There can be only one…or at least less than there are now.

Since the recent announcement  of Dell acquiring EMC, there has been great speculation on the future of the storage industry.  In previous articles I have observed that small storage startups are eating the world of big storage.  I suspect that this trend had something to do with the position EMC found themselves in recently.

Watching Nimble, Pure, and a few others IPO recently, one cannot help but notice there are still far more storage vendors standing, with new ones coming out regularly, and the storage market has not consolidated as we thought it would.  During recent conversations with some of the sales teams for  a couple storage startups, we discussed what their act two was to be.  I was surprised to learn that for a number of them, it is simply more of the same, perhaps less a less expensive solution to sell down market, perhaps some new features, but nothing really new.

Looking at the landscape, there has to be a “quickening” eventually.  With EMC being acquired, HP not doing a stellar job of marketing the 3Par product they acquired, Netapp floundering, and Cisco killing their Whiptail acquisition, we are in a sea of storage vendors with no end in sight.  HP splitting into two companies bodes well for their storage division, but the biggest challenge for most of these vendors is they are focused on hardware.

For most of the storage vendors, it is likely that lack of customers will eventually drive them out of business when the finally run out of funding.  For some, they will survive, get acquired, or merge to create a larger storage company, and probably go away eventually anyway.  For a few they will continue to operate in their niche, but for the ones who intend to have long term viability, it is likely they are going to need to find a better act two, something akin to hyper converged infrastructure, or more likely simply move to a software approach.  While neither are a guarantee, they do have higher margins, and are more inline with where the industry is moving.

We are clearly at a point where hardware is becoming commoditized.  If your storage array can’t provide performance, and most of the features we now assume to be standard, then you shouldn’t even bother coming to the table.  The differentiation has to be something else, something outside the norm.  Provide some additional value with the data, turn it into software, integrate it with other software, make it standards based.  Being the best technology, the cheapest price, or simply the biggest company doesn’t matter any more.  Storage startups, watch out, your 800lb gorilla of a nemesis being acquired might make you even bigger targets.  You better come up with something now or your days are numbered.

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There can be only one…or at least less than there are now.

VMWARE STORAGE PART 4: VSAN

Going through the VMware storage options I would be remiss if I did not talk about VSAN.  VSAN is simply VMware’s next way of helping to further improve the Software Defined Datacenter.  To begin with though, it is important to understand a little about what VMware is trying to accomplish. 2 years ago, on gigaom, an interesting article came through on VMware’s slow and steady attack on storage. This was following the release of their less than stellar Virtual Storage Appliance, VSA. At the time I took exception with this. Of course VMware would never want to get into the storage business, they are a software company. Then came VSAN.

I still do not believe VMware intends to completely own the storage market, but they are certainly changing the game. Now I work for HP, and I remember when server virtualization started to take off, we thought the server was going to become irrelevant, we would just use some cheap whitebox server. Fortunately we at HP realized that we had to step up our game. As usual the server engineering team worked with our alliance partners and built even better products designed around virtualization to give higher virtualization density, and higher performance. I equate this latest storage product to the same thing. It will certainly capture certain market segments, but it is not a threat to the core storage business of the larger storage vendors.

With that said, just what is VSAN? The concept behind VSAN is actually an old one come again. We have been doing scale out object storage for some time in this industry. VSAN simply moves this into the hypervisor stack. The requirements are pretty simple, you need a minimum of 3 host servers running vSphere 5.5 each with an SSD and at least one SAS or SATA drive, HDD. The requirements are well documented so I don’t want to get into those details, but this is enough to get started.

Conceptually, the SSD becomes a cache to accelerate the reads and writes to the drives. The HDDs are used for storage, and replicas are kept based on the rules, generally at least 2 copies of the data on separate hosts.

The setup is pretty simple, and there are hands on labs available online with VMware. It is also quite simple to setup using VMware Workstation running vSphere 5.5 for labs.

This scales currently, in Beta v1, to 8 hosts, so this is not going to be a massive system, more of an SMB environment or a lab system. It also introduces some interesting challenges on the server and network side. On the server, there is pretty limited official support since the raid controller has to enable pass through. There is no raid since this is an object store, data protection is accomplished through multiple copies of the data. On the network side, this is challenging because we are copying data between hosts to retain consistancy. This generally, in my mind, means that the era of running VMware on 1GbE networks is probably nearing an end.

At the end of the day, VMware has a number of use cases. This is a Beta v1 product, I am nervous about running it in production just yet. Many of their use cases are around high performance workloads, VDI for example, where user experience can make or break a project. I do think that this is an exceptional way of creating shared storage in a lab, and gives us many new ways to work in a lab environment.

As to the future of VMware storage, traditional storage, and our industry, I think this is the beginning of the next big thing. I will be discussing HP’s own software defined storage soon, as well as our traditional storage platforms in a VMware context. I don’t see VSAN as a threat, but rather as a call to action on our part to make our products better and continue to innovate. I will personally use VSAN in my lab along side HP StoreVirtual, different use cases, and fun to test.

VMWARE STORAGE PART 4: VSAN

VMware Storage Part 1: Introduction & Local Storage

One of my favorite radio talk hosts talks about the importance of having the “heart of a teacher”. When I started out in IT, I thought I wanted to be in tech support, teach others how to use their computers, and how to make the technology work for them. I have come to realize that while I enjoy helping others, I prefer to talk about concepts, and help them understand storage and virtualization. I am going to spend the next several posts going through some of the VMware storage concepts, in what to many may seem simple terms, but many of the people I talk to do not have a solid understanding, so I think it is always wise to level set, to start from a common point as it were. While there are many blogs out there with some incredibly technical content on this, many well written and helpful, I thought I would give this my own slant in an attempt to help some of the people I interact with and meet new ones. Feedback is appreciated, and I am always open to suggestions for new topics.

VMware in general is all about abstraction. With compute we put the software layer between the physical hardware and the operating system. This enables us to have portable servers, and to consolidate many workloads on to a smaller physical footprint. When we think about this from the storage side of things, it is not so much different. If we think about VMware creating a container to hold many servers, then a datastore, storage presented to VMware to hold Virtual Machines can be considered a container to store the hard drives and configuration files that make up a Virtual Machine. This storage is presented as one or more logical drives, datastores in VMware terms, up to 64TB in size. The reason behind sizing a datastore will be covered later, and is certainly open for discussion, but it is enough to know for now that we create a datastore from logical disk space.

When creating a Virtual Machine, VMware will ask you how much space you want, and which datastore you want to place it on. This will again be covered in a future post about design, but it is important to note, a datastore can contain multiple Virtual Machines, much like a VMware Host, physical machine running VMware, can contain multiple Virtual Machines.

Each VMware Host machine, provided it contains local hard drives, will have a datastore called “Local Datastore” or something similar. This is not a bad thing, it can be useful for Virtual Machines which you do not want to be able to move, but it is limited in that shared storage is required for high availability and resource distribution. With the release of VSAN in vSphere 5.5, as well as many Virtual Storage Appliance, VSA products, this can be used as shared storage as well, but more on that later.

To wrap up, storage is one of the more critical aspects to virtualization success. There are many more features to cover, I will be explaining many of the VMware features as well as where each different HP storage product may make sense as well as some reasons why I personally would choose HP over competitors products. Stay tuned and please let me know if there are other topics I should be covering, or if there is more detail needed.

VMware Storage Part 1: Introduction & Local Storage

The future of storage

So in a previous post, VMware Fundamentals Part 3 I talked about VMware and storage, and made a case for a mixed protocol storage environment. While I stand behind what I said, I always think it is interesting to take a deeper look at the industry. Calvin Zito, the HP storage guy, made some very good points in his post, Block of File Based Storage for VMware which got me thinking a bit more. That coupled with the recent product releases from HP have inspired me to talk a little more about this topic.

Calvin points out some compelling points about how block gets the most attention on the development cycle from VMware, and at this point, with the software initiators, and the ease of use, it often makes more sense to simply use a block based protocol.

That being said, in many virtual environments, we often find that the traditional storage array doesn’t fit the bill. We are running a number of host servers, with internal storage that is going to waste. So how do we take advantage of this lost capacity, and how can we lower our costs while adding additional value?

A tough concept for many of us who came up through the ranks of storage administration to swallow is that storage is not king any more. It is certainly important, but gone are the days when I can walk into a company as a storage admin and name my price. Now certainly as a Storage Architect I can demand more, but even so, I am required to know more than just storage. The really tough part though is storage is no longer defined as a monolithic array. We have to start embracing the concept that storage, like everything else must be defined as software. This becomes more and more important when we look at the move toward ITaaS. Nicholas Carr drives this point home in his book, The Big Switch.

So the short answer to the question, what is the future of storage, much like compute, networking, and the rest of what we do, the future of storage is software. Whether it is open source or supported by a company such as HP, this is where we are headed.

The future of storage

New Direction

So it has been quite some time since I last posted, far too long. Since my last post, a number of things have changed. The company I was working for decided to exit the Datacenter business, causing our small team of four to seek employment elsewhere. One went back to EMC, one moved on to Cisco, one is currently contracting, and I have moved over to Hewlett Packard as a Pre-Sales Storage Solutions Architect, a position more in line with my personal preferences, and a direction I have been wanting to go in for some time.

This position means the focus of my blog will change, it wouldn’t be in my best interests to write about EMC products since they are a competitor, and I plan to focus more on storage, although I do want to continue to talk about vmware in the event any of my former customers stumble on this blog.

A bit about why I chose to join HP. Anyone who follows any tech news knows that our stock prices are lower than we would like, something I knew coming in to the position. HP has also not, in my opinion, been a strong player in the storage market historically.

The EVA was an interesting product. It was a very different way of thinking about storage, and it’s performance was not at the level of it’s competitors. While it did play well in some markets, it was not a market leader for the most part.

Recognizing this, HP purchased Left Hand Networks. This company was mostly a software play, and honestly a bit ahead of it’s time. Realizing that they could completely abstract the software from the hardware, was a little strange to most of us. HP saw an opportunity to increase their portfolio, and give them a play in the SMB markets.

Realizing the EVA was not keeping up, HP acquired 3Par following a bidding war with Dell. Again, not a traditional storage platform though. 3Par was built as a storage server, not another modular array. The true unique value here is that they took the concept of virtualizing the storage to the next level.

When a friend, who I had worked with before told me he was joining HP as a Sales Specialist, and asked me to look into the possibility of joining him in the Pre-Sales role, I was pretty surprised. I chose to join HP because after looking at the product portfolio, after looking at the leadership team, after looking at the company history, I am convinced that while it may be a rough ride for a bit, HP is in a great position to deliver exceptional products, which will return the company to its former glory. We have the people, the technology, and the leadership to execute, that is why I joined HP.

I will try to update more often on HP storage and virtualization topics, the future is bright, and only getting better.

New Direction