I talk to me about HPE

(This blog post was also published on LinkedIn)

Let’s get the disclaimers out of the way. HPE paid for my travel, lodging and food to attend HPE Discover 2016 earlier this month. That’s it (besides me having been an employee there in the past), they aren’t paying me for my opinions, writings, rants or videos.

I see a lot of good things going on at HPE. They say they deliver solutions to help customers IT organizations’ become more agile and they appear to be eating their dog food. For example, after they tried to compete in the public cloud business, they decided to focus instead on producing their excellent Helion private cloud management software.  They also adopted flash technology in their flagship 3PAR storage product line in a very effective, straightforward way, as opposed to creating confusing and diverging product lines the way EMC and Netapp did.  It appears they are even starting to figure out how to leverage the technology and team from their disastrous Autonomy acquisition to develop enterprise software for Big Data and IoT. In short, they seem to have figured out the markets that are important to them, the products they can sell today and the investments they need to make to compete in the future.

The pendulum of focus appears to have swung to the technology and product side of the business and away from marketing side. This was necessary, but HPE also needs to figure out how to communicate effectively about their technology and products, which is not easy for a company suffering from branding/naming confusion. Names are a tough challenge for many large IT vendors and HPE often struggles by inflicting good technology with unfortunate names – including flagship tech like “Composable Infrastructure”. The word composable does not mean anything to anybody and dictionary definitions shed no light whatsoever on what HPE is trying to communicate. This does not lead to a sense of mystery and capability as much as a sense of baloney. Ambiguity will not help HPE make it to where they want to go and they need all the clarity they can get.

HPE is not back to where they used to be because there really isn’t a “back there” anymore – the world has moved on and HPE is much better situated to pursue enterprise technology opportunities than HP ever was.

On the Path to Sustainable Enterprise Storage

drought tolerant yardWith the drought here in California, we replaced our grass lawn with drought tolerant plants. It requires a lot less water, but the best thing about it is that we have a new patio to hang out on and watch the world go past.

A few days ago I was smugly sipping a Quivera Sauvignon Blanc on our new patio, looking at our drought-tolerant garden and thinking about posting on “green enterprise storage” – a concept that always seemed like a stretch, considering the massive energy drain and short life cycles of these machines (~ 3.5 years). Even the comparatively small enterprise storage systems I used to work with at equallogic back power cablesEqualLogic and StorSimple used a lot of power and generated a lot of heat. The much larger 3PAR systems I worked with drew massive amounts of power and were anything but green, even though they operated at higher utilization rates than most of their big gladiator-class competitors.

Enterprise storage is designed for hard use and it tends to get exhausted in short order. Organizations depend heavily on their enterprise storage systems and have little motivation to take chances by extending their longevity. No amount of greenwashing is going to change that dynamic.

While green enterprise storage is not exactly credible,sustainable computing word cloud the concept of sustainability in enterprise storage is. Sustainability is not an assessment of a product’s environmental impact as much as it is a long-term approach to reducing resource consumption and undesirable waste. In other words, the enterprise arrays used by a business might not necessarily be “green”, but the IT organization can have a goal of becoming more sustainable over time. When you see something that is so obviously wasteful – as enterprise storage is – it isn’t difficult to believe that progress can be made.

Flash storage is the game changer for sustainability

new flash trajectoryThe undisputable champion of sustainable enterprise storage is flash. Flash has changed the trajectory of the entire industry and everybody involved is developing products and strategies to exploit it. While most of the focus has been on performance, there are clear cost and sustainability wins too.  For starters, flash SSDs consume less energy and run cooler than disk drives, things that are key to lowering TCO and improving sustainability. Flash SSDs also wear out more slowly than disk drives because they do not have moving, mechanical parts. Even in hybrid arrays combining flash SSDs and disk drives, the disk drives are accessed far less frequently, reducing the heat they generate. Arrays that require far less energy for cooling over their lifetime improve sustainability.

Arrays that last longer and necessitate less frequent swap-outs do too. It is not evident across all vendors yet, but the warranties of flash-based arrays appear to be longer than non-flash arrays and the expected life cycles of flash-based arrays will likely prove to be longer as well, adding years to technology refresh cycles. When this trend is realized throughout the industry it will be another flash-based boost for sustainability.

It’s not clear to me what the manufacturing, distribution and end-of-life waste elements are for flash SSDs and disk drives. Perhaps that is something that will come to light in the future to help guide further discussions and comparisons of disk and flash storage.

The synergy of virtualization, consolidation & data reduction

Considering that data is stored under the direction of the operating system and hypervisor, there is a clear synergy between servers and storage, including the potential to improve sustainability. It follows that improvements generated by servers can be compounded by improvements generated by storage. For example, combining server virtualization and consolidation with data reduction in storage creates a very efficient stack, as illustrated below:

virtualization consolidation and data reductionMany VMs are consolidated onto a much smaller number of physical machines, which use a single enterprise storage array to store data (represented by the steamroller). The array employs data reduction to eliminate statistical redundancies and duplicate copies of data that exist across all the virtual machines.

flash IOPS comparisonIn the same way that virtualization and consolidation work hand-in-hand to improve enterprise storage sustainability, data reduction and flash-based storage are similarly aligned. Prior to the availability of flash-based storage, virtualization experts warned that applications could become starved for IOPs if too many VMs were accessing data on a single storage array. In other words, the scarcity of IOPs was limiting VM consolidation ratios – and further improvements in sustainability. Fortunately, flash-based arrays provide an abundance of IOPs, significantly expanding throughput and multiplying VM consolidation ratios several times over. It is still possible to oversubscribe a storage array with virtual machines, but the point is that flash-based arrays can support many more VMs than non-flash arrays. Increased VM density equates to fewer arrays purchased, less resources consumed and less waste at the end-of-life. When you factor in reduced energy consumption and longer array life-cycles, sustainability is increased even more.

increasing capacity returns of dedupeThe sustainability benefits of deduplication improve even further when similar VMs are aggregated together on a single array. For example, using a single array for a large number of Windows Server VMs creates an environment with a great deal of data commonality, where each additional VM added to the array has increased overlapping data that is deduplicated thereby consuming fewer array resources than the VMs that preceded it.

Small improvements matter

Enterprise storage arrays need to provide high level of performance and availability, which means they will never become sustainable in the way that organic farming is. That said, there are well-defined and achievable ways to improve the sustainability of enterprise storage using flash-based and data reduction technologies. There are a wide range of products and prices, from server software solutions, to hybrid arrays and all-flash arrays. The good news is that improving enterprise storage sustainability is easily done without restructuring budgets by replacing end-of-life non-flash arrays with more sustainable flash-based arrays that cost approximately the same, or even less than the arrays that they are replacing – and have lower operating costs. As they say, YMMV and there are many options and ways to proceed.

Disclaimer: The company I work for, Tegile Systems, designs, manufactures and sells both hybrid and all-flash enterprise storage arrays.

Rubrik in the clear: clusters, clouds and automation for data protection

polyclouds

When I posted about Rubrik back at the end of March I didn’t expect it to be Part 1 of a 2-part blog.  But that’s blogging for you – and today Rubrik announced it’s product and a big B-round of funding ($41M).   I also know a lot more about Rubrik, the people behind the company and their technology so I can put together a better picture of them now.

For starters, I think they are doing something very big and executing very well.  The bigness is a matter of eliminating data protection complexity with automation and connectivity and the execution is a matter of sophisticated integration that does not over-reach. Unlike StorSimple, where I worked prior to Quaddra, Rubrik’s solution is not primary storage and doesn’t depend on customers migrating data from where it is to Rubrik’s platform. Managing data in-place is a big deal because it allows customers to try it without first disrupting their environment. The combination of doing something big and doing it well, gives Rubrik a chance to change the technology landscape. If it catches on, everybody else in the data protection business will be forced to do something similar to keep their customers, except it’s not as simple as adding a feature, like dedupe – it will require significant architectural changes.

kumbayaThe Rubrik solution is comprised of some number of nodes residing on a local network where they discover each other automatically as well as gaining access to a vSphere environment through a vCenter login. It uses VMware APIs to get both the configuration information needed to operate as well as for making backup copies of VM data. Their use of VMware APIs is discussed briefly in a blog post by Cormac Hogan. In addition, Rubrik is also developing their own API so it can someday be operated under the control of whatever management system a customer wants to use. This is exactly the technology approach business managers want for controlling their organization’s storage costs. It is designed to be a good interoperator. (I know, interoperator is not a real word, but shouldn’t it be?) It’s an interesting thing to ponder: Rubrik’s system software replacing backup software, but Rubrik’s software becoming transparent under the operation of some other orchestrator or software controlled something-or-other.

Rubrik’s cluster nodes have local capacity for protecting data as well as software that manages all operations, including using cloud storage for tertiary storage. Data that is copied to the Rubrik cluster is deduped upon arrival. Considering that they are copying data from VMs, usually having many of the same operating system files, they will likely get decent dedupe ratios. Data placement and retention policies for secondary and tertiary storage are managed through a web interface. There are several editable backup retention templates that can be used to approximate a customer’s own data retention policies. Rubrik will likely learn a lot more about data retention then they expect in the years to come from customers who want all possible options. Nonetheless, they have done a decent job coming up with a base set.

Rubrik’s policies include settings for when data can be moved to the cloud and when it should expire. Initially they support Amazon’s S3, but they indicate other options are in the works. I believe Rubrik’s solution mandates cloud storage and a cloud storage account, but there can be exceptions to every rule. The important thing to recognize here is that policies for data snapshots can be extended in ways that on-array snapshots can’t, simply due to the enormous capacity available in the cloud. There are still going to be bandwidth issues to deal with getting data to the cloud, but Rubrik clusters are scale out systems with their own “expanding bag” of storage hitched to a powerful dedupe engine. As newcomers to storage, they seem to have figured out a few things pretty well.

Rubrik has come up with interesting recovery/restore capabilities too. Rubrik contends that a primary array shouldn’t have to provide snapshot volumes when they could be mounted instead from the Rubrik backup cluster. They point out that there is no reason to restore secondary volumes to primary storage when they could be more easily and quickly be mounted from the Rubrik system. In addition, volume clones can also be created in the Rubrik cluster and mounted by whatever VMs need to access the data. There is a bit of a throwback here to EMC’s TimeFinder and I expect that Rubrik will find customers that justify purchasing their solution in order to simplify making and managing clones for DevTest. FWIW, I don’t see Rubrik’s volume restore capabilities working for large scale DR scenarios because of the massive resources needed by large scale recovery efforts. This is an area Rubrik will be educated about by their customers in the next couple years.

Rubrik talks about their technology as consolidated data protection, which seems apt to me because I believe they have a chance to permanently alter the worlds of backup, snapshots and recovery. But that’s a tall order and there are some red flags to consider as they make their way in the market: 1) Rubrik’s solution appears to be a vSphere-only solution, which will exclude them from some number of opportunities; 2) Rubrik has now raised $51M, which has it’s advantages, but it also means they need to start having sizable successes sometime too. 3) The weather forecast calls for uncertain storms when things don’t work quite as advertised or when – worse – a customer loses data. It’s not impossible or unthinkable – it’s the storage business. 4) combined with #3, they will have to learn a whole lot of things they don’t know yet about storage customers and the number of practices they have that can complicate otherwise “perfect” technology.

 

Will Rubrik’s time machine fix the mess of data protection?

0325150457fA couple weeks ago on the Speaking in Tech podcast I had a deja vu experience when the topic became a statement attributed to Microsoft that “backup software deserves to die.”   This came from an article by Simon Sharwood in The Register that quoted Microsoft as saying “If cloud storage had existed decades ago, it’s unlikely that the industry would have developed the backup processes that are commonly used today.”  Shazaam! The exact words I wrote in Chapter 2 of “Rethinking Enterprise Storage”  when I was on the StorSimple team at Microsoft.  It turns out that my former colleagues are publishing excerpts from my book in a Microsoft blog which caught Simon’s attention and he published his reaction. All understandable, but the context it was written in was left far behind.  As the conversation played out on the podcast, I found myself trying to cut Microsoft slack for what I had written, which morphed into a into a discussion about how I killed backup. A small bit of tech comedy, and all good.

0325150456Nonetheless, It’s inevitable that backup will be overhauled by cloud technology for the reasons I pointed out in the book: it’s far too complex, has too many points of failure and doesn’t scale. Cloud technology can fix most of those.

Lo and behold, just yesterday, another new startup, Rubrik, made their funding known to the world along with their intention of building a “Time Machine for the Enterprise”  Because it’s early and not much is known about them, I’m trying to read between the lines and guess what they are doing.

The most useful information was posted on Storage Review by Adam Armstrong, who describes Rubrik’s technology as a platform and used the graphic below to summarize the problem Rubrik intends to solve. Rubrik graphic

The most interesting thing about their graphic is it’s similarity to one that we used at StorSimple, as shown below on the left.  There are certainly differences, but the basic concept is the same: get rid of unnecessary, overlapping legacy systems.

storsimple consolidation

Rubrik apparently hasn’t provided the graphic for how their stuff replaces the legacy stuff, but I bet it will look similar to the right side of the StorSimple graphic with cloud (or object)  storage having a prominent role for off-site data protection.

The following phrases in Adam’s article hint at what else Rubrik may be doing:

“Eliminates the need for backup software or globally deduplicated storage”

Eliminating the need for backup software implies knowing about data that is being written, which means Rubrik will be in the data path – either as a storage device or some sort of cache. I suspect some sort of scale-out cache because they didn’t say they were developing a new storage system. There are a number of problems involved with fronting storage systems and nobody has been very successful doing it. It will be interesting to see what Rubrik is actually doing, but I’m sure they will be keeping a lot of metadata.

Rubrik founder Arvind Jain was at Riverbed and knows dedupe technology as well as anybody.  I’m not sure what “eliminating globally deduplicated storage” means, but I suspect it just means they dedupe data.  If it means they are trying to solve large-scale dedupe across many systems or even sites, they have to deal with very large hashes and hash tables which can have a big impact on performance.  But the performance problems of big hashes aren’t all that big if you are mostly working with secondary copies of data. That said, if they are making a caching thingy their method of deduping data will be interesting.

“Instant recovery down to the file level, where Rubrik claims is much faster than legacy backup solutions”

Yes, recovering files from disk or cloud storage is usually faster than recovering from tape, if that’s what they mean by “legacy backup solutions”.  Data has to be located on tapes and then tapes have to be located wherever they are stored. It’s not the fastest way to do it. It sounds like Rubrik is giving users an interface to historical versions of their files so they can recover their files themselves. That should be a good thing as long as they don’t recover shedloads of data without telling anybody, creating capacity problems. (There’s always something).

“Rely less on snapshots and more on their backup appliance”

The word appliance infers hardware, although it could certainly be a virtual appliance too. There would be value in having the equivalent of snapshots that don’t consume space on primary storage. There are a lot of ways this could be done. StorSimple does them with something called cloud snapshots – which also serves as daily offsite protection.

“Shows the IOPS throughput and speed as well as remaining storage capacity”

Presenting storage metrics is always a good thing – especially if you are operating as a cache.  Showing remaining storage capacity could apply to their platform or to downstream storage systems.  In either case, its good to have a handle on how full storage is so you can take action.

“Leveraging the latest hardware technologies including flash”

What storage platform these days does not leverage flash?  If you are doing a lot of dedupe you better be. This is not really an advantage as much as it is a requirement.

My take

Storage plays are always a lot harder than they appear, but Rubrik’s team appears to have sufficient knowledge about how storage works to have a shot at success.  Moving secondary data to the cloud or object storage makes perfect sense. The trick in eliminating backup software is circumventing all the best practices that are in place. Human habits are hard to change and Rubrik’s biggest challenge may be getting everybody on board with new ways of managing data that run counter to the old ways of doing it. For example, things like virus scanning and defrag can turn a storage cache inside out.

 

EMC and Cisco swap DNA and divorce amicably

cathorse

Now that EMC is acquiring VCE it’s clear that this was yet another Cisco-style spin-out/spin-in the same as MDS, UCS and Insieme. EMC got to partner with Cisco for compute and networking expertise, which gave credibility to its private cloud story and Cisco got to sell a lot more UCS systems to pay for continued R&D (as well as surfing on EMC’s private cloud hype). VCE was invented to light the fuse on a technology integration effort that neither Cisco or EMC could do on fighting-coupletheir own. Now that it’s complete and the CI (converged infrastructure) industry is in full swing, its time for these partners to divorce and come out kicking. VMware’s aquisition of Nicira was far too unfair of a menage a trois for Cisco to rationalize. This morning’s announcement is just the finalization of the paperwork. The two companies have been figuring out new sugar daddy angles for future CI arrangements and while they don’t want to sell the home they built together, EMC gets custody of the kids and Cisco has some visitation rights.

Its been a good run for both. Private cloud is not complete hype any more. The vision of private cloud may be totally confusing and inconsistent across vendors but that hasn’t stopped industries from forming before. EMC’s megaphone has driven a lot of attention to private cloud this-and-that over the last 5 years and everybody selling private cloud anything owes something to EMC for the awareness creation it’s done.

kitchengadgetSo we have two emerging industries that were jump-started by VCE – private cloud and CI.  Both are huge opportunities and the industry has EMC and Cisco to thank for it. If you work in technology, you should remember them both at Thanksgiving dinner this year.

Now for the fun part, here’s how I see the winners and losers lines forming.

The biggest winner: Joe Tucci and EMC

They saw what Cisco was doing there, got them to go halvsies on one and then broke up amicably. This might have been EMC at it’s very best because it was not mostly luck, like the VMware acquisition was. VCE was excellent planning.  The downside for them is that they have this big business with a lot of costs and overlap.

The biggest losers:  VCE employees

Unfortunately for the employees of VCE who left EMC and Cisco to go with the VCE joint venture, they are going to EMC, which just announced an earnings miss and is under big pressure from Activist investor Paul Singer (of Elliot Management) to do something about it.  As they say, there will be blood.

 The next biggest winner: Cisco

Cisco got UCS footprints in a lot of places where it never could have without EMC’s help. Lets face it, they were in a lot of trouble finding markets that were big enough to expand into. They trashed the Flip camera (I’ll always hate them for that) because it was too small a business that wasn’t going to expand enough.  Now they are front and center with CI and private cloud with UCS.  If there was a sugar baby in this deal, it was Cisco and they definitely got what they were looking for – new status in new places. The downside for them is that they actually have to do something on their own in the CI space, which probably means an acquisition. I’d place a small bet on Simplivity just because they have a deal with Cisco already.

The next biggest loser:  HP

The company that coined the term “converged infrastructure” and tried to create the market for it, is now just an afterthought in the CI space.  They had this in their sights and let it slip away.

Biggest winner #3: Paul Singer

The activist investor who has been pressuring EMC to unload VMware is going to have a field day with this. EMC is going to have to consolidate its workforce and he will argue more forcefully than ever that they also need to capitalize on the value of VMware by spinning it off.  His arguments will make more sense than they ever have before.

Biggest loser #3:  Shared between Dell and Microsoft

This week Microsoft announced its CI private cloud in a box, the Cloud Platform System (CPS). The thing that matters most is how few people cared about it. There was no buzz and the industry is not eagerly awaiting what will happen there, like they are with both EMC and Cisco.  Microsoft badly needs to be a private cloud player because its their main advantage against public cloud giants Amazon and Google. Microsoft seems to underestimate what it will take to compete for CI/private cloud business and that their homegrown technologies in CPS such as System Center and Storage Spaces are more like science projects than solutions. Dell was supposedly a partner in this announcement, but came across more as an afterthought of Microsoft’s. In fact, the EMC/Cisco divorce appears more friendly than the Microsoft partnership. With friends like these…….