Primary data’s path to better data storage presented at SFD8

IMG_5606rz A couple of weeks ago we met with Primary Data, Lance Smith, CEO, David Flynn, CTO and Kaycee Lai, SVP Product & Sales who were presenting at Storage Field Day 8 (SFD8, videos of their sessions available here). Primary Data has just emerged out of stealth late last year and has ~$60M in funding. Also they have Steve Wozniak (of Apple fame) as Chief Scientist, but he wasn’t at the SFD8 session ūüôĀ

Primary Data seems out to change the world. At first I thought this was just another form of storage virtualization but they are laser focused on data virtualization or what they call data mobility. It differs from pure storage virtualization by being outside the data path.  (I have written about data virtualization before as well as the data hypervisor a long time ago). Nowadays they seem to be using the tag line of data in motion.

Why move data?

David has a theory behind the proliferation of startup storage companies. The spectrum behind capacity and performance has gotten immense, over time, which has provided an opening for a number of companies to address these widening needs.

David believes that caching at the storage system or in the servers is an attempt to address this issue by “loaning” the data from the storage silo to the cache. This is trying to supply a¬†lower cost $/IOP for the data. Similar considerations are apparent at the other side where customer’s use¬†archive or backup services to take advantage of much cheaper $/GB storage.

However, given the difficulty of moving data around in present day storage environments, customer data has become essentially immobile. Primary Data is trying to bring about a data mobility revolution and allow data to move over this spectrum of performance and capacity of storage with ease. Doing so easily, will provide significant benefits as customers can more fully take advantage of the various levels of performance and capacity in their data center storage environments.

Primary Data architecture

IMG_5607Primary Data is providing data mobility by using their meta-data service called the DataSphere appliance and their client software running on host servers called the Data Portal. Their offering can be best explained in three layers:

  • Data virtualization layer – provides continuity of identity and continuity of access across multiple physical storage systems. That is the same data (identity continuity) can be accessed wherever it resides (access continuity) by server applications. Such access and identity must transcend access protocols and interfaces. The Data Portal client software intercepts the server data activity and does control plane activity using¬†the DataSphere appliance and performs IO directly using the physical storage.
  • Objective based data management – supplies a data affinity service. That is data can have¬†a temporary location relationship with physical storage depending on the current performance (R:W, IOPS, bandwidth, latency) and protection (durability, availability, disaster recoverability, security, copy-ability, version-ability) characteristics of the data. These data objectives are matched to the capabilities or service catalog of the storage infrastructure and data objectives can change over time
  • Analytics in the loop – detects the performance and other characteristics of the storage and data in real-time. That is by monitoring the storage IO activity Primary Data can determine the actual performance attribute of the storage. Similarly, by monitoring the applications IO characteristics over time the system can determine the performance objectives of its data. The system also takes advantage of SMI-S to define some of the other characteristics of the storage systems.

How does Primary Data work?

Primary Data has taken advantage of parallel NFS extensions (pNFS) in NFSv4 to externalize and separate the storage control plane from the IO data plane. This works well for native Linux where the main developer of the Linux file system stack is on their payroll.IMG_5608rz

In Windows they put a filter driver in front of SMB to split off the control from data IO plane. Something similar is done for VMware ESX servers to supply the control-data plane split but in this case there is a software defined Data Portal that goes along with the DataSphere Service client that can do it all within the same ESX server. Another alternative exists and that is to use the Data Portal appliance as a storage virtualization service but then the IO data path goes through the portal.

According to their datasheet they currently support data virtualization services for NetApp cDOT and 7-mode, EMC Isilon OneFS7.2, and Nexenta 4.x&5.0 but plan on more.

They are not quite GA yet, but are close.

Comments?

 

 

 

Data virtualization surfaces

There’s a new storage startup out of stealth, called Primary Data and it’s implementing data (note, not storage) virtualization.

They already have $60M in funding with some pretty highpowered talent from Fusion IO, namely David Flynn, Rick White and Steve Wozniak (the ‘Woz’) ¬†(also of Apple fame).

There have been a number of attempts at creating a virtualization layers for data namely ViPR (See my post ViPR virtues, vexations but no storage virtualization) but Primary Data is taking a different tack to the problem.

Data virtualization explained

Data hypervisor, software defined storage, data plane, control plane
(c) 2012 Silverton Consulting, Inc. All rights reserved

Essentially they want to separate the data plane from the control plane (See my Data Hypervisor post and comments for another view on this).

  • The data plane consists of those storage system activities that actually perform IO or read and writes.
  • The control plane is those storage system activities that do everything else that has to be done by a storage system, including provisioning, monitoring, and managing the storage.

Separating the data plane from the control plane offers a number of advantages. EMC ViPR does this but it’s data plane is either standard storage systems like VMAX, VNX, Isilon etc, or software defined storage solutions. Primary Data wants to do it all.

Their meta data or control plane engine is called a Data Director which holds information about the data objects that are stored in the Primary Data system, runs a data policy management engine and handles data migration.

Primary Data relies on purpose-built, Data Hypervisor (client) software that talks to Data Directors to understand where data objects reside and how to go about accessing them. But once the metadata information is transferred to the client SW, then IO activity can go directly between the host and the storage system in a protocol independent fashion.

[The graphic above is from my prior post and I assumed the data hypervisor (DH) would be co-located with the data but Primary Data has rightly implemented this as a separate layer in host software.]

Data Hypervisor protocol independence?

As I understand it this means that customers could use file storage, object storage or block storage to support any application requirement. This also means that file data (objects) could be migrated to block storage and still be accessed as file data. But the converse is also true, i.e., block data (objects) could be migrated to file storage and still be accessed as block data. You need to add object, DAS, PCIe flash and cloud storage to the mix to see where they are headed.

All data in Primary Data’s system are object encapsulated and all data objects are catalogued within a single, global namespace that spans file, block, object and cloud storage repositories

Data objects can reside on Primary storage systems, external non-Primary data aware file or block storage systems, DAS, PCIe Flash, and even cloud storage.

How does Data Virtualization compare to Storage Virtualization?

There are a number of differences:

  1. Most storage virtualization solutions are in the middle of the data path and because of this have to be fairly significant, highly fault-tolerant solutions.
  2. Most storage virtualization solutions don’t have a separate and distinct meta-data engine.
  3. Most storage virtualization systems don’t require any special (data hypervisor) software running on hosts or clients.
  4. Most storage virtualization systems don’t support protocol independent access to data storage.
  5. Most storage virtualization systems don’t support DAS or server based, PCIe flash for permanent storage. (Yes this is not supported in the first release but the intent is to support this soon.)
  6. Most storage virtualization systems support internal storage that resides directly inside the storage virtualization system hardware.
  7. Most storage virtualization systems support an internal DRAM cache layer which is used to speed up IO to internal and external storage and is in addition to any caching done at the external storage system level.
  8. Most storage virtualization systems only support external block storage.

There are a few similarities as well:

  1. They both manage data migration in a non-disruptive fashion.
  2. They both support automated policy management over data placement, data protection, data performance, and other QoS attributes.
  3. They both support multiple vendors of external storage.
  4. They both can support different host access protocols.

Data Virtualization Policy Management

A policy engine runs in the Data Directors and provides SLAs for data objects. This would include performance attributes, protection attributes, security requirements and cost requirements.  Presumably, policy specifications for data protection would include RAID level, erasure coding level and geographic dispersion.

In Primary Data, backup becomes nothing more than object snapshots with different protection characteristics, like offsite full copy. Moreover, data object migration can be handled completely outboard and without causing data access disruption and on an automated policy basis.

Primary Data first release

Primary Data will be initially deployed as an integrated data virtualization solution which includes an all flash NAS storage system and a standard NAS system. Over time, Primary Data will add non-Primary Data external storage and internal storage (DAS, SSD, PCIe Flash).

The Data Policy Engine and Data Migrator functionality will be separately charged for software solutions. Data Directors are sold in pairs (active-passive) and can be non-disruptively upgraded. Storage (directors?) are also sold separately.

Data Hypervisor (client) software is available for most styles of Linux, Openstack and coming for ESX. Windows SMB support is not split yet (control plane/data plane) but Primary data does support SMB. I believe the Data Hypervisor software will also be released in an upcoming version of the Linux kernel.

They are currently in testing. No official date for GA but they did say they would announce pricing in 2015.

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Comments?

Disclosure: We have done work for Primary Data over the past year.

Photo Credits:

  1. Screen shot of beta test system supplied by Primary Data
  2. Graphic created by SCI for prior Data Hypervisor post

What’s wrong with SPECsfs2008?

I have been analyzing SPECsfs results now for almost 7 years now and I feel that maybe it’s time for me to discuss some of the t problems with SPECsfs2008 today that should be fixed in the next SPECsfs20xx whenever that comes out.

CIFS/SMB

First and foremost, for CIFS SMB 1 is no longer pertinent to today’s data center. The world of Microsoft has moved on to SMB 2 mostly and are currently migrating to SMB 3. ¬†There were plenty of performance fixes in the last years SMB 3.0 release which would be useful to test with current storage systems. But I would be even be somewhat happy with SMB2 if that’s all I can hope for.

My friends at Microsoft would consider me remiss if I didn’t mention that since SMB 2 they no longer call it CIFS and have moved to SMB. SPECsfs should follow this trend. I have tried to use CIFS/SMB in my blog posts/dispatches as a step in this direction mainly because SPEC continues to use CIFS and Microsoft wants me to use SMB.

In my continuing quest to better compare different protocol performance I believe it would be useful to insure that the same file size distributions are used for both CIFS and NFS benchmarks. Although the current Users Guide discusses some file size information for NFS it is silent when it comes to CIFS. I have been assuming that they were the same because of lack of information but this would be worthy to have confirmed in documentation.

Finally for CIFS, it would be very useful if there could be a closer approximation of the same amount of data transfers that are done for NFS. ¬†This is a nit but when I compare CIFS to NFS storage system results there is a slight advantage to NFS because NFS’s workload definition doesn’t do as much reading as CIFS. In contrast, CIFS has slightly less file data write activity than the NFS benchmark workload. Having them be exactly the same would help in any (unsanctioned) comparisons.

NFSv3

As for NFSv3, although NFSv4 has been out for more than 3 years now, it has taken a long time to be widely adopted. However, these days there seems to be more client and storage support coming online every day and maybe this would be a good time to move on to NFSv4.

The current NFS workloads, while great for the normal file server activities, have not kept pace with much of how NFS is used today especially in virtualized environments. As far as I can tell under VMware NFS data stores don’t do a lot of meta-data operations and do an awful lot more data transfers than normal file servers do. Similar concerns apply to NFS used for Oracle or other databases. Unclear how one could incorporate a more data intensive workload mix into the standard SPECsfs NFS benchmark but it’s worthy of some thought. Perhaps we could create a SPECvms20xx benchmark that would test these types of more data intensive workloads.

For both NFSv3 and CIFs benchmarks

Both the NFSv3 and CIFS benchmarks typically report [throughput] ops/sec. These are a mix of all the meta-data activities and the data transfer activities.  However, I think many storage customers and users would like a finer view of system performance. .

I have often been asked just how many files a storage system actually support. This depends of course on the workload and file size distributions but SPECsfs already defines this. As a storage performance expert, I would also like to know how much data transfer can a storage system support in MB/sec read and written.  I believe both of these metrics can be extracted from the current benchmark programs with a little additional effort. Probably another half dozen metrics that would be useful maybe we could sit down and have an open discussion of what these might be.

Also the world has changed significantly over the last 6 years and SSD and flash has become much more prevalent. Some of your standard configuration tables could be better laid out to insure that readers understand just how much DRAM, flash, SSDs and disk drives are in a configuration.

Beyond file NAS

Going beyond SPECsfs there is a whole new class of storage, namely object storage where there are no benchmarks available. I would think now that Amazon S3 and Openstack Cinder are well defined and available that maybe a new set of SPECobj20xx benchmarks would be warranted. I believe with the adoption of software defined data centers, object storage may become the storage of choice over the next decade or so. If that’s the case then having some a benchmark to measure object storage performance would help in its adoption. Much like the original SPECsfs did for NFS.

Then there’s the whole realm of server SAN or (hyper-)converged storage which uses DAS inside a cluster of compute servers to support block and file services. Not sure exactly where this belongs but NFS is typically the first protocol of choice for these systems and having some sort of benchmark configuration that supports converged storage would help adoption of this new type of storage as well.

I think thats about it for now but there’s probably a whole bunch more that I am missing out here.

Comments?

EMC ViPR virtues & vexations, but no virtualization

EMC ViPR went GA (general availability) last week. You may recall that EMC announced ViPR at EMCWorld2013 (see my blog post on the EMCWorld2013 day 1). At that time details were a bit sketchy but more information was provided earlier last week as a preview to going GA.

ViPR is first and foremost a framework for managing heterogenous storage systems. With ViPR in place you can do all your storage provisioning, monitoring and management through ViPR operating panels and policy automation.

At GA ViPR supports EMC VMAX, VNX, VPLEX, Isilon, RecoverPoint and NetApp storage systems. Over time EMC will add more storage systems and commodity storage solutions as they are requested by their customer base.

ViPR Virtues

Essentially ViPR has split open the control and data planes of enterprise storage. The first iteration works mostly at the control plane level but the framework of control and data plane isolation should work just as well here as it does for software defined networking.  ViPR is releasing just one data plane service at GA, that being an object storage interface to storage under management.

I am always surprised by how far storage management has advanced over the past decade or so. The last time I defined volumes was using an op-panel on a storage system with soft keys. Today everything can be done via GUIs or CLI scripts. But most customers say it’s still not enough. I was on a podcast just last week with Howard Marks, DeepStorage Founder and Chief Scientist, and ¬†Dheeraj Pandey, CEO of Nutanix. Dheeraj mentioned¬†that “the enemy of IT is time.” By that he meant that the time to deploy services is always too long and needs to shrink considerably.

Well with ViPR the hope is that you no longer have to understand five or more different operational environments. Rather you can get by with just an understanding of ViPR storage management, leaving the complexities of dealing with individual underlying storage operations consoles to ViPR from now on.

ViPR can handle the reporting, configuring/provisioning, snapshotting (I believe), setting up/tearing down replication activities and most of the other mundane tasks of managing storage solutions today. In doing this it reduces of the requirements for special purpose storage admins (NetApp, VMAX, VNX) and transitions them to being ViPR admins, which makes them more universally applicable. I suppose you may still need to configure new storage systems with a minimal interface and a single LUN/file system the old fashion way and then ViPR can take over from there.

When ViPR supports commodity storage the intent is that ViPR control and data plane services will support snapshot and replication services using commodity storage alone.

Replication services and BC/DR capabilities are being supplied through RecoverPoint and VPLEX for the moment for the underlying storage but eventually ViPR should be able to handle the native storage system services for these facilities as well.

ViPR is written in Java and EMC expects to release additional functionality in a more incremental fashion than they have for past products.

As for the data plane, ViPR starts out with support for object storage interface which can be used with VMAX, VNX, NetApp storage solutions. The object storage data service is just the first of many planned data services, with HDFS scheduled to come out before the end of the year. And a file service planned after that.

ViPR ships as a VMware vAPP. It’s a 100% software solution and EMC will provide a test (non-production) version free of charge to anybody and Academic organizations can have ViPR for production use for free as well.

EMC is also planning to publish all of ViPR’s API information and will foster an Open Platform approach to extending ViPR functionality. They don’t intend to be the only developers on this platform.

They also plan to offer a ViPR Online Service offering for ViPR developers that has all the storage that is currently supported behind a ViPR cluster that can be accessed to test ViPR enhancements in real time with real hardware.

The base ViPR control plane is licensed on a GB/month basis with price breaks for more capacity under management. ¬†Pricing for the base Controller Platform will start at $0.01/GB/Month and will go down to $0.005/GB/Month at the highest capacity levels. ¬†If you want the Object Data Service as well as the Controller Platform the pricing starts at $0.02/GB/Month and goes down to $0.01/GB/Month. ¬†To get a true picture of TCO one needs to add the cost of the underlying storage to ViPR’s price.

ViPR Vexations

Java is very flexible and easier to develop functionality in, ¬†but using it for data services seems a bit of a stretch. While object and perhaps HDFS may not have problems with reduced response latencies, it’s unclear what other data services can support similar responsiveness. Yes flash everywhere can help and maybe that becomes the solution if you want better responsiveness but ViPR data services today don’t seem to support server side flash.

CDMI and SMI-S¬†are not being mentioned anywhere here. These industry standard approaches to managing storage or cloud data should be a critical early deliverable. EMC says their customers aren’t asking for them which is why there not being planned for. ¬†But ViPR represents yet another set of APIs, developers will need to code to support storage ¬†management. I suppose the upside is that EMC will take the lower half of this API on for themselves to support enterprise class storage systems.

Is EMC the right company to create and support ViPR in the future?

As ViPR moves beyond VMware into OpenStack, Hyper-V and other virtualization solutions, VMware becomes a less likely company to host this effort and EMC is probably the only place in the EMC family of companies, where it continues to make sense. Nonetheless, ¬†it seems EMC would not be the best place to host an open storage management framework. For example, the lack of Dell, HDS, HP and IBM storage support under ViPR probably has more to do with EMC’s current install base rather than storage strict popularity in hypervisor installations.

ViPR seems to take a somewhat constrained approach to defining software defined storage. I think splitting the control and data plane for storage makes a great deal of sense but until you get into the data path, some of what you want to do is much harder than it needs to be.

EMC mentioned data gravity as being the thing that differentiates storage from networking and server virtualization solutions. By gravity I assume they mean the difficulty in moving TB of data around a data center. It looks like EMC is going to try to support data migrations like this using a sort of control and data plane hybrid solution but it’s hard for me to see how this could be provided non-disruptively without being more intimately involved in the data path/data plane.

ViPR is not storage virtualization

When I think of software defined storage I think of more automation, more heterogeneous management and extreme storage virtualization. ViPR has the first two but expressly ignores the third. I suppose if you want storage virtualization you can use NetApp, VMAX or even VPLEX to do it underneath the covers of ViPR but it seems to me that an essential data service would be (virtualized) block storage and for that matter virtualized file services..

Yes, it’s harder to do, and yes it’s ultimately a potential performance bottleneck and functionality choke point but what we all want is storage virtualization and better management automation. ViPR really doesn’t deliver on that half of this.

~~~~

ViPR is an interesting approach. EMC seems to be of the opinion that better management is the thing that most customers want and they may be right. Better, more universal storage management can help storage admins to be more productive, reducing their time and effort. With better management comes more automation in my mind and ViPR has the promise of more automation by publishing their APIs and providing a more standardized CLI support for more storage. This will help too.

The lack of storage virtualization is another matter. I suppose when you get down to it, storage virtualization provides better centralized management and non-disruptive migration of data. ViPR already provides the better management piece of the puzzle. If they can also supply highly optimized, non-disruptive data migration, without encountering all the problems of storage virtualization maybe this is the way to go.

Stay tuned as EMC ViPR rolls out more functionality.

Photo Credit(s): Dodge viper seen from the front by Martina Rathgens

Storage changes in vSphere 5.5 announced at VMworld 2013

Pat Gelsinger, VMworld2013 Keynote, vSphere 5.5 storage changesVMworld2013 is going on in San Francisco this week. The big news is the roll out of network virtualization in NSX and vCloud Hybrid Service (vCHS) but there were a few tidbits in the storage arena worth discussing.

  • Virtual SAN public beta – VSAN was released as a public beta and customers can now download a copy of VSAN from www.vsanbeta.com. VSAN will construct a pool of storage out of local attached disks and flash across two or more hosts. It uses the flash as a read-write cache for the local disks. With VSAN customers can elect to have multiple tiers of storage be supported within a single VSAN pool, as well as support different availability (replication) levels, and some other, select characteristics. VSAN can easily scale in performance and capacity by just adding more hosts that have local storage. Now all that stranded local storage and flash server level resources can be used as a VM storage pool. VMware stated that they see VSAN as usefull for tier 2/tier 3 application storage and/or backup-archive storage uses. However they showed one chart with a View Planner application simulation using a 3-host VSAN (presumably with lots of SSD and disk storage) compared against an all-flash array (vendor unknown). In this benchmark the VSAN exactly matched the all-flash external storage in performance (VMs supported). [late update] Lot’s of debate on what VSAN means to enterprise storage but it appears to be a limited in scope and mainly focused on SMB applications. ¬†Chad Sakac did a (real) lengthy post on EMC’s perspective on VSAN and Software Defined Storage¬†if you want to know more check it out.
  • Virsto – VMware announced GA of Virsto which¬†uses any external storage and creates a new global storage pool out of them. Apparently, it maps a log structured file system across the external SAN storage. By doing this it sequentializes all the random write IO coming off of ESX hosts. It supports thin provisioning, snapshot and read-write clones. One could see this as almost a write cache for VM IO activity but read IOs are also by definition spread across (extremely wide striped) across the storage pool which should improve read performance as well. You configure external storage as normal and present those LUNs to Virsto which then converts that storage pool into “vDisks” which can then be configured as VM storage. Probably more to see here but it’s available today. Before acquisition one had to install Virsto into each physical host that was going to define VMs using Virsto vDisks. It’s unclear how much Virsto has been integrated into the hypervisor but over time one would assume like VSAN this would be buried underneath the hypervisor and be available to any vSphere host.
  • vSphere Flash Read Cache – customers with PCIe flash cards and vCenter Ops Manager, can now use them to support a read cache for data access. vSphere Flash Read Cache is apparently vmotion aware such that as you move VMs from one ESX host to another the read cache buffer will move with it. Flash Read Cache is transparent to the VMs and can be assigned on a VMDK basis.
  • vSphere 5.5 low-latency support – unclear what VMware actually did but they now claim vSphere 5.5 now supports low latency applications, like FinServ apps. They claim to have reduced the “jitter” or variability in IO latency that was present in previous versions of vSphere. Presumably they shortened the IO and networking paths through the hypervisor which should help. ¬†I suppose if you have a VMDK which ends up on an SSD storage someplace one can have a more predictable response time. But the critical question is how much overhead does the hypervisor IO path add to the base O/S. When all-flash arrays now sporting latencies under 100 ¬Ķsecs, adding another 10 or 100 ¬Ķsecs can make a big difference. In VMware’s quest to virtualize any and all mission critical apps, low-latency apps are one of the last bastions of physical server apps left to conquer. Consider this a step to accommodate them.
  • vVols – VMware keeps talking about vVols as an attempt to extend their VSAN “policy driven control plane” functionality out to networked storage but there’s still no GA yet. The (VASA 2 or vVol) spec’s seem to be out for awhile now, and I have heard from at least two “major” vendors that they have support in place today but VMware still isn’t announcing formal availability yet. Unclear what the hold up is, but maybe the spec’s are more in a state of flux than what’s depicted externally.

Most of this week was spent talking about NSX, VMware’ network virtualization and vCloud Hybrid Services. When they flashed the list of NSX partners on the screen Cisco was absent. Not sure what this means but perhaps there’s some concern that NSX will take revenue away from Cisco.

As for vCHS apparently this is a VMware run public cloud with two now expanding to three data centers in US, that customers can use to support their own hybrid cloud services. VMware announced that SAVVIS is now offering vCHS services as well as VMware with data centers in NY and Chicago. ¬†There was some talk about vCHS offering object storage services like Amazon’s S3 but there was nothing specific about when. [Late update] Pat did mention that a future offering will provide DR-as-a-Service using vCHS as a target for SRM. That seems to be matching what Microsoft seems to be planning for Azzure and Hyper-V DR.

That’s about it as far as I can tell. Didn’t hear any other news on storage changes in vSphere 5.5. But this is the year of network virtualization. Can’t wait to see what they roll out next year.

EMCworld 2013 day 1

Lines for coffee at the Cafe were pretty long this morning and I missed my opportunity to have breakfast to do some work. But eventually made my way to the press room and got some food and coffee.

Spent the morning in Analyst sessions mostly under NDA but it seems safe to say that EMC sees plenty of opportunity ahead.

The first session Q&A with BRS executives and customers was enlightening but the main message from the customers was that data protection is hard, legacy systems often can’t adjust quick enough and sometimes a completely new architecture is warranted. The executives were upbeat about current BRS business and where they were headed in the future.

20130506-142735.jpgRest of the morning was with Jeremy Burton EVP Product, Operations and Marketing and John Roese, the new SVP and CTO of EMC (6 months on the job). Jeremy talked about an IDC insight that there’s a new world emerging so-called 3rd platform applications based on mobile and consumer grade technology ¬†with literally billions of users, millions of apps built on mobile-cloud-bigdata-social infrastructure which complements the 2nd platform built on lan/wan, client server frameworks.

For an example of this environment Jeremy mentioned that AT&T provisions 12PB of storage a month.

What’s needed for this new platform is a new type of storage built for the 3rd platform but taking advantage of current enterprise storage characteristics. ¬†This is ViPR (more on that later)

John comes by way of Huawei, Nortel and myriad others and offers a broad insight to the way forward for EMC. It looks like a bright future ahead if they can do half of what John has outlined.

John talked about the intersections between the carrier market (or services), enterprise IT and consumer market.  There is convergence between these regions and at each of these intersections new technology is going to answer many of the problems which exist. For instance in the carrier space:

  • The amount of information they gather is frightening they know everything about you. Pivotal will be the key here because its good at 1) ability to correlate information across different information sources. Most carriers have a whole bunch of disparate information stores; and 2) It’s not just focused on Big Data as a non-realtime problem but also provides realtime analytics as well.
  • Capital costs are going down but $/bits are going way down.¬† VMware & Software defined data center is the right way to drive down costs. ¬†Today servers are ~50% virtualized but networking is not virtualized at all.
  • Customers are dissatisfied with service providers (carriers). ¬†Again¬†Pivotal is key here. One carrier customer was focused on customer churn and tried to figure out how to minimize this. They used ¬†Gemfire’ high speed infrastructure that could watchc all transactions on cell tower infrastructure pick out dropped calls, send it to Greenplum and correlate this with the customer attributes (good or bad), and within 100msec supply an interaction with the customer in to apologize and offer some services to make it better.
  • Internet is the new wild west ‚Äďuse at your own risk,¬† spoofing websites, respond to email could be anyone, chaos to security. RSA¬†can become the¬†trusted internet provider by looking at the internet holistically, combining information from many customers, aggregating and sharing these interactions to deterimine the trust of every transaction. Trust is becoming a new big data problem.
  • Hybrid and public cloud is their biggest opportunity but they don’t know how to attack it. VMware and SDDC will evolve to provide orchestrated movement from private to public and closed to open.

The thinking seems pretty straightforward given what they are trying to accomplish and the framework he applied to EMC’s strategy going forward made a lot of sense.

20130506-172955.jpgBrian Gallagher did a keynote on enterprise storage new functions and features which covered VMAX, VPLEX, RecoverPoint, and XtremIO/SF/SW. Mentioned RecoverPoint virtual appliance and sort of a statement of direction on being able to move application functionality directly on VMAX. He kind of demoed this with VPLEX running on VMAX.

He also talked about FAST speed of reaction versus the competition, mentioned that FAST provides information about the storage tiering to up to 4 different VMAX arrays. Showed a comparison of VMAX 10K against another prime competitor that looked downright embarrassing.  And talked about VMAX cloud edition.

20130506-173022.jpgAfter that 1 on 1 meetings all under strict NDA. But then the big Keynote with Jeremy again and David Goulden President and COO on ViPR. They have implemented software defined storage (SDS).  Last week I did a post on SDS trying to layout some of the problems and promises of SDS (please see The promise of SDS post).

But what I missed was the data path transformation that ViPR can do to provide object and HDFS access to traditional and commodity storage systems.  ViPR starts out primarily in the control layer providing automated provisioning, self management, across heterogeneous storage pools. With ViPR one can define virtual storage arrays and then configure virtual storage pools across those arrays regardless of the physical infrastructure underneath them.

More on ViPR in a separate post but suffice it to say EMC has been working on this for awhile now. But how it’s positioned with VPLEX and the other storage virtualization capabilities in VMAX and other products is another matter. But it seems they are carving out a space for ViPR between and above the current storage solutions.

End of day one is in the Expo and then cocktail parties… stay tuned for day 2.

 

The promise of software defined storage

Data hypervisor, software defined storage, data plane, control plane
(c) 2012 Silverton Consulting, Inc. All rights reserved

Not sure why but all the hype around software defined storage seems to be reaching a crescendo.  Possible due to conference season coming up but it started earlier this year.  I attended an SNW analyst session that was talking about software defined storage had on its panel technical people from HDS, IBM, Data Core and VMware.  It seems the distinction between storage virtualization and software defined storage is getting slimmer every time we talk about it.  I have written before about software defined storage (see my Data Hypervisor post).

Server, networking and storage virtualization today

Server virtualization makes an awful lot of sense, has made lots of money and arguably been around for decades now especially in mainframe systems. ¬†Servers have so much power today that dedicating one to a single workload just doesn’t make any sense anymore.

Network virtualization from OpenFlow and others also makes a lot of sense (see OpenFlow the next wave in networking and OpenFlow part 2, Cisco’s response posts). Here we aren’t necessarily boosting network utilization as much as changing resource allocation to deal with altered traffic flows. ¬†That and the fact that provisioning, monitoring and other management characteristics can now be under pragmatic control from the user makes these systems very appealing. Especially, to organizations that exhibit varying network activity over time.

Storage virtualization has been around for a long time too and essentially places a storage system abstraction layer on top of a group of other, heterogeneous storage systems. This provides a number of capabilities such as allowing data to be migrated from one storage system to another without host knowledge or intervention.  Other storage virtualization features include, centralized, management, common storage features, different storage personalities (protocols), etc. But just being able to migrate data from one storage system to another without host intervention or knowledge provides an awful lot of value, especially to large data centers which refresh technology frequently.

Software defined storage compared to server virtualization

Software defined storage seems to imply some ability to marry storage virtualization services to RESTful and other APIs which would allow programatic storage provisioning, monitoring and management.  This would allow data centers to manage and control their storage without involving storage administrators in day-to-day activities.

When I compare this to server virtualization the above described capabilities really don’t increase storage utilization much. ¬†Yes, by automating provisioning or even running thin provisioning one can potentially boost storage capacity utilization but you really haven’t increased the IO utilization much by doing this.

Looking under the covers of most storage systems one might find that CPU cores are pretty idle, but data paths and storage devices are typically running flat out. ¬†One problem is that today’s enterprise storage subsystems are already highly shared across applications and users. ¬†So there is really no barrier to sharing these resources as widely as they can. ¬† As such, storage system IOPS and/or bandwidth utilization is already pretty high. ¬† I would say a typical enterprise application environment storage subsystem performance usually runs above 30% and reaching 50% or more during peak time periods. Increasing IOPS utilization much beyond that risks seriously impacting peak performance periods.

Now if somehow one could migrate slower data around a complex to lower performing storage when there’s no need for high performance and higher performing data to higher performing storage when there is a need then that could help increase performance utilization considerably. ¬† But, many storage systems already do this internally through automated storage tiering and even some can do this across storage systems using storage virtualization.

But the underlying problem here is that in takes a lot of time, resources and effort to move TBs of data around a data center, especially when its doing other work.  So other than something akin to storage tiering across storage systems we are unlikely to see much increase in storage performance utilization with a gaggle of multiple storage systems.  I suppose in the future moving TB of data may take much less time & resources than today but then the problem becomes moving PB of data around.

Software defined storage compared to network virtualization

When I compare the above capabilities to network virtualization it doesn’t look very similar. ¬† There’s really no way to change the storage performance to optimize it for one direction (or application) at this instant and then move storage performance around to another application a couple of hours later. ¬†Yes, again automated storage tiering can do this, and yes some of these systems can tier across storage systems using storage virtualization but in general barring storage tiering there’s nothing like this available today. ¬†

Maybe if inside a storage system the data paths could somehow be programatically reconfigured to offer say more internal bandwidth to the Device-to-Cache path vs. the Cache-to-Frontend path. Changing or reconfiguring data path resources like this could certainly optimize the internal performance of a storage system and this would be a worthwhile feature of any software defined storage. ¬†Knowing which is more important to one application and less important to all the others will take some smarts, across the storage system and host O/S but it’s certainly feasible. ¬†So, with¬†RESTful interfaces, APIs or application hints data paths could be reconfigurations on demand to support applications that are all vieing for IO activity. ¬†

With these sorts of capabilities software defined storage starts to look a little more like software defined networking.

Software defined storage on its own

But in the end we always reach a fundamental limit of IO capabilities in today’s storage systems which is the devices. Yes you can have 2000 or more devices in high-end storage ¬†today and yes you can have all-flash arrays. However, most storage systems are configured to keep whatever devices they have pretty busy as much of the time as possible.

Until we create some sort of storage device that can provide more performance than most applications can ever use, even when they are shared via a storage system, software defined storage capabilities will be limited. ¬†Today’s SSDs have certainly boosted performance considerably but this just means that most applications that warrant all flash arrays are performing faster. ¬†It just so happens that some applications can take all the performance you throw at them and still want more.

I suppose if SSDs cost were to come down to match NL-SAS storage prices and still maintain the 100X faster IOP rate, then maybe a storage system built on such devices could be more “software defined” than others. ¬†And maybe that’s where everyone is headed, believing NAND/SSD price trends will drive costs down so much that everyone can have all the IOPS performance they will ever need out of a single storage system.

Yet, this still just looks like shared storage we have today, only more of it. So we return back to our roots and see that software defined storage is just another way to add more storage sharing. Storage virtualization is nice, new more programmatical storage systems is even better but faster-cheaper storage devices is best of all.

So what we really need is much cheaper SSDs to realize the full promise of software defined storage.   In the mean time opening up APIs and providing RESTful interfaces to provide programatic interfaces to provisioning, monitoring, managing and tuning storage system data paths and other performance characteristics are all we can hope for.

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Oracle (finally) releases StorageTek VSM6

[Full disclosure: I helped develop the underlying hardware for VSM 1-3 and also way back, worked on HSC for StorageTek libraries.]

Virtual Storage Manager System 6 (VSM6) is here. Not exactly sure when VSM5 or VSM5E were released but it seems like an awful long time in Internet years.  The new VSM6 migrates the platform to Solaris software and hardware while expanding capacity and improving performance.

What’s VSM?

Oracle StorageTek VSM is a virtual tape system for mainframe, System z environments.  It provides a multi-tiered storage system which includes both physical disk and (optional) tape storage for long term big data requirements for z OS applications.

VSM6 emulates up to 256 virtual IBM tape transports but actually moves data to and from VSM Virtual Tape Storage Subsystem (VTSS) disk storage and backend real tape transports housed in automated tape libraries.  As VSM data ages, it can be migrated out to physical tape such as a StorageTek SL8500 Modular [Tape] Library system that is attached behind the VSM6 VTSS or system controller.

VSM6 offers a number of replication solutions for DR to keep data in multiple sites in synch and to copy data to offsite locations.  In addition, real tape channel extension can be used to extend the VSM storage to span onsite and offsite repositories.

One can cluster together up to 256 VSM VTSSs  into a tapeplex which is then managed under one pane of glass as a single large data repository using HSC software.

What’s new with VSM6?

The new VSM6 hardware increases volatile cache to 128GB from 32GB (in VSM5).  Non-volatile cache goes up as well, now supporting up to ~440MB, up from 256MB in the previous version.  Power, cooling and weight all seem to have also gone up (the wrong direction??) vis a vis VSM5.

The new VSM6 removes the ESCON option of previous generations and moves to 8 FICON and 8 GbE Virtual Library Extension (VLE) links. FICON channels are used for both host access (frontend) and real tape drive access (backend).  VLE was introduced in VSM5 and offers a ZFS based commodity disk tier behind the VSM VTSS for storing data that requires longer residency on disk.  Also, VSM supports a tapeless or disk-only solution for high performance requirements.

System capacity moves from 90TB (gosh that was a while ago) to now support up to 1.2PB of data.  I believe much of this comes from supporting the new T10,000C tape cartridge and drive (5TB uncompressed).  With the ability of VSM to cluster more VSM systems to the tapeplex, system capacity can now reach over 300PB.

Somewhere along the way VSM started supporting triple redundancy  for the VTSS disk storage which provides better availability than RAID6.  Not sure why they thought this was important but it does deal with increasing disk failures.

Oracle stated that VSM6 supports up to 1.5GB/Sec of throughput. Presumably this is landing data on disk or transferring the data to backend tape but not both. ¬†There doesn’t appear to be any standard benchmarking for these sorts of systems so, will take their word for it.

Why would anyone want one?

Well it turns out plenty of mainframe systems use tape for a number of things such as data backup, HSM, and big data batch applications.  Once you get past the sunk  costs for tape transports, automation, cartridges and VSMs, VSM storage can be a pretty competitive data storage solution for the mainframe environment.

The fact that most mainframe environments grew up with tape and have long ago invested in transports, automation and new cartridges probably makes VSM6 an even better buy. ¬†But tape is also making a comeback in open systems with LTO-5 and now LTO-6 coming out and with Oracle’s 5TB T10000C cartridge and IBM’s 4TB 3592 JC¬†cartridge.

Not to mention Linear Tape File System (LTFS) as a new tape format that provides a file system for tape data which has brought renewed interest in all sorts of tape storage applications.

Competition not standing still

EMC introduced their¬†Disk Library for Mainframe 6000 (DLm6000) product that supports two different backends to deal with the diversity of tape use in the mainframe environment. ¬†Moreover, IBM has continuously enhanced their Virtual Tape Server the TS7700 but I would have to say it doesn’t come close to these capacities.

Lately, when I talked with long time StorageTek tape mainframe customers they have all said the same thing. When is VSM6 coming out and when will Oracle get their act in gear and start supporting us again.  Hopefully this signals a new emphasis on this market.  Although who is losing and who is winning in the mainframe tape market is the subject of much debate, there is no doubt that the lack of any update to VSM has hurt Oracle StorageTek tape business.

Something tells me that Oracle may have fixed this problem.  We hope that we start to see some more timely VSM enhancements in the future, for their sake and especially for their customers.

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Image credit: Interior of StorageTek tape library at NERSC (2) by Derrick Coetzee