Run free … Symantec FileStore

It has been a rough and tough 3 weeks and I missed writing my blog. Last week, the toughest of the 3, was my CompTIA Storage+ training to Symantec SEs in Malaysia. They were a great crowd, and I loved it but I was really tired after that.

One exciting news during that week was the ouster of long time employee, and CEO of Symantec, Enrique Salem and replacing him with Steve Bennett, their Chairman. The news of that unfortunate event can be read from here and here. And almost hours after that, the calls to break up the Veritas portion of Symantec came up and putting pressure on the board of directors in Symantec to either spin-off the entity or sell it off.

To be fair, many observers, including me, believed that the marriage between Symantec and Veritas in 2005 wasn’t really what you would call a “match made in heaven”. It was more like strange bedfellows to me. And there was an internal joke (one that I could not verify) about the Veritas CEO, Gary Bloom’s promise to the Veritas board when he joined them from Oracle in 2000.

It went like this:

Gary Bloom promised the Veritas board of directors in 2000 that he would be able to bring Veritas to a USD$5 billion dollar company in 5 years time. Nearing the end of the 5 years in 2005, Gary fulfilled his promise by merging with Symantec, instantly making Veritas a USD$5 billion dollar company.”

Note: This is just an inside joke which I heard from a Veritas friend back in 2005, and by no means put Gary Bloom in a bad light. If I did, I apologize.

But back to the present. Our class last week brought up the subject of Symantec FileStore. When it first came out in October 2009, I thought it was an interesting solution. For once, I thought there was something could “out filesystem” NetApp’s ONTAP and WAFL, because Veritas had one of the best scale-out, clustered file systems. They just haven’t figured out the front end protocols yet, where NAS and iSCSI reigned. Veritas File System (VxFS) and Veritas Cluster File System as part of Veritas Cluster Server (VCS) was mature and proven in the enterprise. Along with Veritas Volume Manager (VxVM), this was perhaps THE best file system/volume management suite around. Mind you, ZFS hasn’t reached the level of prominence yet at that time.

(more…)

“I want to put in my own hard disk”

I want to put in my own hard disk“.

If a customer ever utter that sentence, it will trigger a storage vendor meltdown. Panic buttons, alarm bells, and everything else that will lead a salesman to go berserk. That’s a big NO, NO!

For decades, storage vendors have relied on proprietary hardware to keep customers in line, and have customers continue to sign hefty maintenance contracts until the next tech refresh. The maintenance contract, with support, software upgrades and hardware spares replacement, defines the storage networking industry that we are in. Even as some vendors have commoditized their hardware on the x86 platforms, and on standard enterprise hard disk drives (HDDs), NICs and HBAs, that openness and convenience of commodity hardware savings are usually not passed on the customers.

It is easy to explain to customers that keeping their enterprise data in reliable and high performance storage hardware with performance optimization and special firmware is paramount, and any unwarranted and unvalidated hardware would put the customer’s data at high risk.

There is a choice now. The ripple of enterprise-grade, open storage kernel and file system has just started its first ring, and we hope that this small ripple will reverberate across the storage industry in the next few years.

(more…)

Server way of locked-in storage

It is kind of interesting when every vendor out there claims that they are as open as they can be but the very reality is, the competitive nature of the game is really forcing storage vendors to speak open, but their actions are certainly not.

Confused? I am beginning to see a trend … a trend that is forcing customers to be locked-in with a certain storage vendor. I am beginning to feel that customers are given lesser choices, especially when the brand of the server they select for their applications  will have implications on the brand of storage they will be locked in into.

And surprise, surprise, SSDs are the pawns of this new cloak-and-dagger game. How? Well, I have been observing this for quite a while now, and when HP announced their SMART portfolio for their storage, it’s time for me to say something.

In the announcement, it was reported that HP is coming out with its 8th generation ProLiant servers. As quoted:

The eighth generation ProLiant is turbo-charging its storage with a Smart Array containing solid state drives and Smart Caching.

It also includes two Smart storage items: the Smart Array controllers and Smart Caching, which both feature solid state storage to solve the disk I/O bottleneck problem, as well as Smart Data Services software to use this hardware

From the outside, analysts are claiming this is a reaction to the recent EMC VFCache product. (I blogged about it here) and HP was there to put the EMC VFcache solution as a first generation product, lacking the smarts (pun intended) of what the HP products have to offer. You can read about its performance prowess in the HP Connect blog.

Similarly, Dell announced their ExpressFlash solution that ties up its 12th generation PowerEdge servers with their flagship (what else), Dell Compellent storage.

The idea is very obvious. Put in a PCIe-based flash caching card in the server, and use a condescending caching/tiering technology that ties the server to a certain brand of storage. Only with this card, that (incidentally) works only with this brand of servers, will you, Mr. Customer, be able to take advantage of the performance power of this brand of storage. Does that sound open to you?

HP is doing it with its ProLiant servers; Dell is doing it with its ExpressFlash; EMC’s VFCache, while not advocating any brand of servers, is doing it because VFCache works only with EMC storage. We have seen Oracle doing it with Oracle ExaData. Oracle Enterprise database works best with Oracle’s own storage and the intelligence is in its SmartScan layer, a proprietary technology that works exclusively with the storage layer in the Exadata. Hitachi Japan, with its Hitachi servers (yes, Hitachi servers that we rarely see in Malaysia), already has such a technology since the last 2 years. I wouldn’t be surprised that IBM and Fujitsu already have something in store (or probably I missed the announcement).

NetApp has been slow in the game, but we hope to see them coming out with their own server-based caching products soon. More pure play storage are already singing the tune of SSDs (though not necessarily server-based).

The trend is obviously too, because the messaging is almost always about storage performance.

Yes, I totally agree that storage (any storage) has a performance bottleneck, especially when it comes to IOPS, response time and throughput. And every storage vendor is claiming SSDs, in one form or another, is the knight in shining armour, ready to rid the world of lousy storage performance. Well, SSDs are not the panacea of storage performance headaches because while they solve some performance issues, they introduce new ones somewhere else.

But it is becoming an excuse to introduce storage vendor lock-in, and how has the customers responded this new “concept”? Things are fairly new right now, but I would always advise customers to find out and ask questions.

Cloud storage for no vendor lock-in? Going to the cloud also has cloud service provider lock-in as well, but that’s another story.