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.

85: GreyBeards talk NVMe NAS with Howard Marks, Technologist Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, VAST Data Inc.

As most of you know, Howard Marks was a founding co-Host of the GreyBeards-On- Storage podcast and has since joined with VAST Data, an NVMe file and object storage vendor headquartered in NY with R&D out of Israel. We first met with VAST at StorageFieldDay18 (SFD18, video presentation). Howard announced his employment at that event. VAST was a bit circumspect at their SFD18 session but Howard seems to be more talkative, so on the podcast we learn a lot more about their solution.

VAST Data is essentially an NFS-S3 object store, scale out solution with both stateless, VAST Data storage servers and JBoF drive enclosures with Optane and NVMe QLC SSDs. Storage servers or JBoFs can be scaled independently. They don’t support tiering or DRAM caching of data but instead seem to use the Optane SSDs as a write buffer for the QLC SSDs.

At the SFD18 event their spokesperson said that they were going to kill off disk storage media. (Ed’s note: Disk shipments fell 18% y/y in 1Q 2019, with enterprise disk shipments at 11.5M units, desktop at 24.5M units and laptops at 37M units).

The hardware

The VAST Data storage servers are in a 2U/4 server configuration, that runs interface protocols (NFS & S3), data reduction (see below), data reformating/buffering etc. They are stateless servers with all the metadata and other control state maintained on JBoF Optane drives.

Each drive enclosure JBoF has 12 Optane SSDs and 44 U.2 QLC (no DRAM/no super cap) SSDs. This means there are no write buffers on the QLC SSDs that can lose data when power failures occur. The interface to the JBoF is NVMeoF, either RDMA-RoCE Ethernet or InfiniBand (customer selected). Their JBoFs have high availability, with dual fabric modules that support 2-100Gbps Ethernet/InfiniBand ports per module, 4 per JBoF.

Minimum starting capacity is 500TB and they claim support up to Exabytes. Although how much has actually been tested is an open question. They also support billions of objects/files.

Guaranteed better data reduction

They have a rather unique, multi-level, data reduction scheme. At the start, data is chunked in variable length chunks. They use heuristics to determine the chunk size that fits best. (Ed note, unclear which is first in this sequence below so presented in (our view of) logical order)

  • 1st level computes a similarity hash (56 bit not SHA1), which is used to determine a similarity level with any other currently stored data chunk in the system.
  • 2nd level uses a ZSTD compression algorithm. If a similarity is found, the new data chunk is compressed with the ZSTD compression algorithm and a reference dictionary used by the earlier, similar data chunk. If no existing chunk is similar to this one, the algorithm identifies a semi-unique reference dictionary that optimizes the compression of this data chunk. This semi-unique dictionary is stored as metadata.
  • 3rd level, If it turns out to be a complete duplicate data chunk, then the dedupe count for the original data chunk is incremented, a pointer is saved to the original unique data and the data discarded. If not a complete duplicate of other data, the system computes a delta from the closest “similar’ block and stores just the delta bytes, includes a pointer to the original similar block and increments a delta block counter.

So data is chunked, compressed with a optimized dictionary, be delta-diffed or deduped. All data reduction is done post data write (after the client is ACKed), and presumably, re-hydrated after being read from SSD media. VAST Data guarantees better data reduction for your stored data than any other storage solution.

New data protection

They also supply a unique Locally Decodable Erasure Coding with 4 parity (-like) blocks and anywhere from 36 (single enclosure leaving 4 spare u.2 SSDs) to 150 data blocks per stripe all of which support up to 4 device failures per stripe. 

The locally decodable erasure coding scheme allows for rebuilds without having to read all remaining data blocks in a stripe. In this scheme, once you read the 4 parity (-like) blocks, one has all the information calculated from up to ¾ of the remaining drives in the stripe, so the system only has to read the remaining ¼ drives in the stripe to reconstruct one, two, three, or four failing drives.  Given their data stripe width, this cuts down on the amount of data needing to be read considerably. Still with 150 data drives in a stripe, the system still has to read 38 drives worth of QLC SSD data to rebuild a data drive.

In addition to all the above, VAST Data also reblocks the data into much larger segments, (it writes 1MB segments to the QLC drives) and uses a heat map along with other heuristics to separate actively written data from less actively written data, thus reducing garbage collection, write amplification.

The podcast is a long and runs over ~43 minutes. Howard has always been great to talk with and if anything, now being a vendor, has intensified this tendency. Listen to the podcast to learn more.

Howard Marks, Technologist Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, VAST Data, Inc.

Howard Marks brings over forty years of experience as a technology architect for hire and Industry observer to his role as VAST Data’s Technologist Extraordinary and Plienopotentary. In this role, Howard demystifies VAST’s technologies for customers and customer requirements for VAST’s engineers.

Before joining VAST, Howard ran DeepStorage an industry test lab and analyst firm. An award-winning speaker, he has appeared at events on three continents including Comdex, Interop and VMworld.

Howard is the author of several books (all gratefully out of print) and hundreds of articles since Bill Machrone taught him journalism at PC Magazine in the 1980s.

Listeners may also remember that Howard was a founding co-Host of the Greybeards-on-Storage Podcast.


60: GreyBeards talk cloud data services with Eiki Hrafnsson, Technical Director, NetApp

Sponsored by:In this episode, we talk with Eiki Hraffnsson (@Eirikurh), Technical Director, NetApp Cloud Data Services.  Eiki gave a great talk at Cloud Field Day 3 (CFD3), although neither Howard nor I were in attendance. I just met Eiki at a NetApp Spring Analyst event earlier this month and after that Howard and I had a chance to talk with him about what’s new in NetApp Cloud Data Services

This is the fourth time NetApp has been on our show (see our podcast with Lee Caswell and Dave Wright,  podcast with Andy Banta, & last month’s sponsored podcast with Adam Carter) and this is their second sponsored podcast.

Eiki came from a company NetApp acquired last year called GreenQloud whose product was QStack. Since then, QStack has become an integral part of their Cloud Data Services.

NetApp has a number of solutions under their Cloud Data Services umbrella and his area of specialty is NetApp Cloud Data Volumes, soon to be available in the MarketPlace on AWS, already in public preview an Microsoft Azure Enterprise NFS and as of 7 May 2018, in private preview as NetApp Cloud Volumes for Google Cloud Platform.

NetApp Cloud Data Volumes

NetApp’s Cloud Data Volume is a public cloud based, storage-as-a-service that supplies enterprise class NFS and SMB (CIFS) storage on a pay as you go model for major public cloud providers. That way your compute instances can have access to predictable performance, highly available file storage in the  cloud.

One advantage that Cloud Data Volumes adds to the public cloud is performance SLAs. That is customers can purchase Low, Medium and High performance file storage. Eiki said they measured Cloud Data Volume IO performance and it achieved almost 10X the public cloud normal (file) storage performance. I assume this was HIGH performing Cloud Data Volume storage, and no information on which storage type was used as the cloud alternative.

Cloud Data Volume customers also get access to NetApp Snapshot services which can create, space efficient, quick read-only copies of their cloud file storage. Cloud Data Volume storage can be purchased on a $/GB/month basis. Other  purchase options are also available for customers who prefer a pre billed amount rather than a consumptive model.

Behind the scenes, Cloud Data Volumes is actually NetApp ONTAP storage. They won’t say what kind or how much, but they do say that NetApp storage is located in public cloud data centers and is fully managed by NetApp.

Customers can use the public cloud native services portal to purchase Cloud Data Volume storage (for Microsoft Azure and GCP) or the NetApp Cloud web portal (for AWS). Once purchased, customers can use an extensive set of native cloud APIs to provision, access and tear-down Cloud Volume storage.

Other NetApp Cloud Data Services

Eiki mentioned that Cloud Data Volumes is just one of many offerings from NetApp’s Cloud Data Services business unit, including:

  • NetApp Private Storage– colocated NetApp storage owned by customers that is adjacent to public clouds.
  • ONTAP Cloud – software defined ONTAP storage system that run in the cloud on compute services using cloud storage to provide block storage.
  • Cloud Sync – data synchronization as a service offering used to replicate data from onprem NAS and object storage to the public cloud.

Probably a few others I am missing here and my bet is more offerings are on the way.

Another item Eiki mentioned with the open source,  NetApp Trident Plugin (GitHub repo). Containers are starting to need persistent state information and this means they need access to storage.

Trident provides dynamic, API driven provisioning of storage volumes for containers under Kubernetes.  Container developers define environmental characteristics which dictate operational environment and now with Trident, can also specify needed storage volumes. That way, when Kubernetes fires up a container for execution, NetApp storage is provisioned just-in-time to support container stateful execution.

The podcast runs ~25 minutes. Eiki was very knowledgeable and was easy to talk with especially on cloud technologies and how NetApp fits in.  Listen to the podcast to learn more.

Erikur (Eiki) Hrafnsson, Technical Director, NetApp Cloud Data Services

Erikur (Eiki) Hrafnsson is an entrepreneur, dad, singer. founder of GreenQloud and maker of QStack, the hybrid cloud platform, now part of NetApp Cloud Data Services. Eiki brings deep public cloud integration knowledge and broad experience in cloud automation and APIs.

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.

 

34: GreyBeards talk Copy Data Management with Ash Ashutosh, CEO Actifio

In this episode, we talk with Ash Ashutosh (@ashashutosh), CEO of Actifio a copy data virtualization company. Howard met up with Ash at TechFieldDay11 (TFD11) a couple of weeks back and wanted another chance to talk with him.  Ash seems to have been around forever, the first time we met I was at a former employer and he was with AppIQ (later purchased by HP).  Actifio is populated by a number of industry veterans and since being founded in 2009 is doing really well, with over 1000 customers.

So what’s copy data virtualization (management) anyway?  At my former employer, we did an industry study that determined that IT shops (back in the 90’s) were making 9-13 copies of their data. These days,  IT is making, even more, copies of the exact same data.

Data copies proliferate like weeds

Engineers use snapshots for development, QA and validation. Analysts use data copies to better understand what’s going on in their customer-partner interactions, manufacturing activities, industry trends, etc. Finance, marketing , legal, etc. all have similar needs which just makes the number of data copies grow out of sight. And we haven’t even started to discuss backup.

Ash says things reached a tipping point when server virtualization become the dominant approach to running applications, which led to an ever increasing need for data copies as app’s started being developed and run all over the place. Then came along data deduplication which displaced tape in IT’s backup process, so that backup data (copies) now could reside on disk.  Finally, with the advent of disk deduplication, backups no longer had to be in TAR (backup) formats but could now be left in-app native formats. In native formats, any app/developer/analyst could access the backup data copy.

Actifio Copy Data Virtualization

So what is Actifio? It’s essentially a massively distributed object storage with a global name space, file system on top of it. Application hosts/servers run agents in their environments (VMware, SQL Server, Oracle, etc.) to provide change block tracking and other metadata as to what’s going on with the primary data to be backed up. So when a backup is requested, only changed blocks have to be transferred to Actifio and deduped. From that deduplicated change block backup, a full copy can be synthesized, in native format, for any and all purposes.

With change block tracking, backups become very efficient and deduplication only has to work on changed data so that also becomes more effective. Data copying can also be done more effectively since their only tracking deduplicated data. If necessary, changed blocks can also be applied to data copies to bring them up to date and current.

With Actifio, one can apply SLA’s to copy data. These SLA’s can take the form of data governance, such that some copies can’t be viewed outside the country, or by certain users. And they can also provide analytics on data copies. Both of these capabilities take copy data to whole new level.

We didn’t get into all Actifio’s offerings on the podcast but Actifio CDS is as a high availability appliance which runs their  object/file system and contains data storage. Actifio also comes in a virtual appliance as Actifio SKY, which runs as a VM under VMware, using anyone’s storage.  Actifio supports NFS, SMB/CIFS, FC, and iSCSI access to data copies, depending on the solution chosen. There’s a lot more information on their website.

It sounds a little bit like PrimaryData but focused on data copies rather than data migration and mostly tier 2 data access.

The podcast runs ~46 minutes and  covers a lot of ground. I spent most of the time asking Ash to explain Actifio (for Howard, TFD11 filled this in). Howard had some technical difficulties during the call which caused him to go offline but then came back on the call. Ash and I never missed him :), listen to the podcast to learn more.

Ash Ashutosh, CEO Actifio

Ash Ashutosh Hi Res copy-resizedAsh Ashutosh brings more than 25 years of storage industry and entrepreneurship experience to his role of CEO at Actifio. Ashutosh is a recognized leader and architect in the storage industry where he has spearheaded several major industry initiatives, including iSCSI and storage virtualization, and led the authoring of numerous storage industry standards. Ashutosh was most recently a Partner with Greylock Partners where he focused on making investments in enterprise IT companies. Prior to Greylock, he was Vice President and Chief Technologist for HP Storage.

Ashutosh founded and led AppIQ, a market leader of Storage Resource Management (SRM) solutions, which was acquired by HP in 2005. He was also the founder of Serano Systems, a Fibre Channel controller solutions provider, acquired by Vitesse Semiconductor in 1999. Prior to Serano, Ashutosh was Senior Vice President at StorageNetworks, the industry’s first Storage Service Provider. He previously worked as an architect and engineer at LSI and Intergraph.