096: GreyBeards YE2019 IT Industry Trends podcast

In this, our yearend industry wrap up episode, the GreyBeards discuss trends and technologdies impacting the IT industry in 2019 and what’s ahead for 2020. This year we have Matt and Keith on the podcast along with Ray. Just like last year, we start off with NVMeoF.

NVMeoF unleashed

This year just about every major storage vendor announced new systems that either have support for NVMeoF or currently offer NVMeoF on their storage systems. Most offer FC based NVMeoF but a few offer NVMeoF/Ethernet, fewer still offer both.

All of the NVMeoF/Ethernet seem to be using RoCE or iWARP. Unclear if one is more often used that the other, so for now both continue to be used in the market. Some storage vendors are offering NVMeoF as an internal fabric to access storage while still using iSCSI or FC/SCSI to access the data. This works better than SAS but won’t provide all the performance you can get from end-to-end NVMeoF.

NVMeoF is all about increasing IOPS and reducing response times. That and getting ready for SCM SSDs. In the mean time the SSD industry has introduced some very attractive NVMe (NAND) SSDs that in NVMeoF storage system can increase IOPS and reduce latencies.

We talked last year about NVMeoF standards finally stabilizing and this year the rollout across enterprise storage systems is testament to that.

SCM hits the enterprise

Most of us attended an Intel Data Center Event earlier this past yea,r where Optane DC PM was introduced. Optane DC PM is the memory version of Optane SCM (3DX Crosspoint) technology. Intel offers two distinct modes of accessing Optane DC PM as memory: 1) App Direct mode, where data in Optane DC PM persists across power cycles but requires one to use a special AP; and 2) Memory mode where Optane DC PM is cleared during a power cycle, (see our RayOnStorage post Need memory, Intel’s Optane DC PM…).

Vendors seem to be using Optane both memory and SCM technology differently. Pure is using Optane SSDs plugged into their FlashArray as sort of a read cache for customer IO. They suggest for well behaved applications this can reduce IO response times considerably.

Dell EMC introduced SCM as a storage tier and are using their automated storage tiering to move the hottest data to SCM. Oracle’s latest Exadata appliance uses Optane DC PM as both a read and write caching layer.

It won’t be long before every enterprise vendor offers SCM drives in their storage systems with a few offering Optane DC PM as in memory caching technology.

Of course, the big news for Optane DC PM is its use in memory databases, specifically SAP HANA. HANA can take advantage of the (6) TB of memory to to handle larger databases. Keith mentioned that even Microsoft SQL server can take advantage of the additional memory to provide faster responses to queries.

Keith also mentioned that there are some systems out there that can be configured to share Optane memory (or storage). When SAP or other databases use this solution they are able to amortize the cost of the technology over more use cases.

Of course, Optane DC PM are only available on the lastest generation Intel processors. None of us have heard anything from AMD (or Micron) on providing a second source for support of Optane DC PM (or the memory technology itself). Presumably most customers would want a second source for Optane DC PM processor support (as well as the technology)

Cloud enterprise storage hits mainstream

The other thing we saw more of this year is enterprise vendors offering versions of storage in public cloud environments. NetApp was an early proponent of doing this.

We saw at Pure that they have a new Cloud Block Store witch is a re-architected version of FlashArray//X storage using AWS hardware and networking services. We were very impressed with what they have accomplished and it was the subject of more than one late night discussion. Listen to the Keith & Ray show at Pure//Accelerate2019 podcast to learn more.

Matt mentioned Nimble’s cloud volume storage which is cloud adjacent. Most enterprise vendors offer something similar today. They differentiate on how easy it is to configure, use and where (which regions) it’s available in.

NetApp has arguably been at this the longest and has the deepest offerings available from cloud adjacent file and block storage, to offering native enterprise file services for all public cloud environments, to supplying a suite of dedicated data services to surround all of their storage technology operating in public clouds and on premises.

While Dell EMC may have missed the turn to the cloud, they are quickly trying to catch up. Keith mentioned Faction, a Dell partner that offers cloud storage services using VMware with VMC. With Faction and vSAN customers have access to software defined storage that uses cloud hardware to support data services.

What’s driving data growth

There seems to be no end for the need for storage to store data. The GreyBeards point to three trends driving data growth today.

  1. IoT seems to have no bounds. A recent RayOnStorage post Internet of Tires discussed how tire companies were tying their tires to the internet. And that’s just the start, pretty soon every artifact, every device, every manufactured item will have a number of sensors attached all of which will be creating massive amounts of data.
  2. AI ML DL has an insatiable appetite for data. IoT is being used largely to optimize products and services. But it’s DL, with a large dollop of data, that is behind much of that optmization.
  3. SaaS applications is a relatively new application approach that’s being rolled out to more arenas and as it’s online and user oriented, seems to generate lots of data.

Containers storage debate

We closed the podcast with a heavy debate on whether container applications have need for storage. Keith was adamant that containers by their very nature are stateless and that Kubernetes ability to stop and start container applications at will almost requires stateless operations.

Ray was a bit more theoretical on the topic and believed that most container applications today take advantage of some sort of database or other services to store state and that state is just another word for storage.

Keith mentioned encoding as a typical container app. Encoding containers can be fired up and taken down at will without hurting anything but throughput. Yes, but those encoder container apps must access some database or other state information to find out what work is left to do and as they complete their work they update this data as well as store their newly encoded segments. This all involves the use of state information.

In the end, I think we were talking about the same thing but using different terminology. Keith believes that persistent state information is needed and Ray says that this is just another word for (containers) storage. Matt said we probably need Nigel (@NigelPoulton) on the podcast to straighten us both out.

The podcast ran a bit long and could have run longer. Keith and Matt bring systems level perspective to what’s happening in the storage market. But they come at it from different sides. Ray seems to frame everything from a storage perspective. Diverse perspectives lead to a more fuller and interesting discussion. Listen to the podcast to learn more.


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Ray Lucchesi ( @RayLucchesi) is the host of GreyBeardsOnStorage and is President/Founder of Silverton Consulting, and a prominent blogger at RayOnStorage.com.

Keith Townsend (@CTOAdvisor) 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

Matt Leib (@MBLeib), one of our co-hosts, 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.


095: GreyBeards talk file sync&share with S. Azam Ali, VP Customer Success at CentreStack

We haven’t talked with a file synch and share vendor in a while now and Matt was interested in the technology. He had been talking with CentreStack, and found that they had been making some inroads in the enterprise. So we contacted S. Azam Ali, VP of Customer Success at CentreStack and asked if he wanted to talk about their product on our podcast.

File synch and share, is part collaboration tool, part productivity tool. With file synch & share many users share the same files, across many different environments and end point devices. It’s especially popular with road warriors that need access to the same files on the road that reside in corporate data centers. With this technology, files updated anywhere would be available to all.

Most file synch&share systems require you to use their storage. But CentreStack just provides synch and share access to NFS and SMB storage that’s already in the data center.

CentreStack doesn’t use VPNs to access data, many other vendor do. But with CentreStack, one just log’s into a website (with AD credentials) and they have immediate browser access to files.

CentreStack uses a gateway VM, that runs in the corporate data center, configured to share files/file directories/shares. We asked whether they were in the data path and Azam said no. However, the gateway does register for file system notifications (e.g. when files are updated, outside CentreStack, they get notified).

CentreStack does maintain meta-data on the files, directories, shares that are under it’s control. Presumably, once an admin sets it up, it goes out and access the file systems that have shared files and populates their meta-data for those files.

CentreStack works with any NFS and SMB file system as well as NAS servers that support these two. It’s unclear whether customers can have more than one gateway server in their data center supporting synch and share but Azam did say that it wasn’t unusual for customers with multi-data centers to have a gateway in each, to support synch&share requirements for each data center.

They use client software on end point devices, which presents the shared files as an external drive (to Mac), presumably a cloud drive for Windows PCs and similar services (in an App) for other systems (IOS, Android phones, iPad, etc.). We believe Azam said Linux was coming soon.

The client software can be configured in cache mode or offline mode:

  • Cache mode – the admin can configure how much space to use on the endpoint device and the software will cache the most recently used files in that space for faster access
  • Offline mode – the software moves all files that the endpoint login can access, to the device.

In cache mode, when users open a file (not in the most recently used cache), there will be some delay as the system retrieves data from the internet and copies it to the endpoint device. Unclear what the delay might be but it’s probably a function of internet speed and load on the gateway, with possibly some overhead for the NFS/SMB/NAS system to supply the data. If there’s not enough space to hold the file, the oldest non-open file is erased from the cache.

In both modes, Centrestack supports cross domain locking. That is, if one client has a file open (for update), all other systems/endpoints may only access the file in read-only mode. After the file is closed. the file can then be opened for update by other users.

When CentreStack clients are used to update files, the data is stored back in the original file systems with versioning. This way if the data is corrupted, admins can easily return back to a known good copy version.

CentreStack also offers a cloud backup and DR service. Gateway admins can request that synch&share files be backed up to cloud storage (AWS S3, Azure Blob and Wasabi). When CentreStack backups file data to the cloud, it also includes metadata information about the files so they can be re-constituted anywhere.

A CentreStack cloud gateway VM can be activated in the cloud to supply access to backed up files. Unclear whether the CentreStack cloud backup has to be restored to block or file storage first or if it just accesses the data on cloud storage directly. But one customers using CentreStack cloud DR would need to run client software in their applications accessing these files.

Wasabi seemed an odd solution to have on their list of supported cloud storage providers, but Azam said for their market, the economics of Wasabi storage were hard to ignore. See our previous podcast with David Friend, Co-Founder& CEO, Wasabi, to learn more about Wasabi.

CentreStack is licensed on a per user basis, not storage capacity bucking industry trends. But they don’t actually own the storage so it makes sense. For CentreStack cloud backup, customers also have to supply the cloud storage.

They also offer a 30 day free trial on their website with unlimited users. We assume this uses CentreStacks cloud gateway and customers bring their own cloud storage to support it.

The podcast runs about 35 minutes. Azam was a bit more marketing than we are used to, but he warmed up once we started asking questions. Listen to the podcast to learn more.

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S. Azam Ali, VP of Customer Success, CentreStack

S. Azam Ali, is VP of Customer Success at CentreStack and is an executive with extensive experience in managing global teams including sales, support and consulting services.

Azam’s channel experience includes on-boarding new partners including creation of marketing and training collateral for the partners. Azam is an executive with a passion for customer success and establishing long term relationships and partnerships.

Azam is also an advisor to startups as well as established technology companies.

93: GreyBeards talk HPC storage with Larry Jones, Dir. Storage Prod. Mngmt. and Mark Wiertalla, Dir. Storage Prod. Mkt., at Cray, an HPE Enterprise Company

Supercomputing Conference 2019 (SC19) is coming to Denver next week and in anticipation of that show, we thought it would be a good to talk with some HPC storage group. We contacted HPE and given their recent acquisition of Cray, they offered up Larry and Mark to talk about their new ClusterStor E1000 storage system.

There are a number of components that go into Cray supercomputers and besides the ClusterStor, Larry and Mark mentioned their new SlingShot cluster interconnect which is Ethernet based with significant enhancements to congestion handling. But the call focused on ClusterStor.

What is ClusterStor

ClusterStor, is a Lustre file system hardwareappliance. Lustre has always been popular with the HPC crowd as it offered high bandwidth file services. But Lustre often took a team of (PhD) scientists to configure, deploy and run properly because of all the parameters that had to be setup for optimum performance.

Cray’s ClusterStor was designed to make configuring, deploying and running Lustre a lot simpler with a GUI and system defaults that provided an optimal running environment. But if customers still want access to all Lustre features and functionality, all the Lustre parameters can still be tweaked to personalize it.

What sort of appliance

The ClusterStore team has created a Lustre storage appliance using two systems, a 2U-24 NVMe SSD system and a 4U-106 disk drive system. Both systems use PCIe Gen 4 buses which offer 2X the bandwidth of Gen 3 and NVMe Gen 4 SSDs. Each ClusterStore E1000 appliance comes with 2 servers for HA and the storage behind it.

Larry said the 2U NVMe Gen 4 appliance offers 80GB/sec of read and 60GB/sec of write data bandwidth. And a full rack of these, could support ~2.5TB/sec of data bandwidth. One TB/sec seems like an awful lot to the GreyBeards, 2.5TB/sec, out of this world.

We asked if it supported InfiniBAND interconnects? Yes, they said it supports the latest generation of InfiniBAND but it also offers Cray’s own (SlingShot) Ethernet interconnect, unusual for HPC environments. And as in any Lustre parallel file system, servers accessing storage use Lustre client software.

ClusterStor Data Services

But on the backend, where normally one would see only LDISKFS for backend storage, ClusterStor also offers ZFS. Larry and Mark said that LDISKFS is faster but ZFS offers more functionality like snapshots and data compression.

Many of the Top 100 & Top 500 supercomputing environments are starting to deploy ML DL (machine learning-deep learning) workloads along with their normal HPC activities. But whereas HPC work has historically depended on bandwidth to read, write and move large files around, ML DL deals with small files and needs high IOPS. ClusterStor was designed to satisfy both high bandwidth and high IOPS workloads.

In previous HPC Lustre flash solutions, customers had to deal with the complexity of where to place data, such as on flash or on disk. But with net ClusterStor E1000, the system can do all this for you. That is it will move data from disk to flash when it sees an advantage to doing so and move it back again when that advantage is gone. But, just as with Lustre configuration parameters above, customers can still pre-stage data to flash.

The other challenge for HPC environments is extreme size. Cray and others are starting to see requirements for Exascale (exabyte, 10**18) byte) storage systems. In fact, Cray has a couple of ClusterStor E1000 configurations of 400PB or more already, As these systems age they may indeed grow to exceed an exabyte.

With an exabyte of data, systems need to support billions of files/inodes and better metadata services and indexing. ClusterStor offers optimized inode indexing and search to enable HPC users to quickly find the data they are looking for. Further, ClusterStor offers, data at rest encryption and supports virtual file systems, for multi-tenancy.

With a ZFS backend, ClusterStor can supply data compression and snapshots. Cray has tested ZFS compression on HPC scientific ( mostly already application compressed) data and still see ~30% reduction is storage footprint. At an exabyte of storage 30% can be a significant cost reduction

The podcast ran long, ~46 minutes. Larry and Mark had a good knowledge of the HPC storage space and were easy to talk with. Matt’s an old ZFS hand, so wanted to take even more about ZFS. I had a good time discussing ClusterStor and Lustre features/functionalit and how the HPC workloads are changing. Listen to the podcast to learn more. [The podcast was recorded on November 6th, not the 5th as mentioned in the lead in, Ed.]

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Larry Jones, Director Storage Product Management

Larry Jones is a director of storage product management for Cray, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company.

Jones previously held senior product management roles at Seagate, DDN and Panasas.

Mark Wiertalla, Director Storage Product Marketing

Mark Wiertalla is a product marketing director for Cray, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company.

Prior to Cray, Wiertalla held product manager roles at EMC and SGI.

90: GreyBeards talk K8s containers storage with Michael Ferranti, VP Product Marketing, Portworx

At VMworld2019 USA there was a lot of talk about integrating Kubernetes (K8s) into vSphere’s execution stack and operational model. We had heard that Portworx was a leader in K8s storage services or persistent volume support and thought it might be instructive to hear from Michael Ferranti (@ferrantiM), VP of Product Marketing at Portworx about just what they do for K8s container apps and their need for state information.

Early on Michael worked for RackSpace in their SaaS team and over time saw how developers and system engineers just loved container apps. But they had great difficulty using them for mission critical applications and containers of the time had a complete lack of support for storage. Michael joined Portworx to help address these and other limitations in using containers for mission critical workloads.

Portworx is essentially a SAN, specifically designed for containers. It’s a software defined storage system that creates a cluster of storage nodes across K8s clusters and provides standard storage services on a container level granularity.

As a software defined storage system, Portworx is right in the middle of the data path, storage they must provide high availability, RAID protection and other standard storage system capabilities. But we talked only a little about basic storage functionality on the podcast.

Portworx was designed from the start to work for containers, so it can easily handle provisioning and de-provisioning, 100s to 1000s of volumes without breaking a sweat. Not many storage systems, software defined or not, can handle this level of operations and not impact storage services.

Portworx supports both synchronous and asynchronous (snapshot based) replication solutions. As all synchronous replication, system write performance is dependent on how far apart the storage nodes are, but it can provide RPO=0 (recovery point objective) for mission critical container applications.

Portworx takes this another step beyond just data replication. They also replicate container configuration (YAML) files. We’re no experts but YAML files contain an encapsulation of everything needed to understand how to run containers and container apps in a K8s cluster. When one combines replicated container YAML files, replicated persistent volume data AND an appropriate external registry, one can start running your mission critical container apps at a disaster site in minutes.

Their asynchronous replication for container data and configuration files, uses Portworx snapshots , which are sent to an alternate site. But they also support asynch replication to any S3 compatible storage via CloudSnap.

Portworx also supports KubeMotion, which replicates/copies name spaces, container app volume data and container configuration YAML files from one K8s cluster to another. This way customers can move their K8s namespaces and container apps to any other Portworx K8s cluster site. This works across on prem K8s clusters, cloud K8s clusters, between public cloud provider K8s clusters s or between on prem and cloud K8s clusters.

Michael also mentioned that data at rest encryption, for Portworx, is merely a tick box on a storage class specification in the container’s YAML file. They make use use of KMIP services to provide customer generated keys for encryption.

This is all offered as part of their Data Security/Disaster Recovery (DSDR) service. that supports any K8s cluster service whether they be AWS, Azure, GCP, OpenShift, bare metal, or VMware vSphere running K8s VMs.

Like any software defined storage system, customers needing more performance can add nodes to the Portworx (and K8s) cluster or more/faster storage to speed up IO

It appears they have most if not all the standard storage system capabilities covered but their main differentiator, besides container app DR, is that they support volumes on a container by container basis. Unlike other storage systems that tend to use a VM or higher level of granularity to contain container state information, with Portworx, each persistent volume in use by a container is mapped to a provisioned volume.

Michael said their focus from the start was to provide high performing, resilient and secure storage for container apps. They ended up with a K8s native storage and backup/DR solution to support mission critical container apps running at scale. Licensing for Portworx is on a per host (K8s node basis).

The podcast ran long, ~48 minutes. Michael was easy to talk with, knew K8s and their technology/market very well. Matt and I had a good time discussing K8s and Portworx’s unique features made for K8s container apps. Listen to the podcast to learn more.

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Michael Ferranti, VP of Product Marketing, Portworx

Michael (@ferrantiM) is VP of Product Marketing at Portworx, where he is responsible for communicating the value of containerization and digital transformation to global architects and CIOs.

Prior to joining Portworx, Michael was VP of Marketing at ClusterHQ, an early leader in the container storage market and spent five years at Rackspace in a variety of product and marketing roles

87: Matt & Ray show at VMworld 2109

Matt and Ray were both at VMworld 2019 in San Francisco this past week, and we did an impromptu podcast on recent news at the show.

VMware announced a number of new projects and just prior to the show they announced the intent to acquire Pivotal and Carbon Black. Pat’s keynote the first day was about a number of new products and features but he also spent time discussing how they were going to incorporate these acquisitions.

One thing that caught a lot of attention was “The Tanzu Portfolio”, which was all about how VMware is adopting Kubernetes as an integral and native part of vSphere moving forward. Project Pacific was their working name for integrating Kubernetes as a native feature of vSphere. And the Tanzu Mission Control was a new multi-cloud/hybrid cloud management solution for Kubernetes clusters wherever they ran.

VMware has had a rather lengthy history with container support from project Photon, to VIC, to running PKS ontop of vSphere. But with Project Pacific, Kubernetes is now being brought under the covers of vSphere and any ESXi cluster becomes a .Kubernetes cluster.

We also talked a little bit about Carbon Black and it’s endpoint security. Neither of us are security experts but Matt mentioned another company he talked with at the show that based their product on workload profiling to determine when something has gone amiss.

It’s Ray’s belief that Carbon Black does much the same profilings only for endpoint devices desktops, laptops, and mobile devices (maybe not thin clients).

Pat also talked a bit about IoT and edge processing at the show and they have a push to support more forms of edge computing.

Ray mentioned he talked with HiveCell, at the show who had a standalone Arm server about the size of a big book that can be stood up just about anywhere there’s power and ethernet.

Unfortunately there’s some background noise on the podcast and it happens to be a short one, at over 16.5 minutes. This podcast represents a departure for us, as the Greybeards have never done a live recording at a conference before. We plan to do more of this so we hope you enjoy it. Please let us know what you think about it and if there’s anything we could do to improve our live recording shows. There’s more on the recording so listen to the podcast to learn more.

Matt Leib

Matt Leib (@MBLeib), one of our co-hosts, 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.