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.

45: Greybeards talk desktop cloud backup/storage & disk reliability with Andy Klein, Director Marketing, Backblaze

In this episode, we talk with Andy Klein, Dir of Marketing for Backblaze, which backs up  desktops and computers to the cloud and also offers cloud storage.

Backblaze has a unique consumer data protection solution where customers pay a flat fee to backup their desktops and then may pay a separate fee for a large recovery. On their website, they have a counter indicating they have restored almost 22.5B files. Desktop/computer backup costs $50/year. To restore files, if it’s under 500GB you can get a ZIP file downloaded at no charge but if it’s larger, you can get a USB flash stick or hard drive shipped FedEx but it will cost you.

They also offer a cloud storage service called B2 (not AWS S3 compatible) which costs $5/TB/year. Backblaze just celebrated their tenth anniversary last April.

Early on Backblaze figured out the only way they were going to succeed was to use consumer class disk drives and to engineer their own hardware and to write their own software to manage them.

Backblaze openness

Backblaze has always been a surprisingly open company. Their Storage Pod hardware (6th generation now) has been open sourced from the start and holds 60 drives for 480TB raw capacity.

A couple of years back when there was a natural disaster in SE Asia, disk drive manufacturing was severely impacted and their cost per GB for disk drives, almost doubled overnight. Considering they were buying about 50PB of drives during that period it was going to cost them ~$1M extra. But you could still purchase drives, in limited quantities, at select discount outlets. So, they convinced all their friends and family to go out and buy consumer drives for them (see their drive farming post[s] for more info).

Howard said that Gen 1 of their Storage Pod hardware used rubber bands to surround and hold disk drives and as a result, it looked like junk. The rubber bands were there to dampen drive rotational vibration because they were inserted vertically. At the time, most if not all of the storage industry used horizontally inserted drives.  Nowadays just about every vendor has a high density, vertically inserted drive tray but we believe Backblaze was the first to use this approach in volume.

Hard drive reliability at Backblaze

These days Backblaze has over 300PB of storage and they have  been monitoring their disk drive SMART (error) logs since the start.  Sometime during 2013 they decided to keep the log data rather than recycling the space. Since they had the data and were calculating drive reliability anyways, they thought that the industry and consumers would appreciate seeing their reliability info. In December of 2014 Backblaze published their hard drive reliability report using Annualized Failure Rates (AFR) they calculated from the many thousands of disk drives they ran every day. They had not released Q2 2017 hard drive stats yet but their Q1 2017 hard drive stats post has been out now for about 3 months.

Most drive vendors report disk reliability using Mean Time Between Failure (MTBF), which is the interval of time until half the drives will fail.  AFR is an alternative reliability metric, which is the percentage of drives that will fail in one year’s time.  Although both are equivalent (for MTBF in hours, AFR=8766/MTBF), AFR is more useful as it tells users the percent of drives they can expect to fail over the next twelve months.

Drive costs matter, but performance matters more

It seemed to the Greybeards that SMR (shingle magnetic recording, read my RoS post for more info) disks would be a great fit for Backblaze’s application. But Andy said their engineering team looked at SMR disks and found the 2nd write (overwrite of a zone) had terrible performance. As Backblaze often has customers who delete files or drop the service, they reuse existing space all the time and SMR disks would hurt performance too much.

We also talked a bit about their current data protection scheme. The new scheme is a Reed Solomon (RS) solution with data written to 17 Storage Pods and parity written to 3 Storage Pods across a 20 Storage Pod group called a Vault.  This way they can handle 3 Storage Pod failures across a Vault without losing customer data.

Besides disk reliability and performance, Backblaze is also interested in finding the best $/GB for drives they purchase. Andy said nowadays the consumer disk pricing (at Backblaze’s volumes) generally falls between ~$0.04/GB and ~$0.025/GB, with newer generation disks starting out at the higher price and as the manufacturing lines mature, fall to the lower price. Currently, Backblaze is buying 8TB disk drives.

The podcast runs ~45 minutes.  Andy was great to talk with and was extremely knowledgeable about disk drives, reliability statistics and “big” storage environments.  Listen to the podcast to learn more.

Andy Klein, Director of marketing at Backblaze

Mr. Klein has 25 years of experience in the cloud storage, computer security, and network security.

Prior to Backblaze he worked at Symantec, Checkpoint, PGP, and PeopleSoft, as well as startups throughout Silicon Valley.

He has presented at the Federal Trade Commission, RSA, the Commonwealth Club, Interop, and other computer security and cloud storage events


44: Greybeards talk 3rd platform backup with Tarun Thakur, CEO Datos IO

Sponsored By:

In this episode, we talk with a new vendor that’s created a new method to backup database information. Our guest for this podcast is Tarun Thakur, CEO of Datos IO. Datos IO was started in 2014 with the express purpose to provide a better way to back up and recover databases in the cloud. They started with noSQL, cloud based databases, such as MongoDB and Cassandra.

The problem with backing up noSQL and any SQL databases for that matter, is that they are big files and always have some changes in them. So, for most typical backup systems, databases are always flagged as files that have been changed and thus need to be backed up. So each incremental, backups up the whole database file, even if only a row has changed. All this results in a tremendous waste of storage.

Deduplication can help, but there are problems deduplicating databases. Many databases used compressed data for storing data and deduplication that is based on fixed length blocks don’t work well for variable length, compressed data (see my RayOnStorage Poor deduplication … post).

Also, variable length deduplication algorithms are usually based on known start of record triggers to understand where a chunk of data can be found. Some databases do not use these start of row, start of table indicators, which throw off variable length deduplication algorithms.

So, with traditional backup systems most databases don’t deduplicate very well and are backed up all the time resulting in lots of waisted storage space.

How’s Datos IO different?

Datos IO identifies and backups only changed data, not changed (database) files. Their Datos IO RecoverX product extracts rows from a database, identifies whether this data has changed and then just backups the changed data.

As more customers create applications for the cloud, backups become a critical component of cloud operations. Most cloud based applications are developed from the start, using noSQL databases.

Traditional backup packages don’t work well with NoSQL, cloud databases, if at all. And data center customers are reluctant to move their expensive, enterprise backup packages to the cloud, even if they could operate effectively there.

Datos IO saw that backing up noSQL MongoDB and Cassandra databases in the cloud as a major new opportunity, if it could be done properly.

How does Datos IO backup changed  data?

Essentially, RecoverX takes a point-in-time snapshot of the database and then reads each table, row by row, comparing (hashes of) each row’s data obtained, with the row data they previously backed up and if changed, the new row’s data is added to the current backup. This provides a semantic deduplication of database data.

Furthermore, because RecoverX is looking at the data rather than files, compressed data works just as well as uncompressed. Datos IO uses standardized database APIs to extract the row data, that way they remain compatible with each release of database software.

RecoverX backups reside in S3 objects on the public cloud.

New in RecoverX Version 2

Many customers liked their approach so much they wanted RecoverX to do this for regular SQL databases as well. Major customers are not just developing new applications for the cloud they also want to do enterprise application development, test and QA in the cloud as well, and these applications almost always use SQL databases.

So, Datos IO RecoverX Version 2 nows supports migration and cloud backups for standardized SQL databases. They are starting with MySQL, with plans to support other SQL databases used by the enterprise. Migration occurs by backing up the datacenter MySQL databases to the cloud and then recovering it to the cloud.

They have also added backup and recovery support for Apache Hadoop, HDFS from Cloudera and HortonWorks. Another change is that Datos IO originally offered only a 3 node solution but with Version 2, it will now support  up to a 5 node cluster.

They have also added more backup management and policy support. Now you can add/subtract database table backups at anytime. Now admins can change backup policies  to add or subtract tables/databases on the fly, even while backups are taking place.

The podcast runs ~30 minutes. Tarun has been in the storage industry for a number of years from microcoding storage control logic to managing major industry development organizations. He has an in depth knowledge of storage and backup systems that’s hard to come by and was a pleasure to talk with.  Listen to the podcast to learn more.

Tarun Thakur, CEO, Datos IO

Tarun Thakur is co-founder and CEO, where he leads overall Datos IO business strategy, day-to-day execution, and product efforts. Prior to founding Datos IO he held senior product and technical roles at several leading technology companies.

Most recently, he worked at Data Domain (EMC), where he led and delivered multiple product releases and new products. Prior to EMC, Thakur was at Veritas (Symantec), where he was responsible for inbound and outbound product management for their clustered NAS appliance products.

Prior to that, he worked at the IBM Almaden Research Center where he focused on distributed systems technology. Thakur started his career at Seagate, where he developed advanced storage architecture products.

Thakur has more than 10 patents granted from USPTO and holds an MBA from Duke University.

43: GreyBeards talk Tier 0 again with Yaniv Romem CTO/Founder & Josh Goldenhar VP Products of Excelero

In this episode, we talk with another next gen, Tier 0 storage provider. This time our guests are Yaniv Romem CTO/Founder  & Josh Goldenhar (@eeschwa) VP Products from Excelero, another new storage startup out of Israel.  Both Howard and I talked with Excelero at SFD12 (videos here) earlier last month in San Jose. I was very impressed with their raw performance and wrote a popular RayOnStorage blog post on their system (see my 4M IO/sec@227µsec 4KB Read… post) from our discussions during SFD12.

As we have discussed previously, Tier 0, next generation flash arrays provide very high performing storage at very low latencies with modest to non-existent advanced storage services. They are intended to replace server, direct access SSD storage with a more shared, scaleable storage solution.

In our last podcast (with E8 Storage) they sold a hardware Tier 0 appliance. As a different alternative, Excelero is a software defined, Tier 0 solution intended to be used on any commodity or off the shelf server hardware with high end networking and (low to high end) NVMe SSDs.

Indeed, what impressed me most with their 4M IO/sec, was that target storage system had almost 0 CPU utilization. (Read the post to learn how they did this). Excelero mentioned that they were able to generate high (11M random 4KB) IO/sec on  Intel Core 7, desktop-class CPU. Their one need in a storage server is plenty of PCIe lanes. They don’t even need to have dual socket storage servers, single socket CPU’s work just fine as long as the PCIe lanes are there.

Excelero software

Their intent is to bring Tier 0 capabilities out to all big storage environments. By providing a software only solution it could be easily OEMed by cluster file system vendors or HPC system vendors and generate amazing IO performance needed by their clients.

That’s also one of the reasons that they went with high end Ethernet networking rather than just Infiniband, which would have limited their market to mostly HPC environments. Excelero’s client software uses RoCE/RDMA hardware to perform IO operations with the storage server.

The other thing having little to no target storage server CPU utilization per IO operation gives them is the ability to scale up to 1000 of hosts or storage servers without reaching any storage system bottlenecks.  Another concern eliminated by minimal target server CPU utilization is that you can’t have a noisy neighbor problem, because there’s no target CPU processing to be shared.  Yet another advantage with Excelero is that bandwidth is only  limited by storage server PCIe lanes and networking.  A final advantage of their approach is that they can support any of the current and upcoming storage class memory devices supporting NVMe (e.g., Intel Optane SSDs).

The storage services they offer include RAID 0, 1 and 10 and a client side logical volume manager which supports multi-pathing. Logical volumes can span up to 128 storage servers, but can be accessed by almost any number of hosts. And there doesn’t appear to be a specific limit on the number of logical volumes you can have.


They support two different protocols across the 40GbE/100GbE networks. Standard NVMe over Fabric or RDDA (Excelero patented, proprietary Remote Direct Disk Array access). RDDA is what mainly provides the almost non-existent target storage server CPU utilization. But even with standard NVMe over Fabric they support low target CPU utilization. One proviso, with NVMe over Fabric, they do add shared volume functionality to support RAID device locking and additional fault tolerance capabilities.

On Excelero’s roadmap is thin provisioning, snapshots, compression and deduplication. However, they did mention that adding advanced storage functionality like this will impede performance. Currently, their distributed volume locking and configuration metadata is not normally accessed during an IO but when you add thin provisioning, snapshots and data reduction, this metadata needs to become more sophisticated and will necessitate some amount of access during and after an IO operation.

Excelero’s client software runs in Linux kernel mode client and they don’t currently support VMware or Hyper-V. But they do support KVM as a hypervisor and would be willing to support the others, if APIs were published or made available.

They also have an internal OpenStack Cinder driver but it’s not part of their OpenStack’s release yet. They’re waiting for snapshot to be available before they push this into the main code base. Ditto for Docker Engine but this is more of a beta capability today.

Excelero customer experience

One customer (NASA Ames/Moffat Field) deployed a single 2TB NVMe SSD across 128 hosts and had a single 256TB logical volume shared and accessed by all 128 hosts.

Another customer configured Excelero behind a clustered file system and was able to generate 30M randomized IO/sec at 200µsec latencies but more important, 140GB/sec of bandwidth. It turns out high bandwidth is important to many big data applications that have to roll lots of data into their analytics clusters, processing it and output results, and then do it all over again. Bandwidth limitations can impact the success of these types of applications.

By being software only they can be used in a standalone storage server or as a hyper-converged solution where applications and storage can be co-resident on the same server. As noted above, they currently support Linux O/Ss for their storage and client software and support any X86 Intel processor, any RDMA capable NIC, and any NVMe SSD.

Excelero GTM

Excelero is focused on the top 200 customers, which includes the hyper-scale providers like FaceBook, Google, Microsoft and others. But hyper-scale customers have huge software teams and really a single or few, very large/complex applications which they can create/optimize a Tier 0 storage for themselves.

It’s really the customers just below the hyper-scalar class, that have similar needs for high low latency IO/sec or high IO bandwidth (or both) but have 100s to 1000s of applications and they can’t afford to optimize them all for Tier 0 flash. If they solve sharing Tier 0 flash storage in a more general way, say as a block storage device. They can solve it for any application. And if the customer insists, they could put a clustered file system or even an object storage (who would want this) on top of this shared Tier 0 flash storage system.

These customers may currently be using NVMe SSDs within their servers as a DAS device. But with Excelero these resources can be shared across the data center. They think of themselves as a top of rack NVMe storage system.

On their website they have listed a few of their current customers and their pretty large and impressive.

NVMe competition

Aside from E8 Storage, there are few other competitors in Tier 0 storage. One recently announced a move to an NVMe flash storage solution and another killed their shipping solution. We talked about what all this means to them and their market at the end of the podcast. Suffice it to say, they’re not worried.

The podcast runs ~50 minutes. Josh and Yaniv were very knowledgeable about Tier 0, storage market dynamics and were a delight to talk with.   Listen to the podcast to learn more.

Yaniv Romem CTO and Founder, Excelero

Yaniv Romem has been a technology evangelist at disruptive startups for the better part of 20 years. His passions are in the domains of high performance distributed computing, storage, databases and networking.
Yaniv has been a founder at several startups such as Excelero, Xeround and Picatel in these domains. He has served in CTO and VP Engineering roles for the most part.

Josh Goldenhar, Vice President Products, Excelero

Josh has been responsible for product strategy and vision at leading storage companies for over two decades. His experience puts him in a unique position to understand the needs of our customers.
Prior to joining Excelero, Josh was responsible for product strategy and management at EMC (XtremIO) and DataDirect Networks. Previous to that, his experience and passion was in large scale, systems architecture and administration with companies such as Cisco Systems. He’s been a technology leader in Linux, Unix and other OS’s for over 20 years. Josh holds a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology/Cognitive Science from the University of California, San Diego.

42: GreyBeards talk next gen, tier 0 flash storage with Zivan Ori, CEO & Co-founder E8 Storage.

In this episode, we talk with Zivan Ori (@ZivanOri), CEO and Co-founder of E8 Storage, a new storage startup out of Israel. E8 Storage provides a tier 0, next generation all flash array storage solution for HPC and high end environments that need extremely high IO performance, with high availability and modest data services. We first saw E8 Storage at last years Flash Memory Summit (FMS 2016) and have wanted to talk with them since.

Tier 0 storage

The Greybeards discussed new tier 0 solutions in our annual yearend industry review podcast. As we saw it then, tier 0 provides lightening fast (~100s of µsec) read and write IO operations and millions of IO/sec. There are not a lot of applications that need this level of speed and quantity of IOs but for those that do, Tier 0 storage is their only solution.

In the past Tier 0, was essentially SSDs sitting on a PCIe bus, isolated to a single server. But today, with the emergence of NVMe protocols and SSDs, 40/50/100GBE NICs and switches and RDMA  protocols, this sort of solution can be shared across from racks of servers.

There were a few shared Tier 0 solutions available in the past but their challenge was that they all used proprietary hardware. With today’s new hardware and protocols, these new Tier 0 systems often perform as good or much better than the old generation but with off the shelf hardware.

E8 came to the market (emerged out of stealth and GA’d in September of 2016) after NVMe protocols, SSDs and RDMA were available in commodity hardware and have taken advantage of all these new capabilities.

E8 Storage system hardware & software

E8 Storage offers a 2U HA appliance with 24, hot-pluggable NVMe SSDs connected to it and support 8 client or host ports. The  hardware appliance has two controllers, two power supplies, and two batteries. The batteries are used to hold up a DRAM write cache until it can be flushed to internal storage for power failures. They don’t do any DRAM read caching because the performance off the NVMe SSDs is more than fast enough.

The 24 NVMe SSDs are all dual ported for fault tolerance and provide hot-pluggable replacement for better servicing in the field. One E8 Storage system can supply up to 180TB of usable, shared NVMe flash storage.

E8 Storage uses RDMA (RoCE) NICs between client servers and their storage system, which support 40GBE, 50GBE or 100GBE networking.

E8 does not do data reduction (thin provisioning, data deduplication or data compression) on their storage, so usable capacity = effective capacity.  Their belief is that these services consume a lot of compute/IO limiting IO/sec and increasing response times and as the price of NVMe SSD capacity is coming down over time these activities become less useful.

They also have client software that provides a fault tolerant initiator for their E8 storage. This client software supports MPIO and failover across controllers in the event of a controller outage. The client software currently runs on just about any flavor of Linux available today and E8 is working to port this to other OSs based on customer requests.

Storage provisioning and management is through a RESTful API, CLI or web based GUI management portal. Hardware support is supplied by E8 Storage and they offer a 3 year warranty on their system with the ability to extend this to 5 years, if needed.

One problem with today’s standard NVMe over Fabric solutions is that they lack any failover capabilities and really have no support for data protection. By developing their own client software, E8 provides fault tolerance and data protection for Tier 0 storage. They currently supported RAID 0 and 5 for E8 Storage and RAID 6 is in development.


Everyone wants native DAS-NVMe SSD storage but unlike server Tier 0 solutions, E8 Storage’s 180TB of NVMe capacity can be shared across up to 100 servers (currently have 96 servers talking to a single E8 Storage appliance at one customer).  By moving this capacity out to a shared storage device it can be be made more fault tolerant, more serviceable and be amortized over more servers. However the problem with doing this has always been the lack of DAS like performance.

Talking to Zivan, he revealed that a single E8 Storage service was capable of 5M IO/sec, and at that rate, the system delivers an average response time of  300µsec and for a more reasonable 4M IO/sec, the system can deliver ~120µsec response times. He said they can saturate a 100GBE network by operating at 10M IO/sec. He didn’t say what the response time was at 10M IO/sec but with network saturation, response times probably went exponentially higher.

The other thing that Zivan mentioned was that the system delivered these response times with a very small variance (standard deviation). I believe he mentioned 1.5 to 3% standard deviations which at 120µsec is 18 to 36µsec and even at 300µsec its 45 to 90µsec. We have never see this level of response times, response time variance and IO/sec in a single shared storage system before.

E8 Storage

Zivan and many of his team previously came from IBM XIV storage. As such, they have  been involved in developing and supporting enterprise class storage systems for quite awhile now. So, E8 Storage knows what it takes to create products that can survive in 7X24, high end, highly active and demanding environments.

E8 Storage currently has customers in production in the US. They are seeing primary interest  in their system from the HPC, FinServ, and Retail industries but any large customers could have the need for something like this.  They sell their storage for from $2 to $3/GB.

The podcast runs ~42 minutes, and Zivan was easy to talk with and has a good grasp of the storage industry technologies.  Listen to the podcast to learn more.

Zivan Ori CEO & Co-Founder, E8 Storage

Mr. Zivan Ori is the co-founder and CEO of E8 Storage. Before founding E8 Storage, Mr. Ori held the position of IBM XIV R&D Manager, responsible for developing the IBM XIV high-end, grid-scale storage system, and served as Chief Architect at Stratoscale, a provider of hyper-converged infrastructure.

Prior to IBM XIV, Mr. Ori headed Software Development at Envara (acquired by Intel) and served as VP R&D at Onigma (acquired by McAfee).