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

Thinking small to solve Big

[This article was posted in my LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/thinking-small-solve-big-chin-fah-heoh/ on Sep 9th 2019]

The world’s economy has certainly turned. And organizations, especially the SMEs, are demanding more. There were times that many technology vendors and their tier 1 systems integrators could get away with plenty of high level hobnobbing, and showering the prospect with their marketing wow-factor. But those fancy, smancy days are drying up and SMEs now do a lot of research and demand a more elaborate and a more comprehensive technology solution to their requirements.

The SMEs have the same problems faced by the larger organizations. They want more data stored, protected and recoverable, and maximize the value of data. However, their risk factors are much higher than the larger enterprises, because a disruption or a simple breakdown could affect their business and operations far greater than larger organizations. In most situations, they have no safety net.

So, the past 3 odd years, I have learned that as a technology solution provider, as a systems integrator to SMEs, I have to be on-the-ball with their pains all the time. And I have to always remember that they do not have the deep pockets, especially when the economy in Malaysia has been soft for years.

That is why I have gravitated to technology solutions that matter to the SMEs and gentle to their pockets as well. Take for instance a small company called Itxotic I discovered earlier this year. Itxotic is a 100% Malaysian home-grown technology startup, focusing on customized industry intelligence, notably computer vision AI. Their prominent technology include defect detection in a manufacturing production line.

 

At the Enterprise level, it is easy for large technology providers like Hitachi or GE or Siemens to peddle similar high-tech solutions to SMEs requirements. But this would come with a price tag of hundreds of thousands of ringgit. SMEs will balk at such a large investment because the price tag is definitely something not comprehensible to the SME factories. That is why I gravitated to the small thinking of Itxotic, where their small, yet powerful technology solves big problems in the SMEs.

And this came about when more Industry 4.0 opportunities started to come into my radar. Similarly, I was also approached to look into a edge-network data analytics technology to be integrated into PLCs (programmable logic controllers). At present, the industry consultants who invited me, are peddling a foreign technology solution, and the technology costs RM13,000 per CPU core. In a typical 4-core processor IPC (industrial PC), that is a whopping RM52,000, minus the hardware and integration services. This can easily drive up the selling price of over RM100K, again, a price tag that will trigger a mini heart attack with the SMEs.

I am tasked by the industry consultants to design a more cost-friendly, aka cheaper solution and today, we are already building an alternative with Apache Kafka, its connectors and Grafana for visual reporting. And I think the cost to build this alternative technology will be probably 70-80% cheaper than the one they are reselling now. The “think small, solve Big” mantra is beginning to take hold, and I am excited about it.

In the “small” mantra, I mean to be intimate and humble with the end users. One lesson I have learned over the past years is, the SMEs count on their technology partners to be with them. They have no room for failure because a costly failure is likely to be devastating to their operations and business. Know the technology you are pitching well, so that the SMEs are confident that you can deliver, not some over-the-top high-level technology pitch. Look deep into the technology integration with their existing technology and operations, and carefully and meticulously craft and curate a well mapped plan for them. Commit to their journey to ensure their success.

I have often seen technology vendors and resellers leaving SMEs high and dry when it comes to something outside their scope, and this has been painful. That is why this isn’t a downgrade for me when I started working with the SMEs more often in the past 3 years, even though I have served the enterprise for more than 25 years. This invaluable lesson is an upgrade for me to serve my SME customers better.

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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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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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Pure Electric!

I didn’t get a chance to attend Pure Accelerate event last month. From the blogs and tweets of my friends, Pure Accelerate was an awesome event. When I got the email invitation for the localized Pure Live! event in Kuala Lumpur, I told myself that I have to attend the event.

The event was yesterday, and I was not disappointed. Coming off a strong fiscal Q1 2018, it has appeared that Pure Storage has gotten many things together, chugging full steam at all fronts.

When Pure Storage first come out, I was one of the early bloggers who took a fancy of them. My 2011 blog mentioned the storage luminaries in their team. Since then, they have come a long way. And it was apt that on the same morning yesterday, the latest Gartner Magic Quadrant for Solid State Arrays 2017 was released.

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The rise of RDMA

I have known of RDMA (Remote Direct Memory Access) for quite 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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FlashForward to Beyond

The flash frenzy has reached its zenith in 2016. We now no longer are interested in listening to storage technology vendors touting the power of solid state storage (NAND Flash included) over spinning drives.

The capacity of 3D NAND Flash SSDs has reached a whopping 15.3TB (that is even bigger than the 12TB 7200RPM HDDs of today), and with deduplication and compression, the storage efficiency has reached a conservative 4:1 or 5:1. Effective capacity of most mid-end storage arrays can easily reach 1-2 Petabytes.

And flash and hybrid platforms have reached maturity in these few short years. So what is next?

The landscape has obviously changed. The performance landscape, the capacity landscape and all related to the storage data points have changed. And the speed of SSDs together with the up-and-coming NVMe and NVDIMM technology in new storage array controllers are also shifting the data bottlenecks to another part of the architecture. The development of I/O communications and interfaces has to change as well, to take advantage of the asynchronous I/Os in storage tiering and caching using NAND Flash.

With this mature and well understood landscape, it is time to take Flash to the next level. This next level comes in the form of an exciting end-user conference in Singapore on 25th April 2017. It is called FlashForward.

The 2016 FlashForward event in Europe has already garnered great support from the cream of the storage technologists around the world, and had fantastic feedbacks from the end-user attendees. That FlashForward event has also seen the birth of an international business and technology exchange in its inaugural introduction.  Yes, it is time to learn from the field experts, and it is time to build on the Flash Platform for new Data Services.

From the sponsorship package brochure I have received, it is definitely an event not to be missed.

The FlashForward Conference in Singapore is exquisitely procured by Evito Ltd, under the stewardship of Mr. Paul Talbut. Paul is a very seasoned veteran in the global circuit as an SNIA director of several initiatives. He has been immensely involved in the development of several SNIA chapters around the world, including South Asia, Malaysia, India, China, and even Brazil. He also leads by example with the SNIA Global Steering Committee (GSC); he is the SNIA Global Education Director and at one time, SNIA DPCO (Data Protection & Capacity Optimization) global proctor.

I have had the honour working with Paul for almost 8 years now, and I am sure he will lead the FlashForward Conference with valuable insights and experiences.

This is probably the greatest period for the industry and end users to get involved in the FlashForward Conference. For one, it is endorsed by SNIA, the vendor-neutral association which has been the growth beacon of the storage networking industry.

Secondly, it is the perfect opportunity for technology vendors to build their mindshare with end users and customers. And with the endorsement of the independent field experts and technology practitioners, end users would have a field day garnering approvals for their decisions, as well as learning the best practices to build upon the Flash technology they have implemented in their data center space.

The sponsorship packages are listed below, and I do encourage technology vendors, especially the All-Flash vendors to use the FlashForward conference as a platform to build their mindshare, and most of all, their branding. Continue reading