Enterprise Storage is not just a Label

I have many anecdotes around the topic of Enterprise Storage, but the conversations in the past 2 weeks made it important for me to share this.

Enterprise Storage is …

Amusing, painful, angry

I get riled up whenever people do not want to be educated about Enterprise Storage. Here are a few that happened in the last 2 weeks.

[ Story #1 ]

A guy was building his own storage for cryptocurrency. He was informed by his supplier that the RAID card was enterprise, and he could get the best performance using “Enterprise” RAID-0.

  • Well, “Enterprise” RAID-0 volume crashed, and he lost all data. Painfully, he said he lost a hefty sum financially

[ Story #2 ]

A media company complained about the reliability of previous storage vendor. The GM was shopping around and was told that there are “Enterprise” SATA drives and the reliability is as good, if not better than SAS drives.

  • The company wanted a fully reliable Enterprise Storage system with 99.999% availability, and yet the SATA interface was not meant to build a more highly reliable enterprise storage. The GM insisted to use “Enterprise” SATA drives for his “enterprise” storage system instead of SAS.  

[ Story #3 ]

An IT admin of a manufacturing company claimed that they had an “Enterprise Storage” system for a few years, and could not figure out why his hard disk drives would die every 12-15 months.

  • He figured out that the drives supplied by his vendor were consumer SATA drives, even though he was told it was an “Enterprise Storage” system when he bought the system.

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 Malaysian Openstack storage conundrum

The Openstack blippings on my radar have ratcheted up this year. I have been asked to put together the IaaS design several times, either with the flavours of RedHat or Ubuntu, and it’s a good thing to see the Openstack interest level going up in the Malaysian IT scene. Coming into its 8th year, Openstack has become a mature platform but in the storage projects of Openstack, my observations tell me that these storage-related projects are not as well known as we speak.

I was one of the speakers at the Openstack Malaysia 8th Summit over a month ago. I started my talk with question – “Can anyone name the 4 Openstack storage projects?“. The response from the floor was “Swift, Cinder, Ceph and … (nobody knew the 4th one)” It took me by surprise when the floor almost univocally agreed that Ceph is one of the Openstack projects but we know that Ceph isn’t one. Ceph? An Openstack storage project?

Besides Swift, Cinder, there is Glance (depending on how you look at it) and the least known .. Manila.

I have also been following on many Openstack Malaysia discussions and discussion groups for a while. That Ceph response showed the lack of awareness and knowledge of the Openstack storage projects among the Malaysian IT crowd, and it was a difficult issue to tackle. The storage conundrum continues to perplex me because many whom I have spoken to seemed to avoid talking about storage and viewing it like a dark art or some voodoo thingy.

I view storage as the cornerstone of the 3 infrastructure pillars  – compute, network and storage – of Openstack or any software-defined infrastructure stack for that matter. So it is important to get an understanding the Openstack storage projects, especially Cinder.

Cinder is the abstraction layer that gives management and control to block storage beneath it. In a nutshell, it allows Openstack VMs and applications consume block storage in a consistent and secure way, regardless of the storage infrastructure or technology beneath it. This is achieved through the cinder-volume service which is a driver most storage vendors integrate with (as shown in the diagram below).

Diagram in slides is from Mirantis found at https://www.slideshare.net/mirantis/openstack-architecture-43160012

Diagram in slides is from Mirantis found at https://www.slideshare.net/mirantis/openstack-architecture-43160012

Cinder-volume together with cinder-api, and cinder-scheduler, form the Block Storage Services for Openstack. There is another service, cinder-backup which integrates with Openstack Swift but in my last check, this service is not as popular as cinder-volume, which is widely supported by many storage vendors with both Fibre Channel and iSCSi implementations, and in a few vendors, with NFS and SMB as well. Continue reading

Ryussi MoSMB – High performance SMB

I am back in the Silicon Valley as a Storage Field Day 12 delegate.

One of the early presenters was Ryussi, who was sharing a proprietary SMB server implementation of Linux and Unix systems. The first thing which comes to my mind was why not SAMBA? It’s free; It works; It has the 25 years maturity. But my experience with SAMBA, even in the present 4.x, does have its quirks and challenges, especially in the performance of large file transfers.

One of my customers uses our FreeNAS box. It’s a 50TB box for computer graphics artists and a rendering engine. After running the box for about 3 months, one case escalated to us was the SMB shares couldn’t be mapped all of a sudden. All the Windows clients were running version 10. Our investigation led us to look at the performance of SMB in the SAMBA 4 of FreeNAS.

This led to other questions such as the vfs_aio_pthread, FreeBSD/FreeNAS implementation of asynchronous I/O to overcome the performance weaknesses of the POSIX AsyncIO interface. The FreeNAS forum is flooded with sightings of missing SMB service that during large file transfer. Without getting too deep into the SMB performance issue, we decided to set the “Server Minimum Protocol” and “Server Maximum Protocol” to be SMB 2.1. The FreeNAS box at the customer has been stable now for the past 5 months.

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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

Solid in the Fire

December 22 2015: I kept this blog in draft for 6 months. Now I am releasing it as NetApp acquires Solidfire.


The above is an old Chinese adage which means “True Gold fears no Fire“. That is how I would describe my revisited view and assessment of SolidFire, a high performance All-Flash array vendor which is starting to make its presence felt in South Asia.

I first blogged about SolidFire 3 years ago, and I have been following the company closely as more and more All-Flash array players entered the market over the 3 years. Many rode on the hype and momentum of flash storage, and as a result, muddied and convoluted the storage infrastructure market understanding. It seems to me spin marketing ruled the day and users could not make a difference between vendor A and vendor B, and C and D, and so on….

I have been often asked, which is the best All-Flash array today. I have always hesitated to say which is the best because there aren’t much to say, except for 2-3 well entrenched vendors. Pure Storage and EMC XtremIO come to mind but the one that had stayed under the enterprise storage radar was SolidFire, until now.

SolidFire Logo

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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

SMB on steroids but CIFS lord isn’t pleased

I admit it!

I am one of the guilty parties who continues to use CIFS (Common Internet File System) to represent the Windows file sharing protocol. And a lot of vendors continue to use the “CIFS” word loosely without knowing that it was a something from a bygone era. One of my friends even pronounced it as “See Fist“, which sounded even funnier when he said it. (This is for you Adrian M!)

And we couldn’t be more wrong because we shouldn’t be using the CIFS word anymore. It is so 90’s man! And the tell-tale signs have already been there but most of us chose to ignore it with gusto. But a recent SNIA Webinar titled “SMB 3.0 – New opportunities for Windows Environment” aims to dispel our incompetence and change our CIFS-venture to the correct word – SMB (Server Message Block).

A selfie photo of Dennis Chapman, Senior Technical Director for Microsoft Solutions at NetApp from the SNIA webinar slides above, wants to inform all of us that … SMB History Continue reading

Xtreme future?

EMC acquisition of XtremIO sent shockwaves across the industry. The news of the acquisition, reported costing EMC USD$430 million can be found here, here and here.

The news of EMC’s would be acquisition a few weeks ago was an open secret and rumour has it that NetApp was eyeing XtremIO as well. Looks like EMC has beaten NetApp to it yet again.

The interesting part was of course, the price. USD$430 million is a very high price to pay for a stealthy, 2-year old company which has 2 rounds of funding totaling USD$25 million. Why such a large amount?

XtremIO has a talented team of engineers; the notable ones being Yaron Segev and Shahar Frank. They have their background in InfiniBand, and Shahar Frank was the chief architect of Exanet scale-out NAS (which was acquired by Dell). However, as quoted by 451Group, XtremeIO is building an all-flash SAN array that “provides consistently high performance, high levels of flash endurance, and advanced functionality around thin provisioning, de-dupe and space-efficient snapshots“.

Furthermore, XtremeIO has developed a real-time inline deduplication engine that does not degrade performance. It does this by spreading the write I/Os over the entire array. There is little information about this deduplication engine, but I bet XtremIO has developed a real-time, inherent deduplication file system that spreads all the I/Os to balance the wear-leveling as well as having scaling performance. I bet XtremIO will dedupe everything that it stores, has a B+ tree, copy-on-write file system with a super-duper efficient hashing algorithm for address mapping (pointers) with this deduplication file system. Ok, ok, I am getting carried away here, because it is likely that I will be wrong, but I can imagine, can’t I? Continue reading

4TB disks – the end of RAID

Seriously? 4 freaking terabyte disk drives?

The enterprise SATA/SAS disks have just grown larger, up to 4TB now. Just a few days ago, Hitachi boasted the shipment of the first 4TB HDD, the 7,200 RPM Ultrastar™ 7K4000 Enterprise-Class Hard Drive.

And just weeks ago, Seagate touted their Heat-Assisted Magnetic Recording (HAMR) technology will bring forth the 6TB hard disk drives in the near future, and 60TB HDDs not far in the horizon. 60TB is a lot of capacity but a big, big nightmare for disks availability and data backup. My NetApp Malaysia friend joked that the RAID reconstruction of 60TB HDDs would probably finish by the time his daughter finishes college, and his daughter is still in primary school!.

But the joke reflects something very serious we are facing as the capacity of the HDDs is forever growing into something that could be unmanageable if the traditional implementation of RAID does not change to meet such monstrous capacity.

Yes, RAID has changed since 1988 as every vendor approaches RAID differently. NetApp was always about RAID-4 and later RAID-DP and I remembered the days when EMC had a RAID-S. There was even a vendor in the past who marketed RAID-7 but it was proprietary and wasn’t an industry standard. But fundamentally, RAID did not change in a revolutionary way and continued to withstand the ever ballooning capacities (and pressures) of the HDDs. RAID-6 was introduced when the first 1TB HDDs first came out, to address the risk of a possible second disk failure in a parity-based RAID like RAID-4 or RAID-5. But today, the 4TB HDDs could be the last straw that will break the camel’s back, or in this case, RAID’s back.

RAID-5 obviously is dead. Even RAID-6 might be considered insufficient now. Having a 3rd parity drive (3P) is an option and the only commercial technology that I know of which has 3 parity drives support is ZFS. But having 3P will cause additional overhead in performance and usable capacity. Will the fickle customer ever accept such inadequate factors?

Note that 3P is not RAID-7. RAID-7 is a trademark of a old company called Storage Computer Corporation and RAID-7 is not a standard definition of RAID.

One of the biggest concerns is rebuild times. If a 4TB HDD fails, the average rebuild speed could take days. The failure of a second HDD could up the rebuild times to a week or so … and there is vulnerability when the disks are being rebuilt.

There are a lot of talks about declustered RAID, and I think it is about time we learn about this RAID technology. At the same time, we should demand this technology before we even consider buying storage arrays with 4TB hard disk drives!

I have said this before. I am still trying to wrap my head around declustered RAID. So I invite the gurus on this matter to comment on this concept, but I am giving my understanding on the subject of declustered RAID.

Panasas‘ founder, Dr. Garth Gibson is one of the people who proposed RAID declustering way back in 1999. He is a true visionary.

One of the issues of traditional RAID today is that we still treat the hard disk component in a RAID domain as a whole device. Traditional RAID is designed to protect whole disks with block-level redundancy.  An array of disks is treated as a RAID group, or protection domain, that can tolerate one or more failures and still recover a failed disk by the redundancy encoded on other drives. The RAID recovery requires reading all the surviving blocks on the other disks in the RAID group to recompute blocks lost on the failed disk. In short, the recovery, in the event of a disk failure, is on the whole object and therefore, a entire 4TB HDD has to be recovered. This is not good.

The concept of RAID declustering is to break away from the whole device idea. Apply RAID at a more granular scale. IBM GPFS works with logical tracks and RAID is applied at the logical track level. Here’s an overview of how is compares to the traditional RAID:

The logical tracks are spread out algorithmically spread out across all physical HDDs and the RAID protection layer is applied at the track level, not at the HDD device level. So, when a disk actually fails, the RAID rebuild is applied at the track level. This significant improves the rebuild times of the failed device, and does not affect the performance of the entire RAID volume much. The diagram below shows the declustered RAID’s time and performance impact when compared to a traditional RAID:

While the IBM GPFS approach to declustered RAID is applied at a semi-device level, the future is leaning towards OSD. OSD or object storage device is the next generation of storage and I blogged about it some time back. Panasas is the leader when it comes to OSD and their radical approach to this is applying RAID at the object level. They call this Object RAID.

With object RAID, data protection occurs at the file-level. The Panasas system integrates the file system and data protection to provide novel, robust data protection for the file system.  Each file is divided into chunks that are stored in different objects on different storage devices (OSD).  File data is written into those container objects using a RAID algorithm to produce redundant data specific to that file.  If any object is damaged for whatever reason, the system can recompute the lost object(s) using redundant information in other objects that store the rest of the file.

The above was a quote from the blog of Brent Welch, Panasas’ Director of Software Architecture. As mentioned, the RAID protection of the objects in the OSD architecture in Panasas occurs at file-level, and the file or files constitute the object. Therefore, the recovery domain in Object RAID is at the file level, confining the risk and damage of data loss within the file level and not at the entire device level. Consequently, the speed of recovery is much, much faster, even for 4TB HDDs.

Reliability is the key objective here. Without reliability, there is no availability. Without availability, there is no performance factors to consider. Therefore, the system’s reliability is paramount when it comes to having the data protected. RAID has been the guardian all these years. It’s time to have a revolutionary approach to safeguard the reliability and ensure data availability.

So, how many vendors can claim they have declustered RAID?

Panasas is a big YES, and they apply their intelligence in large HPC (high performance computing) environments. Their technology is tried and tested. IBM GPFS is another. But where are the rest?