The future of Fibre Channel in the Cloud Era

The world has pretty much settled that hybrid cloud is the way to go for IT infrastructure services today. Straddled between the enterprise data center and the infrastructure-as-a-service in public cloud offerings, hybrid clouds define the storage ecosystems and architecture of choice.

A recent Blocks & Files article, “Broadcom server-storage connectivity sales down but recovery coming” caught my attention. One segment mentioned that the server-storage connectivity sales was down 9% leading me to think “Is this a blip or is it a signal that Fibre Channel, the venerable SAN (storage area network) protocol is on the wane?

Fibre Channel Sign

Thus, I am pondering the position of Fibre Channel SANs in the cloud era. Where does it stand now and in the near future? Continue reading

What If – The other side of Storage FUDs

Streaming on Disney+ now is Marvel Studios’ What If…? animated TV series. In the first episode, Peggy Carter, instead of Steve Rogers, took the super soldier serum and became the first Avenger. The TV series explores alternatives and possibilities of what we may have considered as precept and the order of things.

As storage practitioners, we are often faced with certain “dogmatic” arguments which were often a mix of measured actuality and marketing magic – aka FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt). Time and again, we are thrown a curve ball, like “Oh, your competitor can do this. Can you?” Suddenly you are feeling pinned to a corner, and the pressure to defend your turf rises. You fumbled; You have no answer; Game over!

I experienced these hearty objections many times over. The best experience was one particular meeting I had during my early days with NetApp® in 2000. I was only 1-2 months with the company, still wet between the ears with the technology. I was pitching the SnapMirror® to Ericsson Malaysia when the Scandinavian manager said, “I think you are lying!“. I was lost without a response. I fumbled spectacularly although I couldn’t remember if we won or lost that opportunity.

Here are a few I often encountered. Let’s play the game of What If …?

What If …?

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Enterprise Storage is not just a Label

I have many anecdotes around the topic of Enterprise Storage, but the conversations in the past 2 weeks made it important for me to share this.

Enterprise Storage is …

Amusing, painful, angry

I get riled up whenever people do not want to be educated about Enterprise Storage. Here are a few that happened in the last 2 weeks.

[ Story #1 ]

A guy was building his own storage for cryptocurrency. He was informed by his supplier that the RAID card was enterprise, and he could get the best performance using “Enterprise” RAID-0.

  • Well, “Enterprise” RAID-0 volume crashed, and he lost all data. Painfully, he said he lost a hefty sum financially

[ Story #2 ]

A media company complained about the reliability of previous storage vendor. The GM was shopping around and was told that there are “Enterprise” SATA drives and the reliability is as good, if not better than SAS drives.

  • The company wanted a fully reliable Enterprise Storage system with 99.999% availability, and yet the SATA interface was not meant to build a more highly reliable enterprise storage. The GM insisted to use “Enterprise” SATA drives for his “enterprise” storage system instead of SAS.  

[ Story #3 ]

An IT admin of a manufacturing company claimed that they had an “Enterprise Storage” system for a few years, and could not figure out why his hard disk drives would die every 12-15 months.

  • He figured out that the drives supplied by his vendor were consumer SATA drives, even though he was told it was an “Enterprise Storage” system when he bought the system.

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First looks into Interplanetary File System

The cryptocurrency craze has elevated another strong candidate in recent months. Filecoin, is leading the voice of a decentralized Internet, the next generation Web 3.0. In this blog, I am not going to write much about the Filecoin frenzy but the underlying distributed file system that powers this phenomenon – The Interplanetary File System.

[ Note: This is still a very new area for me, and the rest of the content of this blog is still nascent and developing ]

Interplanetary File System

Tremulous Client-Server web architecture

The entire Internet architecture is almost client and server. Your clients like browsers, apps, connect to Web services served from a collection of servers. As Web 3.0 approaches (some say it is already here), the client-server model is no longer perceived as the Internet architecture of choice. Billions, and billions of users, applications, devices relying solely on a centralized service would lead to many impactful consequences, and the reasons for decentralization, away from the client-server architecture models of the Internet are cogent.

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Plotting the Crypto Coin Storage Farm

The recent craze of the Chia cryptocurrency got me excited. Mostly because it uses storage as the determinant for the Proof-of-Work consensus algorithm in a blockchain network. Yes, I am always about storage. 😉

I am not a Bitcoin miner nor am I a Chia coin farmer, and my knowledge and experience in both are very shallow. But I recently became interested in the 2 main activities of Chia – plotting and farming, because they both involved storage. I am writing this blog to find out more and document about my learning experience.

[ NB: This blog does not help you make money. It is just informational from a storage technology perspective. ]

Chia Cryptocurrency

Proof of Space and Time

Bitcoin is based on Proof-of-Work (PoW). In a nutshell, there is a complex mathematical puzzle to be solved. Bitcoin miners compete to solve this puzzle and the process uses high computational processing to solve it. Once solved, the miners are rewarded for their work.

Newer entrants like Filecoin and Chia coin (XCH) use an alternate method which is Proof-of-Space (PoS) to validate and verify the transactions. Instead of miners, Chia coin farmers have to prove to have a legitimate amount of disk and/or memory space to solve a mathematical puzzle, conceptually similar to the one in Bitcoin mining. In the beginning, this was great for folks who have unused disk space that can be “rented” out to store the crypto stuff (Note: I am not familiar with the terminology yet, and I did not want to use the word “crypto tokens” incorrectly). Storj was one of the early vendors that I remember in this space touting this method but I have not followed them for a while. Their business model might have changed.

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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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A Dialogue between 2 Drives

I was talking to an end user who was slowly getting exposed to the cloud amid this Covid-19 pandemic. The whole work from home thingy was not new to him, but the scale of the practice suddenly escalated when more than 80 of his staff have to work from wherever they were stuck at during the past 6 weeks. Initially all of his staff had to alternate their folders and files access because their Sonicwall® Global Client license and SSL VPN Clients were inadequate. Even after their upgrade of the licenses, the performance of getting the folders and files through the Z: drive was poor and the network was chocked up. I told them that regardless, the SMB protocol of the NAS shared folders was chatty and generated a lot of network traffic on the VPN, along with the inadequacies of running this over the wide area Internet network. Staff productivity obviously nosedived.

We are now exploring putting their work in the cloud but maintaining a consistent synchronized set of folders and files at all times. Wasabi® Cloud has emerged the most attractive price/GB/month and no egress or API requests fees.

Combining 2 shared drives into one

NAS Drive talking to Cloud Drive like 2 buddies

Now here is a story of 2 Drives

The end user is not an IT savvy user. They were unfamiliar with Cloud Storage other than the free personal ones like Google Drive, or Dropbox. They have more than 200TB and I have introduced to them Wasabi® Cloud. They were very familiar with their Z:, their NAS Drive. I introduced to them the Cloud Drive.

NAS: Hey, how’s it going?

Cloud: Not bad. My boss and your boss are talking about bringing me and Wasabi® Cloud to join your gang. Hope you are OK with that.

Continue reading

Reap at low tide

[ Note: This article was published on Linkedin more than 6 months ago. Here is the original link to the article ]

[ Update (Apr 13 2020): Amid the COVID-19 pandemic and restricted movement globally,  we can turn our pessimism into an opportunistic one ]

Nature has a way of teaching us. What works and what doesn’t are often hidden in plain sight, but we human are mostly too occupied to notice the things that work.

Why are they not spending?

This news appeared in my LinkedIn feed. It read “Malaysian Banks Don’t Spend Enough on Tech“. It irked me immensely because in a soft economy climate (the low tide), our Malaysian financial institutions should be spending more on technology (reaping the opportunity) to get ahead.

Why are the storks and the egrets in my page photo above waiting and wading in the knee-deep waters? Because at low tide, when the waves ebb, food is exposed to them abundantly. They scurry for shrimps, small crabs, cockles, mussels and more. This is nature’s way.

From the report, the technology spending average among the Malaysian banks is pathetic.

No alt text provided for this image

The negative domino effect on SMEs

When the banks are not spending on technology, the other industries, especially the SMEs (small medium enterprises) follow suit. The “penny pinching” and “tightening purse string” effect permeates across industries, slowly and surely putting the negative effect in tech spending into a volatile spin-cycle.

From a macro-economic point of view, spending slows down. Buying less means lesser demands and effectively, lowering supply, and it rolls on. The law of demand and supply just got dumped into an abyss.

A great opportunity for those who see it

When I was an engineer at Sun Microsystems more than 2 decades ago, I read a comment delivered by one of the executives. It said “When times are bad, those who know will get the best parts“. I took his comment to heart because what he said held true, even until today.

This is the best time, when the country is experiencing an economic downturn. When the competitors are holding back and may be reeling from the negative effects of the economy, the banks are in the best position to grab the best deals. This is the time to gain market share, when the competition is holding back for fear that the economy will become softer.

Furthermore, with the low interest rates across the board, there is no better time than the present to step up the tech spending. Banks should know this very well but I am perplexed.

That is why the Malaysian banks must kick start their tech spending campaign now. And the SMEs will follow, overturning the downturn with demands of spending for the best “parts”. The supply “factories” are fired up again, and will lead to a positive growth to the economy.

Bank Negara RMiT is that one opportunity

One thing which has been looming is Bank Negara, Malaysia’s Central Bank, RMiT (Risk Management in Technology) framework. A new version was released in July 2019, and to me as an outsider, is a great opportunity to grab the best parts. And some of these standards will come into effect in January 2020

Bank Negara is strongly encouraging banks to improve the security and the confidence of the country’s financial industry, and the RMiT framework is really a prod to increase tech spending. Unfortunately, in some of my business interactions with a few of the banks, the feet dragging practice is prevalent.

Nature’s lesson

The best time to have your best pick is at low tide. This is nature’s lesson for us. What are we waiting for?

btrfs butter gone bad?

I wrote about btrfs 8 years ago.

Since then, it has made its way into several small to mid-end storage solutions (more NAS inclined solutions) including Rockstor, Synology, Terramaster, and Asustor. In the Linux world, SUSE® Linux Enterprise Server and OpenSUSE® use btrfs as the default OS file system. I have decided to revisit btrfs filesystem to give some thoughts about its future.

Have you looked under the hood?

The sad part is not many people look under the hood anymore, especially for the market the btrfs storage vendors are targeting. The small medium businesses just want a storage which is cheap. But cheap comes at a risk where the storage reliability and data integrity are often overlooked.

The technical conversation is secondary and thus the lack of queries for strong enterprise features may be leading btrfs to be complacent in its development.

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