80: Greybeards talk composable infrastructure with Tom Lyon, Co-Founder/Chief Scientist and Brian Pawlowski, CTO, DriveScale

We haven’t talked with Tom Lyon (@aka_pugs) or Brian Pawlowski before on our show but both Howard and I know Brian from his prior employers. Tom and Brian work for DriveScale, a composable infrastructure software supplier.

There’s been a lot of press lately on NVMeoF and the GreyBeards thought it would be good time to hear from another way to supply DAS like performance and functionality. Tom and Brian have been around long enough to qualify as greybeards in their own right.

The GreyBeards have heard of composable infrastructure before but this was based on PCIe switching hardware and limited to a rack or less of hardware. DriveScale is working with large enterprises and their data center’s full of hardware.

Composable infrastructure has many definitions but the one DriveScale probably prefers is that it manages resource pools of servers and storage, that can be combined, per request, to create any mix of servers and DAS storage needed by an application running in a data center. DriveScale is targeting organizations that have from 1K to 10K servers with from 10K to 100K disk drives/SSDs.

Composable infrastructure for large enterprises

DriveScale provides large data centers the flexibility to better support workloads and applications that change over time. That is, these customers may, at one moment, be doing big data analytics on PBs of data using Hadoop, and the next, MongoDB or other advanced solution to further process the data generated by Hadoop.

In these environments, having standard servers with embedded DAS infrastructure may be overkill and will cost too much. For example., because one has no way to reconfigure (1000) server’s storage for each application that comes along, without exerting lots of person-power, enterprises typically over provision storage for those servers, which leads to higher expense.

But if one had some software that could configure 1 logical server or a 10,000 logical servers, with the computational resources, DAS disk/SSDs, or NVMe SSDs needed to support a specific application, then enterprises could reduce their server and storage expense while at the same time provide applications with all the necessary hardware resources.

When that application completes, all those hardware resources could be returned back to their respective pools and used to support the next application to be run. It’s probably not that useful when an enterprise only runs one application at a time, but when you have 3 or more running at any instant, then composable infrastructure can reduce hardware expenses considerably.

DriveScale composable infrastructure

DriveScale is a software solution that manages three types of resources: servers, disk drives, and SSDs over high speed Ethernet networking. SAS disk drives and SAS SSDs are managed in an EBoD/EBoF (Ethernet (iSCSI to SAS) bridge box) and NVMe SSDs are managed using JBoFs and NVMeoF/RoCE.

DriveScale uses standard (RDMA enabled) Ethernet networking to compose servers and storage to provide DAS like/NVMe like levels of response times.

DriveScale’s composer orchestrator self-discovers all hardware resources in a data center that it can manage. It uses an API to compose logical servers from server, disk and SSD resources under its control available, throughout the data center.

Using Ethernet switching any storage resource (SAS disk, SAS SSD or NVMe SSD) can be connected to any server operating in the data center and be used to run any application.

There’s a lot more to DriveScale software. They don’t sell hardware. but have a number of system integrators (like Dell) that sell their own hardware and supply DriveScale software to run a data center.

The podcast runs ~44 minutes. The GreyBeards could have talked with Tom and Brian for hours and Brian’s very funny. They were extremely knowledgeable and have been around the IT industry almost since the beginning of time. They certainly changed the definition of composable infrastructure for both of us, which is hard to do. Listen to the podcast to learn more. .

Tom Lyon, Co-Founder and Chief Scientist

Tom Lyon is a computing systems architect, a serial entrepreneur and a kernel hacker.

Prior to founding DriveScale, Tom was founder and Chief Scientist of Nuova Systems, a start-up that led a new architectural approach to systems and networking. Nuova was acquired in 2008 by Cisco, whose highly successful UCS servers and Nexus switches are based on Nuova’s technology.

He was also founder and CTO of two other technology companies. Netillion, Inc. was an early promoter of memory-over-network technology. At Ipsilon Networks, Tom invented IP Switching. Ipsilon was acquired by Nokia and provided the IP routing technology for many mobile network backbones.

As employee #8 at Sun Microsystems, Tom was there from the beginning, where he contributed to the UNIX kernel, created the SunLink product family, and was one of the NFS and SPARC architects. He started his Silicon Valley career at Amdahl Corp., where he was a software architect responsible for creating Amdahl’s UNIX for mainframes technology.

Brian Pawlowski, CTO

Brian Pawlowski is a distinguished technologist, with more than 35 years of experience in building technologies and leading teams in high-growth environments at global technology companies such as Sun Microsystems, NetApp and Pure Storage.

Before joining DriveScale as CTO, Brian served as vice president and chief architect at Pure Storage, where he focused on improving the user experience for the all-flash storage platform provider’s rapidly growing customer base. He also was CTO at storage pioneer NetApp, which he joined as employee #18.

Brian began his career as a software engineer for a number of well-known technology companies. Early in his days as a technologist, he worked at Sun, where he drove the technical analysis and discussion on alternate file systems technologies. Brian has also served on the board of trustees for the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology as well as a member of the board at the Linux Foundation.

Brian studied computer science at Arizona State University, physics at the University of Texas at Austin, as well as physics at MIT.

78: GreyBeards YE2018 IT industry wrap-up podcast

In this, our yearend industry wrap up episode, we discuss trends and technology impacting the IT industry in 2018 and what we can see ahead for 2019 and first up is NVMeoF

NVMeoF has matured

In the prior years, NVMeoF was coming from startups, but last year it’s major vendors like IBM FlashSystem, Dell EMC PowerMAX and NetApp AFF releasing new NVMeoF storage systems. Pure Storage was arguably earliest with their NVMeoF JBOF.

Dell EMC, IBM and NetApp were not far behind this curve and no doubt see it as an easy way to reduce response time without having to rip and replace enterprise fabric infrastructure.

In addition, NVMeoFstandards have finally started to stabilize. With the gang of startups, standards weren’t as much of an issue as they were more than willing to lead, ahead of standards. But major storage vendors prefer to follow behind standards committees.

As another example, VMware showed off an NVMeoF JBOF for vSAN. A JBoF like this improves vSAN storage efficiency for small clusters. Howard described how this works but with vSAN having direct access to shared storage, it can reduce data and server protection requirements for storage. Especially, when dealing with small clusters of servers becoming more popular these days to host application clusters.

The other thing about NVMeoF storage is that NVMe SSDs have also become very popular. We are seeing them come out in everyone’s servers and storage systems. Servers (and storage systems) hosting 24 NVMe SSDs is just not that unusual anymore. For the price of a PCIe switch, one can have blazingly fast, direct access to a TBs of NVMe SSD storage.

HCI reaches critical mass

HCI has also moved out of the shadows. We recently heard news thet HCI is outselling CI. Howard and I attribute this to the advances made in VMware’s vSAN 6.2 and the appliance-ification of HCI. That and we suppose NVMe SSDs (see above).

HCI makes an awful lot of sense for application clusters that VMware is touting these days. CI was easy but an HCI appliance cluster is much, simpler to deploy and manage

For VMware HCI, vSAN Ready Nodes are available from just about any server vendor in existence. With ready nodes, VARs and distributors can offer an HCI appliance in the channel, just like the majors. Yes, it’s not the same as a vendor supplied appliance, doesn’t have the same level of software or service integration, but it’s enough.

[If you want to learn more, Howard’s is doing a series of deep dive webinars/classes on HCI as part of his friend’s Ivan’s ipSpace.net. The 1st 2hr session was recorded 11 December, part 2 goes live 22 January, and the final installment on 5 February. The 1st session is available on demand to subscribers. Sign up here]

Computional storage finally makes sense

Howard and I 1st saw computational storage at FMS18 and we did a podcast with Scott Shadley of NGD systems. Computational storage is an SSD with spare ARM cores and DRAM that can be used to run any storage intensive, Linux application or Docker container.

Because it’s running in the SSD, it has (even faster than NVMe) lightening fast access to all the data on the SSD. Indeed, And the with 10s to 1000s of computational storage SSDs in a rack, each with multiple ARM cores, means you can have many 1000s of cores available to perform your data intensive processing. Almost like GPUs only for IO access to storage (SPUs?).

We tried this at one vendor in the 90s, executing some database and backup services outboard but it never took off. Then in the last couple of years (Dell) EMC had some VM services that you could run on their midrange systems. But that didn’t seem to take off either.

The computational storage we’ve seen all run Linux. And with todays data intensive applications coming from everywhere these days, and all the spare processing power in SSDs, it might finally make sense.


Finally, we turned to what we see coming in 2019. Howard was at an Intel Analyst event where they discussed Optane DIMMs. Our last podcast of 2018 was with Brian Bulkowski of Aerospike who discussed what Optane DIMMs will mean for high performance database systems and just about any memory intensive server application. For example, affordable, 6TB memory servers will be coming out shortly. What you can do with 6TB of memory is another question….

Howard Marks, Founder and Chief Scientist, DeepStorage

Howard Marks is the Founder and Chief Scientist of DeepStorage, a prominent blogger at Deep Storage Blog and can be found on twitter @DeepStorageNet.

Raymond Lucchesi, Founder and President, Silverton Consulting

Ray Lucchesi is the President and Founder of Silverton Consulting, a prominent blogger at RayOnStorage.com, and can be found on twitter @RayLucchesi. Signup for SCI’s free, monthly e-newsletter here.