Storage in a shiny multi-cloud space

The multi-cloud for infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) era is not here (yet). That is what the technology marketers want you to think. The hype, the vapourware, the frenzy. It is what they do. The same goes to technology analysts where they describe vision and futures, and the high level constructs and strategies to get there. The hype of multi-cloud is often thought of running applications and infrastructure services seamlessly in several public clouds such as Amazon AWS, Microsoft® Azure and Google Cloud Platform, and linking it to on-premises data centers and private clouds. Hybrid is the new black.

Multicloud connectivity to public cloud providers and on-premises private cloud

Multi-Cloud, on-premises, public and hybrid clouds

And the aspiration of multi-cloud is the right one, when it is truly ready. Gartner® wrote a high level article titled “Why Organizations Choose a Multicloud Strategy“. To take advantage of each individual cloud’s strengths and resiliency in respective geographies make good business sense, but there are many other considerations that cannot be an afterthought. In this blog, we look at a few of them from a data storage perspective.

In the beginning there was … 

For this storage dinosaur, data storage and compute have always coupled as one. In the mainframe DASD days. these 2 were together. Even with the rise of networking architectures and protocols, from IBM SNA, DECnet, Ethernet & TCP/IP, and Token Ring FC-SAN (sorry, this is just a joke), the SANs, the filers to the servers were close together, albeit with a network buffered layer.

A decade ago, when the public clouds started appearing, data storage and compute were mostly inseparable. There was demarcation of public clouds and private clouds. The notion of hybrid clouds meant public clouds and private clouds can intermix with on-premise computing and data storage but in almost all cases, this was confined to a single public cloud provider. Until these public cloud providers realized they were not able to entice the larger enterprises to move their IT out of their on-premises data centers to the cloud convincingly. So, these public cloud providers decided to reverse their strategy and peddled their cloud services back to on-prem. Today, Amazon AWS has Outposts; Microsoft® Azure has Arc; and Google Cloud Platform launched Anthos.

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Valuing the security value of NAS storage

Garmin paid, reportedly millions. Do you sleep well at night knowing that the scourge of ransomware is rampant and ever threatening your business. Is your storage safe enough or have you invested in a storage which was the economical (also to be known as cheap) to your pocket?

Garmin was hacked by ransomware

I have highlighted this before. NAS (Network Attached Storage) has become the goldmine for ransomware. And in the mire of this COVID-19 pandemic, the lackadaisical attitude of securing the NAS storage remains. Too often than not, end users and customers, especially in the small medium enterprises segment, continue to search for the most economical NAS storage to use in their business.

Is price the only factor?

Why do customers and end users like to look at the price? Is an economical capital outlay of a cheap NAS storage with 3-year hardware and shallow technical support that significant to appease the pocket gods? Some end users might decided to rent cloud file storage, Hotel California style until they counted the 3-year “rental” price.

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Resilient Integrated Data Protection against Ransomware

Early in the year, I wrote about NAS systems being a high impact target for ransomware. I called NAS a goldmine for ransomware. This is still very true because NAS systems are the workhorses of many organizations. They serve files and folders and from it, the sharing and collaboration of Work.

Another common function for NAS systems is being a target for backups. In small medium organizations, backup software often direct their backups to a network drive in the network. Even for larger enterprise customers too, NAS is the common destination for backups.

Backup to NAS system

Typical NAS backup for small medium organizations.

Backup to Data Domain with NAS Protocols

Backup to Data Domain with NAS (NFS, CIFS) Protocols

Ransomware is obviously targeting the backup as another high impact target, with the potential to disrupt the rescue and the restoration of the work files and folders.

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A Dialogue between 2 Drives

I was talking to an end user who was slowly getting exposed to the cloud amid this Covid-19 pandemic. The whole work from home thingy was not new to him, but the scale of the practice suddenly escalated when more than 80 of his staff have to work from wherever they were stuck at during the past 6 weeks. Initially all of his staff had to alternate their folders and files access because their Sonicwall® Global Client license and SSL VPN Clients were inadequate. Even after their upgrade of the licenses, the performance of getting the folders and files through the Z: drive was poor and the network was chocked up. I told them that regardless, the SMB protocol of the NAS shared folders was chatty and generated a lot of network traffic on the VPN, along with the inadequacies of running this over the wide area Internet network. Staff productivity obviously nosedived.

We are now exploring putting their work in the cloud but maintaining a consistent synchronized set of folders and files at all times. Wasabi® Cloud has emerged the most attractive price/GB/month and no egress or API requests fees.

Combining 2 shared drives into one

NAS Drive talking to Cloud Drive like 2 buddies

Now here is a story of 2 Drives

The end user is not an IT savvy user. They were unfamiliar with Cloud Storage other than the free personal ones like Google Drive, or Dropbox. They have more than 200TB and I have introduced to them Wasabi® Cloud. They were very familiar with their Z:, their NAS Drive. I introduced to them the Cloud Drive.

NAS: Hey, how’s it going?

Cloud: Not bad. My boss and your boss are talking about bringing me and Wasabi® Cloud to join your gang. Hope you are OK with that.

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Cloud Sync Prowess of FreeNAS

The COVID-19 situation has driven technology to find new ways to adapt to the new digital workspace. Difficulty in remote access to content files and media assets has disrupted the workflow of the practitioners of many business segments. Many are trying to find ways to get the files and folders into their home computers and laptops to do work when they were used to getting them from the regular NAS shared drives.

These challenges have put hybrid cloud file sharing into the forefront, making it the best possible option to access the NAS folders and files inside and outside the boundaries of the company’s network. However, end users are pressured to invest into new technologies to adjust to this new normal. It does not have to be this way, because FreeNAS™ (and in that aspect TrueNAS®) has plenty of cloud help to offer. Most of the features are Free!

TrueNAS CORE

TrueNAS Core replacing FreeNAS in version 12.0

[ Note: FreeNAS™ will become TrueNAS® Core in the release 12. News was announced 2 months ago ]

FreeNAS™ Cloud Sync

One of the underrated features of FreeNAS™ is Cloud Sync. It was released in version 11.1 and it is invaluable extending the hybrid cloud file sharing to the masses. Cloud Sync makes the shares available to public cloud services such as AWS S3, Dropbox, Google Cloud Storage, Google Drive, Microsoft Blob Storage, Microsoft OneDrive, pCloud, Wasabi™ Cloud and more. This means that the files and folders used within the NAS space in the LAN, can synchronized and used through the public cloud services mentioned.

There are 2 steps to setup Cloud Sync.

  • Add the Cloud Credentials for the cloud provider to use
  • Create the Cloud Sync Task

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Falconstor Software Defined Data Preservation for the Next Generation

Falconstor® Software is gaining momentum. Given its arduous climb back to the fore, it is beginning to soar again.

Tape technology and Digital Data Preservation

I mentioned that long term digital data preservation is a segment within the data lifecycle which has merits and prominence. SNIA® has proved that this is a strong growing market segment through its 2007 and 2017 “100 Year Archive” surveys, respectively. 3 critical challenges of this long, long-term digital data preservation is to keep the archives

  • Accessible
  • Undamaged
  • Usable

For the longest time, tape technology has been the king of the hill for digital data preservation. The technology is cheap, mature, and many enterprises has built their long term strategy around it. And the pulse in the tape technology market is still very healthy.

The challenges of tape remain. Every 5 years or so, companies have to consider moving the data on the existing tape technology to the next generation. It is widely known that LTO can read tapes of the previous 2 generations, and write to it a generation before. The tape transcription process of migrating digital data for the sake of data preservation is bad because it affects the structural integrity and quality of the content of the data.

In my times covering the Oil & Gas subsurface data management, I have seen NOCs (national oil companies) with 500,000 tapes of all generations, from 1/2″ to DDS, DAT to SDLT, 3590 to LTO 1-7. And millions are spent to transcribe these tapes every few years and we have folks like Katalyst DM, Troika and more hovering this landscape for their fill.

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Iconik Content Management Solutions with FreeNAS – Part 2

[ Note: This is still experimental and should not be taken as production materials. I took a couple days over the weekend to “muck” around the new Iconik plug-in in FreeNAS™ to prepare for as a possible future solution. ]

This part is the continuation of Part 1 posted earlier.

iconik has partnered with iXsystems™ almost a year ago. iconik is a cloud-based media content management platform. Its storage repository has many integration with public cloud storage such as Google Cloud, Wasabi® Cloud and more. The on-premises storage integration is made through iconik storage gateway, and it presents itself to FreeNAS™ and TrueNAS® via plugins.

For a limited, you get free access to iconik via this link.

iconik  – The Application setup

[ Note: A lot of the implementation details come from this iXsystems™ documentation by Joe Dutka. This is an updated version for the latest 11.3 U1 release ]

iconik is feature rich and navigating it to setup the storage gateway can be daunting. Fortunately the iXsystems™ documentation was extremely helpful. It is also helpful to consider this as a 2-step approach so that you won’t get overwhelmed of what is happening.

  • Set up the Application section
    • Get Application ID
    • Get Authorization Token
  • Set up the Storage section
    • Get Storage ID

The 3 credentials (Application ID, Authorization Token, Storage ID) are required to set up the iconik Storage Gateway at the FreeNAS™ iconik plug-in setup.

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4 Digital Workplace Moves after COVID-19

[ Note: This article was published on LinkedIn on March 24, 2020. Here is the link to the original article ]

We live in unprecedented times. Malaysia has been in Movement Control Order (MCO) Day 7, which is basically a controlled lockdown of movements and activities. In many cases, businesses have grounded to a halt, and the landscape has changed forever. The “office” will not always be a premise anymore, and the “meetings” will not be a physical face-to-face conversation to build relationships and trust.

Trust is vital. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote 關係 (Guan Xi), and having to re-invent Trust in a Digital World.

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The impact on organizations and businesses is deep and powerful and so, as we move forward when the COVID-19 pandemic dies down, organizations’ plans in their Digital Transformation strategy will change as well.

Here are 4 technology areas which I think must take precedence for the Digital Workplace in the Digital Transformation strategy.

Software-Defined Wide Area Network (SD-WAN)

Physically connections have been disrupted. Digital connections are on the rise to supplant “networking” in our physical business world, and the pandemic situation just tipped the scale.

Many small medium businesses (SMBs) rely on home broadband, which may be good enough for some. Medium to large organizations have broadband for business. Larger organizations which have deeper pockets might already have MPLS (multiprotocol label switching) or leased line in place. A large portion might have VPN (virtual private network) set up too.

In time, SD-WAN (software-defined wide area network) services should be considered more profoundly. SD-WAN is a more prudent approach that inculcates digital workplace policies such as quality of service (QOS) for critical data connections, allocating network attributes to different data workloads and network traffic, VPN features and most come with enhanced security addendum as well. .

In addition to performance, security and capacity control, SD-WAN implementation helps shape employees’ digital workplace practices but most importantly, redefine the organization’s processes and conditioning employees’ mindsets in the Digital Transformation journey.

 

Video Meetings & Conferencing

The Video Meetings and Conferencing solutions have become the poster child in the present pandemic situation. Zoom, Webex, Microsoft Teams, Skype (it is going away), GoToMeetings and more are dominating the new norm of work. Work from home (WFH) has a totally new meaning now, especially for employees who have been conditioned to work in an “office”.

I had more than 15 Zoom meetings (the free version) last week when the Malaysian MCO started, and Zoom has become a critical part of my business now, and thus, it is time to consider paid solutions like Zoom or Webex as part of an organization’s Digital Workplace plans. These will create the right digital culture for the new Digital Workplace.

Personally I like Uberconference because of their on-hold song. It is sang by their CEO, Alex Cornell. Check out this SoundCloud recording.

File Sharing

Beneath the hallowed halls of video meetings and conferencing, collaboration happens with data shared in files. We have been with file and folders from our C: drives or NAS Home Directories or File Server’s shared drives that these processes are almost second nature to us.

In the face of this COVID-19 pandemic, files and information sharing has become cumbersome. The shared drive is no longer in our network, because we are not in the organization’s LAN and intranet anymore. We are working at home, away from the gigabit network, protected by the organization’s firewall, and was once slaved … err … I mean supported by our IT admins.

The obvious reaction (since you can’t pass thumb drives anymore at present) is to resort to Dropbox, OneDrive, Google Drive and others, and hoping you won’t max out your free capacity. Or email attachments in emails going back and forth, and hoping the mail server will not reject files larger than 10MB.

The fortunate ones have VPN client on their laptops but the network backhaul traffic to the VPN server at the central VPN server, and overloading it to the max. Pretty soon, network connections are dropped, and the performance of file sharing sucks! Big time!

What if your organization is a bank? Or an Oil & Gas company where data protection and data sovereignty dictate the order of the day? All the very-public enterprise file sync and share (EFSS) like Dropbox or OneDrive or Google Drive totally violate the laws of the land, and your organization may be crippled by the inability to do work. After all, files and folders are like the peanut-butter-jelly or the nasi lemak-teh tarik (coconut rice & pulled tea Malaysian breakfast) combo of work. You can’t live without files and folders.

The thoughts of having a PRIVATE on-premises EFSS solution in your organization’s Digital Transformation strategy should be moved from the KIV (keep in view) tray to a defined project in the Digital Transformation programme.

At Katana Logic, we work with Easishare, and it is worth having a serious plan about building your own private file share and sync solution as part of the Digital Workplace.

Security

In such unprecedented times, where our attention is diverted, cybersecurity threats are at its highest. Financial institutions in Malaysia have already been summoned by Malaysia Bank Negara central bank to build the industry’s expectations and confidence through the RMiT framework. Conversations with some end users and IT suppliers to Malaysian banks and other financial institutions unfortunately, revealed the typical lackadaisical attitude to fortify cyber resiliency practices within these organizations. I would presume the importance of cybersecurity and cyber resiliency practices would take a even further back seat with small medium businesses.

On a pessimistic note, ransomware and DDOS (distributed denial-of-service) have been on the rise, and taking advantage of this pandemic situation. NAS, the network attached storage that serves the organization shared files and folders has become ransomware’s favourite target as I have wrote in my blog.

But it does not have to be expensive affair with cybersecurity. Applying a consistent periodical password change, educating employees about phishing emails, using a simple but free port scanners to look at open TCP/UDP ports can be invaluable for small medium businesses. Subscribing to penetration testing (pentest) services at a regular frequency is immensely helpful as well.

In larger organizations, cyber resiliency is more holistic. Putting in layers for defense in depth, CIA (confidentiality, integrity, availability) triad, AAA (authentication, authorization, audit) pro-active measures are all part of the cybersecurity framework. These holistic practices must effect change in people and the processes of how data and things are shared, used, protected and recovered in the whole scheme of things.

Thus organizations must be vigilant and do their due diligence. We must never bat any eye to fortify cyber security and cyber resiliency in the Digital Workplace.

Parting thoughts

We are at our most vulnerable stage of our lifetime but it is almost the best time to understand what is critical to our business. This pandemic is helping to identify the right priorities for Work.

At any level, regardless, organizations have to use the advantage of this COVID-19 situation to assess how it has impacted business. It must look at what worked and what did not in their digital transformation journey so far, and change the parts that were not effective.

I look at the 4 areas of technology that I felt it could make a difference and I am sure there are many more areas to address. So, use this pessimistic times and turn it into an optimistic one when we are back to normalcy. The Digital Workplace has changed forever, and for the better too.

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NetApp double stitching Data Fabric

Is NetApp® Data Fabric breaking at the seams that it chose to acquire Talon Storage a few weeks ago?

It was a surprise move and the first thing that came to my mind was “Who is Talon Storage?” I have seen that name appeared in Tech Target and CRN last year but never took the time to go in depth about their technology. I took a quick check of their FAST™ software technology with the video below:

It had the reminiscence of Andrew File System, something I worked on briefly in the 90s and WAFS (Wide Area File System), a technology buzz word in the early to mid-2000s led by Tacit Networks, a company I almost joined with a fellow NetApp-ian back then. WAFS DNA appeared ingrained in Talon Storage, after finding out that Talon’s CEO and Founder, Shirish Phatak, was the architect of Tacit Networks 20 years ago.

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