The full force of Western Digital

[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]

3 weeks after Storage Field Day 18, I was still trying to wrap my head around the 3-hour session we had with Western Digital. I was like a kid in a candy store for a while, because there were too much to chew and I couldn’t munch them all.

From “Silicon to System”

Not many storage companies in the world can claim that mantra – “From Silicon to Systems“. Western Digital is probably one of 3 companies (the other 2 being Intel and nVidia) I know of at present, which develops vertical innovation and integration, end to end, from components, to platforms and to systems.

For a long time, we have always known Western Digital to be a hard disk company. It owns HGST, SanDisk, providing the drives, the Flash and the Compact Flash for both the consumer and the enterprise markets. However, in recent years, through 2 eyebrow raising acquisitions, Western Digital was moving itself up the infrastructure stack. In 2015, it acquired Amplidata. 2 years later, it acquired Tegile Systems. At that time, I was wondering why a hard disk manufacturer was buying storage technology companies that were not its usual bread and butter business.

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WekaIO controls their performance destiny

[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]

I was first introduced to WekaIO back in Storage Field Day 15. I did not blog about them back then, but I have followed their progress quite attentively throughout 2018. 2 Storage Field Days and a year later, they were back for Storage Field Day 18 with a new CTO, Andy Watson, and several performance benchmark records.

Blowout year

2018 was a blowout year for WekaIO. They have experienced over 400% growth, placed #1 in the Virtual Institute IO-500 10-node performance challenge, and also became #1 in the SPEC SFS 2014 performance and latency benchmark. (Note: This record was broken by NetApp a few days later but at a higher cost per client)

The Virtual Institute for I/O IO-500 10-node performance challenge was particularly interesting, because it pitted WekaIO against Oak Ridge National Lab (ORNL) Summit supercomputer, and WekaIO won. Details of the challenge were listed in Blocks and Files and WekaIO Matrix Filesystem became the fastest parallel file system in the world to date.

Control, control and control

I studied WekaIO’s architecture prior to this Field Day. And I spent quite a bit of time digesting and understanding their data paths, I/O paths and control paths, in particular, the diagram below:

Starting from the top right corner of the diagram, applications on the Linux client (running Weka Client software) and it presents to the Linux client as a POSIX-compliant file system. Through the network, the Linux client interacts with the WekaIO kernel-based VFS (virtual file system) driver which coordinates the Front End (grey box in upper right corner) to the Linux client. Other client-based protocols such as NFS, SMB, S3 and HDFS are also supported. The Front End then interacts with the NIC (which can be 10/100G Ethernet, Infiniband, and NVMeoF) through SR-IOV (single root IO virtualization), bypassing the Linux kernel for maximum throughput. This is with WekaIO’s own networking stack in user space. Continue reading

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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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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The Return of SAN and NAS with AWS?

AWS what?

Amazon Web Services announced Outposts at re:Invent last week. It was not much of a surprise for me because when AWS had their partnership with VMware in 2016, the undercurrents were there to have AWS services come right at the doorsteps of any datacenter. In my mind, AWS has built so far out in the cloud that eventually, the only way to grow is to come back to core of IT services – The Enterprise.

Their intentions were indeed stealthy, but I have been a believer of the IT pendulum. What has swung out to the left or right would eventually come back to the centre again. History has proven that, time and time again.

SAN and NAS coming back?

A friend of mine casually spoke about AWS Outposts announcements. Does that mean SAN and NAS are coming back? I couldn’t hide my excitement hearing the return but … be still, my beating heart!

I am a storage dinosaur now. My era started in the early 90s. SAN and NAS were a big part of my career, but cloud computing has changed and shaped the landscape of on-premises shared storage. SAN and NAS are probably closeted by the younger generation of storage engineers and storage architects, who are more adept to S3 APIs and Infrastructure-as-Code. The nuts and bolts of Fibre Channel, SMB (or CIFS if one still prefers it), and NFS are of lesser prominence, and concepts such as FLOGI, PLOGI, SMB mandatory locking, NFS advisory locking and even iSCSI IQN are probably alien to many of them.

What is Amazon Outposts?

In a nutshell, AWS will be selling servers and infrastructure gear. The AWS-branded hardware, starting from a single server to large racks, will be shipped to a customer’s datacenter or any hosting location, packaged with AWS popular computing and storage services, and optionally, with VMware technology for virtualized computing resources.

Taken from https://aws.amazon.com/outposts/

In a move ala-Azure Stack, Outposts completes the round trip of the IT Pendulum. It has swung to the left; it has swung to the right; it is now back at the centre. AWS is no longer public cloud computing company. They have just become a hybrid cloud computing company. 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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The Malaysian Openstack storage conundrum

The Openstack blippings on my radar have ratcheted up this year. I have been asked to put together the IaaS design several times, either with the flavours of RedHat or Ubuntu, and it’s a good thing to see the Openstack interest level going up in the Malaysian IT scene. Coming into its 8th year, Openstack has become a mature platform but in the storage projects of Openstack, my observations tell me that these storage-related projects are not as well known as we speak.

I was one of the speakers at the Openstack Malaysia 8th Summit over a month ago. I started my talk with question – “Can anyone name the 4 Openstack storage projects?“. The response from the floor was “Swift, Cinder, Ceph and … (nobody knew the 4th one)” It took me by surprise when the floor almost univocally agreed that Ceph is one of the Openstack projects but we know that Ceph isn’t one. Ceph? An Openstack storage project?

Besides Swift, Cinder, there is Glance (depending on how you look at it) and the least known .. Manila.

I have also been following on many Openstack Malaysia discussions and discussion groups for a while. That Ceph response showed the lack of awareness and knowledge of the Openstack storage projects among the Malaysian IT crowd, and it was a difficult issue to tackle. The storage conundrum continues to perplex me because many whom I have spoken to seemed to avoid talking about storage and viewing it like a dark art or some voodoo thingy.

I view storage as the cornerstone of the 3 infrastructure pillars  – compute, network and storage – of Openstack or any software-defined infrastructure stack for that matter. So it is important to get an understanding the Openstack storage projects, especially Cinder.

Cinder is the abstraction layer that gives management and control to block storage beneath it. In a nutshell, it allows Openstack VMs and applications consume block storage in a consistent and secure way, regardless of the storage infrastructure or technology beneath it. This is achieved through the cinder-volume service which is a driver most storage vendors integrate with (as shown in the diagram below).

Diagram in slides is from Mirantis found at https://www.slideshare.net/mirantis/openstack-architecture-43160012

Diagram in slides is from Mirantis found at https://www.slideshare.net/mirantis/openstack-architecture-43160012

Cinder-volume together with cinder-api, and cinder-scheduler, form the Block Storage Services for Openstack. There is another service, cinder-backup which integrates with Openstack Swift but in my last check, this service is not as popular as cinder-volume, which is widely supported by many storage vendors with both Fibre Channel and iSCSi implementations, and in a few vendors, with NFS and SMB as well. Continue reading