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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Scaling new HPC with Composable Architecture

[Disclosure: I was invited by Dell Technologies as a delegate to their Dell Technologies World 2019 Conference from Apr 29-May 1, 2019 in the Las Vegas USA. Tech Field Day Extra was an included activity as part of the Dell Technologies World. My expenses, travel, accommodation and conference fees were covered by Dell Technologies, 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]

Deep Learning, Neural Networks, Machine Learning and subsequently Artificial Intelligence (AI) are the new generation of applications and workloads to the commercial HPC systems. Different from the traditional, more scientific and engineering HPC workloads, I have written about the new dawn of supercomputing and the attractive posture of commercial HPC.

Don’t be idle

From the business perspective, the investment of HPC systems is high most of the time, and justifying it to the executives and the investors is not easy. Therefore, it is critical to keep feeding the HPC systems and significantly minimize the idle times for compute, GPUs, network and storage.

However, almost all HPC systems today are inflexible. Once assigned to a project, the resources pretty much stay with the project, even when the workload processing of the project is idle and waiting. Of course, we have to bear in mind that not all resources are fully abstracted, virtualized and software-defined whereby you can carve out pieces of the hardware and deliver a percentage of that resource. Case in point is the CPU, where you cannot assign certain clock cycles of CPU to one project and another half to the other. The technology isn’t there yet. Certain resources like GPU is going down the path of Virtual GPU, and into the realm of resource disaggregation. Eventually, all resources of the HPC systems – CPU, memory, FPGA, GPU, PCIe channels, NVMe paths, IOPS, bandwidth, burst buffers etc – should be disaggregated and pooled for disparate applications and workloads based on demands of usage, time and performance.

Hence we are beginning to see the disaggregated HPC systems resources composed and built up the meet the diverse mix and needs of HPC applications and workloads. This is even more acute when a AI project might grow cold, but the training of AL/ML/DL workloads continues to stay hot

Liqid the early leader in Composable Architecture

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Dell go big with Cloud

[Disclaimer: I have been invited by Dell Technologies as a delegate to their Dell Technologies World 2019 Conference from Apr 29-May 1, 2019 in the Las Vegas USA. My expenses, travel and accommodation are covered by Dell Technologies, the organizer and I am not obligated to blog or promote their technologies presented at this event. The content of this blog is of my own opinions and views]

Talk about big. Dell Technologies just went big with the Cloud.

The Microsoft Factor

Day 1 of Dell Technologies World 2019 (DTW19) started with a big surprise to many, including yours truly when Michael Dell, together with Pat Gelsinger invited Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella on stage.

There was nothing new about Microsoft working with Dell Technologies. Both have been great partners since the PC days, but when they announced Azure VMware Solutions to the 15,000+ attendees of the conference, there was a second of disbelief, followed by an ovation of euphoria.

VMware solutions will run native on Microsoft Azure Cloud. The spread of vSphere, VSAN, vCenter, NSX-T and VMware tools and environment will run on Azure Bare Metal Infrastructure at multiple Azure locations. How big is that. Continue reading

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

StorPool – Block storage managed well

[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]

Storage technology is complex. Storage infrastructure and data management operations are not trivial, despite what the hyperscalers like Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure would like you to think. As the adoption of cloud infrastructure services grow, the small and medium businesses/enterprises (SMB/SME) are usually left to their own devices to manage the virtual storage infrastructure. Cloud Service Providers (CSPs) addressing the SMB/SME market are looking for easier, worry-free, software-defined storage to elevate their value to their customers.

Managed high performance block storage

Enter StorPool.

StorPool is a scale-out block storage technology, capable of delivering 1 million+ IOPS with sub-milliseconds response times. As described by fellow delegate, Ray Lucchesi in his recent blog, they were able to achieve these impressive performance numbers in their demo, without the high throughput RDMA network or the storage class memory of Intel Optane. Continue reading

Catch up (fast) – IBM Spectrum Protect Plus

[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]

The IBM Spectrum Protect Plus (SPP) team returned again for Storage Field Day 18, almost exactly 50 weeks when they introduced SPP to the Storage Field Day 15 delegates in 2018. My comments in my blog about IBM SPP were not flattering but the product was fairly new back then. I joined the other delegates to listen to IBM again this time around, and being open minded to listen and see their software upgrade.

Spectrum Protect Plus is NOT Spectrum Protect

First of all, it is important to call that IBM Spectrum Protect (SP)and IBM Spectrum Protect Plus (SPP) are 2 distinct products. The SP is the old Tivoli Storage Manager (TSM) while SPP is a more “modern” product, answering to virtualized environments and several public cloud service providers target platforms. To date, SP is version 8.1.x while SPP is introduced as version 10.1.4. There are “some” integration between SP and SPP, where SPP data can be “offloaded” to the SP platform for long term retention.

For one, I certainly am confused about IBM’s marketing and naming of both products, and I am sure many face the same predicament too. Continue reading

Microsoft desires Mellanox

My lazy Thursday morning was spurred by a posting by Stephen Foskett, Chief Organizer of Tech Field Days. “Microsoft mulls the acquisition of Mellanox

The AWS factor

A quick reaction leans towards a strange one. Microsoft of all people, buying a chip company? Does it make sense? However, leaning deeper, it starts to make some sense. And I believe the desire is spurred by Amazon Web Services announcement of their Graviton processor at AWS re:Invent last month.

AWS acquired Annapurna Labs in early 2015. From the sources, Annapurna was working on low powered, high performance networking chips for the mid-range market. The key words – lower powered, high performance, mid-range – are certainly the musical notes to the AWS opus. And that would mean the ability for AWS to control their destiny, even at the edge. Continue reading