Category Archives: Storage

InTechWeTrust episode 32 – Netapp, containers, AWS and more

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I recently attended the tech.unplugged event in London (my thoughts on it are here) and the London VMUG the following day, and was in the right place at the right time to take part in the InTechWeTrust podcast, episode 32. For those not familiar with this podcast it’s run by a prominent team of bloggers who have a background in enterprise infrastructure and has been going since last September. You can listen to the podcast directly via the player below or your usual choice of subscription (iTunes etc) – just head on over to the InTechWeTrust website for all the links.

Make sure you listen to the last 15 mins with EMEA CTO Joe Baguley – very interesting.

InTechWeTrust Episode 32 – Containers, Project Photon/Lightwave, AWS, Netapp, CoHo Data + more!

I’d like to use this blogpost to follow up on some of the topics discussed and my contributions.

...on ‘containers’. Sometimes I find myself speaking on a topic of which I’m by no means an expert – I try to avoid it as I’m all about facts, impartiality (as far as that’s possible) and I’m a believer that your reputation is sacrosanct (not just in the bloggersphere) but you can’t learn without getting out of your comfort zone. I’m not a developer. I have limited knowledge and minimal hands-on experience of containers. I have an understanding on where they fit into an overall architecture, who’s getting value from them, and at least an inkling of their potential but I’m clearly no expert. My comments about Docker building a platform (with an implied degree of vendor lock-in) vs Rocket’s ‘more open’ ambitions largely came from reading this blogpost from Rocket, this great Reddit thread discussing what it means, plus a good http://premier-pharmacy.com/product/strattera/ summary from GigaOm. Clearly this still needs to play out – the stakes are high and it’s going to be an interesting ride!
If anyone can point me to other resources with more information I’d be very grateful!

…on Photon/Lightwave/Photon. This was discussed with Joe Baguley after I’d left the podcast but the interesting soundbites for me were ‘a new direction for VMware’, the fact that containers are seen to be the boundary between VMware and Pivotal (hence why Photon/Lightwave are VMware yet Lattice is Pivotal), and the idea that containers may become embedded in vSphere itself. Interesting times!

…on Netapp. There’s been a recurring discussion about Netapp on the last few episodes and a good Linked-In discussion. I was a Netapp user for over five years (and I’ve written quite a few Netapp blogposts) and while I’ve not kept an eye on their latest releases I’ve always felt they weren’t vocal enough in the social media space, especially since Vaughn Stewart jumped ship to Pure Storage. This has improved with Nick Howell’s useful DatacentreDude blog and podcast but I still don’t see enough innovation. Flash, tiering, and scale out have all been addressed but never in a convincing way – the gravity of the core ONTAP OS seems all consuming. This would seem to be borne out in their upcoming layoffsAgain, happy to be educated otherwise!

…AWS finances. They’re now available – plenty of articles to digest. As predicted it made the mainstream BBC news, Simon Wardly waded in, and there’s a good Business Insider article with a great quote;

Amazon? The online bookstore that turned into a kind of Best Buy/Wal-Mart online? A giant of enterprise computing? No way.

 

The tech.unplugged conference – containers, containers, containers

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On 22nd April I attended the first tech.unplugged event in London (organised by Enrico Signoretti) which was a one day conference about enterprise IT infrastructure. The theme was “The Future of Enterprise IT: Technology and Strategies”. The agenda promised containers, upcoming storage technologies, the state of cloud, and hyperconvergence – all topics disrupting the status quo. The sessions will be made available online at the tech.unplugged site a few days after the event.

The stated goal was “not to replace traditional information channels and analysts, but to deliver insight and information in a unique way….to assist IT decision makers by bringing them together with independent bloggers, industry vendors, and end users, and engaging in debates and open discussions on topics such as IT infrastructure, virtualization, cloud computing and storage”

Did it achieve it’s aims? Yes, I think so. It was more akin to a VMUG or TechFieldDay event with a 50/50 representation between independent bloggers and vendors whereas most conferences are very vendor led. My overall feel from the day was positive and enjoyable. The size of the audience (around 60 people) fostered an informal, interactive feel, largely helped by the two round tables. I worry slightly that it’s an echo chamber as half of the audience were the usual suspects/bloggers but maybe I’ve just been around too long. 🙂

docker
Containers continue to disrupt

The first session summed up the day for me as ‘containers’ are the ‘tech du jour’ both for developers and infrastructure admins. The speaker, Nigel Poulton, is the author of the deep dive Pluralsight course on Docker (which he reminded us of, plentifully) although it was pretty much ‘containers 101’. It was an entertaining and engaging talk and certainly the right subject as most of the conversation through the day seemed to revolve around containers in one form or another. If you haven’t already ‘grokked’ containers (as Nigel would say) start learning! Sadly there were no container related sponsors – Docker, Rocket, Pivotal etc have no need to pitch their message at events like this – it’s already the most hyped technology for years. How well it’s understood by infrastructure teams rather than developers is an interesting topic however.

The enterprise container conversation does remind me of the early days in ‘cloud’ – everyone is trying to work out how disruptive they’ll be, whether they’ll have a job in a few years, or whether’s it’s all hype. While focused on ‘cloud’ rather than containers this was also mentioned in Stephen Foskett‘s talk, another enjoyable session – ‘Is Cloud your next IT silo?’ (with a good writeup from Tim Hynes). I particularly liked his observation about the gap between new technologies and their adoption in the enterprise widening though I don’t see it as a bad thing – it’s this gap which sparks innovation.

cloud silo
Is ‘cloud’ your next silo?

Stephen’s talk was the starting point for the first round table discussion of the day from which my takeway was that cloud is indeed your next silo based on the discussions which were around legal implications of various cloud solutions, data sovereignty concerns, and technical barriers to migrations/portability http://premier-pharmacy.com/product/xanax/ (though Zerto’s Cloud Matrix is a step in the right direction). Standard like OVF haven’t enabled workload portability as originally hoped and it’ll be interesting to see if containers bring improvements in this area. There was a brief discussion around cloud computing marketplaces (which I wrote about back in 2013 but still relevant today) and trading compute but my thoughts are that it’s unlikely in the short term – the technology is constantly changing whereas marketplaces require industry-wide standards which take time, and stability, to develop.

Probably reflecting Enrico’s background in storage there was quite a bit of storage discussion both from sponsors and speakers. Chris Evans covered current architectures and trends in storage along with some practical things to consider when you’re next in the market for storage (covered briefly in this blogpost).Martin Glassborrow (better known as @storagebod) gave probably my favourite talk of the day for sheer entertainment titled ‘stop worrying about storage growth and manage it’. To sum it up – everyone lies! Just watch it when the presentations are available. I also learnt about a few sponsor’s solutions which I wasn’t familiar with previously;

  • Load Dynamix, who launched in EMEA just weeks before the event, tried to convince us that we need to profile our storage but they’re aiming at large enterprises spending millions on storage and I can’t help but feel they have a limited audience, albeit one who may well pay handsomely for the technology they offer.
  • Zadara Storage offer ‘cloud storage’ that you co-locate in your cloud providers datacentre (much like Netapp did back in 2012. The two have now partnered). This gives you increased control, isolation, and potentially performance – in my mind it bridges the gap between traditional on-premise storage and moving to a ‘service’ based cloud offering. Read Chris Evan’s thoughts on Zadara.
  • Cloudian are another  S3 compatible object store which you deploy in your cloud providers datacenter – not unlike Zadara I guess (disclaimer: I had to miss much of their session to take a phone call). Read Ray Lucchese’s thoughts on Cloudian.

Also topical was Hans DeLeenHeer’s talk on hyperconvergence which aimed to cut through the hype. Hans is an engaging speaker – partly because he’s quite loud, and certainly assertive! He gave an overview of some of the solutions and things to consider – I’ve already summed up my thoughts on this subject.

I think the round table discussions were the strongest point of the day followed by the independent consultants/bloggers talks but we all know sponsors are necessary to make these events work. Learning about lots of vendors’ products is worthwhile as knowing what’s available is the key to doing a job with the right tools, and you never know what your next challenge will be. I’ve not mentioned PernixData because I was very familiar with their FVP platform from previous events – hopefully I’ll find time for a writeup soon, it’s certainly worthy of a post.

Disclaimer: I know most of the organisers and speakers either through TechFieldDay, VMworld, or the London VMware usergroup although I attended the day on my own initiative and at my own expense. Thoughts are my own!

VMworld 2013 Barcelona wrapup

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2013-10-14 10.29.38Summary: Some new (and actually exciting) announcements, some good conversations about the challenges VMware face in the next few years, and business as usual in the solutions exchange, HOL, and general sessions. Still a conference worth attending!

As I’ve done for the last couple of years (2012, 2011, 2010) I recently attended VMworld Europe, which was in Barcelona for the second year. As you can see from my photo on the right, it looks much the same as last year (unsurprisingly)! Blue skies, warm weather, and a large conference venue stocked to the gills with techies and technology…

The keynotes

IMG_2596
VMware’s timeline – what will it say in a couple of years time?

As is the case every year I’ve been the keynotes are largely a repeat of the US sessions with a few additions to keep the masses happy. Typically it’s management products that get announced at Europe although this year I’m glad to say they felt more substantial than previous years (a full list can be found on the official VMworld blog);

  • vCAC v6.0 announced (though not available until towards the end of the year) including vFabric Application Director and integration with Puppet.
  • Log Insight v1.5 announced (though not available until towards the end of the year)
  • vCOPs v5.8 announced (though not available until towards the end of the year)
  • In the EUC space VMware announced the acquisition of Desktone, a ‘desktop-as-a-service’ company. Given the complexity of VDI I think this has a lot of potential to increase adoption.
  • vCHS to launch in the UK in Q1 2014. The vCHS Online Marketplace was also launched although I’ve not had a chance to look at it yet.

nsxThe vCAC integration with vFabric Application Director and Puppet look like great additions (and allowed VMware to jump on the DevOps bandwagon) and the announcment that vCHS will be available in the UK early next year is welcome. NSX conversations were a recurring theme throughout the four days – everyone agrees that it looks good but also agrees that adoption faces quite a few challenges and the fact that pricing is a per-VM model won’t help. I’m no longer quite as grumpy or pessimistic as I was after VMworld US but I still think VMware are in for a tough few years. Continue reading VMworld 2013 Barcelona wrapup

Storage Field Day #4 – who will you see?

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I'll-be-backFollowing on from last year when I attended Storage Field Day #2 I’m glad to say I’ve been invited back to San Jose this year for SFD #4, happening Nov 13th-15th. I enjoyed the experience last year and learnt a lot so while it’s another four days out of the office (and two long haul flights) I believe it’s time well spent. Of course I’m not the main attraction – below I provide a quick summary of the sponsors as it gave me a good excuse to go look up the ones I was less familiar with (the official event page also lists them). These are my thoughts based on a quick look at vendor websites so I’m happy to be corrected! Nimble Storage, Proximal Data, and Virident are attending VMworld Barcelona so I’ll have a chance to get some information in advance;

Avere Systems – a NAS hybrid storage array with a difference as it’s designed to work as accelerated networked storage in front of ‘legacy’ storage arrays and includes unusual features (for a storage array) such as WAN acceleration and storage migration functions. It also offers storage virtualisation and a global namespace. A less common use case maybe?

Cleversafe – an object storage solution designed for large scale storage requirements (first mention of Big Data during my investigations) – if you don’t have 10PB these guys aren’t what you need. You know RAID and replication techniques? That won’t help you here. Cleversafe uses ‘dispersed’ storage and erasure codes (which I need to learn more about) and sells via hardware appliances.

CloudByte – Their flagship product, ElastiStor, is a ZFS based software only product which offers storage virtualisation, linear scalability, and storage QoS. Potentially comparable to Nexenta (although they don’t offer QoS to my knowledge)? Software only, scalable, ability to use commodity hardware – what’s not to like? There’s also a free trial which works up to 4TB – lab time here we come…

CohoData (previously Convergent.io) – As a startup company who have yet to launch its hard to know exactly what they do. The founders were behind the creation of the Xen hypervisor back in the late 90s – these guys have serious pedigree.
From their website “an integrated storage and networking model that abstracts configuration and functionality from the underlying hardware while making use of innovative storage networking integration and high-performance, commodity hardware to help http://premier-pharmacy.com/product/lipitor/ customers realize the vision of a software-defined datacenter“. Buzzword bingo? Another Nutanix or Simplivity? Time will tell.

GridStore – They’ve recently changed direction from scale out NAS to focus on performance enhancement by resolving the I/O blender problem created by virtualisation. In this respect it seems to do for Hyper-V (and Windows in general) what Virsto offers for VMware although it also offers storage QoS per VM. Like others it’s a ‘software defined storage’ product that’s bundled as an appliance (apparently for support purposes).

Nimble Storage – offer a hybrid storage array using a CASL architecture. These guys presented at SFD2 and seem to have seen good growth. It’ll be interesting to see what’s new – I’m guessing they’ll cover some of their SmartStack reference architectures with maybe a mention of InfoSight and NimbleConnect.

Overland Storage – Many of the SFD sponsors are startups but Overland were founded in 1980 and as a global company it’s hard to know which product from their portfolio they’ll be covering. I’d guess at SnapScale X4, a unified (NAS & iSCSI), scalable storage cluster which was released recently.

Oxygen Cloud – Dropbox on steroids with end to end encryption, AD/LDAP authentication, and easy sharing. Rather than being just ‘cloud’ storage Oxygen Cloud offers a storage service which abstracts away the underlying storage implementation, allowing you to use multiple vendors and locations (including your own) transparently. Interesting but there’s a big challenge overcoming Dropbox’s brand awareness.

Proximal Data – Their product is Autocache which offers intelligent server side caching embedded in the (VMware only) hypervisor. There is tough competition in this area notably from VMware’s recently released vFRC and Pernix Data’s FVP product which hit the scene with a splash a few months ago (Pernix presented at SFD3). I like the fact the company name is relevant so I can easily remember what they do!

Virident (now Western Digital) – makers of PCI-E server flash storage solutions, very much in competition with the market leading Fusion-IO. Recently acquired by Western Digital (Sept 2013). Unlike Proximal the server side flash is used as an adjunct to main memory (containing the working set of the application) rather than as an I/O cache.

As always you can watch the sessions live over the Internet (via the TechFieldDay website) and interact via social media (Twitter hashtag #SFD4).

Further Reading

Luca Dell’Oca has a similar post with some extra details

Converged infrastructure: an introduction

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For the last couple of years adoption of ‘converged infrastructure’ has been on the rise but until recently it wasn’t something I’d needed to understand beyond general market awareness and personal curiosity. I was familiar with some of the available solutions (in particular VCE’s vBlock and Netapp’s Flexpod) but I also knew there were plenty of other converged solutions which I wasn’t so familiar with. When the topic was raised at my company I realised that I needed to know more.

Google research quickly found a converged infrastructure primer at Wikibon which had the quotable “Nearly 2/3rds of the infrastructure that supports enterprise applications will be packaged in some type of converged solution by 2017“. The Wikibon report is well worth a read but it didn’t quite answer the questions I had, so I decided to delve into the various solutions myself. Before I continue I’ll review what’s meant by ‘converged infrastructure’ with a Wikipedia definition;

Converged infrastructure packages multiple information technology (IT) components into a single, optimized computing solution. Components of a converged infrastructure solution include servers, data storage devices, networking equipment and software for IT infrastructure management, automation and orchestration.

In a series of blogposts over the coming months I’m planning to summarize the converged offerings from various vendors including VCE, Netapp, HP, Oracle, IBM, Dell, Hitachi. If I find time I’ll also cover the newer ‘hyperconverged’ offerings from Nutanix, Scale Computing, Pivot3 and Simplivity. This is largely for my own benefit and as a record of my thoughts – there’s quite a bit of material out there already so it may turn into a compilation of links. I don’t want to rediscover the wheel!

Q. Will this series of blogposts tell you which converged solution you should choose?
A. Nope. There are many factors behind these decisions and I (unfortunately) don’t have real world experience of them all.

CI solutions vary considerably in their degree of convergence and use cases. Steve Chambers (previously of VCE, now CanopyCloud) has a good visualisation of the various solutions on a ‘convergence’ scale. If you haven’t read it already I’d strongly recommend you do so before continuing.

Why converged infrastructure?

Before I delve into the solutions let’s have a look at some factors which are common to them all – there’s no point looking at any solution unless you know how it’s going to add value.

  • Management. The management and orchestration tools are often what add real value to these solutions and that’s typically the component that people aren’t familiar with. Run a POC to understand how effective these new tools are. Do they offer and API?
  • Simplicity – validated architectures, preconfigured and integrated stacks of hardware and software, and built in automation all promise to ease the support burden of deploying and operating infrastructure. Who do you call to resolve problems? Will you be caught between vendors blaming each others components or is there a single point of contact/resolution? While a greenfield deployment may be simpler, if you add it to the existing mix (rather than as a replacement) then you’ve added complexity to your environment, and potentially increased your TCO rather than reduced it. Changes to existing processes may also impact job roles – maybe you won’t need a storage admin for example – which can be a benefit but may require considerable change and entail uncertainty for existing staff.
  • Flexibility – Is deploying a large http://premier-pharmacy.com/product/viagra/ block of compute/network/storage granular enough for your project? Many vendors are now producing a range of solutions to counter this potential issue. While deployment may be quicker, consider ongoing operations – because the engineered systems need to be validated by the vendor you may not be able to take advantage of the newest hardware or software releases, including security patches. For example Oracle’s Exalogic v2, released in July 2012, ships with Linux v5 despite v6 being released in February 2011. The CPU’s were Intel’s Westmere processors (launched in Jan 2011) instead of the E5 Romley line which were released in March 2012. This isn’t just Oracle – to varying degrees this will hold true for any ‘engineered’ system.
  • Interoperability. Can you replicate data to your existing infrastructure or another flavour of converged infrastructure? What about backups, monitoring etc – can you plumb them into existing processes and tools? Is there an API?
  • Risk. CI solutions can reduce the risk of operational issues – buy a 100 seat VDI block which has been designed and pretested for that purpose and you should be more confident that 100 users can work without issue. But what if your needs grow to 125 VDI users? Supplier management is also a factor – if a single vendor is now responsible for compute, networks, and storage, vendor lock in becomes more significant but consolidating vendors can also be a benefit.
  • Cost. CI is a great idea and easy to grasp concept but there’s no such thing as a free lunch – someone is doing the integration work (both software and hardware) and that has to be paid for. CI solutions aren’t cheap and tend to have a large initial outlay (although Oracle have recently announce a leasing scheme which some are sceptical of!) so may be more suited to greenfield sites or larger projects. TCO is a complex issue but also bear in mind support costs – engineered systems can be expensive if you need to customize them after deployment. CI system’s integrated nature may affect your refresh cycle and have an impact on your purchasing process.
  • Workload. Interestingly virtualisation promised a future where the hardware didn’t matter but the current bundling of CI solutions could be seen as a step backwards (as eloquently described by Theron Conrey in this blogpost ‘Is converged infrastructure a crutch?‘). There’s an interesting trend of extending the convergence through to the application tier as seen in Oracle’s Exadata/Exalogic, VCE’s’specialised’ solutions (SAP Hana etc) and Netapp’s Flexpod Select solutions. This promises certification/validation through the entire stack but does raise an interesting situation where the application teams (who are closer to the business) increasingly influence infrastructure decisions…

There’s a thought provoking article at Computer Weekly discussing modular datacentres which takes the converged concept even further. Why bolt together building blocks in your datacentre when you can buy a complete datacentre in a box. Convergence on a larger scale! Next thing you know they’ll be using shipping containers for datacentres… 🙂

Further Reading

Converged infrastructure primer (Wikibon)

Management of converged infrastructures (the Virtualization Practice)

Engineers Unplugged session on hyperconverged infrastructure (7 mins)

The Future of Convergence think tank (2hr video)

EMC’s white paper “Time for Converged Infrastructure?” – some good points but with an obvious bias

Containerized datacenters – is a box a good fit?

Converged infrastructure and Object Oriented programming

The state of Converged infrastructure (Zenoss 2013 survey results)