ZFS Replication and Recovery with FreeNAS

We get requests to recover data from a secondary platform all the time. RPO (recovery point objective) of 30 minutes can be challenging to small to medium sized companies, especially if there is an SLA (service level agreement) to meet.

This week, my team and I took some time to create a FreeNAS replication demo for a potential client. I thought I document the whole thing about ZFS replication, the key steps to set it up and show how recovery is done.

ZFS Snapshots

ZFS replication relies on periodic ZFS snapshots. ZFS snapshot is an inherent feature from the ZFS file system, and often used as a point-in-time copy of the existing ZFS file system tree in memory. Once a snapshot has been triggered, either manually or on schedule (periodic), the file system tree and its metadata in the memory are committed to disk to ensure an updated and consistent state of the file system at all times.

To start, a running snapshot policy on a schedule must be in place. This snapshot policy can be on a specific dataset or zvol, or even the entire zpool. Yeah, I am using quite a few ZFS terminology here – zpool, zvol, dataset. You can read more about each of the structures and more here.

Once the ZFS replication task has been setup, every snapshot occurred in the snapshot policy is automatically duplicated and copied to the target ZFS dataset. Usually, the target ZFS dataset is on a secondary FreeNAS storage server, serving as a disaster recovery platform. Sending and receiving data in the snapshots rely on SSH service.

This is the network diagram explaining the FreeNAS ZFS replication setup.

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Veaam to boost Cloud Data Management

Cloud Data Management is a tricky word. Often vague, ambigious, how exactly would you define “Cloud Data Management“?

Fresh off the boat from Commvault GO 2019 in Denver, Colorado last week, I was invited to sample Veeam a few days ago at their Solution Day and soak into their rocketing sales in Asia Pacific, and strong market growth too. They reported their Q3 numbers this week, impressing many including yours truly.

I went to the seminar early in the morning, quite in awe of their vibrant partners and resellers activities and ecosystem compared to the tepid Commvault efforts in Malaysia over the past decade. Veeam’s presence in Malaysia is shorter than Commvault’s but they are able to garner a stronger following with partners and customers alike.

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Brainy Commvault

[Disclosure: I was invited by Commvault as a Media person and Social Ambassador to their Commvault GO 2019 Conference and also a Tech Field Day eXtra delegate from Oct 13-17, 2019 in the Denver CO, USA. My expenses, travel, accommodation and conference fees were covered by Commvault, 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]

The waltz across the Commvault-Hedvig mine field will not be easy. Commvault will have a lot of open discussions about their acquisition of Hedvig and how Hedvig “primary storage platform” will fit into a “secondary storage framework” of Commvault. The outcome of this consummation is yet to appear as a structured form. The storyline will eventually form as Commvault’s diligence to define their strategy moving forward.

Day 1

Day 1 was my open day at Commvault GO. I was absorbing the first impressions of Commvault again even though this was my third Commvault GO, after Washington DC and Nashville in 2017 and 2018 respectively. There was certainly a “startup” feeling again in Commvault since the appointment of Sanjay Mirchandani as CEO 9 months ago.

A lot of excitement and buzz were generated around the metallic, the Commvault venture into Software-as-a-Service (SaaS). The SaaS solution is targeted at the mid-market for organizations with 500-2500 staff count. Its simplicity and pricing were the 2 things which gave me a good feeling all over. There is even a 45-day trial for metallic.

Getting Brainy

My Day 2 itinerary was more specific because my agenda for this trip was to seek answers to the realization of Commvault-Hedvig.

Commvault took the distinction of using the vision of a DataBrain (#databrain) to define their strategy. From the picture below, the left and right hemisphere of the DataBrain forms the Storage Management piece on the left and Data Management on the right.

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Commvault coming all together

[Disclosure: I was invited by Commvault as a Media person and Social Ambassador to their Commvault GO 2019 Conference and also a Tech Field Day eXtra delegate from Oct 13-17, 2019 in the Denver CO, USA. My expenses, travel, accommodation and conference fees were covered by Commvault, 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]

This trip to the Commvault GO conference was pretty much a mission to find answers to their Hedvig acquisition just a month ago. It was an unprecedented move for Commvault and I, as an industry observer and pundit, took the news positively. I wrote in my blog about Commvault’s big bet and I liked their boldness in their approach.

But the news did not bode well back here in Malaysia. The local technology news portal, Data Storage Asean picked up the news in a rather unconvinced way. 2 long time Commvault partners I spoke to were obviously unhappy because the acquisition made little sense to them on the back of closing of the Commvault Malaysia office just weeks before this with more unsettling rumours of the Commvault team in Asia Pacific. The broken trust and the fear of what the future held for the Commvault customers in Malaysia and in the region were riding along with me on this trip.

But I have seen the beginning of the Commvault transformation from the Commvault GO conferences I have attended since 2017. This is my 3rd Commvault GO and I ended Day 1 with good vibes.

Here were some of my highlights in the first day. Continue reading

Data Renaissance in Oil and Gas

The Oil and Gas industry, especially in the upstream Exploration and Production (EP) sector, has been enjoying a renewed vigour in the past few years. I have kept in touch with the developments of the EP side because I always have a soft spot for the industry. I have engaged in infrastructure and solutions in the petrotechnical side in my days at Sun Microsystems back in the late 90s. The engagements with EP intensified in my first stint at NetApp, wearing the regional Oil & Gas consulting engineer here in South Asia for almost 6 years. Then, with Interica in 2014, I was dealing with subsurface data and seismic interpretation technology. EP is certainly an exciting sector to cover because there are so much technical work involved and the technologies, especially the non-IT, are breath taking.

I have been an annual registrant to the Digital Energy Journal events since 2013, except last year, and I have always enjoyed their newsletter. This week I attended Digital Energy 2-day conference again, and I was taken in by the exciting times in EP. Here are a few of my views and trends observation in this data renaissance.

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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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Perils of avoiding BC and DR

News in recent months have been unfavourable, even to the point of poignancy. Maybe I didn’t have all the details to place my opinion, but it has appeared that these recent events have neglected the practice of  BC (business continuity) and DR (disaster recovery).

The recent bad news

The most recent is one close to home. The KLIA (Kuala Lumpur International Airport) and KLIA2 operations were disrupted quite significantly for 4 days due to “network switch” failure. I followed the news and comments quite intently in those bad days, and I did not see any single comment discussing about BC or DR. If BC and DR were present at the airports, the airport operations would have been restored within minutes or hours, not days. Investigations are still on-going to find out what really happened in the KLIA/KLIA2 incident.

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Hybrid is the new Black

It is hard for enterprise to let IT go, isn’t it?

For years, we have seen the cloud computing juggernaut unrelenting in getting enterprises to put their IT into public clouds. Some of the biggest banks have put their faith into public cloud service providers. Close to home, Singapore United Overseas Bank (UOB) is one that has jumped into the bandwagon, signing up for VMware Cloud on AWS. But none will come bigger than the US government Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) project, where AWS and Azure are the last 2 bidders for the USD10 billion contract.

Confidence or lack of it

Those 2 cited examples should be big enough to usher enterprises to confidently embrace public cloud services, but many enterprises have been holding back. What gives?

In the past, it was a matter of confidence and the FUDs (fears, uncertainties, doubts). News about security breaches, massive blackouts have been widely spread and amplified to sensationalize the effects and consequences of cloud services. But then again, we get the same thing in poorly managed data centers in enterprises and government agencies, often with much less fanfare. We shrug our shoulder and say “Oh well!“.

The lack of confidence factor, I think, has been overthrown. The “Cloud First” strategy in enterprises in recent years speaks volume of the growing and maturing confidence in cloud services. The poor performance and high latency reasons, which were once an Achilles heel of cloud services, are diminishing. HPC-as-a-Service is becoming real.

The confidence in cloud services is strong. Then why is on-premises IT suddenly is a cool thing again? Why is hybrid cloud getting all the attention now?

Hybrid is coming back

Even AWS wants on-premises IT. Its Outposts offering outlines its ambition. A couple of years earlier, the Azure Stack was already made beachhead on-premises in its partnership with many server vendors. VMware, is in both on-premises and the public clouds. It has strong business and technology integration with AWS and Azure. IBM Cloud, Big Blue is thinking hybrid as well. 2 months ago, Dell jumped too, announcing Dell Technologies Cloud with plenty of a razzmatazz, using all the right moves with its strong on-premises infrastructure portfolio and its crown jewel of the federation, VMware. 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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The Heart of Digital Transformation is …

Businesses have taken up Digital Transformation in different ways and at different pace. In Malaysia, company boardrooms are accepting Digital Transformation as a core strategic initiative, crucial to develop competitive advantage in their respective industries. Time and time again, we are reminded that Data is the lifeblood and Data fuels the Digital Transformation initiatives.

The rise of CDOs

In line with the rise of the Digital Transformation buzzword, I have seen several unique job titles coming up since a few years ago. Among those titles, “Chief Digital Officer“, “Chief Data Officer“, “Chief Experience Officer” are some eye-catching ones. I have met a few of them, and so far, those I met were outward facing, customer facing. In most of my conversations with them respectively, they projected a front that their organization, their business and operations have been digital transformed. They are ready to help their customers to transform. Are they?

Tech vendors add more fuel

The technology vendors have an agenda to sell their solutions and their services. They paint aesthetically pleasing stories of how their solutions and wares can digitally transform any organizations, and customers latch on to these ‘shiny’ tech. End users get too fixated that technology is the core of Digital Transformation. They are wrong.

Missing the Forest

As I gather more insights through observations, and more conversations and more experiences, I think most of the “digital transformation ready” organizations are not adopting the right approach to Digital Transformation.

Digital Transformation is not tactical. It is not a one-time, big bang action that shifts from not-digitally-transformed to digitally-transformed in a moment. It is not a sprint. It is a marathon. It is a journey that will take time to mature. IDC and its Digital Transformation MaturityScape Framework is spot-on when they first released the framework years ago.

IDC Digital Transformation Maturityscape

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