A conceptual distributed enterprise HCI with open source software

Cloud computing has changed everything, at least at the infrastructure level. Kubernetes is changing everything as well, at the application level. Enterprises are attracted by tenets of cloud computing and thus, cloud adoption has escalated. But it does not have to be a zero-sum game. Hybrid computing can give enterprises a balanced choice, and they can take advantage of the best of both worlds.

Open Source has changed everything too because organizations now has a choice to balance their costs and expenditures with top enterprise-grade software. The challenge is what can organizations do to put these pieces together using open source software? Integration of open source infrastructure software and applications can be complex and costly.

The next version of HCI

Hyperconverged Infrastructure (HCI) also changed the game. Integration of compute, network and storage became easier, more seamless and less costly when HCI entered the market. Wrapped with a single control plane, the HCI management component can orchestrate VM (virtual machine) resources without much friction. That was HCI 1.0.

But HCI 1.0 was challenged, because several key components of its architecture were based on DAS (direct attached) storage. Scaling storage from a capacity point of view was limited by storage components attached to the HCI architecture. Some storage vendors decided to be creative and created dHCI (disaggregated HCI). If you break down the components one by one, in my opinion, dHCI is just a SAN (storage area network) to HCI. Maybe this should be HCI 1.5.

A new version of an HCI architecture is swimming in as Angelfish

Kubernetes came into the HCI picture in recent years. Without the weights and dependencies of VMs and DAS at the HCI server layer, lightweight containers orchestrated, mostly by, Kubernetes, made distribution of compute easier. From on-premises to cloud and in between, compute resources can easily spun up or down anywhere.

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Crash consistent data recovery for ZFS volumes

While TrueNAS® CORE and TrueNAS® Enterprise are more well known for its NAS (network attached storage) prowess, many organizations are also confidently placing their enterprise applications such as hypervisors and databases on TrueNAS® via SANs (storage area networks) as well. Both iSCSI and Fibre Channel™ (selected TrueNAS® Enterprise storage models) protocols are supported well.

To reliably protect these block-based applications via the SAN protocols, ZFS snapshot is the key technology that can be dependent upon to restore the enterprise applications quickly. However, there are still some confusions when it comes to the state of recovery from the ZFS snapshots. On that matter, this situations are not unique to the ZFS environments because as with many other storage technologies, the confusion often stem from the (mis)understanding of the consistency state of the data in the backups and in the snapshots.

Crash Consistency vs Application Consistency

To dispel this misunderstanding, we must first begin with the understanding of a generic filesystem agnostic snapshot. It is a point-in-time copy, just like a data copy on the tape or in the disks or in the cloud backup. It is a complete image of the data and the state of the data at the storage layer at the time the storage snapshot was taken. This means that the data and metadata in this snapshot copy/version has a consistent state at that point in time. This state is frozen for this particular snapshot version, and therefore it is often labeled as “crash consistent“.

In the event of a subsystem (application, compute, storage, rack, site, etc) failure or a power loss, data recovery can be initiated using the last known “crash consistent” state, i.e. restoring from the last good backup or snapshot copy. Depending on applications, operating systems, hypervisors, filesystems and the subsystems (journals, transaction logs, protocol resiliency primitives etc) that are aligned with them, some workloads will just continue from where it stopped. It may already have some recovery mechanisms or these workloads can accept data loss without data corruption and inconsistencies.

Some applications, especially databases, are more sensitive to data and state consistencies. That is because of how these applications are designed. Take for instance, the Oracle® database. When an Oracle® database instance is online, there is an SGA (system global area) which handles all the running mechanics of the database. SGA exists in the memory of the compute along with transaction logs, tablespaces, and open files that represent the Oracle® database instance. From time to time, often measured in seconds, the state of the Oracle® instance and the data it is processing have to be synched to non-volatile, persistent storage. This commit is important to ensure the integrity of the data at all times.

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How well do you know your data and the storage platform that processes the data

Last week was consumed by many conversations on this topic. I was quite jaded, really. Unfortunately many still take a very simplistic view of all the storage technology, or should I say over-marketing of the storage technology. So much so that the end users make incredible assumptions of the benefits of a storage array or software defined storage platform or even cloud storage. And too often caveats of turning on a feature and tuning a configuration to the max are discarded or neglected. Regards for good storage and data management best practices? What’s that?

I share some of my thoughts handling conversations like these and try to set the right expectations rather than overhype a feature or a function in the data storage services.

Complex data networks and the storage services that serve it

I/O Characteristics

Applications and workloads (A&W) read and write from the data storage services platforms. These could be local DAS (direct access storage), network storage arrays in SAN and NAS, and now objects, or from cloud storage services. Regardless of structured or unstructured data, different A&Ws have different behavioural I/O patterns in accessing data from storage. Therefore storage has to be configured at best to match these patterns, so that it can perform optimally for these A&Ws. Without going into deep details, here are a few to think about:

  • Random and Sequential patterns
  • Block sizes of these A&Ws ranging from typically 4K to 1024K.
  • Causal effects of synchronous and asynchronous I/Os to and from the storage

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At the mercy of the cloud deity

Amazon Web Services (AWS) went down in the middle of last week. News of the outage were mentioned:

AWS Management Console unavailable error

Piling the misery

The AWS outage headlines attract the naysayers, the fickle armchair pundits, and the opportunists. Here are a few news articles that bring these folks to chastise the cloud giant.

Of course, I am one of these critics. I don’t deny that I am not. But I read this situation from a multicloud hyperbole of which I am not a fan. Too much multicloud whitewashing by vendors trying to pitch multicloud as a disaster recovery solution without understanding that this is easier said than done.

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Storage Elephant Compute Birds

Data movement is expensive. Not just costs, but also latency and resources as well. Thus there were many narratives to move compute closer to where the data is stored because moving compute is definitely more economical than moving data. I borrowed the analogy of the 2 animals from some old NetApp® slides which depicted storage as the elephant, and compute as birds. It was the perfect analogy, because the storage is heavy and compute is light.

“Close up of a white Great Egret perching on top of an African Elephant aa Amboseli national park, Kenya”

Before the animals representation came about I used to use the term “Data locality, Data Mobility“, because of past work on storage technology in the Oil & Gas subsurface data management pipeline.

Take stock of your data movement

I had recent conversations with an end user who has been paying a lot of dollars keeping their “backup” and “archive” in AWS Glacier. The S3 storage is cheap enough to hold several petabytes of data for years, because the IT folks said that the data in AWS Glacier are for “backup” and “archive”. I put both words in quotes because they were termed as “backup” and “archive” because of their enterprise practice. However, the face of their business is changing. They are in manufacturing, oil and gas downstream, and the definitions of “backup” and “archive” data has changed.

For one, there is a strong demand for reusing the past data for various reasons and these datasets have to be recalled from their cloud storage. Secondly, their data movement activities still mimicked what they did in the past during their enterprise storage days. It was a classic lift-and-shift when they moved to the cloud, and not taking stock of  their data movements and the operations they ran on these datasets. Still ongoing, their monthly AWS cost a bomb.

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Sassy Cato

I am not cybersecurity guy at all. Cybersecurity, to me, is a hodgepodge of many things. It is complex and it is confusing. But to every organization that has to deal with cloud SaaS (software-as-a-service) applications, mobile devices, work from home, and the proliferation of network connections from everywhere to the edge and back, strong cybersecurity without the burden of sluggish performance and without the complexity of stitching the cybersecurity point solutions would be a god send.

About 3 1/2 years ago, when I was an independent consultant, I was asked by a friend to help him (I was also looking for a gig) sell a product. It was Aryaka Networks, an SD-WAN solution. It was new to me, although I had some MPLS (multi protocol label switching) knowledge from some point in my career. But the experience with Aryaka at the people level was not too encouraging, with several people I was dealing with, switching positions or leaving Aryaka, including their CEO at the time, John Peters. After about 4 months or so, my friend lost confidence and decided to switch to Cato Networks.

Cato Networks opened up my eyes to what I believe cybersecurity should be. Simple, performant, and with many of the previous point requirements like firewall, VPN, zero trust networks, identity management, intrusion prevention, application gateways, threat detection and response, remote access, WAN acceleration and several more, all beautifully crafted into a single cloud-based service. There was an enlightenment moment for a greenhorn like me as I learned more about the Cato solution. That singularity of distributed global networking and cybersecurity blew me away.

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Don’t go to the Clouds. Come back!

Almost in tandem last week, Nutanix™ and HPE appeared to have made denigrated comments about Cloud First mandates of many organizations today. Nutanix™ took to the annual .NEXT conference to send the message that cloud is wasteful. HPE campaigned against a UK Public Sector “Cloud First” policy.

Cloud First or Cloud Not First

The anti-cloud first messaging sounded a bit funny and hypocritical when both companies have a foot in public clouds, advocating many of their customers in the clouds. So what gives?

That A16Z report

For a numbers of years, many fear criticizing the public cloud services openly. For me, there are the 3 C bombs in public clouds.

  • Costs
  • Complexity
  • Control (lack of it)

Yeah, we would hear of a few mini heart attacks here and there about clouds overcharging customers, and security fallouts. But vendors then who were looking up to the big 3 public clouds as deities, rarely chastise them for the errors. Until recently.

The Cost of Cloud, a Trillion Dollar Paradox” released by revered VC firm Andreessen Horowitz in May 2021 opened up the vocals of several vendors who are now emboldened to make stronger comments about the shortcomings of public cloud services. The report has made it evident that public cloud services are not panacea of all IT woes.

The report has made it evident that public cloud services are not panacea of all IT woes. And looking at the trends, this will only get louder.

Use ours first. We are better

It is pretty obvious that both Nutanix™ and HPE have bigger stakes outside the public cloud IaaS (infrastructure-as-a-service) offerings. It is also pretty obvious that both are not the biggest players in this cloud-first economy. Given their weights in the respective markets, they are leveraging their positions to swing the mindsets to their turf where they can win.

“Use our technology and services. We are better, even though we are also in the public clouds.”

Not a zero sum game

But IT services and IT technologies are not a zero sum game. Both on-premises IT services and complementary public cloud services can co-exist. Both can leverage on each other’s strengths and support each other’s weaknesses, if you know how to blend and assimilate the best of both worlds. Hybrid cloud is the new black.

Gartner Hype Cycle

The IT pendulum swings. Technology hype goes fever pitch. Everyone thinks there is a cure for cancer. Reality sets in. They realize that they were wrong (not completely) or right (not completely). Life goes on. The Gartner® Hype Cycle explains this very well.

The cloud is OK

There are many merits having IT services provisioned in the cloud. Agility, pay-per-use, OPEX, burst traffic, seemingly unlimited resources and so. You can read more about it at Benefits of Cloud Computing: The pros and cons. Even AWS agrees to Three things every business needs from hybrid cloud, perhaps to the chagrin of these naysayers.

I opined that there is no single solution for everything. There is no Best Storage Technology Ever (a snarky post). And so, I believe there is nothing wrong of Nutanix™ and HPE, and maybe others, being hypocritical of their cloud and non-cloud technology offerings. These companies are adjusting and adapting to the changing landscapes of the IT environments, but it is best not to confuse the customers what tactics, strategy and vision are. Inconsistencies in messaging diminishes trust.



What the heck is Storage Modernization?

We often hear the word “modernization” thrown around these days. The push is to get the end user to refresh their infrastructure, and the storage infrastructure market is rife with modernization word. Is your storage ripe for “modernization“?

Many possibilities to modernize storage

To modernize, it has to be relative to legacy storage hardware, and the operating environment that came with it. But if the so-called “legacy” still does the job, should you modernize?

Big Data is right

When the word “Big Data” came into prominence a while back, it stirred the IT industry into a frenzy. At one point, Apache Hadoop became the poster elephant (pun intended) for this exciting new segment. So many Vs came out, but I settled with 4 Vs as the framework of my IT conversations. The 4Vs we often hear are:

  • Volume
  • Velocity
  • Variety
  • Veracity

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The future of Fibre Channel in the Cloud Era

The world has pretty much settled that hybrid cloud is the way to go for IT infrastructure services today. Straddled between the enterprise data center and the infrastructure-as-a-service in public cloud offerings, hybrid clouds define the storage ecosystems and architecture of choice.

A recent Blocks & Files article, “Broadcom server-storage connectivity sales down but recovery coming” caught my attention. One segment mentioned that the server-storage connectivity sales was down 9% leading me to think “Is this a blip or is it a signal that Fibre Channel, the venerable SAN (storage area network) protocol is on the wane?

Fibre Channel Sign

Thus, I am pondering the position of Fibre Channel SANs in the cloud era. Where does it stand now and in the near future? Continue reading

Data Sovereignty – A boon or a bane?

Data across borders – Data Sovereignty

I really did not want to write Data Sovereignty in the way I have written it now. I wanted to write it in a happy manner, but as recent circumstances appeared, the outlook began to dim. I apologize if my commentary is bleak.

Last week started very well. I was preparing for the iXsystems™ + Nextcloud webinar on Wednesday, August 25th 2021. After talking to the wonderful folks at Nextcloud (Thanks Markus, Uwe and Maxime!), the central theme of the webinar was on Data Sovereignty and Data Control. The notion of GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) has already  permeated into EU (European Union) entities, organizations and individuals alike, and other sovereign states around the world are following suit. Prominent ones on my radar in the last 2 years were the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) and Vietnam Personal Data Protection Act 2020.

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