Somewhere, there is a misconception that data processing is cheap. That stems from the well-known pricings of the capacities of public cloud storage that are a fraction of cents per month. But data in storage has to be worked upon, and has to be built up and protected to increase its value. Data has to be processed, moved, shared, and used by applications. Data induce workloads. Nobody keeps data stored forever and never be used again. Nobody buys storage just for capacity alone.
We have a great saying in the industry. No matter, where the data moves, it will land in a storage. So, it is clear that data does not exist in ether. And yet, I often see how little attention and prudence and care, when it comes to data infrastructure and data management technologies, the very components that are foundational to great data.
Great data management for Great AI
AI is driving up costs in data processing
A few recent articles drew my focus into the cost of data processing.
A few weeks ago, I decided to wipe clean my entire lab setup running Proxmox 6.2. I wanted to connect the latest version of Proxmox VE 8.0-2 using iSCSI LUNs from the TrueNAS® system I have with me. I thought it would be fun to have the configuration steps and the process documented. This is my journal on how to provision a TrueNAS® CORE iSCSI LUN to Proxmox storage. This iSCSI volume in Proxmox is where the VMs will be installed into.
Here is a simplified network diagram of my setup but it will be expanded to a Proxmox cluster in the future with the shared storage.
Proxmox and TrueNAS network setup
Preparing the iSCSI LUN provisioning
The iSCSI LUN (logical unit number) is provisioned as a logical disk volume to the Proxmox node, where the initiator-target relationship and connection are established.
This part assumes that a zvol has been created from the zpool. At the same time, the IQN (iSCSI Qualified Name) should be known to the TrueNAS® storage as it establishes the connection between Proxmox (iSCSI initiator) and TrueNAS (iSCSI target).
The IQN for Proxmox can be found by viewing the content of the /etc/iscsi/initiatorname.iscsi within the Proxmox shell as shown in the screenshot below.
Where to find the Proxmox iSCSI IQN
The green box shows the IQN number of the Proxmox node that starts with iqn.year-month.com.domain:generated-hostname. This will be used during the iSCSI target portal configuration in the TrueNAS® webGUI.
I was listening to several storage luminaries in the GestaltIT’s podcast “No one understands Storage anymore” a few of weeks ago. Around the minute of 11.09 in the podcast, Dr. J. Metz, SNIA® Chair, brought up this is powerful quote “Storage does not mean Capacity“. It struck me, not in a funny way. It is what it is, and it something I wanted to say to many who do not understand the storage solutions they are purchasing. It exemplifies what is wrong in the many organizations today in their understanding of investing in a storage infrastructure project.
This is my pet peeve. The first words uttered in most, if not all storage requirements in my line of work are, “I want this many Terabytes of storage“. There are no other details and context of what the other requirement factors are, such as availability, performance, future growth, etc. Or even the goals to achieve when purchasing a storage system and operating it. What is the improvement they are looking for?What are the problems to solve?
Where is the OKR?
It pains me to say this. For the folks who have in the IT industry for years, both end users and IT purveyors alike, most are absolutely clueless about OKR (Objectives and Key Results) for their storage infrastructure project. Many cannot frame the data challenges they are facing, and they have no idea where to go next. There is no alignment. There is no strategy. Even worse, there is no concept of how their storage infrastructure investments will improve their business and operations.
Just the other day, one company director from a renown IT integrator here in Malaysia came calling. He has been in the IT industry since 1989 (I checked his Linkedin profile), asking to for a 100TB storage quote. I asked a few questions about availability, performance, scalability; the usual questions a regular IT guy would ask. He has no idea, and instead of telling me he didn’t know, he gave me a runaround of this and that. Plenty of yada, yada nonsense.
In the end, I told him to buy a consumer grade storage appliance from Taiwan. I will just let him make a fool of himself in front of his customer since he didn’t want to take accountability of ensuring his customer get a proper enterprise storage solution in good faith. His customer is probably in the same mould as well.
Defensive Strategies as Data Foundations
A strong storage infrastructure foundation is vital for good Data Credibility. If you do the right things for your data, there is Data Value, and it will serve your business well. Both Data Credibility and Data Value create confidence. And Confidence equates Trust.
In order to create the defensive strategies let’s look at storage Availability, Protection, Accessibility, Management Security and Compliance. These are 6 of the 8 data points of the A.P.P.A.R.M.S.C. framework.
Offensive Strategies as Competitive Advantage
Once we have achieved stability of the storage infrastructure foundation, then we can turn over and drive towards storage Performance, Recovery, plus things like Scalability and Agility.
With a strong data infrastructure foundation, the organization can embark on the offensive, and begin their business transformation journey, knowing that their data is well run, protection, and performs.
Alignment with Data and Business Goals
Why are the defensive and offensive strategies requiring alignment to business goals?
The fact is simple. It is about improving the business and operations, and setting OKRs is key to measure the ROI (return of investment) of getting the storage systems and the solutions in place. It is about switching the cost-fearing (negative) mindset to a profit-conviction (positive) mindset.
For example, maybe the availability of the data to the business is poor. Maybe there is the need to have access to the data 24×7, because the business is going online. The simple measurable fact is we can move availability from 95% uptime to 99.99% uptime with an HA storage system.
Perhaps there are concerns about recoverability in the deluge of ransomware threats. Setting new RPO goals from 24 hours to 4 hours is a measurable objective to enhance data resiliency.
Or getting the storage systems to deliver higher performance from 350 IOPS to 5000 IOPS for the database.
What I am saying here is these data points are measurable, and they can serve as checkpoints for business and operational improvements. From a management perspective, these can be used as KPI (key performance index) to define continuous improvement of Data Confidence.
Furthermore, it is easy when a OKR dashboard is used to map the improvement markers when organizations use storage to move from point A to point B, where B equates to a new success milestone. The alignment sets the paths to the business targets.
Storage does not mean only Capacity.
The sad part is what the OKRs and the measured goals alignments are glaringly missing in the minds of many organizations purchasing a storage infrastructure and data management solution. The people tasked to source a storage technology solution are not placing a set of goals and objectives. Capacity appears to be the only thing on their mind.
I am about to meet a procurement officer of a customer soon. She asked me this question “Why is your storage so expensive?” over email. I want to change her mindset, just like the many officers and C-levels who hold the purse strings.
Let’s frame the use storage infrastructure in the real world. Nobody buys a storage system just to keep data in there much like a puddle keeps stagnant water. Sooner or later the value of the data in the storage evaporates or the value becomes dull if the data is not used well in any ways, shape or form.
Storage systems and the interconnected pathways from on premises, to the next premises, to the edge and to the clouds serve the greater good for Data. Data is used, shared, shaped, improved, enhanced, protected, moved, and more to deliver Value to the Business.
Storage capacity is just one of the few factors to consider when investing in a storage infrastructure solution. In fact, capacity is probably the least important piece when considering a storage solution to achieve the company’s OKRs. If we think about it deeper, setting the foundation for Data in the defensive manner will help elevate value of the data to be promoted with the offensive strategies to gain the competitive advantage.
Storage infrastructure and storage solutions along with data management platforms may appear to be a cost to the annual budgets. If you know set the OKRs, define A to get to B, alignment the goals, storage infrastructure and the data management platforms and practices are investments that are worth their weight in gold. That is my guarantee.
On the flip side, ignoring and avoiding OKRs, and set the strategies without prudence will yield its comeuppance. Technical debts will prevail.
There was a Super Blue Moon a few days ago. It was a rare sky show. Friends of mine who are photo and moon gazing enthusiasts were showing off their digital captures online. One ignorant friend, who was probably a bit envious of the other people’s attention, quipped that his Oppo Reno 10 Pro Plus can take better pictures. Oppo Reno 10 Pro Plus claims 3x optical zoom and 120x digital zoom. Yes, 120 times!
Yesterday, a WIRED article came out titled “How Much Detail of the Moon Can Your Smartphone Really Capture?” It was a very technical article. I thought the author did an excellent job explaining the physics behind his notes. But I also found the article funny, flippant even, when I juxtaposed this WIRED article to what my envious friend was saying the other day about his phone’s camera.
Super Blue Moon 2023
Open Source storage expectations and outcomes
I work for iXsystems™. Open Source has been its DNA for over 30 years. Similarly, I have also worked on Open Source (decades before it was called open source) in my home labs ever since I entered the industry. I had SoftLanding Linux System 3.5″ diskette (Linux kernel 0.99), and I bought a boxed set of FreeBSD OS from Walnut Creek (photo below). My motivation was to learn as much as possible about information technology world because I was making my first steps into building my career (I was also quietly trying to prove my father wrong) in the IT industry.
FreeBSD Boxed Set (circa 1993)
Open source has democratized technology. It has placed the power of very innovative technology into the hands of the common people With Open Source, I see the IT landscape changing as well, especially for home labers like myself in the early years. Social media platforms, FAANG (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, Google), etc, etc, have amplified that power (to the people). But with that great power, comes great responsibility. And some users with little technology background start to have hallucinated expectations and outcomes. Just like my friend with the “powerful” Oppo phone.
Likewise, in my world, I have plenty of anecdotes of these types of open source storage users having wild expectations, but little skills to exact the reality.
On the road, seat belt saves lives. So does the motorcycle helmet. But these 2 technologies alone are probably not well received and well applied daily unless there is a strong ecosystem and culture about road safety. For decades, there have been constant and unrelenting efforts to enforce the habits of putting on the seat belt or the helmet. Statistics have shown they reduce road fatalities, but like I said, it is the safety culture that made all this happen.
On the digital front, the ransomware threats are unabated. In fact, despite organizations (and individuals), both large and small, being more aware of cyber-hygiene practices more than ever, the magnitude of ransomware attacks has multiplied. Threat actors still see weaknesses and gaps, and vulnerabilities in the digital realms, and thus, these are lucrative ventures that compliment the endeavours.
Time to look at Data Management
The Cost-Benefits-Risks Conundrum of Data Management
And I have said this before in the past. At a recent speaking engagement, I brought it up again. I said that ransomware is not a cybersecurity problem. Ransomware is a data management problem. I got blank stares from the crowd.
I get it. It is hard to convince people and companies to embrace a better data management culture. I think about the Cost-Benefits-Risk triangle while I was analyzing the lack of data management culture used in many organizations when combating ransomware.
I get it that Cybersecurity is big business. Even many of the storage guys I know wanted to jump into the cybersecurity bandwagon. Many of the data protection vendors are already mashing their solutions with a cybersecurity twist. That is where the opportunities are, and where the cool kids hang out. I get it.
Cybersecurity technologies are more tangible than data management. I get it when the C-suites like to show off shiny new cybersecurity “toys” because they are allowed to brag. Oh, my company has just implemented security brand XXX, and it’s so cool! They can’t be telling their golf buddies that they have a new data management culture, can they? What’s that?
When cloud computing was all the rage, every business wanted to be on-board. Those who resisted felt the heat as the FOMO (fear of missing out) feeling set in, especially those who were doing this thing called “Digital Transformation“. The public cloud service providers took advantage of the cloud computing frenzy, calling for a “Cloud First” strategy. For a number of years, the marketing worked. The cloud first mentality became the tip of the tongue of many, encouraging droves to cloud adoption.
All this was fine and dandy but recently, we are beginning to hear and read about a few high profile cases of cloud repatriation. DHH‘s journal of Basecamp’s exit from AWS in late 2022 reverberated strongly, saying what should be a wake up call for those caught in the Cloud Computing Hotel California’s gilded cage. An even more bizarre claim about cost savings of $400 million over 3 years was made by Ahrefs, a Singapore SEO software maker which chose to use a co-location facility instead of a public cloud service.
Cloud First is not Cool (not sure where is the source is from but I got this off Twitter some months ago)
While these big news jail breaks are going against the grain, most are still in that diaspora to jump into the cloud services everywhere. In droves even. But, on and off, I am beginning to hear some grips, grunts and groans from end users in the cloud. These news have emboldened some to think that there is another choice besides shifting all IT and data services to the cloud.
For the uninformed, Clustered SMB brings highly available SMB file sharing services to mission critical environments. More importantly, Clustered SMB is high availability in a scale-out clustered architecture.
My view beyond HA SMB
I am not familiar with Clustered SMB in a NAS (Network Attached Storage). The world I am more familiar with is either having CIFS/SMB file services on a dual controller storage appliance or running Windows File Sharing on an Microsoft® Clustered Service (MSCS). Typically in these 2 types of HA SMB services, the scale up architecture require a shared access to a consolidated storage volume. Behind the scenes, there are many mechanisms at play to ensure that one, and only one, storage controller or HA host can have write access capabilities at one time. The most common mechanism is the SCSI-3 Persistent Reservation or sometimes known as SCSI fencing, using the SPC-3 (SCSI Primary Command) primitives. The whole objective is to prevent 2 nodes or hosts to writing to the shared storage volume at the same time and other issues like split-brain.
I find it blasphemous that with all the rhetoric of data protection and cybersecurity technologies and solutions in the market today, the ransomware threats and damages have grown proportionately larger each year. In a recent report by Kaspersky on Anti-Ransomware Day May 12th, 9 out of 10 of organizations previously attacked by ransomware are willing to pay again if attacked again. A day before my scheduled talk in Surabaya East Java 2 weeks’ back, the chatter through the grapevine was one bank in Indonesia was attacked by ransomware on that day. These news proved how virulent and dangerous the ransomware scourge is and has become.
And the question that everyone wants an answer to is … why are ransomware threats getting bigger and more harmful and there are no solutions to it?
Digital transformation and its data are very attractive targets
Today, all we hear from the data protection and storage vendors are recovery, restore that data blah, blah, blah and more blah, blah, blahs. The end point EDR (endpoint detection and response) solutions say they can stop it; the cybersecurity experts preach depth in defense; and the network security guys say use perimeter fencing. And the anti-phishing chaps say more awareness and education required. One or all have not worked effectively these few years. Ransomware’s threats and damages are getting worse. Why?
Trust is everything. When done right, the brand is trust.
One Wikibon article last month “Does Hardware (still) Matter?” touched on my sentiments and hit close to the heart. As the world becomes more and more data driven and cloud-centric, the prominence of IT infrastructure has diminished from the purview of the boardroom. The importance of IT infrastructure cannot be discounted but in this new age, storage infrastructure has become invisible.
In the seas of both on-premises and hybrid storage technology solutions, everyone is trying to stand out, trying to eke the minutest ounces of differentiation and advantage to gain the customer’s micro-attention. With all the drum beatings, the loyalty of the customer can switch in an instance unless we build trust.
I ponder a few storage industry variables that help build trust.
Open source Communities and tribes
During the hey-days of proprietary software and OSes, protectionism was key to guarding the differentiations and the advantages. Licenses were common, and some were paired with the hardware hostid to create that “power combination”. And who can forget those serial dongles license keys? Urgh!!
Since the open source movement (Read The Cathedral and the Bazaar publication) began, the IT world has begun to trust software and OSes more and more. Open Source communities grew and technology tribes were formed in all types of niches, including storage software. Trust grew because the population of the communities kept the vendors honest. Gone are the days of the Evil Empire. Even Microsoft® became a ‘cool kid’.
One open source storage filesystem I worked extensively on is OpenZFS. From its beginnings after Open Solaris® (remember build 134), becoming part of the Illumos project and then later in FreeBSD® and Linux upstream. Trust in OpenZFS was developed over time because of the open source model. It has spawned many storage projects including FreeNAS™ which later became TrueNAS®.
I cut my teeth in Enterprise Storage for 3 decades. On and off, I get the opportunity to work on Cloud Storage as well, mostly more structured storage infrastructure services such as blocks and files, in cloud offerings on AWS, Azure and Alibaba Cloud. I am familiar with S3 operations (mostly the CRUD operations and HTTP headers stuff) too, although I have yet to go deep with S3 with Restful API. And I really wanted to work on stuff with the S3 Select when the opportunity arises. (Note: Homelab project to-do list)
Along with the experience is the enterprise mindset of designing and crafting storage infrastructure and data management practices that evolve around data. Understanding the characteristics of data and the behaviours data in motion is part of my skills repertoire, and I continue to have conversations with organizations, small and large alike every day of the week.
History of my open source experience- bringing Enterprise to the individual
I have been working with open source software for a long time. My first Linux experience was Soft Landing Linux in the early 90s. It was a bunch of diskettes I purchased online while dabbling with FreeBSD® on the sides. Even though my day job was on the SunOS, and later Solaris®, having the opportunity to build stuff and learn the enterprise ways with Sun Microsystems® hardware and software were difficult at my homelab. I did bring home a SPARCstation® 2 once but the CRT monitor almost broke my computer table at that time.
Having open source software on 386i (before x86) architecture was great (no matter how buggy they were) because I got to learn hardcore enterprise technology at home. I am a command line person, so the desktop experience does not bother me much because my OS foundation is there. Open source gave me a world I could master my skills as an individual. For an individual like me, my mindset is always on the Enterprise.
The Tech Republic interview and my reflections
I know the journey open source OSes has taken at the server (aka Enterprise) level. They are great, and are getting better and better. But at the desktop (aka consumer) level, the Linux desktop experience has been an arduous one even though the open source Linux desktop experience is so much better now. This interview reflected on that.
There were a few significant points that were brought up. Those poignant moments explained about the free software in open source projects, how consumers glazed over (if I get what Matt Miller meant) the cosmetics of the open source software without the deeper meaningful objectives of the software had me feeling empty. Many assumed that just because the software is open source, it should be free or of low costs and continue to apply a consumer mindset to the delivery and the capability of the software.
Case in point is the way I have been seeing many TrueNAS®/FreeNAS™ individuals who downloaded the free software and using them in consumer ways. That is perfectly fine but when they want to migrate their consumer experience with the TrueNAS® software to their critical business operations, things suddenly do not look so rosy anymore. From my experience, having built enterprise-grade storage solutions with open source software like ZFS on OpenSolaris/OpenIndiana, FreeNAS™ and TrueNAS® for over a decade plus gaining plenty of experience on many proprietary and software-defined storage platforms along this 30 year career, the consumer mindsets do not work well in enterprise missions.
And over the years, I have been seeing this newer generation of infrastructure people taking less and less interest in learning the enterprise ways or going deep dive into the workings of the open source platforms I have mentioned. Yet, they have lofty enterprise expectations while carrying a consumer mindset. More and more, I am seeing a greying crew of storage practitioners with enterprise experiences dealing with a new generation of organizations and end users with consumer practices and mindsets.