Is Software Defined right for Storage?

George Herbert Leigh Mallory, mountaineer extraordinaire, was once asked “Why did you want to climb Mount Everest?“, in which he replied “Because it’s there“. That retort demonstrated the indomitable human spirit and probably exemplified best the relationship between the human being’s desire to conquer the physical limits of nature. The software of humanity versus the hardware of the planet Earth.

Juxtaposing, similarities can be said between software and hardware in computer systems, in storage technology per se. In it, there are a few schools of thoughts when it comes to delivering storage services with the notable ones being the storage appliance model and the software-defined storage model.

There are arguments, of course. Some are genuinely partisan but many a times, these arguments come in the form of the flavour of the moment. I have experienced in my past companies touting the storage appliance model very strongly in the beginning, and only to be switching to a “software company” chorus years after that. That was what I meant about the “flavour of the moment”.

Software Defined Storage

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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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Kubernetes Persistent Storage Managed Well

[ Disclosure: This is a StorPool Storage sponsored blog ]

StorPool Storage – Distributed Storage

There is a rapid adoption of Kubernetes in the enterprise and in the cloud. The push for digital transformation to modernize businesses for a cloud native world in the next decade has lifted both containerized applications and the Kubernetes container orchestration platform to an unprecedented level. The application landscape, especially the enterprise, is looking at Kubernetes to address these key areas:

  • Scale
  • High performance
  • Availability and Resiliency
  • Security and Compliance
  • Controllable Costs
  • Simplified

The Persistent Storage Question

Enterprise applications such as relational databases, email servers, and even the cloud native ones like NoSQL, analytics engines, demand a single data source of truth. Fundamentals properties such as ACID (atomicity, consistency, isolation, durability) and BASE (Basic Availability, Soft State, Eventual Consistency) have to have persistent storage as the foundational repository for the data. And thus, persistent storage have rallied under Container Storage Interface (CSI), and fast becoming a de facto standard for Kubernetes. At last count, there are more than 80 CSI drivers from 60+ storage and cloud vendors, each providing block-level storage to Kubernetes pods.

However, at this juncture, Kubernetes is still very engineering-centric. Persistent storage is equally as challenging, despite all the new developments and hype around it.

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Intel is still a formidable force

It is easy to kick someone who is down. Bad news have stronger ripple effects than the good ones. Intel® is going through a rough patch, and perhaps the worst one so far. They delayed their 7nm manufacturing process, one which could have given Intel® the breathing room in the CPU war with rival AMD. And this delay has been pushed back to 2021, possibly 2022.

Intel Apple Collaboration and Partnership started in 2005

Their association with Apple® is coming to an end after 15 years, and more security flaws surfaced after the Spectre and Meltdown debacle. Extremetech probably said it best (or worst) last month:

If we look deeper (and I am sure you have), all these negative news were related to their processors. Intel® is much, much more than that.

Their Optane™ storage prowess

I have years of association with the folks at Intel® here in Malaysia dating back 20 years. And I hardly see Intel® beating it own drums when it comes to storage technologies but they are beginning to. The Optane™ revolution in storage, has been a game changer. Optane™ enables the implementation of persistent memory or storage class memory, a performance tier that sits between DRAM and the SSD. The speed and more notable the latency of Optane™ are several times faster than the Enterprise SSDs.

Intel pyramid of tiers of storage medium

If you want to know more about Optane™’s latency and speed, here is a very geeky article from Intel®:

The list of storage vendors who have embedded Intel® Optane™ into their gears is long. Vast Data, StorOne™, NetApp® MAX Data, Pure Storage® DirectMemory Modules, HPE 3PAR and Nimble Storage, Dell Technologies PowerMax, PowerScale, PowerScale and many more, cement Intel® storage prowess with Optane™.

3D Xpoint, the Phase Change Memory technology behind Optane™ was from the joint venture between Intel® and Micron®. That partnership was dissolved in 2019, but it has not diminished the momentum of next generation Optane™. Alder Stream and Barlow Pass are going to be Gen-2 SSD and Persistent Memory DC DIMM respectively. A screenshot of the Optane™ roadmap appeared in Blocks & Files last week.

Intel next generation Optane roadmap

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NetApp double stitching Data Fabric

Is NetApp® Data Fabric breaking at the seams that it chose to acquire Talon Storage a few weeks ago?

It was a surprise move and the first thing that came to my mind was “Who is Talon Storage?” I have seen that name appeared in Tech Target and CRN last year but never took the time to go in depth about their technology. I took a quick check of their FAST™ software technology with the video below:

It had the reminiscence of Andrew File System, something I worked on briefly in the 90s and WAFS (Wide Area File System), a technology buzz word in the early to mid-2000s led by Tacit Networks, a company I almost joined with a fellow NetApp-ian back then. WAFS DNA appeared ingrained in Talon Storage, after finding out that Talon’s CEO and Founder, Shirish Phatak, was the architect of Tacit Networks 20 years ago.

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Dell EMC Isilon is an Emmy winner!

[ 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 this event. The content of this blog is of my own opinions and views ]

And the Emmy® goes to …

Yes, the Emmy® goes to Dell EMC Isilon! It was indeed a well deserved accolade and an honour!

Dell EMC Isilon had just won the Technology & Engineering Emmy® Awards a week before Storage Field Day 19, for their outstanding pioneering work on the NAS platform tiering technology of media and broadcasting content according to business value.

A lasting true clustered NAS

This is not a blog to praise Isilon but one that instill respect to a real true clustered, scale-out file system. I have known of OneFS for a long time, but never really took the opportunity to really put my hands on it since 2006 (there is a story). So here is a look at history …

Back in early to mid-2000, there was a lot of talks about large scale NAS. There were several players in the nascent scaling NAS market. NetApp was the filer king, with several competitors such as Polyserve, Ibrix, Spinnaker, Panasas and the young upstart Isilon. There were also Procom, BlueArc and NetApp’s predecessor Auspex. By the second half of the 2000 decade, the market consolidated and most of these NAS players were acquired.

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Green Storage? Meh!

Something triggered my thoughts a few days ago. A few of us got together talking about climate change and a friend asked how green was the datacenter in IT. With cloud computing booming, I would say that green computing isn’t really the hottest thing at present. That in turn, leads us to one of the most voracious energy beasts in the datacenter, storage. Where is green storage in the equation?

What is green?

Over the past decade, several storage related technologies were touted as more energy efficient. These include

  • Tape – when tapes are offline, they do not consume power and do not require cooling
  • Virtualization – Virtualization reduces the number of servers and desktops, and of course storage too
  • MAID (Massive Array of Independent Disks) – the arrays spin down the HDDs if idle for a period of time
  • SSD (Solid State Drives) – Compared to HDDs, SSDs consume much less power, and overall reduce the cooling needs
  • Data Footprint Reduction – Deduplication, compression and other technologies to reduce copies of data
  • SMR (Shingled Magnetic Recording) Drives – Higher areal density means less drives but limited by physics.

The largest gorilla in storage technology

HDDs still dominate the market and they are the biggest producers of heat and vibration in a storage array, along with the redundant power supplies and fans. Until and unless SSDs dominate, we have to live with the fact that storage disk drives are not green. The statistics from Statistica below forecasts that in 2021, the shipment of SSDs will surpass HDDs.

Today the areal density of HDDs have increased. With SMR (shingled magnetic recording), the areal density jumped about 25% more than the 1Tb/inch (Terabit per inch) in the CMR (conventional magnetic recording) drives. The largest SMR in the market today is 16TB from Seagate with 18TB SMR in the horizon. That capacity is going to grow significantly when EAMR (energy assisted magnetic recording) – which counts heat assisted and microwave assisted – drives enter the market next year. The areal density will grow to 1.6Tb/inch with a roadmap to 4.0Tb/inch. 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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Figuring out storage for Kubernetes and containers

Oops! I forgot about you!

To me, containers and container orchestration (CO) engines such as Kubernetes, Mesos, Docker Swarm are fantastic. They scale effortlessly and are truly designed for cloud native applications (CNA).

But one thing irks me. Storage management for containers and COs. It was as if when they designed and constructed containers and the containers orchestration (CO) engines, they forgot about the considerations of storage and storage management. At least the persistent part of storage.

Over a year ago, I was in two minds about persistent storage, especially when it comes to the transient nature of microservices which was so prevalent and were inundating the cloud native applications landscape. I was searching for answers in my blog. The decentralization of microservices in containers means mass deployment at the edge, but to have the pre-processed and post-processed data stick to the persistent storage at the edge device is a challenge. The operative word here is “STICK”.

Two different worlds

Containers were initially designed and built for lightweight applications such as microservices. The runtime, libraries, configuration files and dependencies are all in one package. They were meant to do simple tasks quickly and scales to thousands easily. They could be brought up and brought down in little time and did not have to bother about the persistent data stored by the host. The state of the containers were also not important to the application tasks at hand.

Today containers like Docker have matured to run enterprise applications and the state of the container is important. The applications must know the state and the health of the container. The container could be in online mode, online but not accepting data mode, suspended mode, paused mode, interrupted mode, quiesced mode or halted mode. Each mode or state of the container is important to the running applications and the container can easily brought up or down in an instance of a command. The stateful nature of the containers and applications is critical for the business. The same situation applies to container orchestration engines such as Kubernetes.

Container and Kubernetes Storage

Docker provides 3 methods to local storage. In the diagram below, it describes:

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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