It’s all about executing the story

I have been in hibernation mode, with a bit of “writer’s block”.

I woke up in Bangalore in India at 3am, not having adjusted myself to the local timezone. Plenty of things were on my mind but I can’t help thinking about what’s happening in the enterprise storage market after the Gartner Worldwide External Controller-Based report for 4Q12 came out  last night. Below is the consolidated table from Gartner:

Just a few weeks ago, it was IDC with its Worldwide Disk Storage Tracker and below is their table as well:

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VMware in step 1 breaking big 6 hegemony

Happy Lunar New Year! This is the Year of the Water Snake, which just commenced 3 days ago.

I have always maintain that VMware has to power to become a storage killer. I mentioned that it was a silent storage killer in my blog post many moons ago.

And this week, VMware is not so silent anymore. Earlier this week, VMware had just acquired Virsto, a storage hypervisor technology company. News of the acquisition are plentiful on the web and can be found here and here. VMware is seriously pursuing its “Software-Defined Data Center (SDDC)” agenda and having completed its software-defined networking component with the acquisition of Nicira back in July 2012, the acquisition of Virsto represents another bedrock component of SDDC, software-defined storage.

Who is Virsto and what do they do? Well, in a nutshell, they abstract the underlying storage architecture and presents a single, global namespace for storage, a big storage pool for VM datastores. I got to know about their presence last year, when I was researching on the topic of storage virtualization.

I was looking at Datacore first, because I was familiar with Datacore. I got to know Roni Putra, Datacore’s CTO, through a mutual friend, when he was back in Malaysia. There was a sense of pride knowing that Roni is a Malaysian. That was back in 2004. But Datacore isn’t the only player in the game, because the market is teeming with folks like Tintri, Nutanix, IBM, HDS and many more. It just so happens that Virsto has caught the eye of VMware as it embarks its first high-profile step (the one that VMware actually steps on the toes of the Storage Big 6 literally) into the storage game. The Big 6 are EMC, NetApp, IBM, HP, HDS and Dell (maybe I should include Fujitsu as well, since it has been taking market share of late)

Virsto installs as a VSA (virtual storage appliance) into ESXi, and in version 2.0, it plugs right in as an almost-native feature of ESXi, not a vCenter tab like most other storage. It looks and feels very much like a vSphere functionality and this blurs the lines of storage and VM management. To the vSphere administrator, the only time it needs to be involved in storage administration is when he/she is provisioning storage or expanding it. Those are the only 2 common “touch-points” that a vSphere administrator has to deal with storage. This, therefore, simplifies the administration and management job.

Here’s a look at the Virsto Storage Hypervisor architecture (credits to Google Images):

What Virsto does, as I understand from high-level, is to take any commodity storage and provides a virtual storage layer and consolidate them into a very large storage pool. The storage pool is called vSpace (previously known as LiveSpace?) and “allocates” Virsto vDisks to each VMs. Each Visto vDisk will look like a native zeroed thick VMDK, with the space efficiency of Linked Clones, but without the performance penalty of provisioning them.  The Virsto vDisks are presented as NFS exports to each VM.

Another important component is the asynchronous write to Virsto vLogs. This is configured at the deployment stage, and this is basically a software-based write cache, quickly acknowledging all writes for write optimization and in the background, asynchronously de-staged to the vSpace. Obviously it will have its own “secret sauce” to optimize the writes.

Within the vSpace, as disk clone groups internal to the Virsto, storage related features such as tiering, thin provisioning, cloning and snapshots are part and parcel of it. Other strong features of Virsto are its workflow wizard in storage provisioning, and its intuitive built-in performance and management console.

As with most technology acquisitions, the company will eventually come to a fork where they have to decide which way to go. VMware has experienced it before with its Nicira acquisition. It had to decide between VxLAN (an IETF standard popularized by Cisco) or Nicira’s own STT (Stateless Transport Tunneling). There is no clear winner because choosing one over the other will have its rewards and losses.

Likewise, the Virsto acquisition will have to be packaged in a friendly manner by VMware. It does not want to step on all toes of its storage Big 6 partners (yet). It still has to abide to some industry “co-opetition” game rules but it has started the ball rolling.

And I see that 2 critical disruptive points about this acquisition in this:

  1. It has endorsed the software-defined storage/storage hypervisor/storage virtualization technology and started the commodity storage hardware technology wave. This could the beginning of the end of proprietary storage hardware. This is also helped by other factors such as the Open Compute Project by Facebook. Read my blog post here.
  2. It is pushing VMware into a monopoly ala-Microsoft of the yesteryear. But this time around, Microsoft Hyper-V could be the benefactor of the VMware agenda. No wonder VMware needs to restructure and streamline its business. News of VMware laying off about 900 staff can be read here. Its unfavourable news of its shares going down can be read here.

I am sure the Storage Big 6 is on the alert and is probably already building other technology and partnerships beyond VMware. It the natural thing to do but there is no stopping VMware if it wants to step on the Big 6 toes now!

Is there no one to challenge EMC?

It’s been a busy, busy month for me.

And when the IDC Worldwide Quarterly Disk Storage Systems Tracker for 3Q12 came out last week, I was reading in awe how impressive EMC was at the figures that came out. But most impressive of all is how the storage market continue to grow despite very challenging and uncertain business conditions. With the Eurozone crisis, China experiencing lower economic growth numbers and the uncertainty in the US economic sectors, it is unbelievable that the storage market grew 24.4% y-o-y. And for the first time, 7,104PB was shipped! Yes folks, more than 7 exabytes was shipped during that period!

In the Top 5 external disk storage market based on revenue, only EMC and HDS recorded respectable growth, recording 8.7% and 13.8% respectively. NetApp, my “little engine that could” seems to be running out of steam, earning only 0.9% growth. The rest of the field, IBM and HP, recorded negative growth. Here’s a look at the Top 5 and the rest of the pack:

HP -11% decline is shocking to me, and given the woes after woes that HP has been experiencing, HP has not seen the bottom yet. Let’s hope that the new slew of HP storage products and technologies announced at HP Discover 2012 will lift them up. It also looked like a total rebranding of the HP storage products as well, with a big play on the word “Store”. They have names like StoreOnce, StoreServ, StoreAll, StoreVirtual, StoreEasy and perhaps more coming.

The Open SAN market, which includes iSCSI has EMC again at Number 1, with 29.8%, followed by IBM (14%), HDS (12.2%) and HP (11.8%). When combined with NAS numbers, the NAS + Open SAN market, EMC has 33.5% while NetApp is 13.7%.

Of course, it is just not about external storage because the direct-attached storage numbers count too. With that, the server vendors of IBM, HP and Dell are still placed behind EMC. Here’s a look at that table from IDC:

There’s a highlight of Dell in the table above. Dell actually grew by 4.0% compared to decline in HP and IBM, gaining 0.1%. However, their numbers seem too tepid and led to the exit of Darren Thomas, Dell’s storage group head honco. News of Darren’s exit was on TheRegister.

I also want to note that NAS growth numbers actually outpaced Open SAN numbers including iSCSI.

This leads me to say that there is a dire need for NAS technical and technology expertise in the local storage market. As the adoption of NFSv4 under way and SMB 2.0 and 3.0 coming into the picture, I urge all storage networking professionals who are more pro-SAN to step out of their comfort zone and look into NAS as well. The world is changing and it is no longer SAN vs NAS anymore. And NFSv4.1 is blurring the lines even more with the concepts of layout.

But back to the subject to storage market, is there no one out there challenging EMC in a big way? NetApp was, some years ago, recorded double digit growth and challenging EMC neck-and-neck, but that mantle seems to be taken over by HDS. But both are long way to go to get close to EMC.

Kudos to the EMC team for damn good execution!

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. 

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HUS VM is not virtual storage appliance

I was very confused with an recent HDS announcement, and it has been at the back of my mind for several weeks now.

On the last week of September 2012, HDS announced their Hitachi Unified Storage VM, aimed at small/medium enterprises (SMEs). Nothing wrong with that, except the VM part. I am not sure if it was the Computerworld author’s mistake, but he specifically mentioned VM as “virtual machine”. Check out the link here and the screenshot below:

It got me a bit riled up thinking this was some kind of virtual storage ala VMware Virtual Storage Appliance or NetApp ONTAP-V or even the early innovation of HP Lefthand Virtual SAN Appliance. Apparently not!

I did some short investigation and found Nigel Poulton’s blog which gave a fantastic dissection about the HUS VM. The VM is not virtual machine, but Virtual Midrange!

The HUS VM architecture is deep in ASICs, given HDS long history in ASICs design and manufacturing. SiliconFS, is the NAS front end, while the iSCSI and FC part are being serviced from the same HDS microcode of the higher end HDS VSP. Here’s a look at the hardware architectural diagram from Nigel’s blog:

There are plenty of bells and whistles in the HUS VM, armed with plenty of 8Gbps FC ports, SAS 6Gbps backend, SSDs, and software such as Dynamic Provisioning (thin provisioning) and Dynamic Tiering.

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The reports are out!

It’s another quarter and both Gartner and IDC reports on disk storage market are out.

What does it take to slow down EMC, who is like a behemoth beast mowing down its competition? EMC, has again tops both the charts. IDC Worldwide Disk Storage Tracker for Q1 of 2012 puts EMC at 29.0% of the market share, followed by NetApp at 14.1%, and IBM at 11.4%. In fourth place is HP with 10.2% and HDS is placed fifth with 9.4%.

In the Gartner report, EMC has the lead of 32.5%, followed by NetApp at 12.7% and IBM with 11.0%. HDS held fourth place at 9.5% and HP is fifth with 9.0%. Continue reading

Xtreme future?

EMC acquisition of XtremIO sent shockwaves across the industry. The news of the acquisition, reported costing EMC USD$430 million can be found here, here and here.

The news of EMC’s would be acquisition a few weeks ago was an open secret and rumour has it that NetApp was eyeing XtremIO as well. Looks like EMC has beaten NetApp to it yet again.

The interesting part was of course, the price. USD$430 million is a very high price to pay for a stealthy, 2-year old company which has 2 rounds of funding totaling USD$25 million. Why such a large amount?

XtremIO has a talented team of engineers; the notable ones being Yaron Segev and Shahar Frank. They have their background in InfiniBand, and Shahar Frank was the chief architect of Exanet scale-out NAS (which was acquired by Dell). However, as quoted by 451Group, XtremeIO is building an all-flash SAN array that “provides consistently high performance, high levels of flash endurance, and advanced functionality around thin provisioning, de-dupe and space-efficient snapshots“.

Furthermore, XtremeIO has developed a real-time inline deduplication engine that does not degrade performance. It does this by spreading the write I/Os over the entire array. There is little information about this deduplication engine, but I bet XtremIO has developed a real-time, inherent deduplication file system that spreads all the I/Os to balance the wear-leveling as well as having scaling performance. I bet XtremIO will dedupe everything that it stores, has a B+ tree, copy-on-write file system with a super-duper efficient hashing algorithm for address mapping (pointers) with this deduplication file system. Ok, ok, I am getting carried away here, because it is likely that I will be wrong, but I can imagine, can’t I? Continue reading

Server way of locked-in storage

It is kind of interesting when every vendor out there claims that they are as open as they can be but the very reality is, the competitive nature of the game is really forcing storage vendors to speak open, but their actions are certainly not.

Confused? I am beginning to see a trend … a trend that is forcing customers to be locked-in with a certain storage vendor. I am beginning to feel that customers are given lesser choices, especially when the brand of the server they select for their applications  will have implications on the brand of storage they will be locked in into.

And surprise, surprise, SSDs are the pawns of this new cloak-and-dagger game. How? Well, I have been observing this for quite a while now, and when HP announced their SMART portfolio for their storage, it’s time for me to say something.

In the announcement, it was reported that HP is coming out with its 8th generation ProLiant servers. As quoted:

The eighth generation ProLiant is turbo-charging its storage with a Smart Array containing solid state drives and Smart Caching.

It also includes two Smart storage items: the Smart Array controllers and Smart Caching, which both feature solid state storage to solve the disk I/O bottleneck problem, as well as Smart Data Services software to use this hardware

From the outside, analysts are claiming this is a reaction to the recent EMC VFCache product. (I blogged about it here) and HP was there to put the EMC VFcache solution as a first generation product, lacking the smarts (pun intended) of what the HP products have to offer. You can read about its performance prowess in the HP Connect blog.

Similarly, Dell announced their ExpressFlash solution that ties up its 12th generation PowerEdge servers with their flagship (what else), Dell Compellent storage.

The idea is very obvious. Put in a PCIe-based flash caching card in the server, and use a condescending caching/tiering technology that ties the server to a certain brand of storage. Only with this card, that (incidentally) works only with this brand of servers, will you, Mr. Customer, be able to take advantage of the performance power of this brand of storage. Does that sound open to you?

HP is doing it with its ProLiant servers; Dell is doing it with its ExpressFlash; EMC’s VFCache, while not advocating any brand of servers, is doing it because VFCache works only with EMC storage. We have seen Oracle doing it with Oracle ExaData. Oracle Enterprise database works best with Oracle’s own storage and the intelligence is in its SmartScan layer, a proprietary technology that works exclusively with the storage layer in the Exadata. Hitachi Japan, with its Hitachi servers (yes, Hitachi servers that we rarely see in Malaysia), already has such a technology since the last 2 years. I wouldn’t be surprised that IBM and Fujitsu already have something in store (or probably I missed the announcement).

NetApp has been slow in the game, but we hope to see them coming out with their own server-based caching products soon. More pure play storage are already singing the tune of SSDs (though not necessarily server-based).

The trend is obviously too, because the messaging is almost always about storage performance.

Yes, I totally agree that storage (any storage) has a performance bottleneck, especially when it comes to IOPS, response time and throughput. And every storage vendor is claiming SSDs, in one form or another, is the knight in shining armour, ready to rid the world of lousy storage performance. Well, SSDs are not the panacea of storage performance headaches because while they solve some performance issues, they introduce new ones somewhere else.

But it is becoming an excuse to introduce storage vendor lock-in, and how has the customers responded this new “concept”? Things are fairly new right now, but I would always advise customers to find out and ask questions.

Cloud storage for no vendor lock-in? Going to the cloud also has cloud service provider lock-in as well, but that’s another story.

 

Gartner WW ECB 4Q11

The Gartner Worldwide External Controller Based Disk Storage market numbers were out last night, and perennially follows IDC Disk Storage System Tracker.

The numbers posted little surprise, after a topsy-turvy year for vendors like IBM, HP and especially NetApp. Overall, the positions did not change much, but we can see that the 3 vendors I mentioned are facing very challenging waters ahead. Here’s a look at the overall 2011 numbers:

EMC is unstoppable, and gaining 3.6% market share and IBM lost 0.2% market share despite having strong sales with their XIV and StorWize V7000 solutions. This could be due to the lower than expected numbers from their jaded DS-series. IBM needs to ramp up.

HP stayed stagnant, even though their 3PAR numbers have been growing well. They were hit by poor numbers from the EVA (now renumbered as P6000s), and surprisingly their P4000s as well. Looks like they are short-lefthanded (pun intended) and given the C-level upheavals it went through in the past year, things are not looking good for HP.

Meanwhile, Dell is unable to shake off their EMC divorce alimony, losing 0.8% market share. We know that Dell has been pushing very, very hard with their Compellent, EqualLogic, and other technologies they acquired, but somehow things are not working as well yet.

HDS has been the one to watch, with its revenue numbers growing in double digits like NetApp and EMC. Their market share gain was 0.6%, which is very good for HDS standards. NetApp gained 0.8% market share but they seem vulnerable after 2 poor quarters.

The 4th quarter for 2011 numbers are shown below:

I did not blog about IDC QView numbers, which reports the storage software market share but just to give this entry a bit of perspective from a software point of view. From the charts of The Register, EMC has been gaining marketshare at the expense of the rest of the competitors like Symantec, IBM and NetApp.

Tabulated differently, here’s another set of data:

On all fronts, EMC is firing all cylinders. Like a well-oiled V12 engine, EMC is going at it with so much momentum right now. Who is going to stop EMC?

The marriage in the cloud

Admit it! You are a terabyte junkie! I am sure many of us have one terabyte or more of your personal “stuff” at home. Heck, I even heard from a friend that he has almost 20TB of high definition movies (thank you Torrent!) at home! That’s crazy!

And what the typical Malaysian consumer would do after he or she runs out of hard disk space? In KL (our beloved capital city, Kuala Lumpur), they would throng the Low Yat IT mall or extensions of it, like Digital Mall in PJ Section 14. In other towns and cities in Malaysia, PC fairs are popular, as consumers try to get the best price possible (We Malaysian are good at squeezing the max of a deal)

It is difficult for the not-so-IT-literate consumer to differentiate which brand is the best. Buffalo, Iomega, DLink, Western Digital, etc, etc. But the tides are changing, because these vendors want to tie you down for the rest of your digital life. You see, buying a small NAS for the home now comes with a big carrot, an incentive to keep you wanting for more, and yet you can’t unbind yourself from the tether once you are hooked.

Cloud storage hasn’t taken off in a big way last year. But many cloud storage vendors know there are plenty of opportunities out there but how do they get the consumers to upload their files, photos and whatever stuff they might have, to cloud storage? Ingeniously, they work together with other smaller NAS storage players and use these vendor’s product offerings as baits. They bundle a significantly large FREE capacity or data protection offering in the Cloud Storage as the carrot, and once the consumer decides to put their files in the cloud storage, boom, they are ensnared to become a long term ATM machine to the Cloud Storage Provider.

Sneaky? No? I call this good, smart marketing. You have a market of opportunities out there, but cloud storage isn’t catching on. You have small NAS vendors that is reaching out to the market of consumer, but it’s a brutal, competitive arena and margins are razor thin. It’s a win-win situation for both sides.

And this trend is catching on. When I first read about Drobo (a high-end consumer NAS storage) partnering Carbonite (a remote backup vendor now repackaged as a Cloud storage backup provider), I thought it was a pretty darn good idea. It was a marriage that happened in the cloud. Late last year, another consumer NAS company, QNAP paired up with Symform, a cloud storage and backup vendor.

This was moving towards a market that scratches the itch. The consumers wanted reliable backup too, but consumer-grade disk drives fail ever so often. Laptops get stolen, and files could be infected by viruses. The list goes on, but the point is that the Cloud Storage Providers may have found a silver lining in getting the consumers to leap into the cloud. And the whole idea of small NAS vendor-big Cloud Backup dynamic duo, just got a big endorsement last night. Guess who has decided to dip its grubby hands into the pie?

EMC, the 800-pound gorilla of the information and storage world, through its Iomega subsidiary, wants your money! They had just married Iomega with EMC Atmos. It was quoted:

“EMC subsidiary and data protection specialist Iomega announced the integration between Iomega network storage solutions and EMC Atmos, extending Atmos cloud-based data protection and sharing to Iomega’s network storage product offerings. The new integration gives small and midsize businesses (SMBs), remote offices and distributed enterprises access to any Atmos powered cloud around the world.”

Surprised? Not really, but I guess EMC needs to breath new life into Atmos and this marriage just extended Atmos’ life support system.