Do we still need FAST (and its cohorts)?

In a recent conversation with an iXsystems™ reseller in Hong Kong, the topic of Storage Tiering was brought up. We went about our banter and I brought up the inter-array tiering and the intra-array tiering piece.

After that conversation, I started thinking a lot about intra-array tiering, where data blocks within the storage array were moved between fast and slow storage media. The general policy was simple. Find all the least frequently access blocks and move them from a fast tier like the SSD tier, to a slower tier like the spinning drives with different RPM speeds. And then promote the data blocks to the faster media when accessed frequently. Of course, there were other variables in the mix besides storage media and speeds.

My mind raced back 10 years or more to my first encounter with Compellent and 3PAR. Both were still independent companies then, and I had my first taste of intra-array tiering

The original Compellent and 3PAR logos

I couldn’t recall which encounter I had first, but I remembered the time of both events were close. I was at Impact Business Solutions in their office listening to their Compellent pitch. The Kuching boys (thank you Chyr and Winston!) were very passionate in evangelizing the Compellent Data Progression technology.

At about the same time, I was invited by PTC Singapore GM at the time, Ken Chua to grace their new Malaysian office and listen to their latest storage vendor partnership, 3PAR. I have known Ken through my NetApp® days, and he linked me up Nathan Boeger, 3PAR’s pre-sales consultant. 3PAR had their Adaptive Optimization (AO) disk tiering and Dynamic Optimization (DO) technology.

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Storageless shan’t be thy name

Storageless??? What kind of a tech jargon is that???

This latest jargon irked me. Storage vendor NetApp® (through its acquisition of Spot) and Hammerspace, a metadata-driven storage agnostic orchestration technology company, have begun touting the “storageless” tech jargon in hope that it will become an industry buzzword. Once again, the hype cycle jargon junkies are hard at work.

Clear, empty storage containers

Clear, nondescript storage containers

It is obvious that the storageless jargon wants to ride on the hype of serverless computing, an abstraction method of computing resources where the allocation and the consumption of resources are defined by pieces of programmatic code of the running application. The “calling” of the underlying resources are based on the application’s code, and thus, rendering the computing resources invisible, insignificant and not sexy.

My stand

Among the 3 main infrastructure technology – compute, network, storage, storage technology is a bit of a science and a bit of dark magic. It is complex and that is what makes storage technology so beautiful. The constant innovation and technology advancement continue to make storage as a data services platform relentlessly interesting.

Cloud, Kubernetes and many data-as-a-service platforms require strong persistent storage. As defined by NIST Definition of Cloud Computing, the 4 of the 5 tenets – on-demand self-service, resource pooling, rapid elasticity, measured servicedemand storage to be abstracted. Therefore, I am all for abstraction of storage resources from the data services platform.

But the storageless jargon is doing a great disservice. It is not helping. It does not lend its weight glorifying the innovations of storage. In fact, IMHO, it felt like a weighted anchor sinking storage into the deepest depth, invisible, insignificant and not sexy. I am here dutifully to promote and evangelize storage innovations, and I am duly unimpressed with such a jargon.

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Intel is still a formidable force

It is easy to kick someone who is down. Bad news have stronger ripple effects than the good ones. Intel® is going through a rough patch, and perhaps the worst one so far. They delayed their 7nm manufacturing process, one which could have given Intel® the breathing room in the CPU war with rival AMD. And this delay has been pushed back to 2021, possibly 2022.

Intel Apple Collaboration and Partnership started in 2005

Their association with Apple® is coming to an end after 15 years, and more security flaws surfaced after the Spectre and Meltdown debacle. Extremetech probably said it best (or worst) last month:

If we look deeper (and I am sure you have), all these negative news were related to their processors. Intel® is much, much more than that.

Their Optane™ storage prowess

I have years of association with the folks at Intel® here in Malaysia dating back 20 years. And I hardly see Intel® beating it own drums when it comes to storage technologies but they are beginning to. The Optane™ revolution in storage, has been a game changer. Optane™ enables the implementation of persistent memory or storage class memory, a performance tier that sits between DRAM and the SSD. The speed and more notable the latency of Optane™ are several times faster than the Enterprise SSDs.

Intel pyramid of tiers of storage medium

If you want to know more about Optane™’s latency and speed, here is a very geeky article from Intel®:

The list of storage vendors who have embedded Intel® Optane™ into their gears is long. Vast Data, StorOne™, NetApp® MAX Data, Pure Storage® DirectMemory Modules, HPE 3PAR and Nimble Storage, Dell Technologies PowerMax, PowerScale, PowerScale and many more, cement Intel® storage prowess with Optane™.

3D Xpoint, the Phase Change Memory technology behind Optane™ was from the joint venture between Intel® and Micron®. That partnership was dissolved in 2019, but it has not diminished the momentum of next generation Optane™. Alder Stream and Barlow Pass are going to be Gen-2 SSD and Persistent Memory DC DIMM respectively. A screenshot of the Optane™ roadmap appeared in Blocks & Files last week.

Intel next generation Optane roadmap

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Down the rabbit hole with Kubernetes Storage

Kubernetes is on fire. Last week VMware® released the State of Kubernetes 2020 report which surveyed companies with 1,000 employees and above. Results were not surprising as the adoptions of this nascent technology are booming. But persistent storage remained the nagging concern for the Kubernetes serving the infrastructure resources to applications instances running in the containers of a pod in a cluster.

The standardization of storage resources have settled with CSI (Container Storage Interface). Storage vendors have almost, kind of, sort of agreed that the API objects such as PersistentVolumes, PersistentVolumeClaims, StorageClasses, along with the parameters would be the way to request the storage resources from the Pre-provisioned Volumes via the CSI driver plug-in. There are already more than 50 vendor specific CSI drivers in Github.

Kubernetes and CSI initiative

Kubernetes and the CSI (Container Storage Interface) logos

The CSI plug-in method is the only way for Kubernetes to scale and keep its dynamic, loadable storage resource integration with external 3rd party vendors, all clamouring to grab a piece of this burgeoning demands both in the cloud and in the enterprise.

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DellEMC Project Nautilus Re-imagine Storage for Streams

[ Disclosure: I was invited by GestaltIT as a delegate to their Storage Field Day 19 event from Jan 22-24, 2020 in the Silicon Valley USA. My expenses, travel, accommodation and conference fees were covered by GestaltIT, the organizer and I was not obligated to blog or promote the vendors’ technologies presented at this event. The content of this blog is of my own opinions and views ]

Cloud computing will have challenges processing data at the outer reach of its tentacles. Edge Computing, as it melds with the Internet of Things (IoT), needs a different approach to data processing and data storage. Data generated at source has to be processed at source, to respond to the event or events which have happened. Cloud Computing, even with 5G networks, has latency that is not sufficient to how an autonomous vehicle react to pedestrians on the road at speed or how a sprinkler system is activated in a fire, or even a fraud detection system to signal money laundering activities as they occur.

Furthermore, not all sensors, devices, and IoT end-points are connected to the cloud at all times. To understand this new way of data processing and data storage, have a look at this video by Jay Kreps, CEO of Confluent for Kafka® to view this new perspective.

Data is continuously and infinitely generated at source, and this data has to be compiled, controlled and consolidated with nanosecond precision. At Storage Field Day 19, an interesting open source project, Pravega, was introduced to the delegates by DellEMC. Pravega is an open source storage framework for streaming data and is part of Project Nautilus.

Rise of  streaming time series Data

Processing data at source has a lot of advantages and this has popularized Time Series analytics. Many time series and streams-based databases such as InfluxDB, TimescaleDB, OpenTSDB have sprouted over the years, along with open source projects such as Apache Kafka®, Apache Flink and Apache Druid.

The data generated at source (end-points, sensors, devices) is serialized, timestamped (as event occurs), continuous and infinite. These are the properties of a time series data stream, and to make sense of the streaming data, new data formats such as Avro, Parquet, Orc pepper the landscape along with the more mature JSON and XML, each with its own strengths and weaknesses.

You can learn more about these data formats in the 2 links below:

DIY is difficult

Many time series projects started as DIY projects in many organizations. And many of them are still DIY projects in production systems as well. They depend on tribal knowledge, and these databases are tied to an unmanaged storage which is not congruent to the properties of streaming data.

At the storage end, the technologies today still rely on the SAN and NAS protocols, and in recent years, S3, with object storage. Block, file and object storage introduce layers of abstraction which may not be a good fit for streaming data.

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AI needs data we can trust

[ Note: This article was published on LinkedIn on Jan 21th 2020. Here is the link to the original article ]

In 2020, the intensity on the topic of Artificial Intelligence will further escalate.

One news which came out last week terrified me. The Sarawak courts want to apply Artificial Intelligence to mete judgment and punishment, perhaps on a small scale.

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NAS is the next Ransomware goldmine

I get an email like this almost every day:

It is from one of my FreeNAS customers daily security run logs, emailed to our alias. It is attempting a brute force attack trying to crack the authentication barrier via the exposed SSH port.

Just days after the installation was completed months ago, a bot has been doing IP port scans on our system, and found the SSH port open. (We used it for remote support). It has been trying every since, and we have been observing the source IP addresses.

The new Ransomware attack vector

This is not surprising to me. Ransomware has become more sophisticated and more damaging than ever because the monetary returns from the ransomware are far more effective and lucrative than other cybersecurity threats so far. And the easiest preys are the weakest link in the People, Process and Technology chain. Phishing breaches through social engineering, emails are the most common attack vectors, but there are vhishing (via voicemail) and smshing (via SMS) out there too. Of course, we do not discount other attack vectors such as mal-advertising sites, or exploits and so on. Anything to deliver the ransomware payload.

The new attack vector via NAS (Network Attached Storage) and it is easy to understand why.

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Thinking small to solve Big

[This article was posted in my LinkedIn at 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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Intel IoT Revolution for Malaysia Industry 4.0

Intel rocks!

I have been following Intel for a few years now, a big part was for their push of the 3D Xpoint technology. Under the Optane brand, Intel has several forms of media types, addressing persistent memory to storage class and solid state storage. Intel, in recent years, has been more forefront with their larger technology portfolio and it is not just about their processors anymore. One of the bright areas I am seeing myself getting more engrossed in (and involved into) is their IoT (Internet of Things) portfolio, and it has been very exciting so far.

Intel IoT and Deep Learning Frameworks

The efforts of the Intel IoTG (Internet of Things Group) in Asia Pacific are recognized rapidly. The drive of the Industry 4.0 revolution is strong. And I saw the brightest spark of the Intel folks pushing the Industry 4.0 message on homeground Malaysia.

After the large showing by Intel at the Semicon event 2 months ago, they turned up a notch in Penang at their own Intel IoT Summit 2019, which concluded last week.

At the event, Intel brought out their solid engineering geeks. There were plenty of talks and workshops on Deep Learning, AI, Neural Networks, with chatters on Nervana, Nauta and Saffron. Despite all the technology and engineering prowess of Intel was showcasing, there was a worrying gap.

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