58: GreyBeards talk HCI with Adam Carter, Chief Architect NetApp Solidfire #NetAppHCI

Sponsored by:In this episode we talk with Adam Carter (@yoadamcarter), Chief Architect, NetApp Solidfire & HCI (Hyper Converged Infrastructure) solutions. Howard talked with Adam at TFD16 and I have known Adam since before the acquisition. Adam did a tour de force session on HCI architectures at TFD16 and we would encourage you to view the video’s of his session.

This is the third time NetApp has been on our show (see our podcast with Lee Caswell and Dave Wright and our podcast with Andy Banta) but this is the first sponsored podcast from NetApp. Adam has been Chief Architect for Solidfire for as long as I have known him.

NetApp has FAS/AFF series storage, E-Series storage and SolidFire storage. Their HCI solution is based on their SolidFire storage system.

NetApp SolidFire HCI Appliance

 

NetApp’s HCI solution is built around a 2U 4-server configuration where 3 of the nodes are actual denser, new SolidFire storage nodes and the 4th node is a VMware ESXi host. That is they have a real, fully functional SolidFile AFA SAN storage system built directly into their HCI solution.

There’s probably a case to be made that this isn’t technically a HCI system from an industry perspective and looks more like a well architected, CI  (converged infrastructure) solution. However, they do support VMs running on their system, its all packaged together as one complete system, and they offer end-to-end (one throat to choke) support, over the complete system.

In addition, they spent a lot of effort improving SolidFire’s, already great VMware software integration to offer a full management stack that fully supports both the vSphere environment and the  embedded SolidFire AFA SAN storage system.

Using a full SolidFire storage system in their solution, NetApp  gave up on the low-end (<$30K-$50K) portion of the HCI market. But to supply the high IO performance, multi-tenancy, and QoS services of current SolidFire storage systems, they felt they had to embed a full SAN storage system.

With other HCI solutions, the storage activity must contend with other VMs and kernel processing on the server. And in these solutions, the storage system doesn’t control CPU/core/thread allocation and as such, can’t guarantee IO service levels that SolidFire is known for.

Also, by configuring their system with a real AFA SAN system, new additional ESXi servers can be added to the complex without needing to purchase additional storage software licenses. Further, customers can add bare metal servers to this environment and there’s still plenty of IO performance to go around. On the other hand, if a customer truly needs more storage performance/capacity, they can always add an additional, standalone SolidFire storage node to the cluster.

The podcast runs ~23 minutes. Adam was very easy to talk with and had deep technical knowledge of their new solution, industry HCI solutions and SolidFire storage.  It’s was a great pleasure for Howard and I to talk with him again. Listen to the podcast to learn more.

Adam Carter, Chief Architect, NetApp SolidFire

Adam Carter is the Chief Product Architect for SolidFire and HCI at NetApp. Adam is an expert in next generation data center infrastructure and storage virtualization.

Adam has led product management at LeftHand Networks, HP, VMware, SolidFire, and NetApp bringing revolutionary products to market. Adam pioneered the industry’s first Virtual Storage Appliance (VSA) product at LeftHand Networks and helped establish VMware’s VSA certification category.

Adam brings deep product knowledge and broad experience in the software defined data center ecosystem.

55: GreyBeards storage and system yearend review with Ray & Howard

In this episode, the Greybeards discuss the year in systems and storage. This year we kick off the discussion with a long running IT trend which has taken off over the last couple of years. That is, recently the industry has taken to buying pre-built appliances rather than building them from the ground up.

We can see this in all the hyper-converged solutions available  today but it goes even deeper than that. It seems to have started with the trend in organizations to get by with less man-women power.

This led to a desire to purchase pre-buit software applications and now, appliances rather than build from parts. It just takes to long to build and lead architects have better things to do with their time than checking compatibility lists, testing and verifying that hardware works properly with software. The pre-built appliances are good enough and doing it yourself doesn’t really provide that much of an advantage over the pre-built solutions.

Next, we see the coming systems using NVMe over Fabric storage systems as sort of a countertrend to the previous one. Here we see some customers paying well for special purpose hardware with blazing speed that takes time and effort to get working right, but the advantages are significant. Both Howard and I were at the Excelero SFD12 event and it blew us away. Howard also attended the E8 Storage SFD14 event which was another example along a similar vein.

Finally, the last trend we discussed was the rise of 3D TLC and the absence of 3DX and other storage class memory (SCM) technologies to make a dent in the marketplace. 3D TLC NAND is coming out of just about every fab these days and resulting in huge (but costly) SSDs, in the multi-TB range.  Combine these with NVMe interfaces and you have msec access to almost a PB of storage without breaking a sweat.

The missing 3DX SCM tsunami some of us predicted is mainly due to the difficulties in bringing new fab technologies to market. We saw some of this in the stumbling with 3D NAND but the transition to 3DX and other SCM technologies is a much bigger change to new processes and technology. We all believe it will get there someday but for the moment, the industry just needs to wait until the fabs get their yields up.

The podcast runs over 44 minutes. Howard and I could talk for hours on what’s happening in IT today. Listen to the podcast to learn more.

Howard Marks is the Founder and Chief Scientist of howardmarksDeepStorage, a prominent blogger at Deep Storage Blog and can be found on twitter @DeepStorageNet.

 

Ray Lucchesi is the President and Founder of Silverton Consulting, a prominent blogger at RayOnStorage.com, and can be found on twitter @RayLucchesi.

52: GreyBeards talk software defined storage with Kiran Sreenivasamurthy, VP Product Management, Maxta

This month we talk with an old friend from Storage Field Day 7 (videos), Kiran Sreenivasamurthy, VP of Product Management for Maxta. Maxta has a software defined storage solution which currently works on VMware vSphere, Red Hat Virtualization and KVM to supply shared, scale out storage and HCI solutions for enterprises across the world.

Maxta is similar to VMware’s vSAN software defined storage whose licenses can be transferred from one server to another, as you upgrade your data center over time. As software defined storage, Maxta runs on any standard Intel X86 hardware. Indeed, Maxta has one customer running two Super Micro servers and one Cisco server in the same cluster.

Maxta advantages

One item that makes Maxta unique is all of its storage properties are assignable at a VM granularity. That is,  replication, deduplication, compression and even blocksize can all be enabled/set at the VMDK-VM level.  This could be useful for environments supporting diverse applications, such as having a 64K block size for Microsoft Exchange and 4K block size for web servers.

Another advantage is their multi-hypervisor support. Maxta’s support for RH Virtualization, VMware and KVM offers the unique ability to migrate storage and even powered off VMs, from one hypervisor to another. Maxta’s file system is the same for both VMware and KVM clusters.

Maxta clusters

Their software must be licensed on all servers in a vSphere or KVM cluster with access to Maxta storage. The minimum Maxta cluster size is 3 nodes for 2-way replication and 5 nodes for 3-way replication.  Most Maxta systems run on 8 to 12 server node clusters. But Maxta has installations with 20 to 24 nodes in customer deployments.

Maxta supports SSD only as well as SSD-disk hybrid storage. And SSDs can be NVMe as well as SATA SSD storage. In hybrid configurations, Maxta SSDs are used as read and write back caches for disk storage.

Maxta supports compute only nodes, compute-storage nodes and witness only nodes (node with 1 storage device). In addition, besides heterogeneous server support, Maxta clusters can have nodes with different storage capacities. Maxta will optimize VM data placement to balance IO activity across heterogeneous nodes.

Maxta provides a vCenter plugin so VMware admins can manage and monitor their storage inside vSphere environment. Maxta also offers a Cloud Connect MX which is a cloud based system allowing for management of all your Maxta clusters through out an enterprise, wherever they reside.

Even HCI, through partners

For customers wanting an HCI solution, Maxta partners can supply pre-tested, HCI appliances or can configure Maxta software with servers at customer data centers. Maxta has done well OEMing their solution, and one significant success has been their OEM deal with Lenovo in China and East Asia, where they sell HCI appliances with Maxta software.

Maxta has also found success with managed service providers (that want to deploy the software on their own hardware), and SME & ROBO environments. Also Maxta seems to be doing very well in Latin America as well as previously mentioned China.

The podcast runs ~42 minutes. Kiran is knowledgeable individual and has worked with some of the leading storage companies of the last two decades.  Listen to the podcast to learn more.

Kiran Sreenivasamurthy, VP Product Management, Maxta

Kiran Sreenivasamurthy is the Vice President of Product Management for Maxta Inc. He has developed and managed storage hardware and software products for more than 20 years with leading storage companies and startups including HP 3PAR, NetApp and Mendocino Software.

Kiran Manages all aspects of Maxta’s hyperconvergence product portfolio from inception through revenue.

51: GreyBeards talk hyper convergence with Lee Caswell, VP Product, Storage & Availability BU, VMware

Sponsored by:

VMware

In this episode we talk with Lee Caswell (@LeeCaswell), Vice President of Product, Storage and Availability Business Unit, VMware.  This is the second time Lee’s been on our show, the previous one back in April of last year when he was with his prior employer. Lee’s been at VMware for a little over a year now and has helped lead some significant changes in their HCI offering, vSAN.

VMware vSAN/HCI business

Many customers struggle to modernize their data centers with funding being the primary issue. This is very similar to what happened in the early 2000s as customers started virtualizing servers and consolidating storage. But today, there’s a new option, server based/software defined storage like VMware’s vSAN, which can be deployed for little expense and grown incrementally as needed. VMware’s vSAN customer base is currently growing by 150% CAGR, and VMware is adding over 100 new vSAN customers a week.

Many companies say they offer HCI, but few have adopted the software-only business model this entails. The transition from a hardware-software, appliance-based business model to a software-only business model is difficult and means a move from a high revenue-lower margin business to a lower revenue-higher margin business. VMware, from its very beginnings, has built a sustainable software-only business model that extends to vSAN today.

The software business model means that VMware can partner easily with a wide variety of server OEM partners to supply vSAN ReadyNodes that are pre-certified and jointly supported in the field. There are currently 14 server partners for vSAN ReadyNodes. In addition, VMware has co-designed the VxRail HCI Appliance with Dell EMC, which adds integrated life-cycle management as well as Dell EMC data protection software licenses.

As a result, customers can adopt vSAN as a build or a buy option for on-prem use and can also leverage vSAN in the cloud from a variety of cloud providers, including AWS very soon. It’s the software-only business model that sets the stage for this common data management across the hybrid cloud.

VMware vSAN software defined storage (SDS)

The advent of Intel Xeon processors and plentiful, relatively cheap SSD storage has made vSAN an easy storage solution for most virtualized data centers today. SSDs removed any performance concerns that customers had with hybrid HCI configurations. And with Intel’s latest Xeon Scalable processors, there’s more than enough power to handle both application compute and storage compute workloads.

From Lee’s perspective, there’s still a place for traditional SAN storage, but he sees it more for cold storage that is scaled independently from servers or for bare metal/non-virtualized storage environments. But for everyone else using virtualized data centers, they really need to give vSAN a look.

Storage vendors shifting sales

It used to be that major storage vendor sales teams would lead with hardware appliance storage solutions and then move to HCI when pushed. The problem was that a typical SAN storage sale takes 9 months to complete and then 3 years of limited additional sales.

To address this, some vendors have taken the approach where they lead with HCI and only move to legacy storage when it’s a better fit. With VMware vSAN, it’s a quicker sales cycle than legacy storage because HCI costs less up front and there’s no need to buy the final storage configuration with the first purchase. VMware vSAN HCI can grow as the customer applications needs dictate, generating additional incremental sales over time.

VMware vSAN in AWS

Recently, VMware has announced VMware Cloud in AWS.What this means is that you can have vSAN storage operating in an AWS cloud just like you would on-prem. In this case, workloads could migrate from cloud to on-prem and back again with almost no changes. How the data gets from on-prem to cloud is another question.

Also the pricing model for VMware Cloud in AWS moves to a consumption based model, where you pay for just what you use on a monthly basis. This way VMware Cloud in AWS and vSAN is billed monthly, consistent with other AWS offerings.

VMware vs. Microsoft on cloud

There’s a subtle difference in how Microsoft and VMware are adopting cloud. VMware came from an infrastructure platform and is now implementing their infrastructure on cloud. Microsoft started as a development platform and is taking their cloud development platform/stack and bringing it to on-prem.

It’s really two different philosophies in action. We now see VMware doing more for the development community with vSphere Integrated Containers (VIC), Docker Containers, Kubernetes, and Pivotal Cloud foundry. Meanwhile Microsoft is looking to implement the Azure stack for on-prem environments, and they are focusing more on infrastructure. In the end, enterprises will have terrific choices as the software defined data center frees up customers dollars and management time.

The podcast runs ~25 minutes. Lee is a very knowledgeable individual and although he doesn’t qualify as a Greybeard (just yet), he has been in and around the data center and flash storage environments throughout most of his career. From his diverse history, Lee has developed a very business like perspective on data center and storage technologies and it’s always a pleasure talking with him.  Listen to the podcast to learn more.

Lee Caswell, V.P. of Product, Storage & Availability Business Unit, VMware

Lee Caswell leads the VMware storage marketing team driving vSAN products, partnerships, and integrations. Lee joined VMware in 2016 and has extensive experience in executive leadership within the storage, flash and virtualization markets.

Prior to VMware, Lee was vice president of Marketing at NetApp and vice president of Solution Marketing at Fusion-IO (now SanDisk). Lee was a founding member of Pivot3, a company widely considered to be the founder of hyper-converged systems, where he served as the CEO and CMO. Earlier in his career, Lee held marketing leadership positions at Adaptec, and SEEQ Technology, a pioneer in non-volatile memory. He started his career at General Electric in Corporate Consulting.

Lee holds a bachelor of arts degree in economics from Carleton College and a master of business administration degree from Dartmouth College. Lee is a New York native and has lived in northern California for many years. He and his wife live in Palo Alto and have two children. In his spare time Lee enjoys cycling, playing guitar, and hiking the local hills.

46: Greybeards discuss Dell EMC World2017 happenings on vBrownBag

In this episode Howard and I were both at Dell EMC World2017 this past month and Alastair Cooke (@DemitasseNZ) asked us to do a talk at the show for the vBrownBag group (Youtube video here). The GreyBeards asked for a copy of the audio for this podcast.

Sorry about the background noise, but we recorded live at the show, with a huge teleprompter in the background that was re-broadcasting keynotes/interviews from the show.

At the show

Howard was at Dell EMC World2017 on a media pass and I was at the show on an industry analyst pass. There were parts of the show that he saw, that I didn’t and vice versa, but all keynotes and major industry outreach were available to both of us.

As always the Dell EMC team put on a great show, and kudos have to go to their AR and PR teams for having both of us there and creating a great event. There were lots of news at the show and both of us were impressed by how well Dell EMC have come together, in such a short time.

In addition, there were a number of Dell partners at the show. Howard met  Datadobi on the show floor who have a file migration tool that walks a filesystem tree and migrates files as well as reports on files it can’t. And we both saw Datrium (who we talked with last year).

Servers and other news

We both liked Dell’s new 14th generation server. But Howard objected to the lack of technical specs on it. Apparently, Intel won’t let specs be published until they announce their new CPU chipsets, sometime later this year. On the other hand, there were a few server specs discussed. For example, I was impressed the new servers would support many more NVMe cards. Howard liked the new server support for NV-DIMMs, mainly for the potential latency reduction that could provide software defined storage.

That led us on a tangent discussion about whether there is a place for non-software defined storage anymore.  Howard mentioned the downside of HCI/software defined storage on upgrading server (DIMM, PCIe card) hardware.

However, appliance hardware seems to be getting easier to upgrade. The new Unity AFA storage can be upgraded, non-disruptively from the low end to high end appliance by just swapping out controller hardware canisters.

Howard was also interested in Dell EMC’s new CloudFlex purchasing model for HCI solutions. This supplies an almost cloud-like purchasing option for customers. Where for a one year commitment,  you pay as you go (no money down, just monthly payments) rather than an up front capital purchase. After the year’s commitment expires you can send the hardware back to Dell EMC and stop paying.

We talked about Tier 0 storage. EMC DSSD was an early attempt to provide Tier 0 but came with lots of special purpose hardware. When commodity hardware and software emerged last year with NVMe SSD speed, DSSD was no longer viable at the premium pricing needed for all that hardware and was shut down. Howard and I discussed how doing special hardware requires one to be much faster (10-100X) than commodity hardware solutions to succeed and the gap has to be continued.

The other big storage news was the new VMAX 950F AFA and its performance numbers. Dell EMC said the new VMAX could do 6.7M IOPS of RRH (random read hit) and had a 350µsec response time. Howard noted that Dell EMC didn’t say at what IO load they achieved the 350µsec response time. I told him it almost didn’t matter, even if it was a single IO at that response time, it was significant.

The podcast runs about 40 minutes. It’s just Howard and I talking about what we saw/heard at the show and the occasional, tangental topic.  Listen to the podcast to learn more.


Howard Marks, DeepStorage

Howard Marks is the Founder and Chief Scientist of howardmarksDeepStorage, a prominent blogger at Deep Storage Blog and can be found on twitter @DeepStorageNet.

Ray Lucchesi, Silverton Consulting

Ray Lucchesi is the President and Founder of Silverton Consulting, a prominent blogger at RayOnStorage Blog, and can be found on twitter @RayLucchesi.