Technology prowess of Riverbed SteelFusion

The Riverbed SteelFusion (aka Granite) impressed me the moment it was introduced to me 2 years ago. I remembered that genius light bulb moment well, in December 2012 to be exact, and it had left its mark on me. Like I said last week in my previous blog, the SteelFusion technology is unique in the industry so far and has differentiated itself from its WAN optimization competitors.

To further understand the ability of Riverbed SteelFusion, a deeper inspection of the technology is essential. I am fortunate to be given the opportunity to learn more about SteelFusion’s technology and here I am, sharing what I have learned.

What does the technology of SteelFusion do?

Riverbed SteelFusion takes SAN volumes from supported storage vendors in the central datacenter and projects the storage volumes (aka LUNs)to applications and hosts at the remote branches. The technology requires a paired relationship between SteelFusion Core (in the centralized datacenter) and SteelFusion Edge (at the branch). Both SteelFusion Core and Edge are fronted respectively by the Riverbed SteelHead WAN optimization device, to deliver the performance required.

The diagram below gives an overview of how the entire SteelFusion network architecture is like:

Riverbed SteelFusion Overall Solution 2 Continue reading

Convergence data strategy should not forget the branches

The word “CONVERGENCE” is boiling over as the IT industry goes gaga over darlings like Simplivity and Nutanix, and the hyper-convergence market. Yet, if we take a step back and remove our emotional attachment from the frenzy, we realize that the application and implementation of hyper-convergence technologies forgot one crucial elementThe other people and the other offices!

ROBOs (remote offices branch offices) are part of the organization, and often they are given the shorter end of the straw. ROBOs are like the family’s black sheeps. You know they are there but there is little mention of them most of the time.

Of course, through the decades, there are efforts to consolidate the organization’s circle to include ROBOs but somehow, technology was lacking. FTP used to be a popular but crude technology that binds the branch offices and the headquarter’s operations and data services. FTP is still used today, in countries where network bandwidth costs a premium. Data cloud services are beginning to appear of part of the organization’s outreaching strategy to include ROBOs but the fear of security weaknesses, data breaches and misuses is always there. Often, concerns of the weaknesses of the cloud overcome whatever bold strategies concocted and designed.

For those organizations in between, WAN acceleration/optimization techonolgy is another option. Companies like Riverbed, Silverpeak, F5 and Ipanema have addressed the ROBOs data strategy market well several years ago, but the demand for greater data consolidation and centralization, tighter and more effective data management and data control to meet the data compliance and data governance requirements, has grown much more sophisticated and advanced. Continue reading

No Flash in the pan

The storage networking market now is teeming with flash solutions. Consumers are probably sick to their stomach getting a better insight which flash solution they should be considering. There are so much hype, fuzz and buzz and like a swarm of bees, in the chaos of the moment, there is actually a calm and discerning pattern slowly, but surely, emerging. Storage networking guys would probably know this thing well, but for the benefit of the other readers, how we view flash (and other solid state storage) becomes clear with the picture below: Flash performance gap

(picture courtesy of  http://electronicdesign.com/memory/evolution-solid-state-storage-enterprise-servers)

Right at the top, we have the CPU/Memory complex (labelled as Processor). Our applications, albeit bytes and pieces of them, run in this CPU/Memory complex.

Therefore, we can see Pattern #1 showing up. Continue reading

SMB Witness Protection Program

No, no, FBI is not in the storage business and there are no witnesses to protect.

However, SMB 3.0 has introduced a RPC-based mechanism to inform the clients of any state change in the SMB servers. Microsoft calls it Service Witness Protocol [SWP], and its objective is provide a much faster notification service allow the SMB 3.0 clients to do a failover. In previous SMB 1.0 and even in SMB 2.x, the SMB clients rely on time-out services. The time-out services, either SMB or TCP, could take up as much as 30-45 seconds, and this creates a high latency that is disruptive to enterprise applications.

SMB 3.0, as mentioned in my previous post, had a total revamp, and is now enterprise ready. In what Microsoft calls “Continuously Available” File Service, the SMB 3.0 supports clustered or scale-out file servers. The SMB shares must be shared as “Continuously Available” shares and mapped to SMB 3.0 clients. As shown in the diagram below (provided by SNIA’s webinar),

SMB 3.0 CA Shares

Client A mapping to Server 1 share (\\srv1\CAshr). Client A has a share “handle” that establishes a connection with a corresponding state of the session. The state of the session is synchronously kept consistent with a corresponding state in Server 2.

The Service Witness Protocol is not responsible for the synchronization of the states in the SMB file server cluster. Microsoft has left the HA/cluster/scale-out capability to the proprietary technology method of the NAS vendor. However, SWP regularly observes the status of all services under its watch. Continue reading

SMB on steroids but CIFS lord isn’t pleased

I admit it!

I am one of the guilty parties who continues to use CIFS (Common Internet File System) to represent the Windows file sharing protocol. And a lot of vendors continue to use the “CIFS” word loosely without knowing that it was a something from a bygone era. One of my friends even pronounced it as “See Fist“, which sounded even funnier when he said it. (This is for you Adrian M!)

And we couldn’t be more wrong because we shouldn’t be using the CIFS word anymore. It is so 90’s man! And the tell-tale signs have already been there but most of us chose to ignore it with gusto. But a recent SNIA Webinar titled “SMB 3.0 – New opportunities for Windows Environment” aims to dispel our incompetence and change our CIFS-venture to the correct word – SMB (Server Message Block).

A selfie photo of Dennis Chapman, Senior Technical Director for Microsoft Solutions at NetApp from the SNIA webinar slides above, wants to inform all of us that … SMB History Continue reading

Washing too much software defined

There’s been practically a firestorm when EMC announced ViPR, its own version of “software-defined storage” at EMC World last week. Whether you want to call it Virtualization Platform Re-defined or Re-imagined, competitors such as NetApp, HDS, Nexenta have taken pot-shots at EMC, and touting their own version of software-defined storage.

In the release announcement, EMC claimed the following (a cut-&-paste from the announcement):

  • The EMC ViPR Software-Defined Storage Platform uniquely provides the ability to both manage storage infrastructure (Control Plane) and the data residing within that infrastructure (Data Plane).
  • The EMC ViPR Controller leverages existing storage infrastructures for traditional workloads, but provisions new ViPR Object Data Services (with access via Amazon S3 or HDFS APIs) for next-generation workloads. ViPR Object Data Services integrate with OpenStack via Swift and can be run against enterprise or commodity storage.
  • EMC ViPR integrates tightly with VMware’s Software Defined Data Center through industry standard APIs and interoperates with Microsoft and OpenStack.

The separation of the Control Plane and the Data Plane of the ViPR allows the abstraction of 2 main layers.

Layer 1 is the abstraction of the underlying storage hardware infrastructure. Although I don’t have the full details (EMC guys please enlighten me, please!), I believe storage administrator no longer need to carve out LUNs from RAID groups or Storage Pools, striped and sliced them and further provision them into meta file systems before they are exported or shared through NAS protocols. I am , of course, quoting the underlying provisioning architecture of Celerra, which can be quite complex. Anyone who has done manual provisioning with Celerra Manager should know what I mean.

Here’s the provisioning architecture of Celerra:

Continue reading

APIs that stick in Storage

The competition in storage networking and data management is forever going to get fiercer. And there is always going to be the question of either having open standards APIs or proprietary APIs because storage networking and data management technologies constantly have to balance between gaining a competitive advantage with proprietary APIs  or getting greater market acceptance with open standards APIs.

The flip side, is having proprietary APIs could limit and stunt the growth of the solution but with much better integration and interoperability with complementary solutions. Open standards APIs could make the entire market a plain, vanilla one where there is little difference between technology A or B or C or X, and in the long run, could give lesser incentive for technology innovation.

I am not an API guy. I do not code or do development work on APIs, but I do like APIs (Application Programming Interface). I have my fair share of APIs which can be considered open or proprietary depending on who you talk to. My understanding is that an API might be more open if there are many ISVs, developers and industry supporters endorsing it and have a valid (and usually profit-related) agenda to make the API open.

I can share some work experience with some APIs I have either worked in the past or give my views of some present cool APIs that are related to storage networking and data management.

One of the API-related works I did was with the EMC Centera. I was working with Schlumberger to create a file-level archiving/lifecycle management solution for the GeoFrame seismic files with the EMC Centera. This was back in 2008.

EMC Centera does not present itself as a NAS box (even though I believe, IDC lumps Centera sales numbers to worldwide NAS market figures, unless I am no longer correct chronologically) but rather through ISVs and application-level integration with the EMC Centera API. Here’s a high-level look of how the EMC Centera talks to application with the API.

Note: EMC Centera can also present a NAS integration interface through NFS, CIFS, HTTP and FTP protocols, but the customer must involve (may have to purchase) the EMC Centera Universal Access software appliance. This is for applications that do not have the level of development and integration to interface with the EMC Centera API. 

Continue reading

4TB disks – the end of RAID

Seriously? 4 freaking terabyte disk drives?

The enterprise SATA/SAS disks have just grown larger, up to 4TB now. Just a few days ago, Hitachi boasted the shipment of the first 4TB HDD, the 7,200 RPM Ultrastar™ 7K4000 Enterprise-Class Hard Drive.

And just weeks ago, Seagate touted their Heat-Assisted Magnetic Recording (HAMR) technology will bring forth the 6TB hard disk drives in the near future, and 60TB HDDs not far in the horizon. 60TB is a lot of capacity but a big, big nightmare for disks availability and data backup. My NetApp Malaysia friend joked that the RAID reconstruction of 60TB HDDs would probably finish by the time his daughter finishes college, and his daughter is still in primary school!.

But the joke reflects something very serious we are facing as the capacity of the HDDs is forever growing into something that could be unmanageable if the traditional implementation of RAID does not change to meet such monstrous capacity.

Yes, RAID has changed since 1988 as every vendor approaches RAID differently. NetApp was always about RAID-4 and later RAID-DP and I remembered the days when EMC had a RAID-S. There was even a vendor in the past who marketed RAID-7 but it was proprietary and wasn’t an industry standard. But fundamentally, RAID did not change in a revolutionary way and continued to withstand the ever ballooning capacities (and pressures) of the HDDs. RAID-6 was introduced when the first 1TB HDDs first came out, to address the risk of a possible second disk failure in a parity-based RAID like RAID-4 or RAID-5. But today, the 4TB HDDs could be the last straw that will break the camel’s back, or in this case, RAID’s back.

RAID-5 obviously is dead. Even RAID-6 might be considered insufficient now. Having a 3rd parity drive (3P) is an option and the only commercial technology that I know of which has 3 parity drives support is ZFS. But having 3P will cause additional overhead in performance and usable capacity. Will the fickle customer ever accept such inadequate factors?

Note that 3P is not RAID-7. RAID-7 is a trademark of a old company called Storage Computer Corporation and RAID-7 is not a standard definition of RAID.

One of the biggest concerns is rebuild times. If a 4TB HDD fails, the average rebuild speed could take days. The failure of a second HDD could up the rebuild times to a week or so … and there is vulnerability when the disks are being rebuilt.

There are a lot of talks about declustered RAID, and I think it is about time we learn about this RAID technology. At the same time, we should demand this technology before we even consider buying storage arrays with 4TB hard disk drives!

I have said this before. I am still trying to wrap my head around declustered RAID. So I invite the gurus on this matter to comment on this concept, but I am giving my understanding on the subject of declustered RAID.

Panasas‘ founder, Dr. Garth Gibson is one of the people who proposed RAID declustering way back in 1999. He is a true visionary.

One of the issues of traditional RAID today is that we still treat the hard disk component in a RAID domain as a whole device. Traditional RAID is designed to protect whole disks with block-level redundancy.  An array of disks is treated as a RAID group, or protection domain, that can tolerate one or more failures and still recover a failed disk by the redundancy encoded on other drives. The RAID recovery requires reading all the surviving blocks on the other disks in the RAID group to recompute blocks lost on the failed disk. In short, the recovery, in the event of a disk failure, is on the whole object and therefore, a entire 4TB HDD has to be recovered. This is not good.

The concept of RAID declustering is to break away from the whole device idea. Apply RAID at a more granular scale. IBM GPFS works with logical tracks and RAID is applied at the logical track level. Here’s an overview of how is compares to the traditional RAID:

The logical tracks are spread out algorithmically spread out across all physical HDDs and the RAID protection layer is applied at the track level, not at the HDD device level. So, when a disk actually fails, the RAID rebuild is applied at the track level. This significant improves the rebuild times of the failed device, and does not affect the performance of the entire RAID volume much. The diagram below shows the declustered RAID’s time and performance impact when compared to a traditional RAID:

While the IBM GPFS approach to declustered RAID is applied at a semi-device level, the future is leaning towards OSD. OSD or object storage device is the next generation of storage and I blogged about it some time back. Panasas is the leader when it comes to OSD and their radical approach to this is applying RAID at the object level. They call this Object RAID.

With object RAID, data protection occurs at the file-level. The Panasas system integrates the file system and data protection to provide novel, robust data protection for the file system.  Each file is divided into chunks that are stored in different objects on different storage devices (OSD).  File data is written into those container objects using a RAID algorithm to produce redundant data specific to that file.  If any object is damaged for whatever reason, the system can recompute the lost object(s) using redundant information in other objects that store the rest of the file.

The above was a quote from the blog of Brent Welch, Panasas’ Director of Software Architecture. As mentioned, the RAID protection of the objects in the OSD architecture in Panasas occurs at file-level, and the file or files constitute the object. Therefore, the recovery domain in Object RAID is at the file level, confining the risk and damage of data loss within the file level and not at the entire device level. Consequently, the speed of recovery is much, much faster, even for 4TB HDDs.

Reliability is the key objective here. Without reliability, there is no availability. Without availability, there is no performance factors to consider. Therefore, the system’s reliability is paramount when it comes to having the data protected. RAID has been the guardian all these years. It’s time to have a revolutionary approach to safeguard the reliability and ensure data availability.

So, how many vendors can claim they have declustered RAID?

Panasas is a big YES, and they apply their intelligence in large HPC (high performance computing) environments. Their technology is tried and tested. IBM GPFS is another. But where are the rest?

 

Chink in NetApp MetroCluster?

Ok, let me clear the air about the word “Chink” (before I get into trouble), which is not racially offensive unlike the news about ESPN having to fire 2 of their employees for using the word “Chink” on Jeremy Lin.  According to my dictionary (Collins COBUILD), chink is a very narrow crack or opening on a surface and I don’t really know the derogatory meaning of “chink” other than the one in my dictionary.

I have been doing a spot of work for a friend who has just recently proposed NetApp MetroCluster. When I was at NetApp many years ago, I did not have a chance to get to know more about the solution, but I do know of its capability. After 6 years away, coming back to do a bit of NetApp was fun for me, because I was always very comfortable with the NetApp technology. But NetApp MetroCluster, and in this opportunity, NetApp Fabric MetroCluster presented me an opportunity to get closer to the technology.

I have no doubt in my mind, this is one of the highest available storage solutions in the market, and NetApp is not modest about beating its own drums. It touts “No SPOF (Single Point of Failure“, and rightly so, because it has put in all the right plugs for all the points that can fail.

NetApp Fabric MetroCluster is a continuous availability solution that stretches over 100km. It is basically a NetApp Cluster with mirrored storage but with half of  its infrastructure mirror being linked very far apart, over Fibre Channel components and dark fiber. Here’s a diagram of how NetApp Fabric Metrocluster works for a VMware FT (Fault Tolerant) environment.

There’s a lot of simplicity in the design, because when I started explaining it to the prospect, I was amazed how easy it was to articulate about it, without all the fancy technical jargons or fuzz. I just said … “imagine a typical cluster, with an interconnect heartbeat, and the storage are mirrored. Then imagine the 2 halves are being pulled very far apart … That’s NetApp Fabric MetroCluster”. It was simply blissful.

But then there were a lot of FUDs (fear, uncertainty, doubt) thrown in by the competitor, feeding the prospect with plenty of ammunition. Yes, I agree with some of the limitations, such as no SATA support for now. But then again, there is no perfect storage solution. In fact, Chris Mellor of The Register wrote about God’s box, the perfect storage, but to get to that level, be prepared to spend lots and lots of money! Furthermore, once you fix one limitation or bottleneck in one part of the storage, it introduces a few more challenges here and there. It’s never ending!

Side note: The conversation triggered the team to check with NetApp for SATA support in Fabric MetroCluster. Yes, it is already supported in ONTAP 8.1 and the present version is 8.1RC3. Yes, SATA support will be here soon. 

More FUDs as we went along and when I was doing my research, some HP storage guys on the web were hitting at NetApp MetroCluster. Poor HP! If you do a search of NetApp MetroCluster, I am sure you will come across these 2 HP blogs in 2010, deriding the MetroCluster solution. Check out this and the followup on the first blog. What these guys chose to do was to break the MetroCluster apart into 2 single controllers after a network failure, and attack it from that level.

Yes, when you break up the halves, it is basically a NetApp system with several single point of failure (SPOF). But then again, who isn’t? Almost every vendor’s storage will have some SPOFs when you break the mirror.

Well, I can tell you is, the weakness of NetApp MetroCluster is, it’s not continuous data protection (CDP). Once your applications have written garbage on one volume, the garbage is reflected on the mirrored volume. You can’t roll back and you live with the data corruption. That is why storage vendors, including NetApp, offer snapshots – point-in-time copies where you can roll back to the point before the data corruption occurred. That is why CDP gives the complete granularity of recovery in every write I/O and that’s something NetApp does not have. That’s NetApp’s MetroCluster weakness.

But CDP is aimed towards data recovery, NOT data availability. It is focused on customers’ whose requirements are ability to get the data back to some usable state or form after the event of a disaster (big or small), while the MetroCluster solution is focused on having the data available all the time. They are 2 different set of requirements. So, it depends on what the customer’s requirement is.

Then again, come to think of it, NetApp has no CDP technology of their own … isn’t it?