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.

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.]

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Subscribe_on_iTunes_Badge_US-UK_110x40_0824.png
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is play_prism_hlock_2x-300x64.png

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.

84: GreyBeards talk ultra-secure NAS with Eric Bednash, CEO & Co-founder, RackTop Systems

We were at a recent vendor conference where Steve Foskett (@SFoskett) introduced us to Eric Bednash (@ericbednash), CEO & Co-Founder, RackTop Systems. They have taken ZFS and made it run as a ultra-secure NAS system. Matt Leib, my co-host for this episode, has on-the-job experience with ZFS and was a great co-host for this episode.

It turns out that Eric and his CTO (perhaps other RackTop employees) have extensive experience with intelligence and other government agencies that depend on data security. These agencies deal with cyber security threats an order of magnitude larger, than what corporations see .

All that time in intelligence gave Eric a unique perspective on what it takes to build secure, bullet proof NAS systems. Nine years or so ago, he and his CTO, took OpenZFS (and OpenSolaris) and used it as the foundation for their new highly available and ultra-secure NAS system.

Most storage systems support user access data protection based on authorization. If a user is authorized to see/write data, they have unrestricted access to the data. Perhaps if an organization is paranoid, they might also use data at rest encryption. But RackTop takes all this to a whole other level.

Data security to the Nth degree

RackTop offers dual encryption for data at rest. Most organizations would say single encryption’s enough. The data’s encrypted, how will another level of encryption make it more secure.

It all depends on how one secures keys (and just my thoughts here, maybe how easily quantum computing can decrypt singly encrypted data). So RackTop systems uses self encrypting drives (1st level of encryption) as well as software encryption (2nd level of encryption). Each having their own unique keys RackTop can maintain either in their own system or in a KMIP service provided by the data center.

They also supply user profiling. User data access can be profiled with a dataset heat map and other statistical/logging information. When users go outside their usual access profiles, it may signal a security breach. At the moment, when this happens RackTop notifies security administrators, but Eric mentioned a future release will have the option to automatically shut that user down.

And with all the focus on GDPR and similar regulations coming to a state near you, having user access profiles and access logs can easily satisfy any regulatory auditing requirements.

Eric said that any effective security has to be multi-layered. With RackTop, their multi-layer approach goes way beyond just data-at-rest encryption and user access authentication. RackTop also offers their appliance hardware sourced from secure supply chains and manufactured inside secured facilities. They have also modified OpenSolaris to be more secure and hardened it and its OS against cyber threat.

RackTop even supports cloud tiering with an internally developed secure data mover. Their data mover can securely migrate data (retaining meta-data on their system) to any S3 compatible object storage.

As proof of the security available from a RackTop NAS system, an unnamed US government agency had a “red-team” attack their storage. Although Eric shared only a few details on what the red-team attempted, he did say RackTop NAS survived the assualt without security breach.

He also mentioned that they are trying to create a Zero Trust storage environment. Zero Trust implies constant verification and authentication. Rather like going beyond one time entered login credentials and making users re-authenticate every time they access data. Eric didn’t say when, if ever they’d reach this level of security but it’s a clear indication of a direction for their products.

ZFS based NAS system

A RackTop NAS supplies a ZFS-based file system. As such, it inheritnall the features and advanced functionality of OpenZFS but within a more secured, hardened and highly available storage system

ZFS has historically had issues with usability and its multiplicity of tuning knobs. RackTop has worked hard to make ZFS easier to operate and removed much of the manual tuning required to make it perform well.

The podcast is a long and runs over ~44 minutes. We spent most of our time talking about security and less on the storage functionality of RackTop NAS. The security of RackTop systems takes some getting used to but the need exists today and not many storage systems are implementing security quite to their level. Much of what RackTop does to improve data security blew Matt and I away. Eric is a very smart security expert in addition to being a storage vendor CEO. Listen to the podcast to learn more.

Eric Bednash, CEO & Co-founder, RackTop Systems

Eric Bednash is the co-founder and CEO of RackTop Systems, the pioneer of CyberConvergedTM data security, a new market that fuses data storage with advanced security and compliance into a single platform.   

A serial entrepreneur and innovator, Bednash has more than 20 years of experience in solving the most complex and challenging data problems through designing products and solutions for the U.S. Intelligence Community and commercial enterprises.

Bednash co-founded RackTop in 2010 with partner and current CTO Jonathan Halstuch. Prior to co-founding RackTop, he served as co-founder and CTO of a mid-sized consulting firm, focused on developing mission data systems within the Department of Defense and U.S. intelligence communities.

Bednash started his professional career in data center systems at Time-Warner, and spent the better part of the dot-com boom in the Washington, D.C. area connecting businesses to the internet. His career path began while still in high school, where Bednash’s contracted with small businesses and individuals to write software and build computers. 

Bednash attended Rochester Institute of Technology and Penn State University, and completed both undergrad and graduate coursework in Business and Technology Management at Stevenson University. A Forbes Technology Council member, he regularly hosts thought leadership & technology video blogs, and is a technology writer and speaker. He is a multi-instrument musician, recreational athlete and a die-hard Pittsburgh Steelers fan. He currently resides in Fulton, Md. with his wife Laura and two children

65: GreyBeards talk new FlashSystem storage with Eric Herzog, CMO and VP WW Channels IBM Storage

Sponsored by:

In this episode, we talk with Eric Herzog, Chief Marketing Officer and VP of WorldWide Channels for IBM Storage about the FlashSystem 9100 storage series.  This is the 2nd time we have had Eric on the show (see Violin podcast) and the 2nd time we have had a guest from IBM on our show (see CryptoCurrency talk). However, it’s the first time we have had IBM as a sponsor for a podcast.

Eric’s a 32 year storage industry veteran who’s worked for many major storage companies, including Seagate, EMC and IBM and 7 startups over his carreer. He’s been predominantly in marketing but was CFO at one company.

New IBM FlashSystem 9100

IBM is introducing a new FlashSystem 9100 storage series, using new NVMe FlashCore Modules (FCM) that have been re-designed to fit a small form factor (SFF, 2.5″) drive slot but also supports standard, NVMe SFF SSDs in a 2U appliance package. The new storage has dual active-active RAID controllers running the latest generation IBM Spectrum Virtualize software that’s running over 100K storage systems in the field today.

FlashSystem 9100 supports up to 24 NVMe FCMs or SSDs, which can be intermixed. The FCMs offer up to 19.2TB of usable flash and have onboard hardware compression and encryption.

With FCM media, the FlashSystem 9100 can sustain 2.5M IOPS at 100µsec response times with 34GB/sec of data throughput. Spectrum Virtualize is a clustered storage system, so one could cluster together up to 4 FlashSystem 9100s into a single storage system and support 10M IOPS and 136GB/sec of throughput.

Spectrum Virtualize just introduced block data deduplication within a data reduction pool. With thin provisioning, data deduplication, pattern matching, SCSI Unmap support, and data compression, the FlashSystem 9100 can offer up to 5:1 effective capacity:useable flash capacity. That means with 24 19.2TB FCMs, a single FlashSystem 9100 offers over 2PB of effective capacity.

In addition to the appliances 24 NVMe FCMs or NVMe SSDS, FlashSystem 9100 storage can also attach up to 20 SAS SSD drive shelves for additional capacity. Moreover, Spectrum Virtualize offers storage virtualization, so customers can attach external storage arrays behind a FlashSystem 9100 solution.

With FlashSystem 9100, IBM has bundled additional Spectrum software, including

  • Spectrum Virtualize for Public Cloud – which allows customers to migrate  data and workloads from on premises to the cloud and back again. Today this only works for IBM Cloud, but plans are to support other public clouds soon.
  • Spectrum Copy Data Management – which offers a simple way to create and manage copies of data while enabling controlled self-service for test/dev and other users to use snapshots for secondary use cases.
  • Spectrum Protect Plus – which provides data backup and recovery for FlashSystem 9100 storage, tailor made for smaller, virtualized data centers.
  • Spectrum Connect – which allows Docker and Kubernetes container apps to access persistent storage on FlashSystem 9100.

To learn more about the IBM FlashSystem 9100, join the virtual launch experience July 24, 2018 here.

The podcast runs ~43 minutes. Eric has always been knowledgeable on the enterprise storage market, past, present and future. He had a lot to talk about on the FlashSystem 9100 and seems to have mellowed lately. His grey mustache is forcing the GreyBeards to consider a name change – GreyHairsOnStorage anyone,  Listen to the podcast to learn more.

Eric Herzog, Chief Marketing Officer and VP of Worldwide Channels for IBM Storage

Eric’s responsibilities include worldwide product marketing and management for IBM’s award-winning family of storage solutions, software defined storage, integrated infrastructure, and software defined computing, as well as responsibility for global storage channels.

Herzog has over 32 years of product management, marketing, business development, alliances, sales, and channels experience in the storage software, storage systems, and storage solutions markets, managing all aspects of marketing, product management, sales, alliances, channels, and business development in both Fortune 500 and start-up storage companies.

Prior to joining IBM, Herzog was Chief Marketing Officer and Senior Vice President of Alliances for all-flash storage provider Violin Memory. Herzog was also Senior Vice President of Product Management and Product Marketing for EMC’s Enterprise & Mid-range Systems Division, where he held global responsibility for product management, product marketing, evangelism, solutions marketing, communications, and technical marketing with a P&L over $10B. Before joining EMC, he was vice president of marketing and sales at Tarmin Technologies. Herzog has also held vice president business line management and vice president of marketing positions at IBM’s Storage Technology Division, where he had P&L responsibility for the over $300M OEM RAID and storage subsystems business, and Maxtor (acquired by Seagate).

Herzog has held vice president positions in marketing, sales, operations, and acting-CFO roles at Asempra (acquired by BakBone Software), ArioData Networks (acquired by Xyratex), Topio (acquired by Network Appliance), Zambeel, and Streamlogic.

Herzog holds a B.A. degree in history from the University of California, Davis, where he graduated cum laude, studied towards a M.A. degree in Chinese history, and was a member of the Phi Alpha Theta honor society.

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.