stay secure. I haven’t looked too closely at the encryption yet, so I can’t really vouch for how secure it is. However storing the files like this does mean that they cannot be shared using another protocol such as NFS or SMB from my Synology.

All in all, Teamdrive appears to be a solid shared storage implementation with the added attraction that you can run it privately. There are iOS and Android clients in development but I’ve not tried them, this is a bit of a hole in the Teamdrive story at present. The other advantage is that you can scale a lot more economically than the hosted competitors

p.s Matthew Yeager has recommended a product called Appsense Datalocker which works with Dropbox to provided an encrypted solution. I’ve just started to have a play and it looks most promising.

Nothing Wrong With Shadows

How many IT departments does your company? One? Two? As many as you have business units? As many as you have teams? Or perhaps as many as you have employees? I’ll be very surprised if the answer is one; yes, you might have one official department but how many do you have lurking in the shadows?

Shadow IT is a fact of life and becoming more and more prevalent. Shadow IT is the stuff which users do to get their jobs done, the stuff which makes their jobs easier and even at times the stuff which makes their jobs more fun. So how do you as a Corporate IT department deal with Shadow IT and should you deal with it?

Well, firstly I would suggest that you look at what is going on in your own department. The biggest users of Shadow IT are probably your own IT people; they know the deficiencies of your infrastructure, they know the stuff which stops them getting things done quickly and they know how to get round the obstacles which are put in place to stop them.

They are often the early adopters, the gadget-heads who have the latest toys; they love shiny and new, that’s why a lot of them do the job they do. And don’t think that Shadow IT is a bad thing, for every example of something going wrong because of it; there are examples of good things.

Arguably the most successful piece of Shadow IT is actually the Unix operating system; much of the development was done quietly on under-utilised kit pretty much in the shadows of AT&T. And the  way its way out of the AT&T due to the 1958 consent decree preventing AT&T entering the computer business meant that it permeated out into the wide world in a shadowy way.

The adoption of the PC was another moment where Shadow IT drove the change and forced Corporate IT to change and support a key technology that they were probably scared of. But you can pretty much guarantee that many of the technical staff in those Corporate IT teams were already playing with PCs and learning about them. Yes, even those mainframe guys who professed to hate the PC might well have been playing with those horrible PC things.

Linux in the corporate space happened because of Shadow IT; I know plenty of places that would say that they had no Linux in their data-centres that were running web-servers, DNS, network-bridges and various other key infrastructure services running on Linux. Their techies just never told them (did we!?).

Now, the use of AWS and others has been driven by a desire to do things quickly and to experiment but not having to jump through the hoops often put in the way by IT Management; we have potentially entire Shadow Data-Centres. Yes, some of it has been driven by technically savvy users but if you look amongst your deeply technical guys; they’ll also be experimenting, building their own small-scale clouds for fun.

And then there is the BYOD meme; look around your organisation, how many smart-phones, tablets, non-company laptops and the like can you find? How many are in the hands of your Corporate IT guys? Yes, many of them are probably running Android or if they are running iOS, it’s probably jail-broken but they are at the forefront of the BYOD movement.

So before you write off your Corporate IT department as being hidebound and stuck in the past; look in the shadows, what you might find is the future. And you might even be surprised to find that many of them are actually very aware about the business applications and potential; they might not want to build the start-up but it doesn’t mean that they don’t have the ideas. Or at times, they think the it’s so obvious that they can’t believe that no-one else hasn’t thought of it.

Encourage them and nurture a culture of openness to new ideas; this isn’t about 20% time but it’s about listening and observing 100% of the time.

Don’t shine lights into the shadows but take time to walk amongst them; they are full of interesting whispers…

Take a tablet…to fix Windows 8

So I’ve been having a quick play with the Consumer Previews of Windows 8 and Windows Server 8; the latter appears to be especially impressive and there are lots of new features which the Server folks are going to love. I’m very happy with how accessible it is for a relative Server neophyte like me and I look forward to having more of a play.

But despite a couple of tweets from me declaring hatred of Linux, I suspect I’m not going to be replacing my ‘core’ home infrastructure with Server 8 anytime soon; I’ve got too much time invested in them at the moment. I will be watching Server 8’s progress with interest tho’.

This brings us on to Windows 8 desktop; the operating system feels snappy and like Server there are some good new features; I’ve not installed it on bare-metal yet but I must say that I find it pretty usable even on a fairly small VM but Redmond we have problem!

The Metro UI sucks on a desktop; you can’t just put a touch-UI on a desktop and hope that it works. When you first log onto Windows 8 and are faced with the Metro Start Screen; first reaction is probably, that looks quite nice which is rapidly replaced with this so doesn’t work with a keyboard and mouse, to that is a pile of crap on multiple hi-res displays. So dropping into Desktop mode is a must but removing the Start button from the Desktop was a mistake; fortunately Stardock have come to the rescue with Start8 which brings back a start button.

But if the Metro experience is going to be core to the Windows 8 product; perhaps there needs to be a better way and then I looked at my iPad and thought; Windows 8 is made for a second screen experience.

What we need is a way of displaying the Metro Start Screen on a tablet which we can have close to us and we can interact with by touch and not have to reach up to touch monitors which will be an ergonomic nightmare but a main screen display which is our working area and where we do our work.

If we are to move to a more touch-based UI across the board, we are going to need some rethinking about how we interact with systems when sitting at a desk; the desktop PC might go away with time but the desk-top is not going anywhere soon I suspect. Voice, gesture and gaze will all have a place to play but I think for the short term, some way of utilising a tablet as a second screen/input device could be a quick fix.

Or Microsoft could just realise that a tablet UI does not make a great desktop UI. Windows 9 perhaps?



I was relaxing in the bath pondering the bubbles, clusters of bubbles are quite interesting, you pop one and the structure re-organises to compensate; you add another one in and everything shifts about to make room. I was thinking about Cloud and Cloud architectures.  Now being an infrastructure-type person, I tend to focus on infrastructure and how you make an infrastructure as robust as possible.

We tend to design to an ‘N+’ model, more often ‘N+1’ but sometimes it can be ‘N+n’ where ‘n’ reflects how important we think an environment is. This sort of model suits the applications and infrastructure we find in the traditional data-centre; it certainly suits the applications which are not especially aware of their surroundings and their resources. These applications generally have no situational awareness and don’t really care. If all of your applications are like this, you will be probably looking at Infrastructure as a Service at best. You want reliable hardware to support your dumb, unreliable applications.

Now this brings me to ‘N’; I think one of the key characteristics of a Cloud application is that you design it to run on ‘N’ nodes where ‘N’ is subject to change and that change is often going to be negative. In fact, you probably ought to design and code for ‘N-1’ or even ‘N-n’; your infrastructure will change and fail more often than it does in a traditional data-centre and you cannot rely on anything. This means that your applications need to be a lot more sophisticated when dealing with concepts such as state but also need ways of discovering services, resources, scaling both up and down. Your applications need to be reliable and intelligent. They need to be like the bubbles in a bath.

By the way, this does not negate the need for infrastructure people; you may need less of them but they are going to be working at a different levels, they need to be thinking about environments and not individual machines; architecting availability zones, scalable networks and storage etc but they will not be providing an individual service to support a specific application.



Okay, so once more I take my life into my own hands and post about NetApp! I look forward to the hordes descending and telling me how terribly wrong I am and how I don’t understand anything!

So let’s get this straight, I think NetApp are a great company and they have done the storage world a great service in the way that they simplified administration and furthered the cause of IP storage, especially NAS. They led the way in taking commodity components and turning them into Enterprise class arrays; we should thank them for all of this!

But are NetApp having a bit of a blip in growth? Chris Mellor certainly seems to think so in his interpretation of the latest IDC Storage Tracker figures although there is a different take here; so it’s not entirely clear however I have some thoughts on all of this.

Having taken a straw-poll of some of my peers in the industry, large NetApp estates have such terrible utilisation figures that dedupe is pretty meaningless; 25-40% utilisation seems to be relatively common with reporting based around ‘effective capacity’ sometimes making it worse.

But I am beginning to see utilisation figures creep up; there is an increasing challenge to use this unused capacity and push it up. So existing NetApp customers might not be buying quite so much and are under increased pressure to use what they’ve already got. Has this impacted NetApp’s run-rate business?

And if customers can’t use the capacity that they’ve got; this is going to lead to some hard questions and there are now a plethora of vendors who have solid NAS products who can push NetApp very hard on capability and incredibly hard on price.

That and the confusion that OnTap 8 brought with it’s choice of modes has probably left NetApp a little wobbly.

Throw in the Engenio acquisition which confused their story even more and actually, it turns out that NetApp might not have purchased Engenio at the best possible time with them moving into an architectural refresh all of their own.

I think NetApp may continue to have a wobbly few quarters but that might not be such a bad thing. Great companies do wobble and learn from it; let’s hope that NetApp are a great company, I think they are…


You Matter…

Sometimes working in IT and especially in end-user IT is a thankless task; you feel besieged by vendors and users, all of those who seem to know how to do your job better and more efficiently. However this Friday (or whenever you are reading this), I want you to pause and reflect, consider the impact of what you do on a day-to-day basis. Consider your impact on your Business and the customers of your Business but for once don’t think about what you do badly, think about what positive impacts you have.

Perhaps like me, you turn on the television and see pictures? Well, I did that or my teams certainly enabled that to happen. Maybe you work for retail company; when you see a shopping bag full of goods, you did that! People walking down the street, perhaps if you work for a health-provider; they are alive because of the work you do. You make things happen.

So whenever you read this, pat yourself and your industry peers on the back; you do good work and what you do makes a difference to millions of people.

Don’t forget it.