Hybrid is the new Black

It is hard for enterprise to let IT go, isn’t it?

For years, we have seen the cloud computing juggernaut unrelenting in getting enterprises to put their IT into public clouds. Some of the biggest banks have put their faith into public cloud service providers. Close to home, Singapore United Overseas Bank (UOB) is one that has jumped into the bandwagon, signing up for VMware Cloud on AWS. But none will come bigger than the US government Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) project, where AWS and Azure are the last 2 bidders for the USD10 billion contract.

Confidence or lack of it

Those 2 cited examples should be big enough to usher enterprises to confidently embrace public cloud services, but many enterprises have been holding back. What gives?

In the past, it was a matter of confidence and the FUDs (fears, uncertainties, doubts). News about security breaches, massive blackouts have been widely spread and amplified to sensationalize the effects and consequences of cloud services. But then again, we get the same thing in poorly managed data centers in enterprises and government agencies, often with much less fanfare. We shrug our shoulder and say “Oh well!“.

The lack of confidence factor, I think, has been overthrown. The “Cloud First” strategy in enterprises in recent years speaks volume of the growing and maturing confidence in cloud services. The poor performance and high latency reasons, which were once an Achilles heel of cloud services, are diminishing. HPC-as-a-Service is becoming real.

The confidence in cloud services is strong. Then why is on-premises IT suddenly is a cool thing again? Why is hybrid cloud getting all the attention now?

Hybrid is coming back

Even AWS wants on-premises IT. Its Outposts offering outlines its ambition. A couple of years earlier, the Azure Stack was already made beachhead on-premises in its partnership with many server vendors. VMware, is in both on-premises and the public clouds. It has strong business and technology integration with AWS and Azure. IBM Cloud, Big Blue is thinking hybrid as well. 2 months ago, Dell jumped too, announcing Dell Technologies Cloud with plenty of a razzmatazz, using all the right moves with its strong on-premises infrastructure portfolio and its crown jewel of the federation, VMware. Continue reading

Storage Performance Considerations for AI Data Paths

The hype of Deep Learning (DL), Machine Learning (ML) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) has reached an unprecedented frenzy. Every infrastructure vendor from servers, to networking, to storage has a word to say or play about DL/ML/AI. This prompted me to explore this hyped ecosystem from a storage perspective, notably from a storage performance requirement point-of-view.

One question on my mind

There are plenty of questions on my mind. One stood out and that is related to storage performance requirements.

Reading and learning from one storage technology vendor to another, the context of everyone’s play against their competitors seems to be  “They are archaic, they are legacy. Our architecture is built from ground up, modern, NVMe-enabled“. And there are more juxtaposing, but you get the picture – “We are better, no doubt“.

Are the data patterns and behaviours of AI different? How do they affect the storage design as the data moves through the workflow, the data paths and the lifecycle of the AI ecosystem?

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Scaling new HPC with Composable Architecture

[Disclosure: I was invited by Dell Technologies as a delegate to their Dell Technologies World 2019 Conference from Apr 29-May 1, 2019 in the Las Vegas USA. Tech Field Day Extra was an included activity as part of the Dell Technologies World. My expenses, travel, accommodation and conference fees were covered by Dell Technologies, the organizer and I was not obligated to blog or promote their technologies presented at this event. The content of this blog is of my own opinions and views]

Deep Learning, Neural Networks, Machine Learning and subsequently Artificial Intelligence (AI) are the new generation of applications and workloads to the commercial HPC systems. Different from the traditional, more scientific and engineering HPC workloads, I have written about the new dawn of supercomputing and the attractive posture of commercial HPC.

Don’t be idle

From the business perspective, the investment of HPC systems is high most of the time, and justifying it to the executives and the investors is not easy. Therefore, it is critical to keep feeding the HPC systems and significantly minimize the idle times for compute, GPUs, network and storage.

However, almost all HPC systems today are inflexible. Once assigned to a project, the resources pretty much stay with the project, even when the workload processing of the project is idle and waiting. Of course, we have to bear in mind that not all resources are fully abstracted, virtualized and software-defined whereby you can carve out pieces of the hardware and deliver a percentage of that resource. Case in point is the CPU, where you cannot assign certain clock cycles of CPU to one project and another half to the other. The technology isn’t there yet. Certain resources like GPU is going down the path of Virtual GPU, and into the realm of resource disaggregation. Eventually, all resources of the HPC systems – CPU, memory, FPGA, GPU, PCIe channels, NVMe paths, IOPS, bandwidth, burst buffers etc – should be disaggregated and pooled for disparate applications and workloads based on demands of usage, time and performance.

Hence we are beginning to see the disaggregated HPC systems resources composed and built up the meet the diverse mix and needs of HPC applications and workloads. This is even more acute when a AI project might grow cold, but the training of AL/ML/DL workloads continues to stay hot

Liqid the early leader in Composable Architecture

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Lift and Shift Begone!

I am excited. New technologies are bringing the data (and storage) closer to processing and compute than ever before. I believe the “Lift and Shift” way would be a thing of the past … soon.

Data is heavy

Moving data across the network is painful. Moving data across distributed networks is even more painful. To compile the recent first image of a black hole, an amount of 5PB or more had to shipped for central processing. If this was moved over a 10 Gigabit network, it would have taken weeks.

Furthermore, data has dependencies. Snapshots, clones, and other data relationships with applications and processes render data inert, weighing it down like an anchor of a ship.

When I first started in the industry more than 25 years ago, Direct Attached Storage (DAS) was the dominating storage platform. I had a bulky Sun MultiDisk Pack connected via Fast SCSI to my SPARCstation 2 (diagram below):

Then I was assigned as the implementation engineer for Hock Hua Bank (now defunct) retail banking project in their Sibu HQ in East Malaysia. It was the first Sun SPARCstorage 1000 (photo below), running a direct attached Fibre Channel 0.25 Gbps FCAL (Fibre Channel Arbitrated Loop). It was the cusp of the birth of SAN (Storage Area Network).

Photo from https://www.cca.org/dave/tech/sys5/

The proliferation of SAN over the next 2 decades pushed DAS into obscurity, until SAS (Serial Attached SCSI) came about. Added to the mix was the prominence of Cloud Storage. But on-premises storage and Cloud Storage didn’t always come together. There was always a valley between the 2, until the public clouds gained a stronger foothold in the minds of IT and businesses. Today, both on-premises storage and cloud storage are slowly cosying as one Data Singularity, thanks to vision and conceptualization of data fabrics. NetApp was an early proponent of the Data Fabric concept 4 years ago. Continue reading

Bridges to the clouds and more – NetApp NDAS

[Preamble: I have been invited by GestaltIT as a delegate to their Tech Field Day for Storage Field Day 18 from Feb 27-Mar 1, 2019 in the Silicon Valley USA. My expenses, travel and accommodation were covered by GestaltIT, the organizer and I was not obligated to blog or promote their technologies presented at this event. The content of this blog is of my own opinions and views]

The NetApp Data Fabric Vision

The NetApp Data Fabric vision has always been clear to me. Maybe it was because of my 2 stints with them, and I got well soaked in their culture. 3 simple points define the vision.

  • The Data Fabric is THE data singularity. Data can be anywhere – on-premises, the clouds, and more.
  • Have bridges, paths and workflows management to the Data, to move the data to wherever the data may be.
  • Work with technology partners to build tools and data systems to elevate the value of the data

That is how I see it. I wrote about the Transcendence of the Data Fabric vision 3+ years ago, and I emphasized the importance of the Data Pipeline in another NetApp blog almost a year ago. The introduction of NetApp Data Availability Services (NDAS) in the recently concluded Storage Field Day 18 was no different as NetApp constructs data bridges and paths to the AWS Cloud.

NetApp Data Availability Services

The NDAS feature is only available with ONTAP 9.5. With less than 5 clicks, data from ONTAP primary systems can be backed up to the secondary ONTAP target (running the NDAS proxy and the Copy to Cloud API), and then to AWS S3 buckets in the cloud.

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VAST Data must be something special

[Preamble: I have been invited by GestaltIT as a delegate to their Tech Field Day for Storage Field Day 18 from Feb 27-Mar 1, 2019 in the Silicon Valley USA. My expenses, travel and accommodation were covered by GestaltIT, the organizer and I was not obligated to blog or promote their technologies presented at this event. The content of this blog is of my own opinions and views]

Vast Data coming out bash!

The delegates of Storage Field Days were always the lucky bunch. We have witnessed several storage technology companies coming out of stealth at these Tech Field Days. The recent ones in memory for me were Excelero and Hammerspace. But to have one where the venerable storage doyen, Mr. Howard Marks, Vast Data new tech evangelist, to introduce the deep dive of Vast Data technology was something special.

For those who knew Howard, he is fiercely independent, very storage technology smart, opinionated and not easily impressed. As a storage technology connoisseur myself, I believe Howard must have seen something special in Vast Data. They must be doing something extremely unique and impressive that someone like Howard could not resist, and made him jump to the vendor side. This sets the tone of my blog.

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Minio – the minimalist object storage technology

The Marie Kondo Konmari fever is sweeping the world. Her decluttering and organizing the home methods are leading to a new way of life – Minimalism.

Complicated Storage Experience

Storage technology and its architecture are complex. We layer upon layer of abstraction and virtualization into storage design until at some stage, choke points lead to performance degradation, and management becomes difficult.

I recalled a particular training I attended back in 2006. I just joined Hitachi Data Systems for the Shell GUSto project. I was in Baltimore for the Hitachi NAS course. This was not their HNAS (their BlueArc acquisition) but their home grown NAS based on Linux. In the training, we were setting up NFS service. There were 36 steps required to setup and provision NFS and if there was a misstep, you start from the first command again. Coming from NetApp at the time, it was horrendous. NetApp ONTAP NFS setup and provisioning probably took 3 commands, and this Hitachi NAS setup and configuration was so much more complex. In the end, the experience was just unworldly for me.

Introducing Minio to my world, to Malaysia

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Quantum Corp should spin off Stornext

What’s happening at Quantum Corporation?

I picked up the latest development news about Quantum Corporation. Last month, in December 2018, they secured a USD210 million financial lifeline to support their deflating business and their debts. And if you follow their development, they are with their 3rd CEO in the past 12 months, which is quite extraordinary. What is happening at Quantum Corp?

Quantum Logo (PRNewsFoto/Quantum Corp.)

Stornext – The Swiss Army knife of Data Management

I have known Quantum since 2000, very focused on the DLT tape library business. At that time, prior to the coming of LTO, DLT and its successor, SuperDLT dominated the tape market together with IBM. In 2006, they acquired ADIC, another tape vendor and became one of the largest tape library vendors in the world. From the ADIC acquisition, Quantum also got their rights on Stornext, a high performance scale out file system. I was deeply impressed with Stornext, and I once called it the Swiss Army knife of Data Management. The versatility of Stornext addressed many of the required functions within the data management lifecycle and workflows, and thus it has made its name in the Media and Entertainment space.

Jack of all trades, master of none

However, Quantum has never reached great heights in my opinion. They are everything to everybody, like a Jack of all trades, master of none. They are backup with their tape libraries and DXi series, archive and tiering with the Lattus, hybrid storage with QXS, and file system and scale-out with Stornext. If they have good business run rates and a healthy pipeline, having a broad product line is fine and dandy. But Quantum has been having CEO changes like turning a turnstile, and amid “a few” accounting missteps and a 2018 CEO who only lasted 5 months, they better steady their rocking boat quickly. Continue reading

Microsoft desires Mellanox

My lazy Thursday morning was spurred by a posting by Stephen Foskett, Chief Organizer of Tech Field Days. “Microsoft mulls the acquisition of Mellanox

The AWS factor

A quick reaction leans towards a strange one. Microsoft of all people, buying a chip company? Does it make sense? However, leaning deeper, it starts to make some sense. And I believe the desire is spurred by Amazon Web Services announcement of their Graviton processor at AWS re:Invent last month.

AWS acquired Annapurna Labs in early 2015. From the sources, Annapurna was working on low powered, high performance networking chips for the mid-range market. The key words – lower powered, high performance, mid-range – are certainly the musical notes to the AWS opus. And that would mean the ability for AWS to control their destiny, even at the edge. Continue reading

From the past to the future

2019 beckons. The year 2018 is coming to a close and I look upon what I blogged in the past years to reflect what is the future.

The evolution of the Data Services Platform

Late 2017, I blogged about the Data Services Platform. Storage is no longer the storage infrastructure we know but has evolved to a platform where a plethora of data services are served. The changing face of storage is continually evolving as the IT industry changes. I take this opportunity to reflect what I wrote since I started blogging years ago, and look at the articles that are shaping up the landscape today and also some duds.

Some good ones …

One of the most memorable ones is about memory cloud. I wrote the article when Dell acquired a small company by the name of RNA Networks. I vividly recalled what was going through my mind when I wrote the blog. With the SAN, NAS and DAS, and even FAN (File Area Network) happening during that period, the first thing was the System Area Network, the original objective Infiniband and RDMA. I believed the final pool of where storage will be is the memory, hence I called it the “The Last Bastion – Memory“. RNA’s technology became part of Dell Fluid Architecture.

True enough, the present technology of Storage Class Memory and SNIA’s NVDIMM are along the memory cloud I espoused years ago.

What about Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE)? It wasn’t a compelling enough technology for me when it came into the game. Reduced port and cable counts, and reduced power consumption were what the FCoE folks were pitching, but the cost of putting in the FC switches, the HBAs were just too great as an investment. In the end, we could see the cracks of the FCoE story, and I wrote the pre-mature eulogy of FCoE in my 2012 blog. I got some unsavoury comments writing that blog back then, but fast forward to the present, FCoE isn’t a force anymore.

Weeks ago, Amazon Web Services (AWS) just became a hybrid cloud service provider/vendor with the Outposts announcement. It didn’t surprise me but it may have shook the traditional systems integrators. I took the stance 2 years ago when AWS partnered with VMware and juxtaposed it to the philosophical quote in the 1993 Jurassic Park movie – “Life will not be contained, … Life finds a way“.

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