NetApp to buy Commvault?

The rumour mill is going again that Commvault is an acquisition target, and this time, NetApp. The rumour is not new but someone Commvault has gotten too big in the past couple of years to be swallowed up. But this time, it could happen as NetApp is hungry, …. very hungry.

NetApp took a big hit a couple of weeks back, when it announced its Q3 numbers. Revenues fell short of analysts expectations and the share price took a big hit. While its big rival, EMC, has been gaining much momentum on all fronts, it appears that NetApp is getting overwhelmed by the one-stop-shop of EMC. EMC is everything to everyone who wants storage, data protection software, services, data management, scale-out, data security, big data, cloud storage and virtualization and much more. NetApp, has been very focused on what they do best, and that is storage. Everything evolves around their crown jewel, Data ONTAP and recently added Engenio to their stable of storage solutions.

NetApp does not mix the FAS storage with the Engenio and making sure that their story-telling gels but in the past few years, many other vendors are taking the “one-stack-fits-all” approach. Oracle have Exadata, where servers, storage, database and networking in all-in-one. Many others are doing the same, while NetApp prefers a more “loose-coupled” partnerships, such as their “Imagine Virtually Anything” concept partnership with VMware and Cisco, in the shape of FlexPod. FlexPod is a flexible infrastructure package comprising presized storage, networking and server components designed to ease the IT transformation journey–from virtualization all the way to cloud computing.

Commvault would be a great buy (going to be very expensive buy) for NetApp. Things fits perfectly if NetApp decides to abandon its overly protective shield and start becoming a “one-stop-shop” to its customers, starting with data protection. Commvault is already the market leader in the Enterprise Disk-based Backup and Recovery market, and well reflected in Gartner’s Magic Quadrant January 2011 report.

It’s amazing to see how Commvault got to become the leader in this space in just a few short years, and part of its unique approach is providing a common core engine called the Common Technology Engine (CTE). The singular core architecture allows different data management components – Backup, Replication, Archiving, Resource Management and Classification & Search – to share resource and more importantly detailed knowledge of true data management.

In the middle of this year, NetApp had an OEM deal with Commvault to resell their SnapProtect solution, which integrates with NetApp’s SnapMirror solution. The SnapProtect manages NetApp snapshots and SnapMirror replications and also enhances the solution as a tape-out for SnapMirror. Below shows how the Commvault SnapProtect fits into NetApp’s snapshots and SnapMirror data protection architecture.

 

Sources of NetApp’s C-Level said that NetApp is still very much focused on their ONTAP strategy and with their “loosely-coupled” partnerships with key partners like VMware, Cisco, F5 and Quantum. But at the back of NetApp’s mind, I believe, it is time to do something about it. This “focused” (also could be interpreted an overly cautious) approach is probably seeing the last leg of its phase as cloud computing is changing all that. The cost of integration of different, yet flexible components of storage, data protection and data management components, is prohibitive to cloud service providers and NetApp must take a bolder approach to win the hearts of these providers. Having a one-stop-shop isn’t so bad anymore; it is beginning to make sense and NetApp had better do something quick. Commvault is one of the best out there and NetApp shouldn’t lose that chance.

Note: While the rumours of NetApp and Commvault are swirling, there’s been rumours that Quantum could be another NetApp target. 

A cloud economy emerges … somewhat

A few hours ago, Rackspace had just announced the first “productized” Rackspace Private Cloud solution based on OpenStack. According to Openstack.org,

OpenStack OpenStack is a global collaboration of developers and cloud computing 
technologists producing the ubiquitous open source cloud computing platform for 
public and private clouds. The project aims to deliver solutions for all types of 
clouds by being simple to implement, massively scalable, and feature rich. 
The technology consists of a series of interrelated projects delivering various 
components for a cloud infrastructure solution.

Founded by Rackspace Hosting and NASA, OpenStack has grown to be a global software 
community of developers collaborating on a standard and massively scalable open 
source cloud operating system. Our mission is to enable any organization to create 
and offer cloud computing services running on standard hardware. 
Corporations, service providers, VARS, SMBs, researchers, and global data centers 
looking to deploy large-scale cloud deployments for private or public clouds 
leveraging the support and resulting technology of a global open source community.
All of the code for OpenStack is freely available under the Apache 2.0 license. 
Anyone can run it, build on it, or submit changes back to the project. We strongly 
believe that an open development model is the only way to foster badly-needed cloud 
standards, remove the fear of proprietary lock-in for cloud customers, and create a 
large ecosystem that spans cloud providers.

And Openstack just turned 1 year old.

So, what’s this Rackspace private cloud about?

In the existing cloud economy, customers subscribe from a cloud service provider. The customer pays a monthly (usually) subscription fee in a pay-as-you-use-model. And I have courageously predicted that the new cloud economy will drive the middle tier (i.e. IT distributors, resellers and system integrators) in my previous blog out of IT ecosystem. Before I lose the plot, Rackspace is now providing the ability for customers to install an Openstack-ready, Rackspace-approved private cloud architecture in their own datacenter, not in Rackspace Hosting.

This represents a tectonic shift in the cloud economy, putting the control and power back into the customers’ hands. For too long, there were questions about data integrity, security, control, cloud service provider lock-in and so on but with the new Rackspace offering, customers can build their own private cloud ecosystem or they can get professional service from Rackspace cloud systems integrators. Furthermore, once they have built their private cloud, they can either manage it themselves or get Rackspace to manage it for them.

How does Rackspace do it?

From their vast experience in building Openstack clouds, Rackspace Cloud Builders have created a free reference architecture.  Currently OpenStack focuses on two key components: OpenStack Compute, which offers computing power through virtual machine and network management, and OpenStack Object Storage, which is software for redundant, scalable object storage capacity.

In the Openstack architecture, there are 3 major components – Compute, Storage and Images.

More information about the Openstack Architecture here. And with 130 partners in the Openstack alliance (which includes Dell, HP, Cisco, Citrix and EMC), customers have plenty to choose from, and lessening the impact of lock-in.

What does this represent to storage professionals like us?

This Rackspace offering is game changing and could perhaps spark an economy for partners to work with Cloud Service Providers. It is definitely addressing some key concerns of customers related to security and freedom to choose, and even change service providers. It seems to be offering the best of both worlds (for now) but Rackspace is not looking at this for immediate gains. But we still do not know how this economic pie will grow and how it will affect the cloud economy. And this does not negate the fact that us storage professionals have to dig deeper and learn more and this not does change the fact that we have to evolve to compete against the best in the world.

Rackspace has come out beating its chest and predicted that the cloud computing API space will boil down these 3 players – Rackspace Openstack, VMware and Amazon Web Services (AWS). Interestingly, Redhat Aeolus (previously known as Deltacloud) was not worthy to mentioned by Rackspace. Some pooh-pooh going on?

Storage Architects no longer required

I picked up a new article this afternoon from SearchStorage – titled “Enterprise storage trends: SSDs, capacity optimization, auto tiering“. I cannot help but notice some of the things I have been writing about VMware being the storage killer and the rise of Cloud Computing which take away our jobs.

I did receive some feedback about what I wrote in the past and after reading the SearchStorage article, I can’t help but feeling justified. On the side bar, it wrote:

 

The rise of virtual machine-specific and cloud storage suggest that other changes are imminent. In both cases …. and would no longer require storage architects and managers.

Things are changing at an extremely fast pace and for those of us still languishing in the realms of NAS and SAN, our expertise could be rendered obsolete pretty quickly.

But all is not lost because it would be easier for a storage engineer, who already has the foundation to move into the virtualization space than a server virtualization engineer coming down to learn about the storage fundamentals. We can either choose to be dinosaur or be the species of the next generation.

RedHat to acquire Gluster

This is breaking news. RedHat is to acquire Gluster!

What is Gluster? Gluster is a clustering Linux distribution started by Z Research under the direction of Anand Babu (who is currently Gluster’s CEO) aiming to commoditize supercomputing and supercomputing clustered storage. Gluster is open source but there is a commercial version as well. It runs on commodity 64-bit x86 hardware. The Gluster File System (GlusterFS) aggregates disks and memory resources into a pool of storage thru a single global namespace and accessed through multiple file-level protocols. The scale-out architecture is where storage resources can be added as a storage node in a building block fashion to meet performance and capacity demands, rather like what HP P4000 is doing to the block-level environment for SAN.

Gluster can integrated with most 64-bit Linux distros. This is done at the Linux user space but it can also be crafted at the Linux kernel space, where it is a software appliance, easily integrated into off-the-shelf 64-bit x86-64 platforms. This means that you can build a scale-out NAS pretty easily using your own hardware.

From an architecture standpoint, GlusterFS and its integration to a storage appliance looks like this:

 

Because it works in a modular add-on fashion, this architecture is distribution and extended by replicating the same architecture across additional x86-64 platforms (which is a storage node) as shown below.

 

It’s really easy to install Gluster and build the Scale Out NAS. I have been saving a couple videos about how Gluster is installed and I must say that it’s pretty easy. In less than 30 minutes, you can install your first Gluster storage node and then add additional nodes on the fly.

Enjoy the videos.

Video #1 (Gluster Installation)

(I have difficulty uploading the videos because WordPress requires me to purchase one of their solutions)

Video #2 (Creating and adding Storage Node in Gluster)

(I have difficulty uploading the videos because WordPress requires me to purchase one of their solutions)

Note: If you are interested to see the videos, please email to me at chin-fah.heoh@storagenetworking-academy.com.

This news gets me very excited because this is the perfect endorsement of what I have been saying all along. Storage networking and data management are the foundations of CLOUD and VIRTUALIZATION. Without data being stored and managed well, everything falls apart. And as I have mentioned many times before, this is a fantastic time to become an extra-ordinary storage engineer/consultant/architect/sales (maybe not!)

 

The demise of the IT engineer?

Scott Lowe is one of my favourite virtualization experts. I have 2 of his VMware books and his latest book on VMware 5.0 will be out next month. He is currently the CTO of EMC’s vSpecialist team and in one of his blog entries, he spoke about “The End of the Infrastructure Engineer” or IT Engineer in our local speak.

I wrote about having the Cloud will be forcing many of us to be out of our jobs last month. I mentioned that the emergence of Cloud Computing will be superceding the roles of system integrators and resellers, because the Cloud Computing Service Provider will bypass these 2 layers and goes direct to the end user or customer. This will render the role of the IT engineer less significant when they are working for the reseller or partner. Scott’s blog goes a step further saying the the IT engineer role will be gone and they could be forced to be in the application development space for Cloud Computing.

The gist of my blog last month was to get the IT engineer to think deeper and think how they should evolve to adapt and to adopt to this new Cloud paradigm. In Malaysia, in my almost 20-years of IT in the Malaysian IT scene, I have seen the decline of IT engineer. I don’t see many of the younger generation to taking a passionate and enthusiastic fire to enhance their skills and learn even more than it is required for their job. This is a sad thing and through my voluntary work with SNIA Malaysia, I hope to get some of the senior engineers (despite all the fancy titles, we are still pretty much engineers) to get off the fence to start a strong IT community on storage networking and data management technologies. I am strong believer of “If you build it, they will come”.

I agree with what Scott has mentioned, that the role of an IT Engineer will not go away because you will always need an IT Engineer (or Infrastructure Engineer) to manage the infra. But the jobs available for these positions will get scarcer and lesser. So, to those IT engineers who are just so-so, (ooops), you are not good enough anymore.

Perhaps it is a chicken-and-egg thing to say that if there’s no market, why should the IT engineer learn something more to be different and enhance himself/herself. But if this chicken-and-egg debate thing was to continue, then we will forever be trapped in a loop that does not change our status in IT. We will be forever in a rut while others continue to pass us by.

I am always amazed by the amount of intelligent people drawn to the Silicon Valley and with the reknown technology universities such as Stanford, UC Berkeley, MIT and Carnegie Mellon continue to innovate, we continue to see the birth of better, greater and disruptive ideas coming out from Silicon Valley. The IT community in Silicon Valley is very strong and we continue to get IT people challenging the status quo and be different. And more and more “Silicon Valley”-like communities are birthing around the world. Malaysia, in my frank opinion, spends too much time glamourizing (if there’s such a word) IT (or ICT in local Malaysian terminology) and does little to address the core of IT. Our IT people are too complacent and too obedient to be different.

So, here’s my argument to the skeptics of this chicken-and-egg thing. Yes, we only do what we must do to earn our pay for the bread-and-butter stuff in our Malaysian IT, but it is also time to break out from this loop. It’s time to be different, and it’s time get deeper into IT.

Nothing gives me the creeps to see an IT engineer going out to the customer and start pitching speeds and feeds. Come on, any customer could read that off a brochure or a datasheet! So there is absolutely no value in the IT engineer if they only know how to pitch speeds and feeds. Get to know in depth of the solution. Get down into the hardcore of things like the philosophy of the design of the solution. Learn deeper about technology and even better, start thinking of new ways to challenge what’s already out there.

I spend a lot of time learning about file systems in storage networks and that’s my passion. I hope that more IT engineers would break away from the norm to do more. Believe me, as Cloud Computing becomes more prevalent in the Malaysia IT scene, there will be demand for damn good IT engineers, not the ones who knows only speeds and feeds.

Will SAN or NAS matter if your customer’s storage is in the Cloud?

An interesting question popped into my head yesterday. With all this push into the Cloud, the customer does not own most of the computer equipment. They are just getting services and when they want storage, do you think they care whether their storage is on a SAN or NAS?

I have mentioned this before, Cloud makes a lot of IT stuff irrelevant. Read my previous blog. This means that the demand for IT techies, sysadmins, consultant will suddenly be squeezed into who’s very good, good, not-so-good and the downright bad ones. Let’s the survival-of-the-fittest games begin!

Yes, the SAN and NAS, or even unified storage story doesn’t hold much weight anymore. However, to the cloud service provider, they will be out there looking for what is best for their bottom line, whether it will be a branded box or just a white box if they are willing to build the storage on their own. For those providers who have strong financials, obviously investing in premium brands like EMC, IBM, NetApp, and so on, makes sense because they need someone to blame and penalize when the shit hits the fan. For those who doesn’t have the financial prowess, this presents a whole new economy that resellers, partners, distributors can tap on to – build for these cloud providers at a cheaper price (hint, hint).

However, storage relies on a strong storage operating system to do just that. They are plenty of open source ones. Hey, you can practically build a simple iSCSI or NAS box with Linux. Consumer grade NAS such as NetGear, Synology and DLink have been using open-source Linux to penetrate the low-end, home storage market for years. The cloud providers will be a different ballgame, but the storage piece is fundamentally the same.

Things are changing folks, and for those consultants, product pre-sales, post-sales, sysadmins, operators of storage, you have to evolve to meet this new market. SAN and NAS do not matter anymore when customers are using the cloud services.

p/s: I have been spending time looking at some very, very cool cloud-ready storage operating systems. If you have the time, leave me a comment and we’ll talk. 😀

Cloud Computing could make you lose your job unless…

This has been bugging me for a long time and I have to let it out.

First of all, cloud computing can mean a million things coming from different people. I am still in a haze sometimes of where this cloud thingy could lead too. Every IT vendor is “cloud-something” and I am not going to contest that because I am no cloud expert myself.

But one thing is imminent. The entire landscape from the IT infrastructure to the economics of IT, is changing into the utility model. This-as-a-Service, That-as-Service and so on. Customers and companies are beginning to realize the opportunity and the ability to lease IT services as a pay-as-you-use utility just like any public utility such as electricity and water.

In IT, we are used to the model of manufacturer –> vendor —> distributor –> reseller –> end customer. This has been the scheme of things and for those of us working as professionals for vendors, distributors and resellers, that’s our livelihood. But the cloud computing model is in the horizon. We are not too far off from such a scheme, where IT is operated as a utility company. This means that IT is directly provisioned to the end customer, likely to be bypassing the reseller model. Suddenly the model becomes manufacturer –> end customer. You get it, right?

We can still include the vendor, distributor and reseller into the new cloud computing landscape, but there is little value-add, and with market dynamics, the end customer would want to get their IT services supply directly from the manufacturer, in this case, the cloud service provider.

So where does that leave us? We could be the end-user OR we could work for a cloud service provider. That would mean little differentiation for IT engineers and sysadmins, IT sales reps and marketing people.

But this is not a doom-and-gloom story. In my opinion, this is the best time for IT geeks and nerds to become one notch better. Know your subject well in what you do, learn and grow your knowledge in the right direction, AND be DAMN good! That is where we can differentiate ourselves; move ourselves up the value chain and enhance our position. Don’t take the easy way out and be one of the ordinary. Be X-TRAordinary!!!

 

Virtualization and cloud aren’t what they are without storage

I was chatting with a friend yesterday and we were discussing about virtualization and cloud, the biggest things that are happening in the IT industry right now. We were talking about the VMware vSphere 5 arrival, the cool stuff VMware is bringing into the game, pushing the technology juggernaut farther and farther ahead of its rivals Hyper-V, Xen and Virtual Box.

And in the technology section of the newspaper yesterday, I saw news of Jaring OneCloud offering and one of the local IT players just brought in Joyent. Fantastic stuff! But for us in IT, we have been inundated with cloud, cloud and more cloud. The hype, the fuzz and the reality. It’s all there but back to our conversation. We realized that virtualization and cloud aren’t much without storage, the cornerstone of virtualization and cloud. And in the storage networking layer, there are the data management piece, the information infrastructure piece and so on and yet … why are there so few storage networking professional out there in our IT scene.

I have been lamenting this for a long time because we have been facing this problem for a long time. We are facing a shortage of qualified and well experienced storage networking professionals. There are plenty of jobs out there but not enough resources to meet the demand. As SNIA Malaysia Chairman, it is my duty to work with my committee members of HP, IBM, EMC, NetApp, Symantec and Cisco to create the awareness, and more importantly the passion to get the local IT’s storage networking professional voice together. It has been challenging but my advice to all those people out there – “Why be ordinary when you can become extra-ordinary?”

We have to make others realize that storage networking is what makes virtualization and cloud happen. Join us at SNIA Malaysia and be part of something extra-ordinary. Storage networking IS the foundation of virtualization and cloud. You can’t exclude it.