130: GreyBeards talk high-speed database access using Apache Arrow Flight, with James Duong and David Li

We had heard about Apache Arrow and Arrow Flight as being a hi-performing database with access speeds to match for a while now and finally got a chance to hear what it was all about with James Duong, Co-Fourder of Bit Quill Technologies/Senior Staff Developer at Dremio and David Li (@lidavidm), Apache PMC and software developer at Voltron Data.

First, Apache Arrow is an open source, in memory data base (GitHub repo) for columnar data that enables lightening fast access and processing of data. Apache Arrow Flight is a set of interfaces, protocols, and services that parallelizes access to load and unload Arrow data over the network, from storage to memory and back, very fast. Listen to the podcast to learn more.

Columnar databases are all the rage these days and have more or less taken over from row oriented data bases. With row based database, data is stored (and accessed) row by row. In a columnar database, data is stored in columns, i.e, all data for one column is stored in sequence and then the next column is stored in sequence. Columnar databases can be queried/processed faster than row databased (depending on whether you are looking at/accessing multiple columns per row or not). And columnar data should compress better as all the data in a single column is of the same type..

Also the fact that columns are located contiguous in memory means if you process a column at a time, CPU data caches should work better. This is because they can grab a whole vector (columns worth of data) with one request.

Arrow data is processed and accessed in record batches. These are 2D segments which represent all the columns in a sequence/set of rows. And record batches are the unit of parallelism in Arrow and Arrow Flight. So an Arrow client operating on a CPU thread/core/chip or server could be processing one record batch while another CPU thread/core/CPU or server could process a different record batch.

Arrow Flight (GitHub RPC format doc repo) is an RPC framework that includes API’s, protocols, standards (for on storage, on wire and in memory) and libraries used to transfer Arrow data and metadata (record batches) across the network. For the typical system there exists Flight clients and Flight services in a system.

Arrow Flight currently uses Google’s gRPC for data transfers. gRPC is a open source remote procedure call (RPC) service that supports within data center, across data centers and out to the edge processing services. Although Arrow Flight is currently implemented on top of gRPC, other network protocols will be supported in the future.

What makes Arrow Flight so fast is its ability to support parallel transfers. That is customers can configure Arrow (Flight) clients across clusters of servers and Arrow (Flight) services residing on one or more other servers. Any client can request metadata and record batches from any end point (Flight service) in the data center. And yes Arrow data can be supplied from multiple end points by being mirrored/replicated. All data transfers can operate in parallel across all Flight client and services, with no known bottleneck other than the network.

A single stream of Arrow Flight data was able to deliver 20GB/sec. The fact that you can have any (?) number of Arrow Flight data streams in operation at the same time makes that a very interesting number.

Also, Arrow data can be stored on or sourced from typical data lakes such as Azure Data Lake, AWS S3, Google Cloud storage, etc.

Another advantage of Arrow Flight is the ability to use the same format on the wire and in storage. Normally JDBC (and ODBC) have on storage and on wire formats which require format conversion (serialization) to move data from storage/memory to wire and another conversion (deserialization) to move data from on wire format to in storage/memory format. Arrow Flight does away with serialization and deserialization of data all together and uses the same format for on wire and in storage.

Arrow Flight SQL allows Arrow processing of SQL database data. My understanding is that customers using non Arrow databases such as Oracle, SQL Server, Postgres, etc. can use Arrow Flight SQL to provide Arrow in-memory database processin/query execution for their data.

Arrow and Arrow flight are primarily used to process data analytics workloads but Arrow also has a new execution engine, the Arrow Gandiva project, that enables vectorized processing of Arrow data. This is a special execution engine for Arrow that supports X86 cores with AVX instructions, (NVIDIA) GPUs, and FPGAs.

There’s also an open source package, Fletcher, used to create Arrow and Arrow flight processing HDLs so that customers can add Arrow data processing and Arrow Flight data transfer functionality to custom built FPGAs.

One challenge with open source software is support for problems/bugs that crop up. An active developer community helps, but enterprise customers require professional, on call 7×24 (5×12?) support for all their critical (and most non-critical) software. Voltron Data (David’s) company provides paid for support for Arrow Flight and Arrow data services.

The other major problem with open source software has been use complexity. At the moment the Arrow Flight team is very responsive in clarifying documentation and are trying to make it easier to use. But at the moment Arrow Flight is mostly a set of APIs, libraries and connectors that end users can use to standup Arrow (Flight) clients and servers to transfer Arrow data between them.

James Duong, Co-Founder Bit Quill Technologies & Sr. Staff Developer at Dremio

An Apache Arrow contributor, cofounder at Bit Quill Technologies, and contributor to Dremio Corporation projects, James Duong has worked with databases for over 15 years, from backend query engines to drivers and protocols. He’s worked with a variety of relational, big data, and cloud databases including Dremio, SQL Server, Redshift, and Hive.

Previously at Simba Technologies, James architected and built connectors for sources, as well as designing the Simba Engine SDK for developing connectivity solutions for any data source.

Bit Quill Technologies, the company James helped co-found, builds back end software in the data and cloud space. Bit Quill has built a name for itself as a producer of high-quality software, a collaborative approach to design and development, and a love for good tech and happy people.

Balancing his passion for the data ecosystem with a young family, James occasionally steps away from it all to go hiking.

David Li, Apache Arrow PMC and software engineer at Voltron Data

David is a PMC member for Apache Arrow and a software engineer at Voltron Data (formerly known as Ursa Computing). Prior to that, he worked on data services and Apache Arrow at Two Sigma.

David holds an M.Eng. in Computer Science from Cornell University.

127: Annual year end wrap up podcast with Keith, Matt & Ray

[Ray’s sorry about his audio, it will be better next time he promises, The Eds] This was supposed to be the year where we killed off COVID for good. Alas, it was not to be and it’s going to be with us for some time to come. However, this didn’t stop that technical juggernaut we call the GreyBeards on Storage podcast.

Once again we got Keith, Matt and Ray together to discuss the past year’s top 3 technology trends that would most likely impact the year(s) ahead. Given our recent podcasts, Kubernetes (K8s) storage was top of the list. To this we add AI-MLops in the enterprise and continued our discussion from last year on how Covid & WFH are remaking the world, including offices, data centers and downtowns around the world. Listen to the podcast to learn more.

K8s rulz

For some reason, we spent many of this year’s podcasts discussing K8s storage. TK8s was never meant to provide (storage) state AND as a result, any K8s data storage has had to be shoe horned in.

Moreover, why would any IT group even consider containerizing enterprise applications let alone deploy these onto K8s. The most common answers seem to be automatic scalability, cloud like automation and run-anywhere portability.

Keith chimed in with enterprise applications aren’t going anywhere and we were off. Just like the mainframe, client-server and OpenStack applications before them, enterprise apps will likely outlive most developers, continuing to run on their current platforms forever.

But any new apps will likely be born, live a long life and eventually fade away on the latest runtime environment. which is K8s.

Matt mentioned hybrid and multi-cloud as becoming the reason-d’etre for enterprise apps to migrate to containers and K8s. Further, enterprises have pressing need to move their apps to the hybrid- & multi-cloud model. AWS’s recent hiccups, notwithstanding, multi-cloud’s time has come.

Ray and Keith then discussed which is bigger, K8s container apps or enterprise “normal” (meaning virtualized/bare metal) apps. But it all comes down to how you define bigger that matters, Sheer numbers of unique applications – enterprise wins, Compute power devoted to running those apps – it’s a much more difficult race to cal/l. But even Keith had to agree that based on compute power containerized apps are inching ahead.

AI-MLops coming on strong

AI /MLops in the enterprise was up next. For me the most significant indicator for heightened interest in AI-ML was VMware announced native support for NVIDIA management and orchestration AI-MLops technologies.

Just like K8s before it and VMware’s move to Tanzu and it’s predecessors, their move to natively support NVIDIA AI tools signals that the enterprise is starting to seriously consider adding AI to their apps.

We think VMware’s crystal ball is based on

  • Cloud rolling out more and more AI and MLops technologies for enterprises to use. on their infrastructure
  • GPUs are becoming more and more pervasive in enterprise AND in cloud infrastructure
  • Data to drive training and inferencing is coming out of the woodwork like never before.

We had some discussion as to where AMD and Intel will end up in this AI trend.. Consensus is that there’s still space for CPU inferencing and “some” specialized training which is unlikely to go away. And of course AMD has their own GPUs and Intel is coming out with their own shortly.

COVID & WFH impacts the world (again)

And then there was COVID and WFH. COVID will be here for some time to come. As a result, WFH is not going away, at least not totally any time soon. And is just becoming another way to do business.

WFH works well for some things (like IT office work) and not so well for others (K-12 education). If the GreyBeards were into (non-crypto) investing, we’d be shorting office real estate. What could move into those millions of square feet (meters) of downtime office space is anyones guess. But just like the factories of old, cities and downtowns in particular can take anything and make it useable for other purposes.

That’s about it, 2021 was another “interesteing” year for infrastructure technology. It just goes to show you, “May you live in interesting times” is actually an old (Chinese) curse.

Keith Townsend, (@TheCTOadvisor)

Keith is a IT thought leader who has written articles for many industry publications, interviewed many industry heavyweights, worked with Silicon Valley startups, and engineered cloud infrastructure for large government organizations. Keith is the co-founder of The CTO Advisor, blogs at Virtualized Geek, and can be found on LinkedIN.

Matt Leib, (@MBLeib)

Matt Leib has been blogging in the storage space for over 10 years, with work experience both on the engineering and presales/product marketing. His blog is at Virtually Tied to My Desktop and he’s on LinkedIN.

Ray Lucchesi, (@RayLucchesi)

Ray is the host and co-founder of GreyBeardsOnStorage and is President/Founder of Silverton Consulting, and a prominent (AI/storage/systems technology) blogger at RayOnStorage.com. Signup for SCI’s free, monthly industry e-newsletter here, published continuously since 2007. Ray can also be found on LinkedIn

123: GreyBeards talk data analytics with Sean Owen, Apache Spark committee/PMC member & Databricks, lead data scientist

The GreyBeards move up the stack this month with a talk on big data and data analytics with Sean Owen (@sean_r_owen), Data Science lead at Databricks and Apache Spark committee and PMC member. The focus of the talk was on Apache Spark.

Spark is an Apache Software Foundation open-source data analytics project and has been up and running since 2010. Sean is a long time data scientist and was extremely knowledgeable about data analytics, data science and the role that Spark has played in the analytics ecosystem. Listen to the podcast to learn more.

Spark is not an infrastructure solution as much as an application framework. It’s seems to be a data analytics solution specifically designed to address Hadoops shortcomings. At the moment, it has replaced Hadoop and become the go to solution for data analytics across the world. Essentially, Spark takes data analytic tasks/queries and runs them, very quickly against massive data sets.

Spark takes analytical tasks or queries and splits them up into stages that are run across a cluster of servers. Spark can use many different cluster managers (see below) to schedule stages across worker nodes attempting to parallelize as many as possible.

Spark has replaced Hadoop mainly because it’s faster and has a better, easier to use API. Spark was written in Scala which runs on JVM, but its API supports SQL, Java, R (R on Spark) and Python (PySpark). The latter two have become the defacto standard languages for data science and AI, respectively.

Storage for Spark data can reside on HDFS, Apache HBase, Apache Solr, Apache Kudu and (cloud) object storage. HDFS was the original storage protocol for Hadoop. HBase is the Apache Hadoop database. Apache Solr was designed to support high speed, distributed, indexed search. Apache Kudu is a high speed distributed database solution. Spark, where necessary, can also use local disk storage for interim result storage.

Spark supports three data models: RDD (resilient distributed dataset); DataFrames (column headers and rows of data, like distributed CSVs); and DataSets (distributed typed and untyped data). Spark DataFrame data can be quite large, it seems nothing to have a 100M row dataframe. Spark Datasets are a typed version of dataframes which are only usable in Java API as Python and R have no data typing capabilities.

One thing that helped speed up Spark processing over Hadoop, is its native support for in-memory data. With Hadoop, intermediate data had to be stored on disk. With in-memory data, Spark supports the option to keep it in memory, speeding up subsequent processing of this data. Spark data can be pinned or cached in memory using the API calls. And the availability of bigger servers with Intel Optane or just lots more DRAM, have made this option even more viable.

Another thing that Spark is known for is its support of multiple cluster managers. Spark currently supports Apache Mesos, Kubernetes, Apache Hadoop YARN, and Spark’s own, standalone cluster manager. In any of these, Spark has a main driver program that takes in analytics requests, breaks them into stages and schedules worker nodes to execute them..

Most data analytics work is executed in batch mode, offline, with incoming data stored on disk/flash someplace (see storage options above). But Spark can also run in real-time, streaming mode processing data streams. Indeed, Spark can be combined with Apache Kafka to process Kafka topic streams.

I asked about high availability (HA) characteristics, specifically for data. Sean mentioned that data HA is more of a storage consideration. But Spark does support HA for analytics jobs/tasks as a whole. As stages are essentially state-less tasks, analytics HA can be done by monitoring stage execution to completion and if needed, re-scheduling failed stages to run on other worker nodes.

Regarding Spark usability, it has a CLI and APIs but no GUI. Spark has a number of parameters (I counted over 20 for the driver program alone), that can be used to optimize its execution. So it’s maybe not the easiest solution to configure and optimize by hand, but that’s where other software systems, such as Databricks (see link above) comes in. Databricks supplies a managed Spark solution for customers that don’t want/need to deal with all the configuration complexity of Spark.

Sean Owen, Lead Data Scientist, Databricks and Apache Spark PMC member

Sean is a principal solutions architect focusing on machine learning and data science at Databricks. He is an Apache Spark committee and PMC member, and co-author of Advanced Analytics with Spark.

Previously, Sean was director of Data Science at Cloudera and an engineer at Google.

121: GreyBeards talk Cloud NAS with Peter Thompson, CEO & George Dochev, CTO LucidLink

GreyBeards had an amazing discussion with Peter Thompson (@Lucid_Link), CEO & co-founder and George Dochev (@GDochev), CTO & co-founder of LucidLink. Both Peter and George were very knowledgeable and easy to talk with.

LucidLink’s Cloud NAS creates a NAS storage system out of cloud (any S3 compatible AND Azure Blob) object storage. LucidLink is made up of client software, LucidLink SaaS (metadata service) and data on object storage. Their client software runs on any Linux, MacOS, or Windows desktop/laptop. LucidLink provides streaming, collaborative access to remote users for (file) data on object storage.

Just when 90% of the workforce was sent home for the pandemic, LucidLink emerged to provide all those users secure file access to any and all corporate data in the cloud. Peter mentioned one M&E customer who had just sent 300 video editors home with laptops and a disk drive which would last them all of 2 weeks. But they needed an ongoing solution for after that. The customer started with 300 users and ~100TB of file storage on LucidLink and a few months later, they had 1000 users with a PB+ of LucidLink data and was getting rid of all their NAS boxes. Listen to the podcast to learn more.

They are finding a lot of success in M&E, engineering design, Oil&Gas exploration, geo-spatial design firms and just about anywhere user collaboration on file data is required outside al data center.

LucidLink constructs a  FileSpace for customer file (object) data, which represents a drive letter or mount point that remote users can use to access files from the cloud. LucidLink supports a POSIX compliant file service for that data.

LucidLink data and user generated metadata is encrypted, using client owned/stored keys. So, data-at-rest (and -in-flight) can always be secure. They also support LDAP security and other standard SSO solutions to secure user access to data.

The LucidLink SaaS (metadata) service runs in a hyperscaler and links clients to file data on object storage. It also supports user distributed, byte range locking of file data.

One interesting nuance is that when a client locks a file, the system changes from an eventual to strongly consistent POSIX compliant file system. This ensures that the object storage is always the single source of truth.

The key that differentiates LucidLink from cloud gateways or file synch & share systems is that they 1) are not intended to operate in a data center, (yes, object storage can be located on prem but users are remote) and 2) don’t copy files from one user/access point to another. 

George said latency is enemy number one. LucidLink’s secret is prefetching. Each client uses a customer configured local persistent cache which can range from 5GB to a TB or more. LucidLink maintains a data and (in the next version) metadata working set for the user in their local cache.

Customer file data is split across multiple objects, that way LucidLink can stream data from all of them, in parallel, if needed. And doing so can supply extreme throughput when needed.

As for GDPR and data compliance, the customer controls who has access to the LucidLink SaaS as well as encryption keys.

LucidLink considers their solution “fault tolerant” or DR ready, because customers can load client software on any device and access any LucidLink file data. They also consider themselves “highly available” because their metadata/LucidLink SaaS service runs in a hyper scaler and object backing storage can be configured as highly available.

As mentioned earlier, LucidLink customers can use any S3 compatible or Azure Blob object storage, on prem or in the cloud. But when using cloud object storage, one pays egress charges. LucidLink’s local caching can minimize but cannot eliminate egress charges.

LucidLink offers two licensing models: 1) a BYO (bring your own) object storage and LucidLink provides the software to support your Cloud NAS or 2) LucidLink supplies both the object storage as well as the LucidLink service that glues it all together. The later is a combination of IBM COS and LucidLink that offers less expensive egress charges.

The LucidLink service is billed on capacity under management and user count basis. Capacity is billed on a GB/day, summed over a month. Their minimum solution is 5TB/5 users but they have customers with 1000s of users and PB+ of data. They offer a free 2-week trial period where customers can try LucidLink out.

Peter Thompson, CEO and Co-founder

Peter Thompson, co-founder, and CEO of LucidLink is a passionate and experienced leader and business builder. Thompson has over 30 years of experience in driving business expansion, key programs, and partnerships across regions such as APAC and the Americas mostly in the storage and file system market.

With over 14 years at DataCore Software, most recently as VP of Emerging and Developing Markets, Thompson drove DataCore’s expansion into China working with key industry partners, technology alliances and global teams to develop programs and business focused on emerging markets. Thompson also held the role of Managing Director, APAC responsible for the bottom-line of all Asia operations. He also was President and Representative Director of DataCore Japan, acquiring the majority of ownership and running it as a standalone entity as a beachhead of marquis customers in Japan.

Thompson studied Japanese, history, and economics at Kansai Gaidai and has a BA in International Management, Psychology, Japanese, from Gustavus Adolphus College, is a graduate of Stanford University Business School’s MSx program, with a focus on entrepreneurial finance, design thinking, and the soft skills required to build and lead world-class, high performing teams.

George Dochev, CTO and Co-Founder

George Dochev, co-founder and CTO of LucidLink, is a storage and file system expert with extensive experience in bringing emerging technologies to market. Dochev has over 20 years of success leading the development of complex virtualization products for the storage industry. He specializes in research and development in the fields of high-performance distributed systems, storage infrastructure software, and cloud technologies. 

Dochev was co-founder and principal member of the engineering team at DataCore Software for nearly 17 years. While at Datacore, Dochev helped transform that company from a start-up into a global leader in software-defined storage. Underscoring Dochev’s impact as an entrepreneur is the fact that DataCore Software now powers the data centers of 10,000+ large enterprises around the world.

Dochev holds a degree in Mathematics from Sofia University St. Kliment Ohridski in Bulgaria, and an MS in Computer Science from the University of National and World Economy, in Sofia, Bulgaria.

120: GreyBeards talk CEPH storage with Phil Straw, Co-Founder & CEO, SoftIron

GreyBeards talk universal CEPH storage solutions with Phil Straw (@SoftIronCEO), CEO of SoftIron. Phil’s been around IT and electronics technology for a long time and has gone from scuba diving electronics, to DARPA/DOD researcher, to networking, and is now doing storage. He’s also their former CTO and co-founder of the company. SoftIron make hardware storage appliances for CEPH, an open source, software defined storage system.

CEPH storage includes file (CEPHFS, POSIX), object (S3) and block (RBD, RADOS block device, Kernel/librbd) services and has been out since 2006. CEPH storage also offers redundancy, mirroring, encryption, thin provisioning, snapshots, and a host of other storage options. CEPH is available as an open source solution, downloadable at CEPH.io, but it’s also offered as a licensed option from RedHat, SUSE and others. For SoftIron, it’s bundled into their HyperDrive storage appliances. Listen to the podcast to learn more.

SoftIron uses the open source version of CEPH and incorporates this into their own, HyperDrive storage appliances, purpose built to support CEPH storage.

There are two challenges to using open source solutions:

  • Support is generally non-existent. Yes, the open source community behind the (CEPH) project supplies bug fixes and can possibly answer some questions but this is not considered enterprise support where customers require 7x24x365 support for a product
  • Useability is typically abysmal. Yes, open source systems can do anything that anyone could possibly want (if not, code it yourself), but trying to figure out how to use any of that often requires a PHD or two.

SoftIron has taken both of these on to offer a CEPH commercial product offering.

Take support, SoftIron offers enterprise level support that customers can contract for on their own, even if they don’t use SoftIron hardware. Phil said the would often get kudos for their expert support of CEPH and have often been requested to offer this as a standalone CEPH service. Needless to say their support of SoftIron appliances is also excellent.

As for ease of operations, SoftIron makes the HyperDrive Storage Manager appliance, which offers a standalone GUI, that takes the PHD out of managing CEPH. Anything one can do with the CEPH CLI can be done with SoftIron’s Storage Manager. It’s also a very popular offering with SoftIron customers. Similar to SoftIron’s CEPH support above, customers are requesting that their Storage Manager be offered as a standalone solution for CEPH users as well.

HyperDrive hardware appliances are storage media boxes that offer extremely low-power storage for CEPH. Their appliances range from high density (120TB/1U) to high performance NVMe SSDs (26TB/1U) to just about everything in between. On their website, I count 8 different storage appliance offerings with various spinning disk, hybrid (disk-SSD), SATA and NVMe SSDs (SSD only) systems.

SoftIron designs, develops and manufacturers all their own appliance hardware. Manufacturing is entirely in the US and design and development takes place in the US and Europe only. This provides a secure provenance for HyperDrive appliances that other storage companies can only dream about. Defense, intelligence and other security conscious organizations/industries are increasingly concerned about where electronic systems come from and want assurances that there are no security compromises inside them. SoftIron puts this concern to rest.

Yes they use CPUs, DRAMs and other standardized chips as well as storage media manufactured by others, but SoftIron has have gone out of their way to source all of these other parts and media from secure, trusted suppliers.

All other major storage companies use storage servers, shelves and media that come from anywhere, usually sourced from manufacturers anywhere in the world.

Moreover, such off the shelf hardware usually comes with added hardware that increases cost and complexity, such as graphics memory/interfaces, Cables, over configured power supplies, etc., but aren’t required for storage. Phil mentioned that each HyperDrive appliance has been reduced to just what’s required to support their CEPH storage appliance.

Each appliance has 6Tbps network that connects all the components, which means no cabling in the box. Also, each storage appliance has CPUs matched to its performance requirements, for low performance appliances – ARM cores, for high performance appliances – AMD EPYC CPUs. All HyperDrive appliances support wire speed IO, i.e, if a box is configured to support 1GbE or 100GbE, it transfers data at that speed, across all ports connected to it.

Because of their minimalist hardware design approach, HyperDrive appliances run much cooler and use less power than other storage appliances. They only consume 100W or 200W for high performance storage per appliance, where most other storage systems come in at around 1500W or more.

In fact, SoftIron HyperDrive boxes run so cold, that they don’t need fans for CPUs, they just redirect air flom from storage media over CPUs. And running colder, improves reliability of disk and SSD drives. Phil said they are seeing field results that are 2X better reliability than the drives normally see in the field.

They also offer a HyperDrive Storage Router that provides a NFS/SMB/iSCSI gateway to CEPH. With their Storage Router, customers using VMware, HyperV and other systems that depend on NFS/SMB/iSCSI for storage can just plug and play with SoftIron CEPH storage. With the Storage Router, the only storage interface HyperDrive appliances can’t support is FC.

Although we didn’t discuss this on the podcast, in addition to HyperDrive CEPH storage appliances, SoftIron also provides HyperCast, transcoding hardware designed for real time transcoding of one or more video streams and HyperSwitch networking hardware, which supplies a secure provenance, SONiC (Software for Open Networking in [the Azure] Cloud) SDN switch for 1GbE up to 100GbE networks.

Standing up PB of (CEPH) storage should always be this easy.

Phil Straw, Co-founder & CEO SoftIron

The technical visionary co-founder behind SoftIron, Phil Straw initially served as the company’s CTO before stepping into the role as CEO.

Previously Phil served as CEO of Heliox Technologies, co-founder and CTO of dotFX, VP of Engineering at Securify and worked in both technical and product roles at both Cisco and 3Com.

Phil holds a degree in Computer Science from UMIST.