Monthly Archives: February 2010

Truth-Lies-and-Software-Licensing

Truth, Lies  and Software Licensing.

Nothing get’s vendors more fired up then calling their baby ugly, especially if their baby is the mainstay of their product.  Case in point, there was a recent discussion around the importance, or lack thereof, in regards to automated tiered storage (A-T-S).  Jon Toigo jumped into the mix last week with some pretty good points.  Jon mentioned that he received positioning statements from a few vendors and twitter was going crazy with comments from all sorts of people weighing in on the subject.   Pete Selin over on his blog jumped into it with John Dias of Compellent.  So, to say that enough people have voiced their opinion on how, where and when “automated tiered storage” should happen, is an understatement.  Don’t get me wrong, StorageTexan is not immune to piling on, but I’m going to refrain.  Well, I’m going to try really hard to refrain 🙂

If we take a step back and look at this as just another feature in a storage array we then need to ask “what’s the value” of that feature?  In other words, why does a customer choose to go that route?  Most of the time features like this are positioned to reduce some sort of costs.  Thin Provisioning is positioned to allow you to under purchase storage, and then as you need it purchase the storage later at a reduced cost.   The theory is disk drive prices are always going down.  In the case of A-T-S it’s to reduce the costs of “Tier 1” storage.  Why spend money on storing your stale data on 15k RPM drives when you can move less accessed data down to 10k, or even 7.5k RPM spinning “rust” (shout out to Toigo).  At least that’s how I’m seeing this positioned in accounts.  Again on paper both of these 2 solutions make perfect sense.  If all things were equal, it is cheaper to purchase drives down the road (when prices drop) or purchase 7.5k over 15k disk drives.   The great equalizer is the cost to license these features.  Not just the costs, but software maintenance that goes along with them as well.  It would be easy to debate these features on their cost savings model if they would just charge you a onetime fee for this feature.  Unfortunately in most cases it’s a little more difficult.  Typically these types of features are licensed by capacity (Per TB charge), or in other case it’s licensed by disk drives or BOTH :).  So, when you add more capacity or more spindles, you licensed those drives or capacity for those features.  You are always hit with a moving target.   When weighing the pros and cons it’s really important that you don’t get focused (by the vendor) in only one direction.  In the Thin Provisioning example, the cost savings of not having to purchase more storage then you need might be outweighed by the fact that the license isn’t free, or that you have the potential of getting locked into that vendor for all future storage purchases.  In the case of A-T-S, not having to purchase 15k drives is offset by the software licenses needed to support that feature.  You might find that running everything in Tier 1 (or even Tier 2) vs. the licensing costs (Maintenance included)of automated tiered storage is a wash.

My advice, do your homework.  As I’ve discussed in prior blogs, don’t focus on the easy stuff.  Cost per RAW TB is not a good way to measure value.  Fully understanding vendor’s storage utilization best practice is important as well.  Understanding how their features are licensed and the software maintenance associated with those features are just as important.   I always like to ask my prospects, when comparing vendors, to not just get the upfront storage purchase price, but also ask for a quote to add 20% more capacity (spindles, bays, licenses and maintenance).  This isn’t the perfect way to keep vendors honest, but it does give you a good indication of what sort of cost savings you may, or may not see in future purchases.  Lest any vendor try to low ball on the initial purchase and then jack up the costs on the next one!!  Xiotech has a whitepaper called “Strategies for Measuring and Optimizing the Value of Your Storage Investments” that goes into some other thoughts on measuring the value of your storage purchase.  It’s worth a look.

Again, at the end of the day, do your homework and ask a lot of questions. 

 @StorageTexan

The old pain in the DAS

The old pain in the DAS !! 

Is it me, or are others in the field seeing more and more companies being pushed to look at DAS solutions for their application environments?  It strikes me as pretty interesting.  I’m sure mostly it’s positioned around reducing the overall cost of the solution, but I also think it has a lot to do with assuring predictability around performance that you can expect when not having to fight for IOPS among other applications.  In fact, Devin Ganger did a great blog post around this very subject in regards to Exchange 2010.  It was a pretty cool read. I left a comment on his site, it pretty much matches (some may call it plagiarizing myself 🙂 ) my discussion here but I’ve had some time to expand a little more.  As such, here are my  thoughts on my own site 🙂

Let’s take a look back 10 years or so.  DAS solutions at the time signified low cost, low-to moderate performance and basic RAID-enabled reliability, administration time overhead, downtime for any required modification, as well as an inability to scale.  Pick any 5 of those 6 and I think most of us can agree on it.  Not to mention the DAS solution was missing key features that the applications vendors didn’t include like full block copies, replication, deduplication, etc.  Back then we spent a lot of time educating people on the benefits of SAN over DAS.  We touted the ability to put all your storage eggs in one highly reliable, networked, very redundant, easy-to-replicate-to-a-DR site-solution, which could be shared amongst many servers, to gain utilization efficiency.  We talked about cool features like “Boot from SAN” as well as full block Snapshots, replicating your data around the world and the only real way to do that was via a Storage array with those features. 

Fast forward to today and the storage array controllers are not only doing RAID and Cache protection (which is super important), they also doing thin provisioning, CDP, replication, dedupe (in some cases), snapshots (full copy and COW or ROW), multi-tier scheduled migration, CIFS, NFS, FC, iSCSI, FCoE, etc etc.  It’s getting to the point that performance predictability is pretty much going away not to mention, it takes a spreadsheet to understand the licensing that goes along with these features.  Reliability of the code, and mixing of different technologies (1GB, 2GB, 4GB, FC Drive bays, SAS connections, SATA connections, JBODs, SBODs, loops) as well as all the various “plumbing” connectivity options most arrays offer today is not making it any more stable.  2TB drive rebuild times are a great example of adding even more for controllers to handle.  Not to mention, the fundamental building block of a Storage array is data protection.  Rob Peglar over at the Xiotech blog did a really great job of describing “Controller Feature Creep”.  If you haven’t read it, you should.  Also, David Black over at “The Black Liszt” discussed “Mainframes and Storage Blades” he’s got a really cool “back to the future” discussion. 

Today it appears that application and OS/hypervisor vendors have caught up with all the issues we positioned against just years ago.  Exchange 2010 is a great example of this.  VSphere is another one.  Many application vendors now have native deduplication and compression built into their file systems, COW snapshots are a no-brainer, and replication can be done natively by the app which gives some really unique DR capabilities.  Not to mention, some applications support the ability to migrate data from Tier 1, to Tier 2 and Tier 3 based not only on a single “last touched” attribute, but also on file attributes like content (.PDF, .MP3), importance, duration, deletion policy and everything else without caring about the backend storage or what brand it is.  We are seeing major database vendors support controlling all aspects of the volumes on which logs, tablespaces, redo/undo, temporary space, etc. are held.  Just carve up 10TB’s and assign it to the application and it will take care of thin provisioning and all sorts of other ‘cool’ features.   

At the end of the day the “pain in the DAS” that we knew and loved to compete against is being replaced with “Intelligent DAS” and application aware storage capabilities.  All this gives the end user a unique ability to make some pretty interesting choices.  They can continue down the path with the typical storage array controller route, or they can identify opportunities that leverage native abilities in the application and “Intelligent DAS” solutions on the market today to vastly lower their total cost of ownership.   The question the end user needs to ask is, ‘What functionality is already included in the application/operating system I’m running?’ vs. ‘What do I need my storage  system to provide because my application doesn’t have this feature?’  At the end of the day, it’s Win-Win for the consumer, as well as a really cool place to be in the industry.  Like I’ve said in my “Cool things Commvault is doing with REST”, when you couple Intelligent DAS and application aware storage with a RESTful open standards interface, it really starts to open up some cool things. 2010 is going to be an exciting year for Storage.  Commvault has already started this parade so now its all about “who’s next”. 

 @StorageTexan <– Click on me to follow on Twitter. 

 PS – I’ve added an e-mail subscription capability to my site (as well as RSS feeds).  In the upper right corner of this site you will see a button to sign up.  Each time I post a new blog, you will get an e-mail of it.  Also, you will need to confirm the subscription via the e-mail you receive.

Backup-Restores-Power and cooling oh my!!

In today’s datacenter no matter how much de-duplication, storage-tiering, and archiving companies attempt to throw at an issue, there still seems to be an explosion of information that has to be backed up, protected, restored and archived.   I’ve stopped being surprised each time I’ve asked a customer how their backup window is doing.  It’s always horrible and out of control.  Even with advanced data de-duplication it still surprises me at the responses I get.  Not to mention, most of the time customers are running out of power, cooling as well as rackspace in their datacenters.  All of this becomes a sort of “Perfect Storm” that has the potential to sink the datacenter into a mess of inefficiencies. 

So as I’ve discussed in the past, I get to spend a lot of time architecting solutions.  One of the things I spend a lot of time helping design is solutions to help eliminate performance bottlenecks.  The great news is I feel pretty strongly that we have a solution that is best in the industry.  Imagine if you could eliminate storage as a potential bottleneck as well as reduce your power, cooling and overall carbon footprint with one storage solution?   Awesome right!!!  What if I told you that Xiotech has the fastest, best throughput raid-protected spinning media solution in the market today (by Storage Performance Council SPC-2)?  What if I also told you that not only is it the fastest, but it’s also the most greenest (is that a word?) as well?  You would probably tell me I was full of…well you know.  This 3U storage element packs a wallop of performance.  If you haven’t had a chance, you should check out this recent press announcement.  In it we talk about a single Emprise 5000 having the ability to simultaneously power 750 DVD quality video streams, 25,000 MP3’s or 4 Studio-class movie editing projects.  For those of you that are familiar with this types of performance hogging applications you know that in 3U of space, that’s pretty cool!!  We even mention having the equivalent of operating every movie theater screen in the state of Colorado at the same time from one system.  You know on a side note, after 10 years here at Xiotech – how come I don’t have one in my entertainment center yet!!! Brian Reagan – maybe you can make this happen for me 🙂

You probably noticed that I haven’t even touched on how we can reduce the carbon footprint!!  We have a cool little feature that is native in our Emprise 5000 product called “PowerNap”.  Not only is it native, but it’s also FREE!!  PowerNap utilizes industry-standard Wake on LAN (WOL) technology.  This gives the end user an incredible ability to power up and down the Emprise 5000 solution via scripts or cron jobs.   

Here is something I like to take prospects through.  Let’s say you run a VTL (or backup to disk process) type solution for backup or archiving.  With PowerNap, you can run a simple Perl or PowerScript, as part of a backup process, to spin up the Emprise 5000.  So you kick off your backups at 6pm, it takes just 60 seconds to bring the Emprise 5000 from 24watts of power, up to the full operating  power draw of around 500 watts.  Impressive right!!  So, during the day the unit stays in a low power draw state, only drawing 24 watts of power. NOW THAT’S GREEN!!!!  Let’s say that during the day you need to do a quick restore.  You run your restore process within your backup software solution and part of the restore process is to run the script to spin up the unit.  Once the file has been restored, the backup application can issue another script to “PowerNap” the unit.  By the way, we have a great “BestPractice Guide”.  If you are interested in it, follow me on twitter and send me a message.  I’ll send it over to you.

Did I mention the Emprise 5000 comes with FREE 5 Year Hardware Maintenance and the PowerNap feature is FREE TOO!!!!  In the “me-too” world of Storage array features and functions, it’s things like PowerNap and blazingly fast performance like this that make me happy to go to work each and every day !!

@StorageTexan

What does the Pacer, Yugo and Arbitrated Loop have in common?

What does the Pacer, Yugo and Arbitrated Loop have in common? You are probably running one of them in your datacenter. 

 
 George Crump recently blogged over at InfoWorld and asked, “do we really need Tier 1 storage”?  It struck me as interesting topic and while I disagreed with his reasons on where he put our solution, I tend to agree that the others mentioned are right where they should be.  In his article he specifically mentions some of the reasons both the monolithic array manufactures as well as the “modular guys” have “issues” and he zeroed in on performance and scalability.  Now his article was speaking about the front end controllers, but I think he missed out on pointing to the backend architectures as well.  I thought this would make a great blog posting 🙂  As you recall in my  “Performance Starved Applications” blog and my “Why running your hotel, like you run your Storage array can put you out of business” blog  I said that if you lined up the various different storage vendors next to each other about the only difference is the logo and the software loaded on the controllers.     

   
 Did you also know that if you looked behind those solutions you would see a large hub architecture – also known as our dear old friend “Mr. Arbitrated Loop”?  This is like running your enterprise wide Ethernet infrastructure on Ethernet hubs.  Can you imagine having to deal with them today?  For all those same reasons we dropped ethernet hubs like a bad habit, you should be doing the same thing with your storage array manufacturer if they are using arbitrated loops  in their backend storage.  Talk about a huge bottleneck to both capacity as well as performance at scale!!  So what’s wrong with Fibre Channel Arbitrated Loop (FCAL) on the backend?  Well for starters it doesn’t scale well at all.  Essentially you can only reference 126 components (for example a disk drive) per loop.  Most storage arrays support dual loops which is why you typically see a lot of 224 drive solutions on the market today, with 112 drives per loop – approaching the limit and creating a very long arbitration time.  Now, for those that offer more, it’s usually because they are doing more loops (typically by putting more HBA’s in their controller heads) on the backend.  The more loops on the backend, the more you have to rely on your controllers to manage this added complexity. When you are done reading my blog post, go and check out Rob Peglar’s blog post around storage controller “Feature Creep” called Jack of All Trades, Master of NONE !.  At the end of the day the limitations of FCAL on the backend is nothing new.   

  

About 4 years ago we at Xiotech became tired of dealing with all of these issues.  We rolled out a full Fabric backend on our Magnitude 3D 3000 (and 4000) solution.  We deployed this in a number of accounts.  Mostly it was used for our GeoRAID/DCI configuration where we split our controllers and bays between physical sites up to 10Km.  Essentially each bay was a loop all to itself directly plugged into a fabric switch.  Fast forward to our Emprise product family and we’ve completely moved away from FCAL on our backend.  We are 100% FULL, Non Blocking, Sweet and as pure as your mamas homemade apple pie Fabric with all of the benefits that it offers!!       

 My opinion (are you scooting towards the front of your chair in anticipation?) is unless you just enjoy running things in hubs I would STRONGLY advise that if you are looking at a new purchase of a Storage Array you should make sure they are not using 15-year old architecture on their backend !!  If you are contemplating architecting a private cloud, you should first go read my blog post on “Building resilient, scalable storage clouds” and applying the points I’ve made, to that endeavor.  Also, if you really are trying to make a decision around what solution to pick I would also suggest you check out Roger Kelley (@storage_wonk) over at http://www.storagewonk.com/.  He talked about comparing storage arrays “Apples to Apples”  and brought up other great differences.  Not to mention, Pete Selin (@pjselin) over at his blog talked about “honesty in the Storage biz” which was an interesting take on “Apples vs Apples” relative to configurations and pricing.  Each of these blog posts will give you a better understanding on how we differentiate ourselves in the market.         

  

Thanks,        

  @StorageTexan       

 

   

  

 

Why running a hotel like you run your storage array could put you out of business.

<this post was updated on April 2, 2010>

Recently I wrote about why “Cost per raw TB” wasn’t a very good metric for comparing storage arrays.  In fact, my good friend Roger Kelley over at StorageWonk.com wrote a nice blog specifically “Comparing Storage Arrays “apples to apples” .  We don’t say this as a means to simply ignore some of the features and functions that some of the other vendors offer.  It’s just our helpful reminder that there is no “free storage lunch”.

So let me take you on a different type of journey around “cost per raw TB” and “cost per useable TB” and apply it to something outside of technology.  Hopefully this will make sense!!

Let’s assume you are in the market for a 100 room hotel.  You entertain all sorts of realtors that tell you why their hotel is better than the others. You’ve decided that you want to spend about $100,000 for 100 room hotel which averages about $1000 per room.   So, at a high level all the hotels offer that same cost per room.  Let’s call this “Cost per raw occupancy”.  It’s the easy way to figure out costs and it looks fair. 

You narrow down your list of hotels to three choices.  We’ll call them hotel C, hotel N and hotel X.   Hotel C and N have the same architecture, same basic building design, essentially they look the same other than names and colors of the buildings.  Hotel X is unique in the fact that it’s brand new and created by a group that has been building hotel rooms for 30+ years with each hotel getting better and better.  They are so confident in their building that it comes with 5 years of free building maintenance.   

So, you ask the vendors to give you their “best practice, not to exceed hotel occupancy rate”.  Hotel C tells you they have some overhead associated with some of their special features so their number is about 60 rooms that could be rented out at any given time.  The reservation system will let you book an unlimited amount of rooms, but once you get over 60 things just stop working well and guests complain.  Hotel N says they can do about 70 rooms before they have issues.  Hotel X says they have tested at 96 room’s occupancy without any issues at all.  

So, while at a high level hotel’s C, N and X were $1000 a room, after further review hotel C is about $1600 a room, hotel N is $1400 a room and hotel X is $1041 a room.  Big difference!!  Let’s assume each of these vendors could “right size” their hotel to meet your 100 room request but the room cost will stay the same.  So, hotel C would now cost you $160,000, hotel N is $140,000 and hotel X is $104,000.  So that my friend is what I like to call “Cost per useable occupancy” !!

Another way to do this is to have hotel C and N right size down to your budget number based on “cost per useable occupancy”.  If the $100,000 is the most important and you understand that you will only get to rent out 60 or 70 rooms from the other hotels, then you could save money with Hotel X by just purchasing 60 rooms in hotel X.  That would bring Hotel X’s costs down to $60,000 or a nice savings of $40,000!!  The net-net is you get 60 rooms across all 3 hotels but 1 offers you a HUGE savings. 

At the end of the day, as the owner of that hotel you want as many rooms rented out as possible.  The last thing you want to see happen is your 100 room hotel only capable of 60% or 70% occupancy. 

So, if you are in the market for a 100 room hotel, or a Storage Array, you might want to spend a little more time trying to figure out what their best practice occupancy rate is !!  It’ll save you money and heartburn in the end.  

I’ll leave you with this – based on the array you have today, what do you think your occupancy rating would be for your 100 room hotel?  Feel free to leave the vendor name out (or not) 🙂

@StorageTexan

Cool things Commvault is doing with REST

Cool things Commvault is doing with REST 

I’ve always been a HUGE fan of Commvault.  They just rock.  When I was a Systems Engineer back in Austin in the early 2000’s, I don’t think we had an account that I didn’t take Commvault into to try and solve a customer’s backup issues.  AND WE DIDN’T EVEN SELL COMMVAULT !!!   They had such cool technology that was clearly leaps and bounds above everyone else. Not to mention, they had some really cool people that worked for them as well (Shout out to Jeanna, Joelle, RobK and of course Mr Cowgil).  

Fast forward a few years and the release of Simpana as well as the addition of native DeDuplication clearly gave Data Domain and various other deduplication solutions a run for their money.  You would think that would be enough for one company!!   I was pretty excited about their recent press release around adding cloud data storage as a tier option in Simpana.  Dave Raffo over at SearchDataBackup.Com did a really nice job of summarizing the announcement.  It’s a clear sign that Commvault is still very much an engineering driven organization.  Which is just AWESOME!! 

 I think the biggest nugget that I pulled out of the press release is Commvault’s ability to integrate native REST capabilities.  The more and more I hear about REST’s potential, the more I get excited about some of the endless possibilities it can offer.  In this case, it allowed Commvault to easily integrate their backup architecture to include 3rd party cloud solutions like Amazon S3, EMC Atmos and a slew of others.   They didn’t need to build an API for each vendor; they just relied on REST’s open API to do that for them. 

If you haven’t had a chance you should check out Brian Reagan’s blog posting that mentions something we are calling CorteX.  Essentially CorteX is our RESTful based ecosystem on which developers can gain access to our Emprise solutions.  This is the next evolutionary step in our ongoing open architecture capabilities.  As some of you are aware, we’ve been touting our WebService’s Software Development Kit for some time.  It’s allowed us to do things like VMWare Virtual View which ties directly into Virtual Center to give VMWare Admin’s unprecedented abilities, as well as Microsoft developers creating a provisioning application called SANMAN that integrates some of their processes directly to our storage.  RESTful API will take this to a greater level.  Just like Commvault was able to tie directly into public cloud storage providers, CorteX will give unprecedented abilities to do really cool things. 

I’ve probably said more then I should 🙂 So I’ll leave it with “more to come on CorteX as we get ready to release”.  I’ve probably stolen enough of Brian’s thunder to get an e-mail from him!!  It’s always good to hear from a Sr VP right!! 

So, keep an eye on Xiotech over the next couple of months and start paying attention to vendors that support RESTful API’s !!!

Thanks,

@StorageTexan