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.

57: GreyBeards talk midrange storage with Pierluca Chiodelli, VP of Prod. Mgmt. & Cust. Ops., Dell EMC Midrange Storage

Sponsored by:

Dell EMC Midrange Storage

In this episode we talk with Pierluca Chiodelli  (@chiodp), Vice President of Product, Management and Customer Experience at Dell EMC Midrange storage.  Howard talked with Pierluca at SFD14 and I talked with Pierluca at SFD13. He started working there as a customer engineer and has worked his way up to VP since then.

This is the second time (Dell) EMC has been on our show (see our EMCWorld2015 summary podcast with Chad Sakac) but this is the first sponsored podcast from Dell EMC. Pierluca seems to have been with (Dell) EMC forever.

You may recall that Dell EMC has two product families in their midrange storage portfolio. Pierluca provides a number of reasons why both continue to be invested in, enhanced and sold on the market today.

Dell EMC Unity and SC product lines

Dell EMC Unity storage is the outgrowth of unified block and file storage that was first released in the EMC VNXe series storage systems. Unity continues that tradition of providing both file and block storage in a dense, 2 rack U system configuration, with dual controllers, high availability, AFA and hybrid storage systems. The other characteristic of Unity storage is its tight integration with VMware virtualization environments.

Dell EMC SC series storage continues the long tradition of Dell Compellent storage systems, which support block storage and which invented data progression technology.  Data progression is storage tiering on steroids, with support for multi-tiered rotating disk (across the same drive), flash, and now cloud storage. SC series is also considered a set it and forget it storage system that just takes care of itself without the need for operator/admin tuning or extensive monitoring.

Dell EMC is bringing together both of these storage systems in their CloudIQ, cloud based, storage analytics engine and plan to have both systems supported under the Unisphere management engine.

Also Unity storage can tier files to the cloud and copy LUN snapshots to the public cloud using their Cloud Tiering Appliance software.  With their UnityVSA Software Defined Storage appliance and VMware vSphere running in AWS, the file and snapshot data can then be accessed in the cloud. SC Series storage will have similar capabilities, available soon.

At the end of the podcast, Pierluca talks about Dell EMC’s recently introduced Customer Loyalty Programs, which include: Never Worry Data Migrations, Built-in VirtuSteram Storage Cloud, 4:1 Storage Efficiency Guarantee, All-inclusive Software pricing, 3-year Satisfaction Guarantee, Hardware Investment Protection, and Predictable Support Pricing.

The podcast runs ~27 minutes. Pierluca is a very knowledgeable individual and although he has a beard, it’s not grey (yet). He’s been with EMC storage forever and has a long, extensive history in midrange storage, especially with Dell EMC’s storage product families. It’s been a pleasure for Howard and I to talk with him again.  Listen to the podcast to learn more.

Pierluca Chiodelli, V.P. of Product Management & Customer Operations, Dell EMC Midrange Storage

Pierluca Chiodelli is currently the Vice President of Product Management for Dell EMC’s suite of Mid-Range solutions including, Unity, VNX, and VNXe from heritage EMC storage and Compellent, EqualLogic, and Windows Storage Server from heritage Dell Storage.

Pierluca’s organization is comprised of four teams: Product Strategy, Performance & Competitive Engineering, Solutions, and Core & Strategic Account engineering. The teams are responsible for ensuring Dell EMC’s mid-range solutions enable end users and service providers to transform their operations and deliver information technology as a service.

Pierluca has been with EMC since 1999, with experience in field support and core engineering across Europe and the Americas. Prior to joining EMC, he worked at Data General and as a consultant for HP Corporation.

Pierluca holds one degree in Chemical Engineering and second one in Information Technology.


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.

47: Greybeards talk Storage as a Service with Lazarus Vekiarides, CTO & Co-Founder ClearSky Data

Sponsored By:

In this episode, we talk with ClearSky Data’s Lazarus Vekiarides, CTO and Co-founder,  who we have talked with before (see our podcast from October 2015). ClearSky Data provides a storage-as-a-service offering that uses an on-premises appliance plus point of presence (PoP) storage in the local metro area to hold customer data and offloads this data to cloud storage. In addition to the on-premises storage-as-a-service they offer access to customer data from an in-cloud virtual appliance. ClearSky provides the whole storage service, including gigabit metro Ethernet connections from the customer to the POP for simple capacity based charge every month.

How does it work

Their Edge (on premises) appliance supports 24 SSDs and can scale up to 4 appliances. Soon a single appliance will be able to hold up to 32TB of data.  It’s intended to hold a data center’s entire working set for one week of activity. So essentially it’s a big caching appliance for the local data center

For ClearSky Data the lone source of truth for customer data lies in the PoP. The PoP is connected to metro wide fibre that is available in a number of large metropolitan areas. Laz says they have measured sub 500 µsec round trip response time between their PoP equipment and Edge appliance. The PoP provides the backing store for the Edge appliance. Data written to the edge appliance(s) are written through to the PoP storage. This data and it’s metadata (<1% of LUN size) is flushed to cloud storage which holds the data indefinitely.

DR through the PoP

If customers have multiple data centers within the same metro area (100Km) then they can have a single “logical” array that accesses the same data, say a cluster file system across the two data centers. The PoP will take care of copying the metadata to the secondary edge device and will invalidate any data sitting in the secondary device which is no longer valid. In this way customers can have a Recovery Point Objective (RPO)=0 seconds. That is any data written to the primary data center is automatically available to the secondary data center as long as the PoP survives.

But even if you wanted to fail over to a different metro area the PoP data is offloaded to the cloud continuously so while you wouldn’t attain an RPO=0 seconds, it could be awfully short, on the order of a couple of seconds.

Recent enhancements

ClearSky Data has recently enhanced their storage as a service to provide policy management over snapshots. That is you can establish policies as to how often to take LUN snapshots and how long to retain them in the cloud.

Also, ClearSky Data has added VMware functionality via plugins that allow their storage to know which VMs are writing data or are being backed up to their appliance. And this is included in the metadata written for a LUN which is offloaded to the cloud. Someday soon when you can have vSphere running bare metal in a public cloud service, you will be able to run the Cloud Edge (cloud software version of their Edge appliance) and restore the data from your data center directly to the cloud and have an iSCSI LUN available to EC2 running VMware providing complete Cloud DR for a data center.

We talked a bit about our favorite topic, NVMe storage and Laz sees a potential for it to help their Edge appliances but at the moment fault-tolerence/high availability is not there. And as they are primary storage for data centers HA is a critical capability.

Pricing and availability

Their product is priced as a service in $0.nn/GB/Month and if you do a 36 month cost analysis they feel they would come out cheaper than hybrid storage. They currently have PoP’s in Boston, NyNy, Northern Virginia, Dallas, and California. Laz says they believe there’s 15 major metropolitan areas across the USA they have targeted for service.  What nothing in Europe or Asia? We would imagine this is merely a question of the number of customers, amount of data and metro infrastructure.

The podcast runs ~24 minutes. Laz has been in the storage industry across a number of companies and has been with a few startups as well. Laz is very knowledgeable about storage, cloud, and metro networking, a good friend and is always a pleasure to talk with.  Listen to the podcast to learn more.

Lazarus Vekiarides, CTO & Co-Founder ClearSky Data

For over 20 years Laz Vekiarides has served in key technical and leadership roles delivering breakthrough technologies to market. Most recently, he served as the Executive Director of Software Engineering for Dell’s EqualLogic Storage Engineering group, where he led the development of numerous storage innovations and established the EqualLogic product line as a leader in host OS and hypervisor integration.

Laz joined Dell from EqualLogic, which was acquired in early 2008, where he was a member of the core leadership team – playing a key role in the company’s early success as a Senior Engineering Manager and Architect for the PS Series SAN arrays and host tools. Prior to EqualLogic, Laz held senior engineering and management positions at several companies including 3COM and Banyan Systems.

An occasional blogger, Laz frequently speaks at industry conferences, particularly in the areas of virtualization and data storage. He holds several storage technology patents, as well as a BSEE from Northeastern University, and an MSCS from the Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

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.