HDS HNAS kicks ass

I am dusting off the cobwebs of my blog. After almost 3 months of inactivity, (and trying to avoid the Social Guidelines Media of my present company), I have bolstered enough energy to start writing again. I am tired, and I am finishing off the previous engagements prior to joining HDS. But I am glad those are coming to an end, with the last job in Beijing next week.

So officially, I will be in HDS as of November 4, 2013 . And to get into my employer’s good books, I think I should start with something that HDS has proved many critics wrong. The notion that HDS is poor with NAS solutions has been dispelled with a recent benchmark report from SPECSfs, especially when it comes to NFS file performance. HDS has never been much of a big shouter about their HNAS, even back in the days of OEM with BlueArc. The gap period after the BlueArc acquisition was also, in my opinion, quiet unless it was the gestation period for this Kick-Ass announcement a couple of weeks ago. Here is one of the news circling in the web, from the ever trusty El-Reg.

HDS has never been big shouting like the guys, like EMC and NetApp, who have plenty of marketing dollars to spend. EMC Isilon and NetApp C-Mode have always touted their mighty SPECSfs numbers, usually with a high number of controllers or nodes behind the benchmarks. More often than not, many readers would probably focus more on the NFSops/sec figures rather than the number of heads required to generate the figures.

Unaware of this HDS announcement, I was already asking myself that question about NFSops/sec per SINGLE controller head. So, on September 26 2013, I did a table comparing some key participants of the SPECSfs2008_nfs.v3 and here is the table:

SPECSfs2008_nfs.v3-26-Sept-2013In the last columns of the 2 halves (which I have highlighted in Red), the NFSops/sec/single controller head numbers are shown. I hope that readers would view the performance numbers more objectively after reading this. Therefore, I let you make your own decisions but ultimately, they are what they are. One should not be over-mesmerized by the super million NFSops/sec until one looks under the hood. Secondly, one should also look at things more holistically such as $/NFSops/sec, $/ORT (overall response time), and $/GB/NFSops/managed and other relevant indicators of the systems sold.

But I do not want to take the thunder away from HDS’ HNAS platforms in this recent benchmark. In summary,

HDS SPECbench summaryTo reach a respectable number of 607,647 NFSops/sec with a sub-second response time is quite incredible. The ORT of 0.59 msecs should not be taken lightly because to eke just about a 0.1 msec is not easy. Therefore, reaching 0.5 millisecond is pretty awesome.

This is my first blog after 3 months. I am glad to be back and hopefully with the monkey off my back (I am referring to my outstanding engagements), I can concentrating on writing good stuff again. I know, I know … I still owe some people some entries. It’s great to be back :-)

The big boys better be flash friendly

An interesting article came up in the news this week. The article, from the ever popular The Register, mentioned 3 up and rising storage stars, Nimble Storage, Tintri and Tegile, and their assault on a flash strategy “blind spot” of the big boys, notably EMC and NetApp.

I have known about Nimble Storage and Tintri for a couple of years now, and I did take some time to read up on their storage technology offering. Tegile is new to me when it appeared on my radar after SearchStorage.com announced as the Gold Winner of the enterprise storage category for 2012.

The Register article intriqued me because it implied that these traditional storage vendors such as EMC and NetApp are probably doing a “band-aid” when putting together their flash storage strategy. And typically, I see these strategic concepts introduced by these 2 vendors:

  1. Have a server-side cache strategy by putting a PCIe card on the hosting server
  2. Have a network-based all-flash caching area
  3. Have a PCIe-based flash card on the storage system
  4. Have solid state drives (SSDs) in its disk shelves enclosures

In (1), EMC has VFCache (the server side caching software has been renamed to XtremSW Cache and under repackaging with the Xtrem brand name) and NetApp has it FlashAccel solution. Previously, as I was informed, FlashAccel was using the FusionIO ioTurbine solution but just days ago, NetApp expanded the LSI Nytro WarpDrive into its FlashAccel solution as well. The main objective of a server-side caching strategy using flash is to accelerate mostly read-based I/O operations for specific application workloads at the server side.

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The marriage in the cloud

Admit it! You are a terabyte junkie! I am sure many of us have one terabyte or more of your personal “stuff” at home. Heck, I even heard from a friend that he has almost 20TB of high definition movies (thank you Torrent!) at home! That’s crazy!

And what the typical Malaysian consumer would do after he or she runs out of hard disk space? In KL (our beloved capital city, Kuala Lumpur), they would throng the Low Yat IT mall or extensions of it, like Digital Mall in PJ Section 14. In other towns and cities in Malaysia, PC fairs are popular, as consumers try to get the best price possible (We Malaysian are good at squeezing the max of a deal)

It is difficult for the not-so-IT-literate consumer to differentiate which brand is the best. Buffalo, Iomega, DLink, Western Digital, etc, etc. But the tides are changing, because these vendors want to tie you down for the rest of your digital life. You see, buying a small NAS for the home now comes with a big carrot, an incentive to keep you wanting for more, and yet you can’t unbind yourself from the tether once you are hooked.

Cloud storage hasn’t taken off in a big way last year. But many cloud storage vendors know there are plenty of opportunities out there but how do they get the consumers to upload their files, photos and whatever stuff they might have, to cloud storage? Ingeniously, they work together with other smaller NAS storage players and use these vendor’s product offerings as baits. They bundle a significantly large FREE capacity or data protection offering in the Cloud Storage as the carrot, and once the consumer decides to put their files in the cloud storage, boom, they are ensnared to become a long term ATM machine to the Cloud Storage Provider.

Sneaky? No? I call this good, smart marketing. You have a market of opportunities out there, but cloud storage isn’t catching on. You have small NAS vendors that is reaching out to the market of consumer, but it’s a brutal, competitive arena and margins are razor thin. It’s a win-win situation for both sides.

And this trend is catching on. When I first read about Drobo (a high-end consumer NAS storage) partnering Carbonite (a remote backup vendor now repackaged as a Cloud storage backup provider), I thought it was a pretty darn good idea. It was a marriage that happened in the cloud. Late last year, another consumer NAS company, QNAP paired up with Symform, a cloud storage and backup vendor.

This was moving towards a market that scratches the itch. The consumers wanted reliable backup too, but consumer-grade disk drives fail ever so often. Laptops get stolen, and files could be infected by viruses. The list goes on, but the point is that the Cloud Storage Providers may have found a silver lining in getting the consumers to leap into the cloud. And the whole idea of small NAS vendor-big Cloud Backup dynamic duo, just got a big endorsement last night. Guess who has decided to dip its grubby hands into the pie?

EMC, the 800-pound gorilla of the information and storage world, through its Iomega subsidiary, wants your money! They had just married Iomega with EMC Atmos. It was quoted:

“EMC subsidiary and data protection specialist Iomega announced the integration between Iomega network storage solutions and EMC Atmos, extending Atmos cloud-based data protection and sharing to Iomega’s network storage product offerings. The new integration gives small and midsize businesses (SMBs), remote offices and distributed enterprises access to any Atmos powered cloud around the world.”

Surprised? Not really, but I guess EMC needs to breath new life into Atmos and this marriage just extended Atmos’ life support system.

Unofficial SNIA Malaysia Facebook group – You are invited!

Some of you might know that I am the incumbent SNIA Malaysia Chairman. But after doing my part for SNIA for the past 2 years, I wanted to step down in January 2012 and let some fresh new blood take over.

Unfortunately there were no takers for the position and both myself and my Vice-Chairman had decided to continue to run it for another year. It has not been easy because we volunteer for those positions. And I thank the good support from the SNIA folks in South Asia as well as the regulars who attend our meeting.

I can’t say that we are entirely successful in achieving good awareness about SNIA in Malaysia, and there is still a lot to do. But one thing I have always been very proud of was to start the *unofficial* SNIA Malaysia Facebook group. In the past 1 1/2 years, I have used it as a platform to share interesting things in this group, good or bad.

I felt that it is time I opened it up to a larger audience as the traffic on my blog has increased 2x in less than 6 months of its inception. It’s time to push the envelope and our limits in our generosity in sharing; testing our understanding in the areas of storage networking and data management; and notching it up a level to include international assessment.

I feel that this is the best way for us to improve ourselves, and participate globally with the best who are out there. I don’t claim to be an expert of things, and I am humbled by the many who supported me, us as SNIA Malaysia and my blog.

Since I am the admin of the FB group, you are welcomed to join us at http://www.facebook.com/groups/sniamalaysia/.

Please no spam. We are professionals who make mistakes and we want to help to spread the message that storage and data is very important.

So, join us by sending us a request, and please, please, give us your details and your background before we let you in. We want the Facebook group to be clean and professional.

Thank you

Not all SSDs are the same

Happy Lunar New Year! The Chinese around world has just ushered in the Year of the Water Dragon yesterday. To all my friends and family, and readers of my blog, I wish you a prosperous and auspicious Chinese New Year!

Over the holidays, I have been keeping up with the progress of Solid State Drives (SSDs). I am sure many of us are mesmerized by SSDs and the storage vendors are touting the best of SSDs have to offer. But let me tell you one thing – you are probably getting the least of what the best SSDs have to offer. You might be puzzled why I say things like this.

Let me share with a common sales pitch. Most (if not all) storage vendors will tout performance (usually IOPS) as the greatest benefits of SSDs. The performance numbers have to be compared to something, and that something is your regular spinning Hard Disk Drives (HDDs). The slowest SSDs in terms of IOPS is about 10-15x faster than the HDDs. A single SSD can at least churn 5,000 IOPS when compared to the fastest 15,000 RPM HDDs, which churns out about 200 IOPS (depending on HDD vendors). Therefore, the slowest SSDs can be 20-25x faster than the fastest HDDs, when measured in IOPS.

But the intent of this blogger is to share with you more about SSDs. There’s more to know because SSDs are not built the same. There are write-bias SSDs, read-bias SSDs; there are SLC (single level cell) and MLC (multi level cell) SSDs and so on. How do you differentiate them if Vendor A touts their SSDs and Vendor B touts their SSDs as well? You are not comparing SSDs and HDDs anymore. How do you know what questions to ask when they show you their performance statistics?

SNIA has recently released a set of methodology called “Solid State Storage (SSS) Performance Testing Specifications (PTS)” that helps customers evaluate and compare the SSD performance from a vendor-neutral perspective. There is also a whitepaper related to SSS PTS. This is something very important because we have to continue to educate the community about what is right and what is wrong.

In a recent webcast, the presenters from the SNIA SSS TWG (Technical Working Group) mentioned a few questions that I  think we as vendors and customers should think about when working with an SSD sales pitch. I thought I share them with you.

  • Was the performance testing done at the SSD device level or at the file system level?
  • Was the SSD pre-conditioned before the testing? If so, how?
  • Was the performance results taken at a steady state?
  • How much data was written during the testing?
  • Where was the data written to?
  • What data pattern was tested?
  • What was the test platform used to test the SSDs?
  • What hardware or software package(s) used for the testing?
  • Was the HBA bandwidth, queue depth and other parameters sufficient to test the SSDs?
  • What type of NAND Flash was used?
  • What is the target workload?
  • What was the percentage weight of the mix of Reads and Writes?
  • Are there warranty life design issue?

I thought that these questions were very relevant in understanding SSDs’ performance. And I also got to know that SSDs behave differently throughout the life stages of the device. From a performance point of view, there are 3 distinct performance life stages

  • Fresh out of the box (FOB)
  • Transition
  • Steady State

 

As you can see from the graph below, a SSD, fresh out of the box (FOB) displayed considerable performance numbers. Over a period of time (the graph shown minutes), it transitioned into a mezzanine stage of lower IOPS and finally, it normalized to the state called the Steady State. The Steady State is the desirable test range that will give the most accurate type of IOPS numbers. Therefore, it is important that your storage vendor’s performance numbers should be taken during this life stage.

Another consideration when understanding the SSDs’ performance numbers are what type of tests used? The test could be done at the file system level or at the device level. As shown in the diagram below, the test numbers could be taken from many different elements through the stack of the data path.

 

Performance for cached data would given impressive numbers but it is not accurate. File system performance will not be useful because the data travels through different layers, masking the true performance capability of the SSDs. Therefore, SNIA’s performance is based on a synthetic device level test to achieve consistency and a more accurate IOPS numbers.

There are many other factors used to determine the most relevant performance numbers. The SNIA PTS test has 4 main test suite that addresses different aspects of the SSD’s performance. They are:

  • Write Saturation test
  • Latency test
  • IOPS test
  • Throughput test

The SSS PTS would be able to reveal which is a better SSD. Here’s a sample report on latency.

Once again, it is important to know and not to take vendors’ numbers in verbatim. As the SSD market continue to grow, the responsibility lies on both side of the fence – the vendor and the customer.

 

2011 in review – my 100th blog entry

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Syndey Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 8,200 times in 2011. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 3 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

IDC Worldwide Storage Software QView 3Q11

I did not miss this when the IDC report of worldwide storage software for Q3 2011 was released a couple of weeks ago. I was just too busy to work on it until just now.

The IDC QView report covers 7 functional areas of storage software:

  • Data protection and recovery software
  • Storage replication software
  • Storage infrastructure software
  • Storage management software
  • Device management software
  • Data archiving software
  • File system software

All areas are growing and Q3 grew 9.7% when compared with the figures of 3Q2010. In the overall software market, EMC holds the top position at 24.5% followed by Symantec (15.3%) and IBM (14.0%). Here’s a table to show the overall standings of the storage software vendors.

 

In fact, EMC leads in 3 areas of storage infrastructure management, storage management and device management. But the fastest growing area is data archiving software with a pace of 12.2% following by storage and device management of 11.3%.

HP is not in the table, but IDC reported that the biggest growth is coming from HP with a 38.2% growth, boosted by its acquisition of 3PAR. Watch out for HP in the coming quarters. Also worthy of note is the rate Symantec has been experiencing. Their was only 2.2% and IBM, at #3, is catching up fast. I wonder what’s happening in Symantec having seeing them losing their lofty heights in recent years.

The storage software market is a USD$3.5 billion market and it is the market that storage vendors are placing more importance. This market will grow.

Hated GUI killing Ubuntu

OK, this is off-topic. Not my usual storage news but I thought I share this with you.

I am a Linux enthusiast. I play around with Linux – mostly Fedora and RedHat flavoured distros. For the past 2 years, one of the things I hated was the rise of Ubuntu. I don’t know why, but I just didn’t like the distro. Ubuntu, based on Debian, was the darling of the Linux desktop world. Perhaps I am a server guy but I just didn’t like Ubuntu. A few years ago, I won a Dell Latitude 2100 with Ubuntu pre-installed. I played around it with for a few days (hated it) and I decided to switch to Fedora 13 after that.

So, as Ubuntu’s star waned, I was piqued by the news. According to DistroWatch, which tracks popular Linux distros based on hits-per-day, Ubuntu is steadily on the decline. Here’s a look at the latest DistroWatch numbers of the top-10 Linux distros:

The decline is likely caused by Ubuntu Unity GUI, which replaced the likable GNOME/KDE interface in Ubuntu Natty Narwhal 11.04 version. The current version, Oneiric Ocelot 11.10, is taking a lot of hits of the wrong kind. It has dropped from the top spot and now down to #4.

Here’s a few screenshots of the Unity interface in Natty Narwhal.

 

I am pleasantly surprised that a GUI interface could cause so much harm to a Linux distro but judging by the number of haters out there, I guess the Unity GUI is killing Ubuntu’s popularity. Let’s see how Ubuntu will react in its version 12.04, Precise Pangolin.

The top distro is now Linux Mint, another Debian derivative. I have not tried Linux but I have been playing around with OpenSuSE 12.1. Not bad, buggy, but not bad.

I am still waiting to start my Fedora 16 download – 3.2GB baby over the Jaring SOMAport link. One day, but not today!