The rise of RDMA

I have known of RDMA (Remote Direct Memory Access) for quiet some time, but never in depth. But since my contract work ended last week, and I have some time off to do some personal development, I decided to look deeper into RDMA. Why RDMA?

In the past 1 year or so, RDMA has been appearing in my radar very frequently, and rightly so. The speedy development and adoption of NVMe (Non-Volatile Memory Express) have pushed All Flash Arrays into the next level. This pushes the I/O and the throughput performance bottlenecks away from the NVMe storage medium into the legacy world of SCSI.

Most network storage interfaces and protocols like SAS, SATA, iSCSI, Fibre Channel today still carry SCSI loads and would have to translate between NVMe and SCSI. NVMe-to-SCSI bridges have to be present to facilitate the translation.

In the slide below, shared at the Flash Memory Summit, there were numerous red boxes which laid out the SCSI connections and interfaces where SCSI-to-NVMe translation (and vice versa) would be required.

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The engineering of Elastifile

[Preamble: I was a delegate of Storage Field Day 12. My expenses, travel and accommodation were paid for by GestaltIT, the organizer and I was not obligated to blog or promote the technologies presented in this event]

When it comes to large scale storage capacity requirements with distributed cloud and on-premise capability, object storage is all the rage. Amazon Web Services started the object-based S3 storage service more than a decade ago, and the romance with object storage started.

Today, there are hundreds of object-based storage vendors out there, touting features after features of invincibility. But after researching and reading through many design and architecture papers, I found that many object-based storage technology vendors began to sound the same.

At the back of my mind, object storage is not easy when it comes to most applications integration. Yes, there is a new breed of cloud-based applications with RESTful CRUD API operations to access object storage, but most applications still rely on file systems to access storage for capacity, performance and protection.

These CRUD and CRUD-like APIs are the common semantics of interfacing object storage platforms. But many, many real-world applications do not have the object semantics to interface with storage. They are mostly designed to interface and interact with file systems, and secretly, I believe many application developers and users want a file system interface to storage. It does not matter if the storage is on-premise or in the cloud.

Let’s not kid ourselves. We are most natural when we work with files and folders.

Implementing object storage also denies us the ability to optimally utilize Flash and solid state storage on-premise when the compute is in the cloud. Similarly, when the compute is on-premise and the flash-based object storage is in the cloud, you get a mismatch of performance and availability requirements as well. In the end, there has to be a compromise.

Another “feature” of object storage is its poor ability to handle transactional data. Most of the object storage do not allow modification of data once the object has been created. Putting a NAS front (aka a NAS gateway) does not take away the fact that it is still object-based storage at the very core of the infrastructure, regardless if it is on-premise or in the cloud.

Resiliency, latency and scalability are the greatest challenges when we want to build a true globally distributed storage or data services platform. Object storage can be resilient and it can scale, but it has to compromise performance and latency to be so. And managing object storage will not be as natural as to managing a file system with folders and files.

Enter Elastifile.

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Ryussi MoSMB – High performance SMB

I am back in the Silicon Valley as a Storage Field Day 12 delegate.

One of the early presenters was Ryussi, who was sharing a proprietary SMB server implementation of Linux and Unix systems. The first thing which comes to my mind was why not SAMBA? It’s free; It works; It has the 25 years maturity. But my experience with SAMBA, even in the present 4.x, does have its quirks and challenges, especially in the performance of large file transfers.

One of my customers uses our FreeNAS box. It’s a 50TB box for computer graphics artists and a rendering engine. After running the box for about 3 months, one case escalated to us was the SMB shares couldn’t be mapped all of a sudden. All the Windows clients were running version 10. Our investigation led us to look at the performance of SMB in the SAMBA 4 of FreeNAS.

This led to other questions such as the vfs_aio_pthread, FreeBSD/FreeNAS implementation of asynchronous I/O to overcome the performance weaknesses of the POSIX AsyncIO interface. The FreeNAS forum is flooded with sightings of missing SMB service that during large file transfer. Without getting too deep into the SMB performance issue, we decided to set the “Server Minimum Protocol” and “Server Maximum Protocol” to be SMB 2.1. The FreeNAS box at the customer has been stable now for the past 5 months.

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Let’s smoke the storage peace pipe

NVMe (Non-Volatile Memory Express) is upon us. And in the next 2-3 years, we will see a slew of new storage solutions and technology based on NVMe.

Just a few days ago, The Register released an article “Seventeen hopefuls fight for the NVMe Fabric array crown“, and it was timely. I, for one, cannot be more excited about the development and advancement of NVMe and the upcoming NVMeF (NVMe over Fabrics).

This is it. This is the one that will end the wars of DAS, NAS and SAN and unite the warring factions between server-based SAN (the sexy name differentiating old DAS and new DAS) and the networked storage of SAN and NAS. There will be PEACE.

Remember this?

nutanix-nosan-buntingNutanix popularized the “No SAN” movement which later led to VMware VSAN and other server-based SAN solutions, hyperconverged techs such as PernixData (acquired by Nutanix), DataCore, EMC ScaleIO and also operated in hyperscalers – the likes of Facebook and Google. The hyperconverged solutions and the server-based SAN lines blurred of storage but still, they are not the usual networked storage architectures of SAN and NAS. I blogged about this, mentioning about how the pendulum has swung back to favour DAS, or to put it more appropriately, server-based SAN. There was always a “Great Divide” between the 2 modes of storage architectures. Continue reading

Can CDMI emancipate an interoperable medical records cloud ecosystem?

PREFACE: This is just a thought, an idea. I am by no means an expert in this area. I have researched this to inspire a thought process of how we can bring together 2 disparate worlds of medical records and imaging with the emerging cloud services for healthcare.

Healthcare has been moving out of its archaic shell in the past few years, and digital healthcare technology and services are booming. And this movement is part of the digital transformation which could eventually lead to a secure and compliant distribution and collaboration of health data, medical imaging and electronic medical records (EMR).

It is a blessing that today’s medical imaging industry has been consolidated with the DICOM (Digital Imaging and Communications in Medicine) standard. DICOM dictates the how medical imaging information and pictures are used, stored, printed, transmitted and exchanged. It is also a communication protocol which runs over TCP/IP, and links up different service class providers (SCPs) and service class users (SCUs), and the backend systems such as PACS (Picture Archiving & Communications Systems) and RIS (Radiology Information Systems).

Another well accepted standard is HL7 (Health Level 7), a similar Layer 7, application-level communication protocol for transferring and exchanging clinical and administrative data.

The diagram below shows a self-contained ecosystem involving the front-end HIS (Hospital Information Systems), and the integration of healthcare, medical systems and other DICOM modalities.

Hospital Enterprise

(Picture courtesy of Meddiff Technologies)

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The reverse wars – DAS vs NAS vs SAN

It has been quite an interesting 2 decades.

In the beginning (starting in the early to mid-90s), SAN (Storage Area Network) was the dominant architecture. DAS (Direct Attached Storage) was on the wane as the channel-like throughput of Fibre Channel protocol coupled by the million-device addressing of FC obliterated parallel SCSI, which was only able to handle 16 devices and throughput up to 80 (later on 160 and 320) MB/sec.

NAS, defined by CIFS/SMB and NFS protocols – was happily chugging along the 100 Mbit/sec network, and occasionally getting sucked into the arguments about why SAN was better than NAS. I was already heavily dipped into NFS, because I was pretty much a SunOS/Solaris bigot back then.

When I joined NetApp in Malaysia in 2000, that NAS-SAN wars were going on, waiting for me. NetApp (or Network Appliance as it was known then) was trying to grow beyond its dot-com roots, into the enterprise space and guys like EMC and HDS were frequently trying to put NetApp down.

It’s a toy”  was the most common jibe I got in regular engagements until EMC suddenly decided to attack Network Appliance directly with their EMC CLARiiON IP4700. EMC guys would fondly remember this as the “NetApp killer“. Continue reading

Why demote archived data access?

We are all familiar with the concept of data archiving. Passive data gets archived from production storage and are migrated to a slower and often, cheaper storage medium such tapes or SATA disks. Hence the terms nearline and offline data are created. With that, IT constantly reminds users that the archived data is infrequently accessed, and therefore, they have to accept the slower access to passive, archived data.

The business conditions have certainly changed, because the need for data to be 100% online is becoming more relevant. The new competitive nature of businesses dictates that data must be at the fingertips, because speed and agility are the new competitive advantage. Often the total amount of data, production and archived data, is into hundred of TBs, even into PetaBytes!

The industries I am familiar with – Oil & Gas, and Media & Entertainment – are facing this situation. These industries have a deluge of files, and unstructured data in its archive, and much of it dormant, inactive and sitting on old tapes of a bygone era. Yet, these files and unstructured data have the most potential to be explored, mined and analyzed to realize its value to the organization. In short, the archived data and files must be democratized!

The flip side is, when the archived files and unstructured data are coupled with a slow access interface or unreliable storage infrastructure, the value of archived data is downgraded because of the aggravated interaction between access and applications and business requirements. How would organizations value archived data more if the access path to the archived data is so damn hard???!!!

An interesting solution fell upon my lap some months ago, and putting A and B together (A + B), I believe the access path to archived data can be unbelievably of high performance, simple, transparent and most importantly, remove the BLOODY PAIN of FILE AND DATA MIGRATION!  For storage administrators and engineers familiar with data migration, especially if the size of the migration is into hundreds of TBs or even PBs, you know what I mean!

I have known this solution for some time now, because I have been avidly following its development after its founders left NetApp following their Spinnaker venture to start Avere Systems.


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Hail Hydra!

The last of the Storage Field Day 6 on November 7th took me and the other delegates to NEC. There was an obvious, yet eerie silence among everyone about this visit. NEC? Are you kidding me?

NEC isn’t exactly THE exciting storage company in the Silicon Valley, yet I was pleasantly surprised with their HydraStorprowess. It is indeed quite a beast, with published numbers of backup throughput of 4PB/hour, and scales to 100PB of capacity. Most impressive indeed, and HydraStor deserves this blogger’s honourable architectural dissection.

HydraStor is NEC’s grid-based, scale-out storage platform with an object storage backend. The technology, powered by the DynamicStor ™ software, a distributed file system laid over the HydraStor grid architecture. At the same time, it has the DataRedux™ technology that provides the global in-line deduplication as the HydraStor ingests data for data protection, replication, archiving and WORM purposes. It is a massive data consolidation platform, storing gazillion loads of data (100PB you say?) for short-term and long-term retention and recovery.

The architecture is indeed solid, and its data availability goes beyond traditional RAID-level resiliency. HydraStor employs their proprietary erasure coding, called Distributed Resilient Data™. The resiliency knob can be configured to withstand 6 concurrent disks or nodes failure, but by default configured with a resiliency level of 3.

We can quickly deduce that DynamicStor™, DataRedux™ and Distributed Resilient Data™ are the technology pillars of HydraStor. How do they work, and how do they work together?

Let’s look a bit deeper into the HydraStor architecture.

HydraStor is made up of 2 types of nodes:

  • Accelerator Nodes
  • Storage Nodes

The Accelerator Nodes (AN) are the access nodes. They interface with the HydraStor front end, which could be CIFS, NFS or OST (Open Storage Technology). The AN nodes chunks the in-coming data and performs in-line deduplication at a very high speed. It can reach speed of 300TB/hour, which is blazingly fast!

The AN nodes also runs DynamicStor™, handling the performance heavy-lifting portion of HydraStor. The chunked data from the AN nodes are then passed on to the Storage Nodes (SN), where they are further “deduped in-line” to determined if the chunks are unique or not. It is a two-step inline deduplication process. Below is a diagram showing the ANs built above the SNs in the HydraStor grid architecture.

NEC AN & SN grid architecture


The HydraStor grid architecture is also a very scalable architecture, allow the dynamic scale-in and scale-out of both ANs and SNs. AN nodes and SN nodes can be added or removed into the system, auto-configuring and auto-optimizing while everything stays online. This capability further strengthens the reliability and the resiliency of the HydraStor.

NEC Hydrastor dynamic topology

Moving on to DataRedux™. DataRedux™ is HydraStor’s global in-line data deduplication technology. It performs dedupe at the sub-file level, with variable length window. This is performed at the AN nodes and the SN nodes level,chunking and creating unique hash values. All unique chunks are further compressed with a modified LZ compression algorithm, shrinking the data to its optimized footprint on the disk storage. To maintain the global in-line deduplication, the hash table is available across the HydraStor cluster.

NEC Deduplication & Compression

The unique data chunk resulting from deduplication and compression are then written to disks using the configured Distributed Resilient Data™ (DRD) algorithm, at its set resiliency level.

At the junction of DRD, with erasure coding parity, the data is broken up into multiples of fragments and assigned a parity to a grouping of fragments. If the resiliency level is set to 3 (the default), the data is broken into 12 pieces, 9 data fragments + 3 parity fragments. The 3 parity fragments corresponds to the resiliency level of 3. See diagram below of the 12 fragments spread across a group of selected disks in the storage pool of the Storage Nodes.

NEC DRD erasure coding on Storage Nodes


If the HydraStor experiences a failure in the disks or nodes, and has resulted in the loss of a fragment or fragments, the DRD self-healing function will auto-rebuild and auto-reconfigure the recovered fragments in another set of disks, maintaining the level of 3 parities.

The resiliency level, as mentioned earlier, can be set up to 6, boosting the HydraStor survival factor of 6 disks or nodes failure in the grid. See below of how the autonomous DRD recovery works:

NEC Autonomous Data recovery

Despite lacking the razzle dazzle of most Silicon Valley storage startups and upstarts, credit be given where credit is due. NEC HydraStor is indeed a strong show stopper.

However, in a market that is as fickle as storage, deduplication solutions such as HydraStor, EMC Data Domain, and HP StoreOnce, are being superceded by Copy Data Management technology, touted by Actifio. It was rumoured that EMC restructured their entire BURA (Backup Recovery Archive) division to DPAD (Data Protection and Availability Division) to go after the burgeoning copy data management market.

It would be good if NEC can take notice and turn their HydraStor “supertanker” towards the Copy Data Management market. That would be something special to savour.

P/S: NEC. Sorry about the title. I just couldn’t resist it 😉

MASSive, Impressive, Agile, TEGILE

Ah, my first blog after Storage Field Day 6!

It was a fantastic week and I only got to fathom the sensations and effects of the trip after my return from San Jose, California last week. Many thanks to Stephen Foskett (@sfoskett), Tom Hollingsworth (@networkingnerd) and Claire Chaplais (@cchaplais) of Gestalt IT for inviting me over for that wonderful trip 2 weeks’ ago. Tegile was one of the companies I had the privilege to visit and savour.

In a world of utterly confusing messaging about Flash Storage, I was eager to find out what makes Tegile tick at the Storage Field Day session. Yes, I loved Tegile and the campus visit was very nice. I was also very impressed that they have more than 700 customers and over a thousand systems shipped, all within 2 years since they came out of stealth in 2012. However, I was more interested in the essence of Tegile and what makes them stand out.

I have been a long time admirer of ZFS (Zettabyte File System). I have been a practitioner myself and I also studied the file system architecture and data structure some years back, when NetApp and Sun were involved in a lawsuit. A lot of have changed since then and I am very pleased to see Tegile doing great things with ZFS.

Tegile’s architecture is called IntelliFlash. Here’s a look at the overview of the IntelliFlash architecture:

Tegile IntelliFlash Architecture

So, what stands out for Tegile? I deduce that there are 3 important technology components that defines Tegile IntelliFlash ™ Operating System.

  • MASS (Metadata Accelerator Storage System)
  • Media Management
  • Inline Compression and Inline Deduplication

What is MASS? Tegile has patented MASS as an architecture that allows optimized data path to the file system metadata.

Often a typical file system metadata are stored together with the data. This results in a less optimized data access because both the data and metadata are given the same priority. However, Tegile’s MASS writes and stores the filesystem metadata in very high speed, low latency DRAM and Flash SSD. The filesystem metadata probably includes some very fine grained and intimate details about the mapping of blocks and pages to the respective capacity Flash SSDs and the mechanical HDDs. (Note: I made an educated guess here and I would be happy if someone corrected me)

Going a bit deeper, the DRAM in the Tegile hybrid storage array is used as a L1 Read Cache, while Flash SSDs are used as a L2 Read and Write Cache. Tegile takes further consideration that the Flash SSDs used for this caching purpose are different from the denser and higher capacity Flash SSDs used for storing data. These Flash SSDs for caching are obviously the faster, lower latency type of eMLCs and in the future, might be replaced by PCIe Flash optimized by NVMe.

Tegile DRAM-Flash Caching

This approach gives absolute priority, and near-instant access to the filesystem’s metadata, making the Tegile data access incredibly fast and efficient.

Tegile’s Media Management capabilities excite me. This is because it treats every single Flash SSD in the storage array with very precise organization of 3 types of data patterns.

  1. Write caching, which is high I/O is focused on a small segment of the drive
  2. Metadata caching, which has both Read and Write I/O  is targeted to a slight larger segment of the drive
  3. Data is laid out on the rest of the capacity of the drive

Drilling deeper, the write caching (in item 1 above) high I/O writes are targeted at the drive segment’s range which is over-provisioned for greater efficiency and care. At the same time, the garbage collection(GC) of this segment is handled by the respective drive’s controller. This is important because the controller will be performing the GC function without inducing unnecessary latency to the storage array processing cycles, giving further boost to Tegile’s already awesome prowess.

In addition to that, IntelliFlash ™ aligns every block and every page exactly to each segment and each page boundary of the drives. This reduces block and page segmentation, and thereby reduces issues with file locality and free blocks locality. It also automatically adjust its block and page alignments to different drive types and models. Therefore, I believe, it would know how to align itself to a 512-bytes or a 520-bytes sector drives.

The Media Management function also has advanced cell care. The wear-leveling takes on a newer level of advancement where how the efficient organization of blocks and pages to the drives reduces additional and often unnecessary erase and rewrites. Furthermore, the use of Inline Compression and Inline Deduplication also reduces the number of writes to drives media, increasing their longevity.

Tegile Inline Compression and Deduplication

Compression and deduplication are 2 very important technology features in almost all flash arrays. Likewise, these 2 technologies are crucial in the performance of Tegile storage systems. They are both inline i.e – Inline Compression and Inline Deduplication, and therefore both are boosted by the multi-core CPUs as well as the fast DRAM memory.

I don’t have the secret sauce formula of how Tegile designed their inline compression and deduplication. But there’s a very good article of how Tegile viewed their method of data reduction for compression and deduplication. Check out their blog here.

The metadata of data access of each and every customer is probably feeding into their Intellicare, a cloud-based customer care program. Intellicare is another a strong differentiator in Tegile’s offering.

Oh, did I mentioned they are unified storage as well with both SAN and NAS, including SMB 3.0 support?

I left Tegile that afternoon on November 5th feeling happy. I was pleased to catch up with Narayan Venkat, my old friend from NetApp, who is now their Chief Marketing Officer. I was equally pleased to see Tegile advancing ZFS further than the others I have known. With so much technological advancement and more coming, the world is their oyster.

SMB on steroids but CIFS lord isn’t pleased

I admit it!

I am one of the guilty parties who continues to use CIFS (Common Internet File System) to represent the Windows file sharing protocol. And a lot of vendors continue to use the “CIFS” word loosely without knowing that it was a something from a bygone era. One of my friends even pronounced it as “See Fist“, which sounded even funnier when he said it. (This is for you Adrian M!)

And we couldn’t be more wrong because we shouldn’t be using the CIFS word anymore. It is so 90’s man! And the tell-tale signs have already been there but most of us chose to ignore it with gusto. But a recent SNIA Webinar titled “SMB 3.0 – New opportunities for Windows Environment” aims to dispel our incompetence and change our CIFS-venture to the correct word – SMB (Server Message Block).

A selfie photo of Dennis Chapman, Senior Technical Director for Microsoft Solutions at NetApp from the SNIA webinar slides above, wants to inform all of us that … SMB History Continue reading