Proxmox storage with TrueNAS iSCSI volumes

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.

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Storage does not mean Capacity only

I was listening to several storage luminaries in the GestaltIT’s podcastNo 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.

Rant over.

OpenZFS dRAID has risen!

We await the 3rd iteration of TrueNAS® SCALE 23.10 codenamed Cobia. 23.10 means October 2023, and we are within weeks of its announcement.

One of the best features I have been waiting for is dRAID or distributed RAID. I have written about it dRAID a couple of years back. It was announced in 2021, in OpenZFS 2.1, but we have not seen an commercial implementation of dRAID … until iXsystems™ TrueNAS® SCALE 23.10. Why am I so excited?

I have followed the technology since Isaac Huang presented dRAID at the OpenZFS Summit in 2015. Through the years ahead, I have seen Isaac presenting dRAID at the summits, and with each iteration, dRAID got closer and closer to be developed into OpenZFS. It was not until 2021, in OpenZFS 2.1 when dRAID became part of filesystem. And now, dRAID is finally in the TrueNAS® SCALE offering.

Knowing RAID resilvering

RAID rebuilding or reconstruction is a painful and potentially risky process. In OpenZFS and ZFS speak, this process is called resilvering. In simple laymen terms, when a drive (or drives) failed in a parity-based RAID volume (eg. RAID-Z1 or RAID-Z2 vdev), the data which was previously in the failed drive is recreated in the newly integrated spare drive. The structural integrity of the RAID volume (and the storage pool) is preserved but the data that was lost is painstakingly remade through the mathematical algorithm of the parity function of the RAID volume.

When hard disk drives were small in capacity like 2TB or less, the RAID resilvering process was probably faster to complete, returning the parity RAID volume to a normal, online state. But today, drives are 22TB and higher, leaving the traditional RAID resilvering process to take days and even weeks. This leads the RAID volume vulnerable to another possible drive failure, weakening the integrity of the RAID volume. Even worse, most of modern day storage arrays have many disk drives, into the thousands even. And yes, solid state drives would probably be faster in the resilvering, but the same mechanics pretty much apply in OpenZFS.

At the same time, the spare drives are assigned physically and designated to the OpenZFS storage pool, and are not part of the vdev until the resilvering process kicks in.

Yes, this is pretty much a physical process that takes time, computing resources and patience. Note the operative word of “physical” here.

dRAID resilvering

dRAID speeds up the RAID resilvering process several folds, returning the RAID volume (or vdev) much faster than traditional OpenZFS RAID resilvering process. It uses a logical (as opposed to physical) RAID layout concept and uses “logical spare drives”. Thus, there will be many spares “blocks” distributed across the entire dRAID zpool, as shown in the diagram below.

Traditional RAID vdev vs dRAID vdev

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Open Source Storage and Data Responsibility

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.

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A Data Management culture to combat Ransomware

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?

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Understanding security practices in File Synchronization

Ho hum. Another day, and another data leak. What else is new?

The latest hullabaloo in my radar was from one of Malaysia’s reverent universities, UiTM, which reported a data leak of 11,891 student applicants’ private details including MyKad (national identity card) numbers of each individual. Reading from the news article, one can deduced that the unsecured link mentioned was probably from a cloud storage service, i.e. file synchronization software such as OneDrive, Google Drive, Dropbox, etc. Those files that can be easily shared via an HTTP/S URL link. Ah, convenience over the data security best practices. 

Cloud File Sync software

It irks me when data security practices are poorly practised. And it is likely that there is ignorance of data security practices in the first place.

It also irks me when many end users everywhere I have encountered tell me their file synchronization software is backup. That is just a very poor excuse of a data protection strategy, if any, especially in enterprise and cloud environments. Convenience, set-and-forget mentality. Out of sight. Out of mind. Right? 

Convenience is not data security. File Sync is NOT Backup

Many users are used to the convenience of file synchronization. The proliferation of cloud storage services with free Gigabytes here and there have created an IT segment based on BYOD, which transformed into EFSS, and now CCP. The buzzword salad involves the Bring-Your-Own-Device, which evolved into Enterprise-File-Sync-&-Share, and in these later years, Content-Collaboration-Platform.

All these are fine and good. The data industry is growing up, and many are leveraging the power of file synchronization technologies, be it on on-premises and from cloud storage services. Organizations, large and small, are able to use these file synchronization platforms to enhance their businesses and digitally transforming their operational efficiencies and practices. But what is sorely missing in embracing the convenience and simplicity is the much ignored cybersecurity housekeeping practices that should be keeping our files and data safe.

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Reverting the Cloud First mindset

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.

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Truthful information under attack. The call for Data Preservation

The slogan of The Washington Post is “Democracy Dies in Darkness“. Although not everyone agrees with the US brand of democracy, the altruism of WaPo‘s (the publication’s informal name) slogan is a powerful one. The venerable newspaper remains the beacon in the US as one of the most trustworthy sources of truthful, honest information.

4 Horsemen of Apocalypse with the 5th joining

Misinformation

Misinformation has become a clear and present danger to humanity. Fake news, misleading information, lies are fueling and propelling the propaganda and agenda of the powerful (and the deranged). Facts are blurred, obfuscated, and even removed and replaced with misinformation to push for the undesirable effects that will affect the present and future generations.

The work of SNIA®

Data preservation is part of Data Management. More than a decade ago, SNIA® has already set up a technical work group (TWG) on Long Term Retention and proposed a format for long-term storage of digital format. It was called SIRF (Self-contained Information Retention Format). In the words of SNIA®, “The SIRF format enables long-term physical storage, cloud storage and tape-based containers effective and efficient ways to preserve and secure digital information for many decades, even with the ever-changing technology landscape.”

I don’t think battling misinformation was SNIA®’s original intent, but the requirements for a vendor-neutral organization as such to present and promote long term data preservation is more needed than ever. The need to protect the truth is paramount.

SNIA® continues to work with many organizations to create and grow the ecosystem for long term information retention and data preservation.

NFTs can save data

Despite the hullabaloo of NFTs (non-fungible tokens), which is very much soiled and discredited by the present day cryptocurrency speculations, I view data (and metadata) preservation as a strong use case for NFTs. The action is to digitalize data into an NFT asset.

Here are a few arguments:

  1. NFTs are unique. Once they are verified and inserted into the blockchain, they are immutable. They cannot be modified, and each blockchain transaction is created with one never to be replicated hashed value.
  2. NFTs are decentralized. Most of the NFTs we know of today are minted via a decentralized process. This means that the powerful cannot (most of the time), effect the NFTs state according to its whims and fancies. Unless the perpetrators know how to manipulate a Sybil attack on the blockchain.
  3. NFTs are secure. I have to set the knowledge that NFTs in itself is mostly very secure. Most of the high profiled incidents related to NFTs are more of internal authentication vulnerabilities and phishing related to poor security housekeeping and hygiene of the participants.
  4. NFTs represent authenticity. The digital certification of the NFTs as a data asset also define the ownership and the originality as well. The record of provenance is present and accounted for.

Since NFTs started as a technology to prove the assets and artifacts of the creative industry, there are already a few organizations that playing the role. Orygin Art is one that I found intriguing. Museums are also beginning to explore the potential of NFTs including validating and verifying the origins of many historical artifacts, and digitizing these physical assets to preserve its value forever.

The technology behind NFTs are not without its weaknesses as well but knowing what we know today, the potential is evident and power of the technology has yet to be explored fully. It does present a strong case in preserving the integrity of truthful data, and the data as historical artifacts.

Protect data safety and data integrity

Misinformation is damaging. Regardless if we believe the Butterfly Effect or not, misinformation can cause a ripple effect that could turn into a tidal wave. We need to uphold the sanctity of Truth, and continue to protect data safety and data integrity. The world is already damaged, and it will be damaged even more if we allow misinformation to permeate into the fabric of the global societies. We may welcome to a dystopian future, unfortunately.

This blog hopes to shake up the nonchalant state that we view “information” and “misinformation” today. There is a famous quote that said “Repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth“. We must lead the call to combat misinformation. What we do now will shape the generations of our present and future. Preserve Truth.

WaPo “Democracy Dies in Darkness”

[ Condolence: Japan Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, was assassinated last week. News sources mentioned that the man who killed him had information that the slain PM has ties to a religious group that bankrupted his mother. Misinformation may played a role in the killing of the Japanese leader. ]