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

Disaster Recovery has changed

Simple and affordable Disaster Recovery? Sounds oxymoronic, right?

I have thronged the small medium businesses (SMBs) space in the past few months. I have seen many SMBs resort to the cheapest form they can get their hands on. It could be a Synology here or a QNAP there, and that’s their backup plan. That’s their DR plan. When disaster strikes, they just shrug their shoulders and accept their fate. It could be a human error, accidental data deletion, virus infection, data corruption and recently, RANSOMware! But these SMBs do not have the IT resources to deal with the challenges these “disasters” bring.

Recently I attended a Business Continuity Institute forum organized by the Malaysian Chapter. Several vendors and practitioners spoke about the organization’s preparedness and readiness for DR. And I would like to stress the words “preparedness” and “readiness”. In the infrastructure world, we often put redundancy into the DR planning, and this means additional cost. SMBs cannot afford this redundancy. Furthermore, larger organizations have BC and DR coordinators who are dedicated for the purpose of BC and DR. SMBs probably has a person who double up an the IT administrator.

However, for IT folks, virtualization and cloud technologies are beginning to germinate a new generation of DR solutions. DR solutions which are able to address the simplicity of replication and backup, and at the same time affordable. Many are beginning to offer DR-as-a-Service and indeed, DR-as-a-Service has become a Gartner Magic Quadrant category. Here’s a look at the 2016 Gartner Magic Quadrant for DR-as-a-Service.

gartner-mq-dr-as-a-service-2016

And during these few months, I have encountered 3 vendors in this space. They are sitting in the Visionaries quadrant. One came to town and started smashing laptops to jazz up their show (I am not going to name that vendor). Another kept sending me weird emails, sounding kind of sleazy like “Got time for a quick call?”

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Oops, excuse me but your silo is showing

It is the morning that the SNIA Global Steering Committee reporting session is starting soon. I am in the office extremely early waiting for my turn to share the happenings in SNIA Malaysia.

And of late, I have been getting a lot of calls to catch up on hot technologies, notably All Flash Storage arrays and hyper-converged infrastructure. Even though I am now working for Interica, a company that focuses on Oil & Gas exploration and production software, my free coffee sessions with folks from the IT side have not diminished. And I recalled a week back in mid-March where I had coffee overdose!

Flash storage and hyperconvergence are HOT! Despite the hypes and frenzies of both flash storage and hyperconvergence, I still believe that integrating either or, or both, still have an effect that many IT managers overlook. The effect is a data silo.

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The reverse wars – DAS vs NAS vs SAN

It has been quite an interesting 2 decades.

In the beginning (starting in the early to mid-90s), SAN (Storage Area Network) was the dominant architecture. DAS (Direct Attached Storage) was on the wane as the channel-like throughput of Fibre Channel protocol coupled by the million-device addressing of FC obliterated parallel SCSI, which was only able to handle 16 devices and throughput up to 80 (later on 160 and 320) MB/sec.

NAS, defined by CIFS/SMB and NFS protocols – was happily chugging along the 100 Mbit/sec network, and occasionally getting sucked into the arguments about why SAN was better than NAS. I was already heavily dipped into NFS, because I was pretty much a SunOS/Solaris bigot back then.

When I joined NetApp in Malaysia in 2000, that NAS-SAN wars were going on, waiting for me. NetApp (or Network Appliance as it was known then) was trying to grow beyond its dot-com roots, into the enterprise space and guys like EMC and HDS were frequently trying to put NetApp down.

It’s a toy”  was the most common jibe I got in regular engagements until EMC suddenly decided to attack Network Appliance directly with their EMC CLARiiON IP4700. EMC guys would fondly remember this as the “NetApp killer“. Continue reading

MASSive, Impressive, Agile, TEGILE

Ah, my first blog after Storage Field Day 6!

It was a fantastic week and I only got to fathom the sensations and effects of the trip after my return from San Jose, California last week. Many thanks to Stephen Foskett (@sfoskett), Tom Hollingsworth (@networkingnerd) and Claire Chaplais (@cchaplais) of Gestalt IT for inviting me over for that wonderful trip 2 weeks’ ago. Tegile was one of the companies I had the privilege to visit and savour.

In a world of utterly confusing messaging about Flash Storage, I was eager to find out what makes Tegile tick at the Storage Field Day session. Yes, I loved Tegile and the campus visit was very nice. I was also very impressed that they have more than 700 customers and over a thousand systems shipped, all within 2 years since they came out of stealth in 2012. However, I was more interested in the essence of Tegile and what makes them stand out.

I have been a long time admirer of ZFS (Zettabyte File System). I have been a practitioner myself and I also studied the file system architecture and data structure some years back, when NetApp and Sun were involved in a lawsuit. A lot of have changed since then and I am very pleased to see Tegile doing great things with ZFS.

Tegile’s architecture is called IntelliFlash. Here’s a look at the overview of the IntelliFlash architecture:

Tegile IntelliFlash Architecture

So, what stands out for Tegile? I deduce that there are 3 important technology components that defines Tegile IntelliFlash ™ Operating System.

  • MASS (Metadata Accelerator Storage System)
  • Media Management
  • Inline Compression and Inline Deduplication

What is MASS? Tegile has patented MASS as an architecture that allows optimized data path to the file system metadata.

Often a typical file system metadata are stored together with the data. This results in a less optimized data access because both the data and metadata are given the same priority. However, Tegile’s MASS writes and stores the filesystem metadata in very high speed, low latency DRAM and Flash SSD. The filesystem metadata probably includes some very fine grained and intimate details about the mapping of blocks and pages to the respective capacity Flash SSDs and the mechanical HDDs. (Note: I made an educated guess here and I would be happy if someone corrected me)

Going a bit deeper, the DRAM in the Tegile hybrid storage array is used as a L1 Read Cache, while Flash SSDs are used as a L2 Read and Write Cache. Tegile takes further consideration that the Flash SSDs used for this caching purpose are different from the denser and higher capacity Flash SSDs used for storing data. These Flash SSDs for caching are obviously the faster, lower latency type of eMLCs and in the future, might be replaced by PCIe Flash optimized by NVMe.

Tegile DRAM-Flash Caching

This approach gives absolute priority, and near-instant access to the filesystem’s metadata, making the Tegile data access incredibly fast and efficient.

Tegile’s Media Management capabilities excite me. This is because it treats every single Flash SSD in the storage array with very precise organization of 3 types of data patterns.

  1. Write caching, which is high I/O is focused on a small segment of the drive
  2. Metadata caching, which has both Read and Write I/O  is targeted to a slight larger segment of the drive
  3. Data is laid out on the rest of the capacity of the drive

Drilling deeper, the write caching (in item 1 above) high I/O writes are targeted at the drive segment’s range which is over-provisioned for greater efficiency and care. At the same time, the garbage collection(GC) of this segment is handled by the respective drive’s controller. This is important because the controller will be performing the GC function without inducing unnecessary latency to the storage array processing cycles, giving further boost to Tegile’s already awesome prowess.

In addition to that, IntelliFlash ™ aligns every block and every page exactly to each segment and each page boundary of the drives. This reduces block and page segmentation, and thereby reduces issues with file locality and free blocks locality. It also automatically adjust its block and page alignments to different drive types and models. Therefore, I believe, it would know how to align itself to a 512-bytes or a 520-bytes sector drives.

The Media Management function also has advanced cell care. The wear-leveling takes on a newer level of advancement where how the efficient organization of blocks and pages to the drives reduces additional and often unnecessary erase and rewrites. Furthermore, the use of Inline Compression and Inline Deduplication also reduces the number of writes to drives media, increasing their longevity.

Tegile Inline Compression and Deduplication

Compression and deduplication are 2 very important technology features in almost all flash arrays. Likewise, these 2 technologies are crucial in the performance of Tegile storage systems. They are both inline i.e – Inline Compression and Inline Deduplication, and therefore both are boosted by the multi-core CPUs as well as the fast DRAM memory.

I don’t have the secret sauce formula of how Tegile designed their inline compression and deduplication. But there’s a very good article of how Tegile viewed their method of data reduction for compression and deduplication. Check out their blog here.

The metadata of data access of each and every customer is probably feeding into their Intellicare, a cloud-based customer care program. Intellicare is another a strong differentiator in Tegile’s offering.

Oh, did I mentioned they are unified storage as well with both SAN and NAS, including SMB 3.0 support?

I left Tegile that afternoon on November 5th feeling happy. I was pleased to catch up with Narayan Venkat, my old friend from NetApp, who is now their Chief Marketing Officer. I was equally pleased to see Tegile advancing ZFS further than the others I have known. With so much technological advancement and more coming, the world is their oyster.

Praying to the hypervisor God

I was reading a great article by Frank Denneman about storage intelligence moving up the stack. It was pretty much in line with what I have been observing in the past 18 months or so, about the storage pendulum having swung back to DAS (direct attached storage). To be more precise, the DAS form factor I am referring to are physical server hardware that houses many disk drives.

Like it or not, the hypervisor has become the center of the universe in the IT space. VMware has become the indomitable force in the hypervisor technology, with Microsoft Hyper-V playing catch-up. The seismic shift of these 2 hypervisor technologies are leading storage vendors to place them on to the altar and revering them as deities. The others, with the likes of Xen and KVM, and to lesser extent Solaris Containers aren’t really worth mentioning.

This shift, as the pendulum swings from networked storage back to internal “direct-attached” storage are dictated by 4 main technology factors:

  • The x86 server architecture
  • Software-defined
  • Scale-out architecture
  • Flash-based storage technology

Anyone remember Thumper? Not the Disney character from the Bambi movie!

thumper-bambi-cartoon-character

When the SunFire X4500 (aka Thumper) was first released in (intermission: checking Wiki for the right year) in 2006, I felt that significant wound inflicted in the networked storage industry. Instead of the usual 4-8 hard disk drives in the all the industry servers at the time, the X4500 4U chassis housed 48 hard disk drives. The design and architecture were so astounding to me, I even went and bought a 1U SunFire X4150 for my personal server collection. Such was my adoration for Sun’s technology at the time.

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Technology prowess of Riverbed SteelFusion

The Riverbed SteelFusion (aka Granite) impressed me the moment it was introduced to me 2 years ago. I remembered that genius light bulb moment well, in December 2012 to be exact, and it had left its mark on me. Like I said last week in my previous blog, the SteelFusion technology is unique in the industry so far and has differentiated itself from its WAN optimization competitors.

To further understand the ability of Riverbed SteelFusion, a deeper inspection of the technology is essential. I am fortunate to be given the opportunity to learn more about SteelFusion’s technology and here I am, sharing what I have learned.

What does the technology of SteelFusion do?

Riverbed SteelFusion takes SAN volumes from supported storage vendors in the central datacenter and projects the storage volumes (aka LUNs)to applications and hosts at the remote branches. The technology requires a paired relationship between SteelFusion Core (in the centralized datacenter) and SteelFusion Edge (at the branch). Both SteelFusion Core and Edge are fronted respectively by the Riverbed SteelHead WAN optimization device, to deliver the performance required.

The diagram below gives an overview of how the entire SteelFusion network architecture is like:

Riverbed SteelFusion Overall Solution 2 Continue reading

No Flash in the pan

The storage networking market now is teeming with flash solutions. Consumers are probably sick to their stomach getting a better insight which flash solution they should be considering. There are so much hype, fuzz and buzz and like a swarm of bees, in the chaos of the moment, there is actually a calm and discerning pattern slowly, but surely, emerging. Storage networking guys would probably know this thing well, but for the benefit of the other readers, how we view flash (and other solid state storage) becomes clear with the picture below: Flash performance gap

(picture courtesy of  http://electronicdesign.com/memory/evolution-solid-state-storage-enterprise-servers)

Right at the top, we have the CPU/Memory complex (labelled as Processor). Our applications, albeit bytes and pieces of them, run in this CPU/Memory complex.

Therefore, we can see Pattern #1 showing up. Continue reading

Novell Filr Technology Overview Part 1

I am like a kid opening presents on Christmas mornings today.

Reading and understanding the Novell Filr architecture is exciting with each feature revealing something different, some that may not be entirely unique, but something done simplified. Novell Filr has simplified a few things that are much more appreciated from storage guys like me. Let me share with you this technology learning session.

2 Key Features

First of all, I see the Novell Filr as a Secure Access Broker.

The Novell Filr provides file access, file sharing and file synchronization with multiple mobile devices. The mobility revolution in the likes of smart phones, tablets and other “connected” devices in our personal lives are changing our habits in the way we want information to be accessed, which I can summarize in 2 words – SIMPLE, UNINHIBITED. It is the lack of inhibition that scares the hell out of IT because IT is losing control, and corporations fear data leaks.

Novell Filr lets users access their home directories and network folders from their mobile devices. It lets the users synchronize their files with Windows and MacOS computers, regardless if these devices are internal of the company’s firewalled networks or external of it. Here’s a simple diagram of how Novell Filr defines its position as a Secure Access Broker.

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VMware in step 1 breaking big 6 hegemony

Happy Lunar New Year! This is the Year of the Water Snake, which just commenced 3 days ago.

I have always maintain that VMware has to power to become a storage killer. I mentioned that it was a silent storage killer in my blog post many moons ago.

And this week, VMware is not so silent anymore. Earlier this week, VMware had just acquired Virsto, a storage hypervisor technology company. News of the acquisition are plentiful on the web and can be found here and here. VMware is seriously pursuing its “Software-Defined Data Center (SDDC)” agenda and having completed its software-defined networking component with the acquisition of Nicira back in July 2012, the acquisition of Virsto represents another bedrock component of SDDC, software-defined storage.

Who is Virsto and what do they do? Well, in a nutshell, they abstract the underlying storage architecture and presents a single, global namespace for storage, a big storage pool for VM datastores. I got to know about their presence last year, when I was researching on the topic of storage virtualization.

I was looking at Datacore first, because I was familiar with Datacore. I got to know Roni Putra, Datacore’s CTO, through a mutual friend, when he was back in Malaysia. There was a sense of pride knowing that Roni is a Malaysian. That was back in 2004. But Datacore isn’t the only player in the game, because the market is teeming with folks like Tintri, Nutanix, IBM, HDS and many more. It just so happens that Virsto has caught the eye of VMware as it embarks its first high-profile step (the one that VMware actually steps on the toes of the Storage Big 6 literally) into the storage game. The Big 6 are EMC, NetApp, IBM, HP, HDS and Dell (maybe I should include Fujitsu as well, since it has been taking market share of late)

Virsto installs as a VSA (virtual storage appliance) into ESXi, and in version 2.0, it plugs right in as an almost-native feature of ESXi, not a vCenter tab like most other storage. It looks and feels very much like a vSphere functionality and this blurs the lines of storage and VM management. To the vSphere administrator, the only time it needs to be involved in storage administration is when he/she is provisioning storage or expanding it. Those are the only 2 common “touch-points” that a vSphere administrator has to deal with storage. This, therefore, simplifies the administration and management job.

Here’s a look at the Virsto Storage Hypervisor architecture (credits to Google Images):

What Virsto does, as I understand from high-level, is to take any commodity storage and provides a virtual storage layer and consolidate them into a very large storage pool. The storage pool is called vSpace (previously known as LiveSpace?) and “allocates” Virsto vDisks to each VMs. Each Visto vDisk will look like a native zeroed thick VMDK, with the space efficiency of Linked Clones, but without the performance penalty of provisioning them.  The Virsto vDisks are presented as NFS exports to each VM.

Another important component is the asynchronous write to Virsto vLogs. This is configured at the deployment stage, and this is basically a software-based write cache, quickly acknowledging all writes for write optimization and in the background, asynchronously de-staged to the vSpace. Obviously it will have its own “secret sauce” to optimize the writes.

Within the vSpace, as disk clone groups internal to the Virsto, storage related features such as tiering, thin provisioning, cloning and snapshots are part and parcel of it. Other strong features of Virsto are its workflow wizard in storage provisioning, and its intuitive built-in performance and management console.

As with most technology acquisitions, the company will eventually come to a fork where they have to decide which way to go. VMware has experienced it before with its Nicira acquisition. It had to decide between VxLAN (an IETF standard popularized by Cisco) or Nicira’s own STT (Stateless Transport Tunneling). There is no clear winner because choosing one over the other will have its rewards and losses.

Likewise, the Virsto acquisition will have to be packaged in a friendly manner by VMware. It does not want to step on all toes of its storage Big 6 partners (yet). It still has to abide to some industry “co-opetition” game rules but it has started the ball rolling.

And I see that 2 critical disruptive points about this acquisition in this:

  1. It has endorsed the software-defined storage/storage hypervisor/storage virtualization technology and started the commodity storage hardware technology wave. This could the beginning of the end of proprietary storage hardware. This is also helped by other factors such as the Open Compute Project by Facebook. Read my blog post here.
  2. It is pushing VMware into a monopoly ala-Microsoft of the yesteryear. But this time around, Microsoft Hyper-V could be the benefactor of the VMware agenda. No wonder VMware needs to restructure and streamline its business. News of VMware laying off about 900 staff can be read here. Its unfavourable news of its shares going down can be read here.

I am sure the Storage Big 6 is on the alert and is probably already building other technology and partnerships beyond VMware. It the natural thing to do but there is no stopping VMware if it wants to step on the Big 6 toes now!