Storage must go on a diet

Nowadays, the capacity of the hard disk drives (HDDs) are really big. 3TB is out and 4TB is in the horizon. What’s next?

For small-medium businesses in Malaysia, depending on their data requirements and applications, 3-10TB is pretty sufficient  and with room to grow as well. Therefore, a 6TB requirement can be easily satisfied with 2 x 3TB HDDs.

If I were the customer, why would I buy a storage array, with the software licenses and other stuff that will not only increase my cost of equipment acquisition and data management, it will also increase the complexity of my IT infrastructure? I could just slot HDDs into my existing server, RAID it with RAID-0 (not a good idea but to save costs, most customers would do that) and I have a 6TB volume! It’s cheaper, easier to manage with Windows or Linux, and my system administrator doesn’t have to fuss about lack of storage experience.

And RAID isn’t really keeping up with the tremendous growth of HDD’s capacity as well. In fact, RAID is at risk. RAID (especially RAID 5/6) just cannot continue provide the LUN or volume reliability and data availability because it just takes too damn long to rebuild the volume after the failure of a disk.

Back in the days where HDDs were less than 500GB, RAID-5 would still hold up but after passing the 1TB mark, RAID-6 became more prevalent. But now, that 1TB has ballooned to 3TB and RAID-6 is on shaky ground. What’s next? RAID-7? ZFS has RAID-Z3, triple parity but come on, how many vendors have that? With triple parity or stronger RAID (is there one?), the price of the storage array is going to get too costly.

Experts have been speaking about parity-declustering,  but that’s something that a few vendors have right now. Panasas, founded by one of forefathers of RAID, Garth Gibson, comes to mind. In fact, Garth Gibson and Mark Holland of Cargenie-Mellon University’s Parallel Data Lab (PDL) presented a paper about parity-declustering more than 10 years ago.

Let’s get back to our storage fatty. Yes, our storage is getting fat, obese, rotund or whatever you want to call it. And storage vendors have been pushing a concept in hope that storage administrators and customers can take advantage of it. It is called Storage Optimization or Storage Efficiency.

Here are a few ways you can consider to put your storage on a diet.

  • Compression
  • Thin Provisioning
  • Deduplication
  • Storage Tiering
  • Tapes and SSDs

To me, compression has not taken the storage world by storm. But then again, there aren’t many vendors that tout compression as a feature for storage optimization. Most of them rather prefer to push the darling of data reduction, data deduplication, as the main feature for save more space. Theoretically, data deduplication makes more sense when the data is inactive, and has high occurrence of duplicated data. That is why secondary storage such  as backup deduplication targets like Data Domain, HP StoreOnce, Quantum DXi can publish 20:1 rates and over time, that rate can get even higher.

NetApp also has been pushing their A-SIS data deduplication on primary storage. Yes, it helps with the storage savings in primary but when the need for higher data transfer rates and time to access “manipulated” data (deduped or compressed), it is likely that compression is a better choice for primary, active data.

So who has compression? NetApp ONTAP 8.0.1 has compression now and IBM with its Storewize V7000 started as a compression device. Read about IBM Storewize in my blog here. Dell has Ocarina Networks, which was recently unleashed. I am a big fan of Ocarina Networks and I wrote about the technology in my previous blog. EMC, during the Celerra days of DART has compression but I don’t hear much about it in their VNX. Compression is there, believe me, embedded all the loads of EMC marketing.

Thin Provisioning is now a must-have and standard feature of all storage vendors. What is Thin Provisioning? The diagram below shows you:

In the past, storage systems aren’t so intelligent. You ask for 10TB, you are given 10TB and that 10TB is “deducted” from the storage capacity. That leads to wastage and storage inefficiencies. Today, Thin Provisioning will give you 10TB but storage capacity is consumed as it is being used. The capacity is not pre-allocated as in the past. Thin provisioning is a great diet pill for bloated storage projects. 

Another up and coming feature is storage tiering. Storage tiering, when associated to storage optimization, should include hierarchical storage management (HSM) and tape-out as well. Storage optimization solutions should not offer only in the storage array itself. Storage tiering within the storage array is available with most vendors – IBM EasyTier, EMC FAST2, Dell Fluid Data Management and many others. But what about data being moved out of the storage array? What about reducing the capacity of the data online or near-line? Why not put them offline if there isn’t a need for it?

I term this as Active Archiving, something I learned while I was at EMC. Here’s a look at EMC’s style of Active Archiving:

Active Archiving promotes the concept of data archiving and is not unique only to EMC. Almost all storage vendors, either natively or with 3rd party vendors, can perform fairly efficient data archiving in one way or another. One of the software that I liked (and not unique!) is Quantum Stornext. Here’s a video of how Quantum Stornext helps reduce the fat of the storage.

With the single-copy sharing feature of Quantum Stornext to multiple disparate OSes, there are lesser duplicate files in storage as well.

Tapes have been getting a bad name in the past few years. It has been repositioned and repurposed as an archive medium rather than a backup medium. But tape is the greenest and most powerful storage diet pill around. And we should not be discount tapes because tapes are fighting back. Pretty soon you will be hearing about Linear Tape File System (LTFS). In a nutshell, Linear Tape File System (LTFS) allows you to use the tape almost as if it were a hard disk. You can drag and drop files from your server to the tape, see the list of saved files using a standard operating system directory (no backup software catalog needed), and use point and click to restore. How cool is that!

And Solid State Drives (SSDs) makes sense as well.

There are times that we need IOPS and using spinning drives, we have to set up many disk spindles to achieve the IOPS that we want.  For example, using the diagram below from the godfather of storage, Greg Schulz,

The set of 16 spinning HDD drives on the left can only deliver 3,520 IOPS. The problem is, we have wasted a lot of disk space, as seen in the diagram below. This design, which most customer would be accustomed to, may look cheaper but in actual fact, is NOT.

If the price of a Fibre Channel HDD is RM2,000, the total of 16 would make up RM32,000.00. That is not inclusive of additional power and cooling and rack space and also the data management costs. Assuming the SSDs costs 5 times more than the Fibre Channel HDD. SSDs are capable of delivering very high IOPS. Here I am putting a modest 5,000 IOPS per SSDs. With just 2 SSDs (as the right design suggests), the total costs is only RM20,000. It has greater performance room to grow, and also savings in data management, power and cooling.

Folks, consider SSDs as part of your storage diet plan.

All these features are available, in whole or in part, and they are part of the storage technology offerings that is out there. With all these being said, are you doing something about it? Get off your lazy bum and start managing your storage and put your storage on a diet!!!

Hated GUI killing Ubuntu

OK, this is off-topic. Not my usual storage news but I thought I share this with you.

I am a Linux enthusiast. I play around with Linux – mostly Fedora and RedHat flavoured distros. For the past 2 years, one of the things I hated was the rise of Ubuntu. I don’t know why, but I just didn’t like the distro. Ubuntu, based on Debian, was the darling of the Linux desktop world. Perhaps I am a server guy but I just didn’t like Ubuntu. A few years ago, I won a Dell Latitude 2100 with Ubuntu pre-installed. I played around it with for a few days (hated it) and I decided to switch to Fedora 13 after that.

So, as Ubuntu’s star waned, I was piqued by the news. According to DistroWatch, which tracks popular Linux distros based on hits-per-day, Ubuntu is steadily on the decline. Here’s a look at the latest DistroWatch numbers of the top-10 Linux distros:

The decline is likely caused by Ubuntu Unity GUI, which replaced the likable GNOME/KDE interface in Ubuntu Natty Narwhal 11.04 version. The current version, Oneiric Ocelot 11.10, is taking a lot of hits of the wrong kind. It has dropped from the top spot and now down to #4.

Here’s a few screenshots of the Unity interface in Natty Narwhal.


I am pleasantly surprised that a GUI interface could cause so much harm to a Linux distro but judging by the number of haters out there, I guess the Unity GUI is killing Ubuntu’s popularity. Let’s see how Ubuntu will react in its version 12.04, Precise Pangolin.

The top distro is now Linux Mint, another Debian derivative. I have not tried Linux but I have been playing around with OpenSuSE 12.1. Not bad, buggy, but not bad.

I am still waiting to start my Fedora 16 download – 3.2GB baby over the Jaring SOMAport link. One day, but not today!

One-stop shop matters

Would you buy fruits from dedicated fruit seller or would you go to a hypermarket to get your fruits? It depends on your preference but it is more likely that you would go to a hypermarket to do your shopping. You might need some accompanying stuff while you are at the hypermarket. There will be ideas stirring in your mind that you might need this or that while planning your fruit shopping.

The “ideas stirring in your mind” is what concepts like hypermarkets do. They mess around with your thinking and they play with your psychological side because we are human beings. We are driven by desire and convenience.

In storage, this whole psychological game comes into play as well in the customer’s purchasing habits. If the customer is purchasing storage from one vendor, he/she might as well get the rest of the data management solutions from the same vendor. The vendors would pitch easy, cost-effective, seamless, proven and other well-received words to woo the customer. And the key ingredient is INTEGRATION.

All solutions these days are complex, and integration of getting all components to work together is not easy. I have been working on a private cloud data appliance for almost 2 months now, and it’s not as seamless or as easy as it seems. According to the whitepaper, everything was rosy and dandy but when it comes down to ground zero, even the vendors themselves had a hard time doing the integration. And this drives up costs, resources and time.

That is why EMC has become a behemoth in the storage industry, being an A-Z one-stop shop of everything of data storage and management to every one. That is why IBM and HP are able to leverage their server business and their other solutions and services portfolio to entice the customers to buy their products. That is why Oracle wants to worn the whole bloody application stack in their Exadata, to sell more Oracle database licenses. Pure-play storage vendors like NetApp and HDS, who prefer to work on partnership could be feeling the heat of late.

In the latest IDC quarter worldwide disk storage system tracker (that’s a mouthful), NetApp is the prominent one being mentioned as “losing ground“. Here’s a look at a table, which compares past quarters results.

It is difficult to quantify integration costs, because there are many intangible, and unseen costs and impacts. To pacify customer’s fears, and increase their confidence in the total data storage and management solutions, marketing initiatives such as whitepapers, reference architectures, webcasts, social media, social business networking, demos, proof-of-concepts (POCs) and many more are tools of the trade that could tip a customer towards a vendor’s solution.

I believe NetApp could begin to realize that. And rumours are swirling in the industry for NetApp to acquire strong solutions such as Commvault and Quantum. It makes sense. NetApp is in need of a strong data protection solution in which it has a say in the vision and direction of the software. NetApp needs a strong data deduplication solution in which Quantum has in its DXi series. Symantec could be a acquisition target as well as the security and data management giant’s stock has stagnated in the stock market.

NetApp itself could be an acquisition target as well, with IBM, Cisco and HP the possible suitors. NetApp’s solutions are a great solution set for IBM, who really needs to do something about their staggered storage portfolio. HP might have chewed a mouthful with 3PAR but HP has been bad news for the last 2 quarters, no thanks to its on-and-off fiasco of ditching it PC business and other crazy stunts of HP-versus-Oracle and their ex-CEO, Leo Apotheker. Cisco could bet on NetApp too. Both companies have strong relationship together, but Cisco is drying up. They are becoming a laggard in the networking industry and companies like Juniper are hitting back … hard!

All these jousting and shuffling are creating the consolidation of the storage industry. The top six players – EMC, NetApp, IBM, HP, HDS and Dell – owns more than 80% of the total storage market share in terms of revenue. As the data storage and management world becomes more complex, and the ubiquity of cloud computing demands absolute uptime with no room for errors, the one-stop shop makes sense. One throat to choke … as they say.

Magic on storage players

It’s that time of the year again where Gartner releases it Magic Quadrant for the block-access, external controller-based, mid-range and high-end modular disk arrays market. This particular is very important because it represents the mainstay of the overall storage industry, viewed from a more qualitative angle. Whereas the other charts and reports work with statistics and numbers, this is the chart that everyone in the industry flock to. Gartner Magic Quadrant (MQ) is the storage industry indicator of who’s are the leaders; who are the visionaries; who are the executive wizards and who are the laggards (also known as niche players).

So, this time around, who’s in the Leaders Quadrant?

The perennial players in the Leader’s Quadrant are EMC, IBM, NetApp, HP, Dell, and HDS. In my previous blog, I shared with you the IDC figures about market shares but the Gartner MQ shows are more subtle side, and one that perhaps carry more weight to organizations.

From the IDC numbers announced previously, we have seen Dell taking a beating. They have lost market share and similarly in this latest Gartner MQ, they have lost their significance of their influence as well. Everyone expected their Compellent solution to be robust and having EqualLogic, Ocarina and Exanet in its stable would strengthen their presence in the storage industry. Surprisingly, Dell lost on both IDC statistically charged market numbers and this Gartner MQ as well. Perhaps they were too hasty to dump EMC a few months ago?

Gartner also reported that HP has made significant leap in the Leader’s Quadrant. It has leapfrogged over HDS and IBM when comparing their position in Gartner’s MQ chart. This could be coming from their concerted effort to pitch their Converged Infrastructure, a vision that in my opinion, simplified computing. HP Malaysia shared with me their vision a few months ago, and I was impressed. What I was not very impressed then and even now, is that their storage solutions story is still staggered, lacking the gel. Perhaps it is work in progress for HP, the 3PAR, the IBRIX and the EVA. But one things for sure. They are slowly but surely getting the StoreOnce story right and that’s good news for customers. I did a review of HP StoreOnce technology a few months ago.

Perhaps it’s time for HP to ditch their VLS deduplication, which to me, confuses customers. By the way, HP VLS is an OEM from Sepaton. (Sepaton is “No tapes” spelled backwards)

Here’s a glimpse of last year’s Magic Quadrant.


In the Niche Quadrant, there are a few players making waves as well. 2 companies to watch out for are Huawei (they dropped Symantec 2 weeks ago) and Nexsan. Nexsan has been beefing up its marketing of late, and I often see them in mailing lists and ads on some websites I went to.

But the one to watch will be Huawei. This is a company with deep pockets, hiring the best in the storage industry and also has a very strong domestic market in China. In the next 2-3 years, Huawei could emerge as a strong contender to the big boys. So watch out!

Gartner Magic Quadrant is indeed weaving its magic and this time around the magic is good to HP.

Crisis? What crisis?

The storage train is still chugging hard and fast as IDC just released its Worldwide Disk Storage System Tracker for 3Q11. Despite the economic climate, the storage market posted a strong 8.5% revenue growth and a whopping 30.7% growth in terms of petabytes shipped. In total, 5,429PB were shipped in Q3.

So how did everyone do in this latest Tracker report?

In the Worldwide Total External Disk Storage Systems, EMC is still holding on to the #1 position, with 28.6%. IBM and NetApp came in at 12.7% and 12.1% respectively. The table below summarizes the percentage view of the top storage players, in terms of revenue.


From the table, everyone benefited from the strong buying of storage in the last quarter. EMC gained a strong market gain of almost 3%, while everyone else either gained or lost less than 1% market share.  But the more interesting numbers are not from the market share column but the % growth column.

HDS posted the strongest growth of 22.1%, slightly higher than EMC of 22.0%. HDS is beginning to get their story right, putting the right storage solutions in place, and has been strongly focused in their services offering as well. That’s simply great news for HDS because this is a company is not known for their marketing and advertising. The Japanese “culture” within HDS probably has taught it to be prudent but to see HDS growing faster than the big boys like IBM and HP is something their competitors should respect. I believe customers are beginning to see the true potential of HDS.

As for EMC, everyone labels them as the 800-pound gorilla but they have been very nimble and strong in the storage market for many quarters. This is due to the strong management team headed by Joe Tucci and his heir-in-waiting, Pat Gelsinger. Several of their acquisitions are doing well, with the likes of Isilon, Greenplum, Data Domain, and of course VMware. Even though VMware does not contribute the EMC revenue numbers, the very fact that EMC owns more than 80% of VMware has already given EMC a lot of credibility in the storage battlefield. They are certainly going great guns.

NetApp took a hit in the last quarter, when they missed the street revenue numbers last quarter. Their stock took a beating and there were rumours in the market that NetApp might acquire Commvault and Quantum to compete with EMC. EMC has been able to leverage the list of companies and acquired solutions very well, from data protection solutions like Networker and Avamar, deduplication solutions like Data Domain and Avamar, Documentum for content management and so on, while NetApp has been, for the longest time, prefer a more “loosely-coupled” approach with their partners for a more complete solution set.

Other interesting reports from IDC are the Open SAN/NAS market, the NAS market and the iSCSI market.

The Open SAN/NAS market combination, according to IDC goes like this:

EMC 31.3%
NetApp 14.4%

In the NAS only market, EMC and Isilon (under the one EMC umbrella) competes with NetApp and the table is like this:

EMC 46.7%
NetApp 30.7%

The iSCSI only market is led by Dell (EqualLogic and Compellent combined), followed by EMC and IBM. Here’s the summarized table:

Dell 30.3%
EMC 19.2%
IBM 14.0%

The strong growth is indeed good news as the storage market continues to weather the economic crisis storm. I have been saying this all along. The storage market in IT is still the growth engine as data keeps growing and growing, even though it was never the darling of the IT industry. Let’s hope the trend continues.