Green Storage? Meh!

Something triggered my thoughts a few days ago. A few of us got together talking about climate change and a friend asked how green was the datacenter in IT. With cloud computing booming, I would say that green computing isn’t really the hottest thing at present. That in turn, leads us to one of the most voracious energy beasts in the datacenter, storage. Where is green storage in the equation?

What is green?

Over the past decade, several storage related technologies were touted as more energy efficient. These include

  • Tape – when tapes are offline, they do not consume power and do not require cooling
  • Virtualization – Virtualization reduces the number of servers and desktops, and of course storage too
  • MAID (Massive Array of Independent Disks) – the arrays spin down the HDDs if idle for a period of time
  • SSD (Solid State Drives) – Compared to HDDs, SSDs consume much less power, and overall reduce the cooling needs
  • Data Footprint Reduction – Deduplication, compression and other technologies to reduce copies of data
  • SMR (Shingled Magnetic Recording) Drives – Higher areal density means less drives but limited by physics.

The largest gorilla in storage technology

HDDs still dominate the market and they are the biggest producers of heat and vibration in a storage array, along with the redundant power supplies and fans. Until and unless SSDs dominate, we have to live with the fact that storage disk drives are not green. The statistics from Statistica below forecasts that in 2021, the shipment of SSDs will surpass HDDs.

Today the areal density of HDDs have increased. With SMR (shingled magnetic recording), the areal density jumped about 25% more than the 1Tb/inch (Terabit per inch) in the CMR (conventional magnetic recording) drives. The largest SMR in the market today is 16TB from Seagate with 18TB SMR in the horizon. That capacity is going to grow significantly when EAMR (energy assisted magnetic recording) – which counts heat assisted and microwave assisted – drives enter the market next year. The areal density will grow to 1.6Tb/inch with a roadmap to 4.0Tb/inch. Continue reading

ZFS Replication and Recovery with FreeNAS

We get requests to recover data from a secondary platform all the time. RPO (recovery point objective) of 30 minutes can be challenging to small to medium sized companies, especially if there is an SLA (service level agreement) to meet.

This week, my team and I took some time to create a FreeNAS replication demo for a potential client. I thought I document the whole thing about ZFS replication, the key steps to set it up and show how recovery is done.

ZFS Snapshots

ZFS replication relies on periodic ZFS snapshots. ZFS snapshot is an inherent feature from the ZFS file system, and often used as a point-in-time copy of the existing ZFS file system tree in memory. Once a snapshot has been triggered, either manually or on schedule (periodic), the file system tree and its metadata in the memory are committed to disk to ensure an updated and consistent state of the file system at all times.

To start, a running snapshot policy on a schedule must be in place. This snapshot policy can be on a specific dataset or zvol, or even the entire zpool. Yeah, I am using quite a few ZFS terminology here – zpool, zvol, dataset. You can read more about each of the structures and more here.

Once the ZFS replication task has been setup, every snapshot occurred in the snapshot policy is automatically duplicated and copied to the target ZFS dataset. Usually, the target ZFS dataset is on a secondary FreeNAS storage server, serving as a disaster recovery platform. Sending and receiving data in the snapshots rely on SSH service.

This is the network diagram explaining the FreeNAS ZFS replication setup.

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Veaam to boost Cloud Data Management

Cloud Data Management is a tricky word. Often vague, ambigious, how exactly would you define “Cloud Data Management“?

Fresh off the boat from Commvault GO 2019 in Denver, Colorado last week, I was invited to sample Veeam a few days ago at their Solution Day and soak into their rocketing sales in Asia Pacific, and strong market growth too. They reported their Q3 numbers this week, impressing many including yours truly.

I went to the seminar early in the morning, quite in awe of their vibrant partners and resellers activities and ecosystem compared to the tepid Commvault efforts in Malaysia over the past decade. Veeam’s presence in Malaysia is shorter than Commvault’s but they are able to garner a stronger following with partners and customers alike.

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Brainy Commvault

[Disclosure: I was invited by Commvault as a Media person and Social Ambassador to their Commvault GO 2019 Conference and also a Tech Field Day eXtra delegate from Oct 13-17, 2019 in the Denver CO, USA. My expenses, travel, accommodation and conference fees were covered by Commvault, the organizer and I was not obligated to blog or promote their technologies presented at this event. The content of this blog is of my own opinions and views]

The waltz across the Commvault-Hedvig mine field will not be easy. Commvault will have a lot of open discussions about their acquisition of Hedvig and how Hedvig “primary storage platform” will fit into a “secondary storage framework” of Commvault. The outcome of this consummation is yet to appear as a structured form. The storyline will eventually form as Commvault’s diligence to define their strategy moving forward.

Day 1

Day 1 was my open day at Commvault GO. I was absorbing the first impressions of Commvault again even though this was my third Commvault GO, after Washington DC and Nashville in 2017 and 2018 respectively. There was certainly a “startup” feeling again in Commvault since the appointment of Sanjay Mirchandani as CEO 9 months ago.

A lot of excitement and buzz were generated around the metallic, the Commvault venture into Software-as-a-Service (SaaS). The SaaS solution is targeted at the mid-market for organizations with 500-2500 staff count. Its simplicity and pricing were the 2 things which gave me a good feeling all over. There is even a 45-day trial for metallic.

Getting Brainy

My Day 2 itinerary was more specific because my agenda for this trip was to seek answers to the realization of Commvault-Hedvig.

Commvault took the distinction of using the vision of a DataBrain (#databrain) to define their strategy. From the picture below, the left and right hemisphere of the DataBrain forms the Storage Management piece on the left and Data Management on the right.

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Commvault coming all together

[Disclosure: I was invited by Commvault as a Media person and Social Ambassador to their Commvault GO 2019 Conference and also a Tech Field Day eXtra delegate from Oct 13-17, 2019 in the Denver CO, USA. My expenses, travel, accommodation and conference fees were covered by Commvault, the organizer and I was not obligated to blog or promote their technologies presented at this event. The content of this blog is of my own opinions and views]

This trip to the Commvault GO conference was pretty much a mission to find answers to their Hedvig acquisition just a month ago. It was an unprecedented move for Commvault and I, as an industry observer and pundit, took the news positively. I wrote in my blog about Commvault’s big bet and I liked their boldness in their approach.

But the news did not bode well back here in Malaysia. The local technology news portal, Data Storage Asean picked up the news in a rather unconvinced way. 2 long time Commvault partners I spoke to were obviously unhappy because the acquisition made little sense to them on the back of closing of the Commvault Malaysia office just weeks before this with more unsettling rumours of the Commvault team in Asia Pacific. The broken trust and the fear of what the future held for the Commvault customers in Malaysia and in the region were riding along with me on this trip.

But I have seen the beginning of the Commvault transformation from the Commvault GO conferences I have attended since 2017. This is my 3rd Commvault GO and I ended Day 1 with good vibes.

Here were some of my highlights in the first day. Continue reading

Data Renaissance in Oil and Gas

The Oil and Gas industry, especially in the upstream Exploration and Production (EP) sector, has been enjoying a renewed vigour in the past few years. I have kept in touch with the developments of the EP side because I always have a soft spot for the industry. I have engaged in infrastructure and solutions in the petrotechnical side in my days at Sun Microsystems back in the late 90s. The engagements with EP intensified in my first stint at NetApp, wearing the regional Oil & Gas consulting engineer here in South Asia for almost 6 years. Then, with Interica in 2014, I was dealing with subsurface data and seismic interpretation technology. EP is certainly an exciting sector to cover because there are so much technical work involved and the technologies, especially the non-IT, are breath taking.

I have been an annual registrant to the Digital Energy Journal events since 2013, except last year, and I have always enjoyed their newsletter. This week I attended Digital Energy 2-day conference again, and I was taken in by the exciting times in EP. Here are a few of my views and trends observation in this data renaissance.

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Commvault big bet

I woke up at 2.59am in the morning of Sept 5th morning, a bit discombobulated and quickly jumped into the Commvault call. The damn alarm rang and I slept through it, but I got up just in time for the 3am call.

As I was going through the motion of getting onto UberConference, organized by GestaltIT, I was already sensing something big. In the call, Commvault was acquiring Hedvig and it hit me. My drowsy self centered to the big news. And I saw a few guys from Veritas and Cohesity on my social media group making gestures about the acquisition.

I spent the rest of the week thinking about the acquisition. What is good? What is bad? How is Commvault going to move forward? This is at pressing against the stark background from the rumour mill here in South Asia, just a week before this acquisition news, where I heard that the entire Commvault teams in Malaysia and Asia Pacific were released. I couldn’t confirm the news in Asia Pacific, but the source of the news coming from Malaysia was strong and a reliable one.

What is good?

It is a big win for Hedvig. Nestled among several scale-out primary storage vendors and little competitive differentiation, this Commvault acquisition is Hedvig’s pay day.

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Thinking small to solve Big

[This article was posted in my LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/thinking-small-solve-big-chin-fah-heoh/ on Sep 9th 2019]

The world’s economy has certainly turned. And organizations, especially the SMEs, are demanding more. There were times that many technology vendors and their tier 1 systems integrators could get away with plenty of high level hobnobbing, and showering the prospect with their marketing wow-factor. But those fancy, smancy days are drying up and SMEs now do a lot of research and demand a more elaborate and a more comprehensive technology solution to their requirements.

The SMEs have the same problems faced by the larger organizations. They want more data stored, protected and recoverable, and maximize the value of data. However, their risk factors are much higher than the larger enterprises, because a disruption or a simple breakdown could affect their business and operations far greater than larger organizations. In most situations, they have no safety net.

So, the past 3 odd years, I have learned that as a technology solution provider, as a systems integrator to SMEs, I have to be on-the-ball with their pains all the time. And I have to always remember that they do not have the deep pockets, especially when the economy in Malaysia has been soft for years.

That is why I have gravitated to technology solutions that matter to the SMEs and gentle to their pockets as well. Take for instance a small company called Itxotic I discovered earlier this year. Itxotic is a 100% Malaysian home-grown technology startup, focusing on customized industry intelligence, notably computer vision AI. Their prominent technology include defect detection in a manufacturing production line.

 

At the Enterprise level, it is easy for large technology providers like Hitachi or GE or Siemens to peddle similar high-tech solutions to SMEs requirements. But this would come with a price tag of hundreds of thousands of ringgit. SMEs will balk at such a large investment because the price tag is definitely something not comprehensible to the SME factories. That is why I gravitated to the small thinking of Itxotic, where their small, yet powerful technology solves big problems in the SMEs.

And this came about when more Industry 4.0 opportunities started to come into my radar. Similarly, I was also approached to look into a edge-network data analytics technology to be integrated into PLCs (programmable logic controllers). At present, the industry consultants who invited me, are peddling a foreign technology solution, and the technology costs RM13,000 per CPU core. In a typical 4-core processor IPC (industrial PC), that is a whopping RM52,000, minus the hardware and integration services. This can easily drive up the selling price of over RM100K, again, a price tag that will trigger a mini heart attack with the SMEs.

I am tasked by the industry consultants to design a more cost-friendly, aka cheaper solution and today, we are already building an alternative with Apache Kafka, its connectors and Grafana for visual reporting. And I think the cost to build this alternative technology will be probably 70-80% cheaper than the one they are reselling now. The “think small, solve Big” mantra is beginning to take hold, and I am excited about it.

In the “small” mantra, I mean to be intimate and humble with the end users. One lesson I have learned over the past years is, the SMEs count on their technology partners to be with them. They have no room for failure because a costly failure is likely to be devastating to their operations and business. Know the technology you are pitching well, so that the SMEs are confident that you can deliver, not some over-the-top high-level technology pitch. Look deep into the technology integration with their existing technology and operations, and carefully and meticulously craft and curate a well mapped plan for them. Commit to their journey to ensure their success.

I have often seen technology vendors and resellers leaving SMEs high and dry when it comes to something outside their scope, and this has been painful. That is why this isn’t a downgrade for me when I started working with the SMEs more often in the past 3 years, even though I have served the enterprise for more than 25 years. This invaluable lesson is an upgrade for me to serve my SME customers better.

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Perils of avoiding BC and DR

News in recent months have been unfavourable, even to the point of poignancy. Maybe I didn’t have all the details to place my opinion, but it has appeared that these recent events have neglected the practice of  BC (business continuity) and DR (disaster recovery).

The recent bad news

The most recent is one close to home. The KLIA (Kuala Lumpur International Airport) and KLIA2 operations were disrupted quite significantly for 4 days due to “network switch” failure. I followed the news and comments quite intently in those bad days, and I did not see any single comment discussing about BC or DR. If BC and DR were present at the airports, the airport operations would have been restored within minutes or hours, not days. Investigations are still on-going to find out what really happened in the KLIA/KLIA2 incident.

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