RAIDZ expansion and dRAID excellent OpenZFS adventure

RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Disks) is the foundation of almost every enterprise storage array in existence. Thus a technology change to a RAID implementation is a big deal. In recent weeks, we have witnessed not one, but two seismic development updates to the volume management RAID subsystem of the OpenZFS open source storage platform.

OpenZFS logo

For the uninformed, ZFS is one of the rarities in the storage industry which combines the volume manager and the file system as one. Unlike traditional volume management, ZFS merges both the physical data storage representations (eg. Hard Disk Drives, Solid State Drives) and the logical data structures (eg. RAID stripe, mirror, Z1, Z2, Z3) together with a highly reliable file system that scales. For a storage practitioner like me, working with ZFS is that there is always a “I get it!” moment every time, because the beauty is there are both elegances of power and simplicity rolled into one.

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Do we still need FAST (and its cohorts)?

In a recent conversation with an iXsystems™ reseller in Hong Kong, the topic of Storage Tiering was brought up. We went about our banter and I brought up the inter-array tiering and the intra-array tiering piece.

After that conversation, I started thinking a lot about intra-array tiering, where data blocks within the storage array were moved between fast and slow storage media. The general policy was simple. Find all the least frequently access blocks and move them from a fast tier like the SSD tier, to a slower tier like the spinning drives with different RPM speeds. And then promote the data blocks to the faster media when accessed frequently. Of course, there were other variables in the mix besides storage media and speeds.

My mind raced back 10 years or more to my first encounter with Compellent and 3PAR. Both were still independent companies then, and I had my first taste of intra-array tiering

The original Compellent and 3PAR logos

I couldn’t recall which encounter I had first, but I remembered the time of both events were close. I was at Impact Business Solutions in their office listening to their Compellent pitch. The Kuching boys (thank you Chyr and Winston!) were very passionate in evangelizing the Compellent Data Progression technology.

At about the same time, I was invited by PTC Singapore GM at the time, Ken Chua to grace their new Malaysian office and listen to their latest storage vendor partnership, 3PAR. I have known Ken through my NetApp® days, and he linked me up Nathan Boeger, 3PAR’s pre-sales consultant. 3PAR had their Adaptive Optimization (AO) disk tiering and Dynamic Optimization (DO) technology.

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OpenZFS 2.0 exciting new future

The OpenZFS (virtual) Developer Summit ended over a weekend ago. I stayed up a bit (not much) to listen to some of the talks because it started midnight my time, and ran till 5am on the first day, and 2am on the second day. Like a giddy schoolboy, I was excited, not because I am working for iXsystems™ now, but I have been a fan and a follower of the ZFS file system for a long time.

History wise, ZFS was conceived at Sun Microsystems in 2005. I started working on ZFS reselling Nexenta in 2009 (my first venture into business with my company nextIQ) after I was professionally released by EMC early that year. I bought a Sun X4150 from one of Sun’s distributors, and started creating a lab server. I didn’t like the workings of NexentaStor (and NexentaCore) very much, and it was priced at 8TB per increment. Later, I started my second company with a partner and it was him who showed me the elegance and beauty of ZFS through the command lines. The creed of ZFS as a volume and a file system at the same time with the CLI had an effect on me. I was in love.

OpenZFS Developer Summit 2020 Logo

OpenZFS Developer Summit 2020 Logo

Exciting developments

Among the many talks shared in the OpenZFS Developer Summit 2020 , there were a few ideas and developments which were exciting to me. Here are 3 which I liked and I provide some commentary about them.

  • Block Reference Table
  • dRAID (declustered RAID)
  • Persistent L2ARC

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Paradigm shift of Dev to Storage Ops

[ Disclosure: I was invited by GestaltIT as a delegate to their Storage Field Day 19 event from Jan 22-24, 2020 in the Silicon Valley USA. My expenses, travel, accommodation and conference fees were covered by GestaltIT, the organizer and I was not obligated to blog or promote the vendors’ technologies presented at the event. The content of this blog is of my own opinions and views ]

A funny photo (below) came up on my Facebook feed a couple of weeks back. In an honest way, it depicted how a developer would think (or the lack of thinking) about the storage infrastructure designs and models for the applications and workloads. This also reminded me of how DBAs used to diss storage engineers. “I don’t care about storage, as long as it is RAID 10“. That was aeons ago 😉

The world of developers and the world of infrastructure people are vastly different. Since cloud computing birthed, both worlds have collided and programmable infrastructure-as-code (IAC) have become part and parcel of cloud native applications. Of course, there is no denying that there is friction.

Welcome to DevOps!

The Kubernetes factor

Containerized applications are quickly defining the cloud native applications landscape. The container orchestration machinery has one dominant engine – Kubernetes.

In the world of software development and delivery, DevOps has taken a liking to containers. Containers make it easier to host and manage life-cycle of web applications inside the portable environment. It packages up application code other dependencies into building blocks to deliver consistency, efficiency, and productivity. To scale to a multi-applications, multi-cloud with th0usands and even tens of thousands of microservices in containers, the Kubernetes factor comes into play. Kubernetes handles tasks like auto-scaling, rolling deployment, computer resource, volume storage and much, much more, and it is designed to run on bare metal, in the data center, public cloud or even a hybrid cloud.

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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

Did Cloud Kill LTFS?

I like LTFS (Linear Tape File System). I was hoping it would take off but it has not. And looking at its future, its significance is becoming less and less relevant. I look if Cloud has been a factor in the possible demise of LTFS in the next few years.

What is LTFS?

In a nutshell, Linear Tape File System makes LTO tapes look like a disk with a file system. It takes a tape and divides it into 2 partitions:

  • Index Partition (XML Index Schema with file names, metadata and attributes details)
  • Data Partition (where the data resides)

Diagram from https://www.snia.org/sites/default/orig/SDC2011/presentations/tuesday/DavidPease_LinearTape_File_System.pdf

It has a File System module which is implemented in supported OS of Unix/Linux, MacOS and Windows. And the mounted file system “tape partition” shows up as a drive or device.

Assassination attempts

There were many attempts to kill off tapes and so far, none has been successful.

Among the “tape-killer” technologies, I think the most prominent one is the VTL (Virtual Tape Library). There were many VTLs I encountered during my days in mid-2000s. NetApp had Alacritus and EMC had Clariion Disk Libraries. There were also IBM ProtecTIER, FalconStor VTL (which is still selling today) among others and Sepaton (read in reverse is “No Tapes’). Sepaton was acquired by Hitachi Data Systems several years back. Continue reading

Catch up (fast) – IBM Spectrum Protect Plus

[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 IBM Spectrum Protect Plus (SPP) team returned again for Storage Field Day 18, almost exactly 50 weeks when they introduced SPP to the Storage Field Day 15 delegates in 2018. My comments in my blog about IBM SPP were not flattering but the product was fairly new back then. I joined the other delegates to listen to IBM again this time around, and being open minded to listen and see their software upgrade.

Spectrum Protect Plus is NOT Spectrum Protect

First of all, it is important to call that IBM Spectrum Protect (SP)and IBM Spectrum Protect Plus (SPP) are 2 distinct products. The SP is the old Tivoli Storage Manager (TSM) while SPP is a more “modern” product, answering to virtualized environments and several public cloud service providers target platforms. To date, SP is version 8.1.x while SPP is introduced as version 10.1.4. There are “some” integration between SP and SPP, where SPP data can be “offloaded” to the SP platform for long term retention.

For one, I certainly am confused about IBM’s marketing and naming of both products, and I am sure many face the same predicament too. Continue reading

Sexy HPC storage is all the rage

HPC is sexy

There is no denying it. HPC is sexy. HPC Storage is just as sexy.

Looking at the latest buzz from Super Computing Conference 2018 which happened in Dallas 2 weeks ago, the number of storage related vendors participating was staggering. Panasas, Weka.io, Excelero, BeeGFS, are the ones that I know because I got friends posting their highlights. Then there are the perennial vendors like IBM, Dell, HPE, NetApp, Huawei, Supermicro, and so many more. A quick check on the SC18 website showed that there were 391 exhibitors on the floor.

And this is driven by the unrelentless demand for higher and higher performance of computing, and along with it, the demands for faster and faster storage performance. Commercialization of Artificial Intelligence (AI), Deep Learning (DL) and newer applications and workloads together with the traditional HPC workloads are driving these ever increasing requirements. However, most enterprise storage platforms were not designed to meet the demands of these new generation of applications and workloads, as many have been led to believe. Why so?

I had a couple of conversations with a few well known vendors around the topic of HPC Storage. And several responses thrown back were to put Flash and NVMe to solve the high demands of HPC storage performance. In my mind, these responses were too trivial, too irresponsible. So I wanted to write this blog to share my views on HPC storage, and not just about its performance.

The HPC lines are blurring

I picked up this video (below) a few days ago. It was insideHPC Rich Brueckner interview with Dr. Goh Eng Lim, HPE CTO and renowned HPC expert about the convergence of both traditional and commercial HPC applications and workloads.

I liked the conversation in the video because it addressed the 2 different approaches. And I welcomed Dr. Goh’s invitation to the Commercial HPC community to work with the Traditional HPC vendors to help push the envelope towards Exascale SuperComputing.

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Is Pure Play Storage good?

I post storage and cloud related articles to my unofficial SNIA Malaysia Facebook community (you are welcomed to join) every day. It is a community I started over 9 years ago, and there are active live banters of the posts of the day. Casual, personal were the original reasons why I started the community on Facebook rather than on LinkedIn, and I have been curating it religiously for the longest time.

The Big 5 of Storage (it was Big 6 before this)

Looking back 8-9 years ago, the storage vendor landscape of today has not changed much. The Big 5 hegemony is still there, still dominating the Gartner Magic Quadrant for Enterprise and Mid-end Arrays, and is still there in the All-Flash quadrant as well, albeit the presence of Pure Storage in that market.

The Big 5 of today – Dell EMC, NetApp, HPE, IBM and Hitachi Vantara – were the Big 6 of 2009-2010, consisting of EMC, NetApp, Dell, HP, IBM and Hitachi Data Systems. The All-Flash, or Gartner calls it Solid State Arrays (SSA) market was still an afterthought, and Pure Storage was just founded. Pure Storage did not appear in my radar until 2 years later when I blogged about Pure Storage’s presence in the market.

Here’s a look at the Gartner Magic Quadrant for 2010:

We see Pure Play Storage vendors in the likes of EMC, NetApp, Hitachi Data Systems (before they adopted the UCP into their foray), 3PAR, Compellent, Pillar Data Systems, BlueArc, Xiotech, Nexsan, DDN and Infortrend. And when we compare that to the 2017 Magic Quadrant (I have not seen the 2018 one yet) below:

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