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.

The SWCSA uses the Force to predict Netapp and Solidfire winners and losers

The Netapp/Solidfire deal has been in the news, but the SWCSA wanted to look into it using the metaphysical tools at its disposal – The Force:

Congratulations to Netapp for finally getting the EMC disruptor monkey off it’s back – thanks to Dell.

Is Pure’s IPO bottle half empty or half full?

Pure Storage (PSTG) is having it’s IPO today and by most reports I’ve read, it’s been a little disappointing.

There are a couple of interesting things about this. First, Pure’s IPO has been touted as a test for “unicorn” startups – companies with unusually high levels of venture investments – and the market’s response has been “show me the path to profitability”. This will have an impact on the rest of the unicorns out there, like Uber, but probably not much impact on the more-practical storage industry.

Second, the question about Pure’s technology being a feature or a product may also have had an impact.  Flash technology is quickly overtaking the enterprise storage business and many customers – large and small – are demanding it from their vendors. It’s no surprise that everybody in the infrastructure storage business now has flash-based solutions. Savvy investors who understand the infrastructure business may have been slightly unnerved by the number of competitors Pure has helped create by their early success.

But that doesn’t mean that all these solutions are equivalent, or even competitive. An analogy I like to use is the automobile industry – there have been many different kinds of cars for many different drivers and uses. There is a lot of room in the market to find the right architecture and feature set for different types of customers. Pure and Tegile, the company I work for (and the rest of the enterprise storage industry for that matter) are competing hard for every deal. The thing is, there are going to be lots of deals as customers turn over their disk storage for flash storage.  A lot of change will come to the storage industry as a result.

wrecking ballPure may be having a lackluster IPO, but they were the wrecking ball that leveled the playing field in the storage industry – and for that – all the flash storage startups are grateful.  I wouldn’t say it’s a half-empty bottle for Pure today, but it’s certainly not half-full either. For Tegile, it’s full speed ahead, into the great expanding flash storage market.

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.