SMP than VMware

VMware is not a panacea for all your server virtualization requirements but because they do fantastic marketing (not to mention doing 1 small seminar every 1.5-2 months here in Malaysia last year), everyone thinks they are the only choice for server virtualization.

Efforts from Citrix Xen, Microsoft Hyper-V and RedHat Virtualization do not seem to make a dent into VMware’s armour and it is beginning to feel that VMware is the only choice for server virtualization. However, every new server virtualization proposal would end up with the customer buying a brand new, much more powerful server. More CPUs, more cores, and more RAM (I am not going into VMware vRAM licensing issues here but customers know they are caged-in).

You see, VMware’s style of server virtualization is a in-system virtualization. The amount of physical resources within the system are being pooled, virtualized and shared with the virtual machines (VMs) in the physical chassis. With exception to the concept of distributed vSwitches (dvSwitch), CPUs, processing CPU cores and RAM are pretty much confined within what’s available in the physical box in most server virtualization environment. You can envision the concept of VMware’s in-system virtualization in the diagram below:

So, the consolidation (and virtualization) phase of older physical servers would involve packing tons of CPU cores and tons of RAMs in a newer, high end server.

I just visited a prospect a few days ago. For about 30 users for an ERP system and perhaps 100 users of Zimbra mailboxes, he lamented that he had to invest into 2 Dell R710 servers with 64GB of RAM each and sporting 2 x 8-core Intel Xeon. That sounded to like an overkill but that is what is happening here in this part of the world. The customer is given the perception and the doubt of inadequacy when they virtualize their servers. “What if I don’t have enough cores?; what if I don’t have enough RAM?” That in itself is the typical Malaysian (and Singaporean) kiasu mentality. Check out the Wikipedia definition of kiasu here.

Such a high-end server costs a lot of moolahs. And furthermore, the scalability and performance of the virtualized servers in the VMs are trapped within how much these servers can scale physically. If the server is maxed out at 16-cores and 128GB of RAM, then the customer to upgrade again with a server forklift. That’s not good.

And one more thing. VMware server virtualization is not ready for High Performance Computing (HPC) …yet.

Let’s look at this in another way. Let’s assume that you can look the server virtualization approach in an outward manner rather than the inward within kind of thinking, like the VMware in-system method.

What if you can invest in lower-end x86 servers with 1 x quad-core CPUs, with 8GB of RAM? What if you can put aggregate many of these lower-end servers together and build a large cluster of lower-end x86 servers into a huge symmetric multiprocessing server farm that supports 1,024 CPUs of 16,384 cores, 64TB of RAM? Have a look at this video that explains what I just mentioned:

ScaleMP video

Yeah, yeah .. it’s a marketing video from ScaleMP. But I am looking beyond the company and looking at the possibility of this out-system type of server virtualization. The ability to pool together all the CPU processing power of many physical servers and the aggregation of physical RAMs of all the combined servers into a single shared memory architecture unleashes the true power of server virtualization. This is THE next generation symmetric multiprocessing (SMP) architecture, and it breaks free from the limitations and scalability the in-ward virtualization of physical servers.

In the past, SMP system rely on heavy programmability of the applications to scale with SMP systems. Applications didn’t necessary scale on-the-fly with SMP systems, and some level of configuration and programming have to be applied to address the proprietary  SMP methods and interconnects. ScaleMP’s vSMP Foundation hypervisor solution removes the proprietary nature of SMP and bringing x86 server virtualization to meet the demands of HPC.

Here’s a look at the high level architecture of ScaleMP vSMP:

This type architecture brings similarity to RNA Networks solutions that I blogged some time ago. RNA Network, which was acquired by Dell late last year, based their solution on the RDMA technology and protocol, and was more about enhancing scalability and performance with memory pooling via Memory Cloud. ScaleMP’s patent-pending technology is more than that. It pools both memory and processing cores as well, giving it greater scalability and performance, the much needed resources for the demands of HPC environments.

The folks at ScaleMP contacted me a couple of weeks back and shared some of their marketing datasheets and whitepapers. While the information passed to me were OK, I wish the information could have a deeper dive into the technology and implementation as well. I hope they could share it, and I don’t mind signing an NDA.

Well, this is done pro bono, because I want everyone to know the choices and possibilities out there. It is my worldly cause to have people educated because only by being informed, we make better choices. The server virtualization world isn’t always about VMware, you know.

4TB disks – the end of RAID

Seriously? 4 freaking terabyte disk drives?

The enterprise SATA/SAS disks have just grown larger, up to 4TB now. Just a few days ago, Hitachi boasted the shipment of the first 4TB HDD, the 7,200 RPM Ultrastar™ 7K4000 Enterprise-Class Hard Drive.

And just weeks ago, Seagate touted their Heat-Assisted Magnetic Recording (HAMR) technology will bring forth the 6TB hard disk drives in the near future, and 60TB HDDs not far in the horizon. 60TB is a lot of capacity but a big, big nightmare for disks availability and data backup. My NetApp Malaysia friend joked that the RAID reconstruction of 60TB HDDs would probably finish by the time his daughter finishes college, and his daughter is still in primary school!.

But the joke reflects something very serious we are facing as the capacity of the HDDs is forever growing into something that could be unmanageable if the traditional implementation of RAID does not change to meet such monstrous capacity.

Yes, RAID has changed since 1988 as every vendor approaches RAID differently. NetApp was always about RAID-4 and later RAID-DP and I remembered the days when EMC had a RAID-S. There was even a vendor in the past who marketed RAID-7 but it was proprietary and wasn’t an industry standard. But fundamentally, RAID did not change in a revolutionary way and continued to withstand the ever ballooning capacities (and pressures) of the HDDs. RAID-6 was introduced when the first 1TB HDDs first came out, to address the risk of a possible second disk failure in a parity-based RAID like RAID-4 or RAID-5. But today, the 4TB HDDs could be the last straw that will break the camel’s back, or in this case, RAID’s back.

RAID-5 obviously is dead. Even RAID-6 might be considered insufficient now. Having a 3rd parity drive (3P) is an option and the only commercial technology that I know of which has 3 parity drives support is ZFS. But having 3P will cause additional overhead in performance and usable capacity. Will the fickle customer ever accept such inadequate factors?

Note that 3P is not RAID-7. RAID-7 is a trademark of a old company called Storage Computer Corporation and RAID-7 is not a standard definition of RAID.

One of the biggest concerns is rebuild times. If a 4TB HDD fails, the average rebuild speed could take days. The failure of a second HDD could up the rebuild times to a week or so … and there is vulnerability when the disks are being rebuilt.

There are a lot of talks about declustered RAID, and I think it is about time we learn about this RAID technology. At the same time, we should demand this technology before we even consider buying storage arrays with 4TB hard disk drives!

I have said this before. I am still trying to wrap my head around declustered RAID. So I invite the gurus on this matter to comment on this concept, but I am giving my understanding on the subject of declustered RAID.

Panasas‘ founder, Dr. Garth Gibson is one of the people who proposed RAID declustering way back in 1999. He is a true visionary.

One of the issues of traditional RAID today is that we still treat the hard disk component in a RAID domain as a whole device. Traditional RAID is designed to protect whole disks with block-level redundancy.  An array of disks is treated as a RAID group, or protection domain, that can tolerate one or more failures and still recover a failed disk by the redundancy encoded on other drives. The RAID recovery requires reading all the surviving blocks on the other disks in the RAID group to recompute blocks lost on the failed disk. In short, the recovery, in the event of a disk failure, is on the whole object and therefore, a entire 4TB HDD has to be recovered. This is not good.

The concept of RAID declustering is to break away from the whole device idea. Apply RAID at a more granular scale. IBM GPFS works with logical tracks and RAID is applied at the logical track level. Here’s an overview of how is compares to the traditional RAID:

The logical tracks are spread out algorithmically spread out across all physical HDDs and the RAID protection layer is applied at the track level, not at the HDD device level. So, when a disk actually fails, the RAID rebuild is applied at the track level. This significant improves the rebuild times of the failed device, and does not affect the performance of the entire RAID volume much. The diagram below shows the declustered RAID’s time and performance impact when compared to a traditional RAID:

While the IBM GPFS approach to declustered RAID is applied at a semi-device level, the future is leaning towards OSD. OSD or object storage device is the next generation of storage and I blogged about it some time back. Panasas is the leader when it comes to OSD and their radical approach to this is applying RAID at the object level. They call this Object RAID.

With object RAID, data protection occurs at the file-level. The Panasas system integrates the file system and data protection to provide novel, robust data protection for the file system.  Each file is divided into chunks that are stored in different objects on different storage devices (OSD).  File data is written into those container objects using a RAID algorithm to produce redundant data specific to that file.  If any object is damaged for whatever reason, the system can recompute the lost object(s) using redundant information in other objects that store the rest of the file.

The above was a quote from the blog of Brent Welch, Panasas’ Director of Software Architecture. As mentioned, the RAID protection of the objects in the OSD architecture in Panasas occurs at file-level, and the file or files constitute the object. Therefore, the recovery domain in Object RAID is at the file level, confining the risk and damage of data loss within the file level and not at the entire device level. Consequently, the speed of recovery is much, much faster, even for 4TB HDDs.

Reliability is the key objective here. Without reliability, there is no availability. Without availability, there is no performance factors to consider. Therefore, the system’s reliability is paramount when it comes to having the data protected. RAID has been the guardian all these years. It’s time to have a revolutionary approach to safeguard the reliability and ensure data availability.

So, how many vendors can claim they have declustered RAID?

Panasas is a big YES, and they apply their intelligence in large HPC (high performance computing) environments. Their technology is tried and tested. IBM GPFS is another. But where are the rest?


Dell acquires Wyse Technology

There is no stopping Dell. It is in the news again, this time, acquiring privately owned Wyse Technology.

The name Wyse certainly brings back memories about the times where Wyse were the VT100 and VT220 terminals. They were also one of the early leaders in thin client computing, where it required an X Windows server to provide client applications on “dumb” workstations running X Windows Manager. They used to compute with companies like NCD (Network Computing Devices) and HummingBird. My first company, CSA, was a distributor of NCD clients and I remember Sime Darby was the distributor of Wyse thin clients.

Wyse as quoted:

Wyse Technology is the global leader in Cloud Client Computing. The Wyse portfolio includes industry-leading thin, zero and cloud PC client solutions with advanced management, desktop virtualization and cloud software supporting desktops, laptops and next generation mobile devices. Wyse has shipped more than 20 million units and has over 200 million people interacting with their products each day, enabling the leading private, public, hybrid and government cloud implementations worldwide. Wyse works with industry-leading IT vendors, including Cisco®, Citrix®, IBM®, Microsoft, and VMware® as well as globally-recognized distribution and service providers. Wyse is headquartered in San Jose, California, U.S.A., with offices worldwide.

The Dell acquisition of Wyse shows that Dell is serious about Virtual Desktop Infrastructure type of technology (VDI), especially when the client cloud computing space. And the VDI space is going to heat up as many vendors are pushing hard to get the market going.

Dell, for better or for worse, has just added another acquisition that fits into the jigsaw puzzle that they are trying to build. Wyse looks like a good buy as it has a mature technology and the legacy in the thin client space. I hope Dell will energize the Wyse Technology team but while acquisition is easy, the tough part will be the implementation part. How well Dell mobilizes the Wyse Technology team will depend on how well Wyse blends into Dell’s culture.

Feed us with Filr

I have checked about the progress of Novell Filr, which has generated a lot of buzz on the web. I blogged about it here and here and I was hoping to get a job to review the product. But I didn’t get the job yet, because the product will only be available in Q4 of 2012.

That’s a long time to come to market, considering that from the time it was announced in Novell BrainShare in November 2011. And the competitors are gearing up as well. There is Dropbox for the enterprise called Dropbox for Teams, and VMware is doing something along the same lines called Project Octopus. I am pretty sure there are plenty of other vendors who are already offering something equivalent to what the Novell Filr can do.

I browsed around the web for more info about the Novell Filr, hoping that it won’t be like a blackhole after Novell’s announcement. Fortunately, I found more details which I thought was interesting but it took a while after 5 or 6 Google pages.

The set of slides I found belonged to Anthony Priestman of Novell. The slides started with the Novell Filr ease of installation.

  • Local Administrator/Password
  • Server Name
  • IP Address
  • Finalize the configuration with a browser

In a nutshell Novell Filr is a virtualization service. It virtualizes the backend NTFS shares, CIFS shares, identity management through Active Directory or Novell eDirectory, as well as access control and security to present a “merged-view” of files and folders from different disparate sources.

Going deeper, the Novell Filr becomes the orchestrator and broker, linking up the backend to the front end with ease and simplicity. Even though it sounds easy, the entire architecture and its implementation is complicated because there are so many components and services involved.

Therefore, to make file services and authentication services matters easy and simple should be considered genius, and we shall see how Novell Filr pans out when it is released. I have no doubt in my mind that it will be easy and simple.

Here’s a deeper look at the architecture:

The Filr integrates with both Novell eDirectory and Windows Active Directory for authentication and file access control. I

One of the new concepts is called File Spaces. This is great, because this is going to do away with drive letters that we are so used to in mapped drives concept in Windows. There is a running joke that the number of mapped drives in Windows will run out after the letter Z:.

File Spaces allows a simple folder to represent any Windows shares, NAS CIFS shares or Novell NSS volumes. This is based on UNC (Universal Naming Convention), so it is straightforward. File Spaces also allows users to right-click to share their files easily, probably similar to how you share Google Docs files when you want to invite team members to collaborate on files. And it will update you on notifications after files have been updated or modified. This ease-of-sharing, of course, is governed with higher, company-wide policies about file sharing, both internally and externally (across firewalls as well)

Both the most powerful feature of File Spaces is the ability to have a single, “merged-view” of all files and folders with all types of devices, from tablets, to smartphones to laptops. The slide below explains a bit of File Spaces “Merged Views”:

The view of files and folders will look like the following below:

The Novell Filr concept and technology is going to define the new file sharing, home and user directories landscape in IT. The archaic concept of mapped drives will slowly fade away, and the Filr will bring forth new frontiers of tight and secure enterprise user and resource management, but with the ease of use and simplicity of sharing concepts of social media. 

Some older implementations from Novell will eventually be replaced by Filr. iFolder, Netstorage, and QuickFinder will go the way of the dodos, while the next generation Filr will become the flagship of the new Novell.

This sounds dandy. Unfortunately, I personally am worried about how Novell’s new owner, Attachmate will be good to Novell. Right now, the future of Novell seems like business as usual but that’s not good. Novell has been losing mindshare and they had better make their stand with a strong product like Novell Filr.

Like I said earlier, the product is shipping in late of 2012. It was announced in late 2011. That’s a whole 12 months in which Novell could do much better by feeding the minds of followers of Novell Filr. Let them and people like me, learn more about the technology. Let us help spread the idea and word and keep the Novell Filr interests up and the fire burning until the launch date.