Plotting the Crypto Coin Storage Farm

The recent craze of the Chia cryptocurrency got me excited. Mostly because it uses storage as the determinant for the Proof-of-Work consensus algorithm in a blockchain network. Yes, I am always about storage. 😉

I am not a Bitcoin miner nor am I a Chia coin farmer, and my knowledge and experience in both are very shallow. But I recently became interested in the 2 main activities of Chia – plotting and farming, because they both involved storage. I am writing this blog to find out more and document about my learning experience.

[ NB: This blog does not help you make money. It is just informational from a storage technology perspective. ]

Chia Cryptocurrency

Proof of Space and Time

Bitcoin is based on Proof-of-Work (PoW). In a nutshell, there is a complex mathematical puzzle to be solved. Bitcoin miners compete to solve this puzzle and the process uses high computational processing to solve it. Once solved, the miners are rewarded for their work.

Newer entrants like Filecoin and Chia coin (XCH) use an alternate method which is Proof-of-Space (PoS) to validate and verify the transactions. Instead of miners, Chia coin farmers have to prove to have a legitimate amount of disk and/or memory space to solve a mathematical puzzle, conceptually similar to the one in Bitcoin mining. In the beginning, this was great for folks who have unused disk space that can be “rented” out to store the crypto stuff (Note: I am not familiar with the terminology yet, and I did not want to use the word “crypto tokens” incorrectly). Storj was one of the early vendors that I remember in this space touting this method but I have not followed them for a while. Their business model might have changed.

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Best storage technology ever

In your opinion, which is the best storage technology? Yes, that question.

I wanted to write this commentary because someone with a PhD posted that question in a different context (below) on Facebook last week. It obviously touched a nerve with me because these are the same kinds of questions I get a lot through the latter half of my career. Next year will be my 30th year, and they have been primarily evolved around storage (a lot!), data and Oil & Gas petro-technical computing and subsurface data management.

Best software for Big Data Analysis?

So, obviously, like a specialist doctor at a meeting, many would gather and ask that question over and over again. Too many to c0unt.

Do what the Irishman does

More often than not, the real reason behind that question is always about something else. And to find out more, do what the Irishman does. Always answer the question with another question.

Side story. I learn this Irishman anecdote from an Irishman while working at NetApp® 21 years ago. I am looking at you, Niall Doherty!

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Before we say good bye to AFP

The Apple Filing Protocol (AFP) file sharing service in the MacOS Server is gone. The AFP file server capability was dropped in MacOS version 11, aka Big Sur back in December last year. The AFP client is the last remaining piece in MacOS and may see its days numbered as well as the world of file services evolved from the simple local networks and workgroup collaboration of the 80s and 90s, to something more complex and demanding. The AFP’s decline was also probably aided by the premium prices of Apple hardware, and many past users have switched to Windows for frugality and prudence reasons. SMB/CIFS is the network file sharing services for Windows, and AFP is not offered in Windows natively.

MacOS supports 3 of the file sharing protocols natively – AFP, NFS and SMB/CIFSas a client. Therefore, it has the capability to collaborate well in many media and content development environments, and sharing and exchanging files easily, assuming that the access control and permissions and files/folders ownerships are worked out properly. The large scale Apple-only network environment is no longer feasible and many studios that continue to use Macs for media and content development have only a handful of machines and users.

NAS vendors that continue to support AFP file server services are not that many too, or at least those who advertise their support for AFP. iXsystems™ TrueNAS® is one of the few. This blog shows the steps to setup the AFP file services for MacOS clients.

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Is Software Defined right for Storage?

George Herbert Leigh Mallory, mountaineer extraordinaire, was once asked “Why did you want to climb Mount Everest?“, in which he replied “Because it’s there“. That retort demonstrated the indomitable human spirit and probably exemplified best the relationship between the human being’s desire to conquer the physical limits of nature. The software of humanity versus the hardware of the planet Earth.

Juxtaposing, similarities can be said between software and hardware in computer systems, in storage technology per se. In it, there are a few schools of thoughts when it comes to delivering storage services with the notable ones being the storage appliance model and the software-defined storage model.

There are arguments, of course. Some are genuinely partisan but many a times, these arguments come in the form of the flavour of the moment. I have experienced in my past companies touting the storage appliance model very strongly in the beginning, and only to be switching to a “software company” chorus years after that. That was what I meant about the “flavour of the moment”.

Software Defined Storage

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Blasphemous technical writing

This is so, so, so wrong! I want to hold back but I can’t hold back no more!

This article from Petapixel appeared in my daily news feed last week. When I saw the title “Seagate performed best in Backblaze’s 2020 Hard Drive Failure Report“, I literally jumped. My immediate thoughts were “This can’t be right“.

Labelling Seagate as the best performer in a Backblaze report not only sounded oxymoronic. It was moronic. For those of us who have the industry experience, we know enough that this cannot be true with just a one fell swoop statement.

Petapixel misleading article title

Backblaze report

Backblaze has been releasing Hard Drive Stats and Report every quarter since 2013. For many of us practitioners, the report has been the de facto standard and indicator of hard disks reliability. Inadvertently, it defines the quality of the hard disk drives associated with the respective manufacturer’s brand and models.

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Encryption Key Management in TrueNAS

iXsystems™ TrueNAS® has moved up a notch when it comes to encrypting data structures in the storage . In additional to supporting self encrypting disks (SEDs) and zpool encryption, version 12.0 added dataset and zvol encryption as well.

The world has become a dangerous place. The security hacks, the data leaks, the ransomware scourge have dominated the IT news in 2021, and we are only 3 months into the year. These cybersecurity threats are about to get worse and we have to be vigilant to deescalate the impacts of these threats. As such, TrueNAS® Enterprise has progressed forward to protect the data structures in its storage arrays, in addition to many other security features depicted below:

TrueNAS Multilayer Security

Key Management Interoperability Protocol (KMIP)

One of the prominent cybersecurity features in TrueNAS® Enterprise is KMIP support in version 12.0.

What is KMIP? KMIP is a client-server framework for encryption key management. It is a standard released in 2010 and governed by OASIS Open. OASIS stands for Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards.

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A FreeNAS Compression Tale

David vs Goliath Credit: Miguel Robledo of https://www.artstation.com/miguel_robledo

David vs Goliath

It was an underdog tale worthy of the biblical book of Samuel. When I first caught wind of how FreeNAS™ compression prowess was going against NetApp® compression and deduplication in one use case, I had to find out more. And the results in this use case was quite impressive considering that FreeNAS™ (now known as TrueNAS® CORE) is the free, open source storage operating system and NetApp® Data ONTAP, is the industry leading, enterprise, “king of the hill” storage data management software.

Certainly a David vs Goliath story.

Compression in FreeNAS

Ah, Compression! That technology that is often hidden, hardly seen and often forgotten.

Compression is a feature within FreeNAS™ that seldom gets the attention. It works, and certainly is a mature form of data footprint reduction (DFR) technology, along with data deduplication. It is switched on by default, and is the setting when creating a dataset, as shown below:

Dataset creation with Compression (lz4) turned on

The default compression algorithm is lz4 which is fast but poor in compression ratio compared to gzip and bzip2. However, lz4 uses less CPU cycles to perform its compression and decompression processing, and thus the impact on FreeNAS™ and TrueNAS® is very low.

NetApp® ONTAP, if I am not wrong, uses lzopro as default – a commercial and optimized version of the open source LZO compression library. In addition, NetApp also has their data deduplication technology as well, something OpenZFS has to improve upon in the future.

The DFR report

This brings us to the use case at one of iXsystems™ customers in Taiwan. The data to be reduced are mostly log files at the end user, and the version of FreeNAS™ is 11.2u7. There are, of course, many factors that affect the data reduction ratio, but in this case of 4 scenarios,  the end user has been running this in production for over 2 months. The results:

FreeNAS vs NetApp Data Footprint Reduction

In 2 of the 4 scenarios, FreeNAS™ performed admirably with just the default lz4 compression alone, compared to NetApp® which was running both their inline compression and deduplication.

The intention to post this report is not to show that FreeNAS™ is better in every case. It won’t be, and there are superior data footprint reduction tech out there which can outperform it. But I would expect potential and existing end users to leverage on the compression capability of FreeNAS™ which is getting better all the time.

A better compression algorithm

Followers of OpenZFS are aware of the changing of times with OpenZFS version 2.0. One exciting update is the introduction of the zstd compression algorithm into OpenZFS late last year, and is already in TrueNAS® CORE and Enterprise version 12.x.

What is zstd? zstd is a fast compression algorithm that aims to be as efficient (or better) than gzip, but with better speed closer to lz4, relatively. For a long time, the gzip compression algorithm, from levels 1-9, has been serving very good compression ratio compared to many compression algorithms, lz4 included.

However, the efficiency came at a higher processing price and thus took a longer time. At the other end, lz4 is fast and lightweight, but its reduction ratio efficiency is very poor. zstd intends to be the in-between of gzip and lz4. In the latest results published by Facebook’s github page,

zstd performance benchmark against other compression algorithms

For comparison, zstd (level -1) performed very well against zlib, the data compression library in gzip. It was made known there are 22 levels of compression in zstd but I do not know how many levels are accepted in the OpenZFS development.

At the same time, compression takes advantage of multi-core processing, and actually can speed up disk I/O response because the original dataset to be processed is smaller after the compression reduction.

While TrueNAS® still defaults lz4 compression as of now, you can probably change the default compression with a command

# zfs set compression=zstd-6 pool/dataset

Your choice

TrueNAS® and FreeNAS™ support multiple compression algorithms. lz4, gzip and now zstd. That gives the administrator a choice to assign the right compression algorithm based on processing power, storage savings, and time to get the best out of the data stored in the datasets.

As far as the David vs Goliath tale goes, this real life use case was indeed a good one to share.

 

Relinquishing Freedom in our Digital Future

There was a TV cartoon show I loved when I was a kid called “Wait till your Father gets home“. I was probably 5 or 6 then, but I can still remember the mother was practically nagging all the time of having the father to come back to deal with the problems and issues caused by the kids, and sometimes the dog.

This patriarchal mentality of having the male manning (yeah, it is not a gender neutral word) the household is also, unfortunately, mimicked in our societies, in general, being obedient and subservient to the government of the day. This is especially true in East Asian societies, .

While dissent of this mindset is sprouting in the younger generation of these societies, you can see the dichotomy of the older generation and the younger one in the recent protests in Thailand and the on-going one in Myanmar. The older generation is likely fearful of the consequences and there are strong inclinations to accept and subject their freedom to be ruled by the rulers of the day. It is almost like part of their psyche and DNA.

So when I read the article published by Data Storage Asean titled “Malaysians Optimistic on Giving the Government Increased Access to Personal Data for Better Services“, I was in two minds. Why are we giving away our Personal Data when we do not get a guarantee that the our privacy is protected?

Data Privacy should be in our own hands

Why are we giving away our freedom in new digital Malaysia when in history, we have not been truly protected of that freedom? 

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The hot cold times of HCI

Hyperconverged Infrastructure (HCI) is a hot technology. It has been for the past decade since Nutanix™ took the first mover advantage from the Converged Infrastructure (CI) technology segment and made it pretty much its ownfor a while.

Hyper Converged Infrastructure

But the HCI market (not the technology) is a strange one. It is hot. It is cold. The perennial leader, Nutanix™, has yet to eke out a profitable year. VMware® is strong in the market. Cisco™, which was hot with their HyperFlex solution in 2019, was also stopped short with a dismal decline in the IDC Worldwide HCI 2Q2020 tracker below:

IDC Worldwide Hyperconverged Infrastructure Tracker – 2Q2020

dHCI = Disaggregated or discombobulated? 

dHCI is known as disaggregated HCI. The disaggregation part is disaggregated hardware, especially on the storage part. Vendors like HPE® with Nimble Storage, Hitachi Vantara, NetApp® and a few more have touted the disaggregation of the performance and capacity, the separation of storage and compute as a value proposition but through close inspection, it is just another marketing ploy to attach a SAN storage to servers. It was marketing old wine in a new bottle. As rightly pointed out by my friend, Charles Chow of Commvault® quoted in his blog

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