Tag Archives: storage

Storage Field Day #4 – who will you see?

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 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

Netapp ONTAP 8.2 and SnapManager compatibility

Summary: Running SnapDrive or SnapManager on Windows 2003? You might have some decisions to make….

Netapp recently announced that ONTAP 8.2 will bring with it a new licencing model which impacts the SnapDrive and SnapManager suites. Unfortunately this could have significant impact on companies currently using those products so you need to be familiar with the changes. In KB7010074 (NOW access required) it clearly states that current versions (when running on Windows) don’t work with ONTAP 8.2;

Because of changes in the licensing infrastructure in Data ONTAP 8.2, the license-list-info ZAPI call used by the current versions of SnapDrive for Windows and the SnapManager products is no longer supported in Data ONTAP 8.2. As a result, the current releases of these products will not work with Data ONTAP 8.2.

 The SnapManager products mentioned below do not support ONTAP 8.2.

  • SnapDrive for Windows 6.X and below
  • SnapManager® for Exchange 6.X and below
  • Single Mailbox Recovery® 6.X and below
  • SnapManager for SQL® 6.X and below
  • SnapManager for SharePoint® 7.x and below
  • SnapManager for Hyper-V 1®.x

Unfortunately there is no workaround and we need to wait for future versions of SnapManager and SnapDrive to be released sometime in 2013 (according to the KB article) before we get ONTAP 8.2 compatibility. I’ve no major issue with this situation as ONTAP 8.2 was only released a few days ago for Cluster mode and isn’t even released yet for 7 mode customers.

If you’re using Windows 2003 with any of the above products however this could be a big deal. SnapDrive 6.5 (the latest as of June 2013) only supports Windows 2008 and newer so it’s a reasonably assumption that the newer releases will have similar requirements. Until now you could still use SnapDrive 6.4 if you needed backwards compatibility with older versions of Windows – I suspect Windows 2003 is still plentiful in many enterprises (as well as my own). Now though you have a hard choice – either upgrade the relevant Windows 2003 servers, stop using the Snap products, or accept that you can’t upgrade ONTAP to the 8.2 release.

Personally I have a bunch of physical clusters all running Windows 2003 and hosting mission critical SQL databases and if these dependencies don’t change I’ll have to accelerate a project to upgrade them all in the next year or so, something that currently has no budget. Software dependencies aren’t unique to Netapp nor are Netapp really at fault – upgrading software is part of infrastructure sustainability and Windows 2003 is ten years old.

Lesson for the day: Running old software brings with it a risk.

Is storage a fungible commodity?

Fungibility – are you getting what you expect? :-)

I keep hearing that ‘IT is becoming a commodity‘, cloud computing is ‘like a utility‘, and recently I’ve heard the term ‘fungibility’ applied to computing on multiple occasions. The technologies behind cloud computing are driving these changes but what does it mean to be a commodity, what on earth is fungibility, and what’s it got to do with cloud computing? In this post I’ll explore the fungibility of storage and in a future blogpost the wider impact to cloud computing.

Lets dig into what fungibility is and why it’s important. Wikipedia defines it as;

Fungibility is the property of a good or a commodity whose individual units are capable of mutual substitution, such as crude oil, shares in a company, bonds, precious metals, or currencies.

In plain English fungibility means something is interchangeable – a common example is money. If someone owes you ten dollars you don’t care if they pay you one ten dollar bill, two fives, or ten ones – you get essentially the same thing. Another example is that you’re supposed to eat five portions of fruit and veg every day but you could eat five fruits, five veg, or a mixture – they’re fungible (interchangeable).

Now we know what is it but who cares if something is fungible?

  • for consumers fungibility is a good thing as it increases competition and flexibility – you can buy your commodity from anyone, often driving down prices
  • for providers fungibility could be good and bad. The increased competition might benefit your competitors but history has shown that once a market becomes a commodity it tends to grow, leading to more business for all involved.

Note that just because a commodity is fungible it doesn’t mean there’s no differentiation. Many metals are considered fungible – a tonne of molybdenum may be valued the same whether it’s mined from Australia or Europe. If you need that metal in Europe however you’ll incur shipping costs if you buy the Australian sourced tonne so you’ll pay a premium to get the supplier from Europe. It’s this differentiation which enables trade – more on this in the followup post coming shortly.

Fungibility and storage

Two of the references I’ve heard were in regard to storage and whether it is or isn’t fungible, so that’s where I’ll start. Virsto’s argument during their storage hypervisor presentation at SFD2 argued that while CPU and memory are fungible (specifically in virtualized environments) storage isn’t and is therefore a pain point (which they aim to solve obviously). In his 2013 predictions article Arthur Cole at IT BusinessEdge sees storage becoming a fungible commodity which has ramifications for how it’s consumed.

Uncertainty over whether storage is fungible or not is understandable – my first reaction when I thought about it was ‘no chance’! I’m a storage admin in my current job and each storage request is slightly different – there are too many variable factors which affect the outcome that you couldn’t consider two requests as interchangeable unless the solution was from the same vendor and with the same configuration. Here’s just some of the factors when specifying solutions or diagnosing storage issues;

  • Capacity (typically in GB or TB)
  • Performance – throughput, latency, IOps
  • Workload – read/write ratio, block sizes, sustained or variable demand
  • Availability – HA, clustering, support, SLAs etc
  • Backups – snapshots, long term archiving, restore times
  • Security – location, governance, compliance

Crucially however, as a storage provider I have a different perspective to a consumer of my storage. For a consumer most of this complexity is invisible, hidden behind either a technical or business abstraction – hence why a storage request often only considers capacity (much to my frustration!). What I get concerns me, not how it’s implemented. If you look at storage from the customer’s perspective then it’s a simpler construct and provided it satisfies the user’s expectations it can be considered fungible. All those variables can differentiate one service from another but for many services they’re of secondary importance.

Take a simple consumer example – Dropbox. I’ve used this excellent service for quite a few years and the only thing I really care about is how much storage I can consume and that it works reliably. I assume that it’s always available, that I can get my files back when needed, and that the storage provided by Dropbox can handle what I throw at it. If I don’t like the service offering I can move to one of their competitors like Crashplan, Skydrive, or Bitcasa and while the functionality is slightly different (maybe they don’t all support Linux clients for example) I can compare prices and pick the one that best suits me.

At the enterprise level companies like Amazon, with their S3 and Glacier services, compete with other industry heavyweights like Google’s Cloud Storage, Microsoft’s Azure, Nirvanix etc. Take up of these services started with the Web 2.0 generation but today’s they’re starting to tackle the ‘legacy’ enterprises. This is the more complex world where the factors I mentioned above are more relevant – if someone offered me some ‘cloud’ storage versus some traditional onsite storage (using Netapp’s or EMC gear) then I’d expect them to deliver completely different experiences. Rodney Rogers, the CEO of Virtustream, has recently written an excellent piece about why Amazon may struggle when delivering to the enterprise and I’d agree completely – the demands of the average enterprise are not the same as the Web 2.0 companies running commodity hardware. There are plenty of successful cloud storage companies doing business in the enterprise world today but as Gartner warn you need to be on your guard as the services offered vary widely and are not therefore easily compared – they’re not fungible. They also indicated that 20% of companies are already using cloud storage so one hopes it’s delivering some value. Apologies for mentioning the ‘G******’ word so often!

The answer to ‘is storage fungible?’ is the classic ‘it depends’. For some, typically consumer, requirements I’d say it is but for the more demanding enterprise it’s not there yet.

Further Reading

Fungibility applied to IT

Your storage in the cloud (Hans De Leenheer)

Cloud storage viable option, but proceed with caution (Gartner)

Top 10 cloud storage providers (Gartner)

The longevity of IT skills

My ‘chinwag’ with Mike Laverick

Late last week I joined an illustrious line of community bloggers, vendors, and authors by having a ‘chinwag’ with Mike Laverick. Anyone who knows Mike knows that a quick chat can easily last an hour for all the right reasons – he’s passionate about VMware and technology in general and good at presenting complex ideas in an easily understood manner. I guess that’s why he recently became a senior cloud evangelist for VMware! We discussed a few topics which are close to my heart at the moment;

  • Oracle
  • vCloud Director
  • Storage Field Day

You can listen to the audio (MP3 or the iPod/iPad friendly M4V) or watch the YouTube video below;

As time is limited on the actual chinwag I thought I’d offer a few additional thoughts on a couple of the topics we discussed.

Oracle and converged infrastructure

I didn’t want to get embroiled in a discussion about Oracle’s support stance on VMware as that’s been covered many times before but it’s definitely still a barrier. Some of our Oracle team have peddled the ‘it’s not supported’ argument to senior management and even though I’ve clarified the ‘supported vs certified’ distinction it’s a difficult perception to alter. Every vendor wants to push their own solutions so you can’t blame Oracle for wanting to push their own solution but it sure is frustrating!

Of more interest to me is where converged infrastructure is going. As we discussed on the chinwag Oracle are an interesting use case for converged infrastructure (or engineered systems, pick your terminology of choice) because it includes the application tier. Most other converged offerings (VCE, FlexPod, vStart and even hyperconverged solutions like Nutanix) tend to stop at the hypervisor, thus providing a abstraction layer that you can run whatever workload you like on. Oracle (with the possible exception of IBM?) may be unique in owning the entire stack from hardware all the way up through storage, networking, compute, through to the hypervisor and up to their crown jewels, the Oracle database and applications. This gives them a position of strength to negotiate with even when certain layers are weak in comparison to ‘best of breed’, as is the case with OracleVM. Archie Hendryx explores this in his blogpost although I think he undersells the advantage Oracle have of owning a tier 1 application – Dell’s vStart or VCE’s vBlock may offer competition from an infrastructure perspective but my company don’t run any Dell or VCE applications. If you’re not Oracle how do you compete with this? You team up to provide a ‘virtual stack’ optimised for various workloads – today VDI is the most common (see reference architectures from Nexenta, Nimble Storage et al). As the market for converged infrastructure grows I think we’ll see more of these ‘vertical’ stack style offerings.

Here’s a few blogpost’s I found interesting related to Oracle’s solutions: a look at the Exadata infrastructure, who manages the Exadata, Exalogic 2.0 Focuses on Elastic Cloud

vCloud Director

After I described my problem getting vCD tabled as a viable technology for lab management Mike rightly pointed out that many people are using vCD in test and dev – maybe more than in production. I agree with Mike but suspect that most are using dev/test as a POC for a production private cloud, not as purpose built lab management environment. I didn’t get time to discuss a couple of other points which both complicate the introduction of vCD even if you have an existing VMware environment;

  • Introducing vCD (or any cloud solution for that matter) is potentially a much bigger change compared to the initial introduction of server virtualisation. In the latter the changes mainly impacted the infrastructure teams although provisioning, purchasing, networks and storage were all impacted. If you’re intending to deliver test/dev environments you’re suddenly incorporating your applications too, potentially including the whole development/delivery lifecycle. If you go the whole hog to self-service then you potentially include an even larger part of the business right up to the end users. That’s a very disruptive change for some ‘infrastructure guy’ to be proposing!
  • vCD recommends Enterprise+ licencing which means I have to argue for the highest licencing level for test/dev, even if I don’t have it in production

If you’re interested in vCloud Director as a lab management solution here are links to some of the companies and technologies I mentioned;  SkyTap Cloud, VMworld session OPS-CSM2150 – “Lab management with VMware vCloud Director: Software development customer panel”, Frank Brix’s network fencing blogpost, and a good generic post about using the cloud for development.

Netapp and vSphere5 storage integration

Let your storage array do the heavy lifting with VAAI!

I’ve seen a few blogposts recently about storage features in vSphere5 and plenty of forum discussions about the level of support from various vendors but none that specifically address the Netapp world. As some of these features require your vendor to provide plugins and integration I’m going to cover the Netapp offerings and point out what works today and what’s promised for the future.

Many of the vSphere5 storage features work regardless of your underlying storage array, including StorageDRS, storage clusters, VMFS5 enhancements (provided you have block protocols) and the VMware Storage Appliance (vSA). The following vSphere features however are dependent on array integration;

  • VAAI (the VMware Storage API for Array Integration). If you need a refresher on VAAI and what’s new in vSphere v5 check out these great blogposts by Dave Henry part one covers block protocols (FC and iSCSI), part two covers NFS. The inimitable Chad Sakac from EMC also has a great post on the new vSphere5 primitives.
  • VASA (the VMware Storage API for Storage Awareness). Introduced in vSphere5 this allows your storage array to send underlying implementation details of the datastore back to the ESXi host such as RAID levels, replication, dedupe, compression, number of spindles etc. These details can be used by other features such as Storage Profiles and StorageDRS to make more informed decisions.

The main point of administration (and integration) when using Netapp storage is the Virtual Storage Console (VSC), a vCenter plugin created by Netapp. If you haven’t already got this installed (the latest version is v4, released March 16th 2012) then go download it (NOW account required). As well as the vCenter plugin you must ensure your version of ONTAP also supports the vSphere functionality – as of April 19th 2012 the latest release is ONTAP 8.1. You can find out more about its featureset from Netapp’s Nick Howell. As well as the core vSphere storage features the VSC enables some extra features;

These features are all covered in Netapp’s popular TR3749 (best practices for vSphere, now updated for vSphere5) and the VSC release notes.

Poor old NFS – no VAAI for you…

It all sounds great! You’ve upgraded to vSphere5 (with Enterprise or Enterprise Plus licensing), installed the VSC vCenter plugin and upgraded ONTAP to the shiny new 8.1 release. Your Netapp arrays are in place and churning out 1’s and 0’s at a blinding rate and you’re looking forward to giving vSphere some time off for good behaviour and letting your Netapp do the heavy lifting…..

Continue reading Netapp and vSphere5 storage integration