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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The Starbucks model for Storage-as-a-Service

Starbucks™ is not a coffee shop. It purveys beyond coffee and tea, and food and puts together the yuppie beverages experience. The intention is to get the customers to stay as long as they can, and keep purchasing the Starbucks’ smorgasbord of high margin provisions in volume. Wifi, ambience, status, coffee or tea with your name on it (plenty of jokes and meme there), energetic baristas and servers, fancy coffee roasts and beans et. al. All part of the Starbucks™-as-a-Service pleasurable affair that intends to lock the customer in and have them keep coming back.

The Starbucks experience

Data is heavy and they know it

Unlike compute and network infrastructures, storage infrastructures holds data persistently and permanently. Data has to land on a piece of storage medium. Coupled that with the fact that data is heavy, forever growing and data has gravity, you have a perfect recipe for lock-in. All storage purveyors, whether they are on-premises data center enterprise storage or public cloud storage, and in between, there are many, many methods to keep the data chained to a storage technology or a storage service for a long time. The storage-as-a-service is like tying the cow to the stake and keeps on milking it. This business model is very sticky. This stickiness is also a lock-in mechanism.

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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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What If – The other side of Storage FUDs

Streaming on Disney+ now is Marvel Studios’ What If…? animated TV series. In the first episode, Peggy Carter, instead of Steve Rogers, took the super soldier serum and became the first Avenger. The TV series explores alternatives and possibilities of what we may have considered as precept and the order of things.

As storage practitioners, we are often faced with certain “dogmatic” arguments which were often a mix of measured actuality and marketing magic – aka FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt). Time and again, we are thrown a curve ball, like “Oh, your competitor can do this. Can you?” Suddenly you are feeling pinned to a corner, and the pressure to defend your turf rises. You fumbled; You have no answer; Game over!

I experienced these hearty objections many times over. The best experience was one particular meeting I had during my early days with NetApp® in 2000. I was only 1-2 months with the company, still wet between the ears with the technology. I was pitching the SnapMirror® to Ericsson Malaysia when the Scandinavian manager said, “I think you are lying!“. I was lost without a response. I fumbled spectacularly although I couldn’t remember if we won or lost that opportunity.

Here are a few I often encountered. Let’s play the game of What If …?

What If …?

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