UPDATE: HGST has deployed Active Archive units

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Last week HGST business development manager Manfred Berger told me that the company had not closed a sale on its Active Archive petabyte-scale cold storage arrays since launch in April, but had 160 prospects. That blog post is here.

But, soon after publication HGST's press representatives got in touch to say it had made deployments. It said there had been Active Archive deployments globally, including in Europe. Here is what HGST said in a statement:

"As a public company, we cannot disclose the number of shipments. However, what I can tell you is that we have deployments globally, including Europe."

I asked what type of deployments these were. Were they proof-of-concept trials at customers or the result of actual sales? Unfortunately, HGST's press representatives were unable to elaborate, they said, due to HGST being a public company. 

HPE hopes to put a cuckoo in the nest of EMC VMAX customers

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Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) has made a bold play to convince EMC VMAX and Oracle users that they should migrate to HPE's 3PAR all-flash arrays.

It should be called "Project Cuckoo" as it's a clear plan to supplant another vendor's array from the datacentre, but HPE execs seem to have let that naming opportunity slip by.

HPE says customers that implement 3PAR all-flash arrays with their EMC VMAX still in place will gain total cost of ownership (TCO) savings of 50%.

The scheme hinges on the use of Oracle Automatic Storage Management (ASM), which allows customers to set more than one storage array to support the Oracle installation. The two arrays can co-exist alongside each other and the software automatically utilises the best-performing storage.

HPE is clearly convinced ASM will show 3PAR all-flash to be superior to their old VMAX, which can be configured as an all-flash array, but in most cases probably won't be and is not designed as such. HPE seems to be betting that current VMAX users will give them a chance when it comes to a hardware refresh, rather than, say, turning to EMC's XtremIO ground-up developed all-flash array.

HPE global account pre-sales manager Phil Lewis said: "Our analytics tell us we can save the customer 50% in terms of TCO, based on power, heat, cooling and administration costs."

Elsewhere, HPE also announced it would add the ability for customers to migrate data from IBM XIV arrays to 3PAR arrays. It already offers that capability for EMC and Hitachi Data Systems customers. Also now available are Samsung 3D NAND 400GB drives for 3PAR all-flash arrays.

HPE offers all-flash and hybrid flash arrays in its enterprise-class 20000 series, launched in June.

Despite a rubbish name Mangstor makes super-fast NVMe-based flash arrays

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Top prize this week for rubbish company name goes to Mangstor.

The Texas-based all-flash array provider's CTO Paul Prince told me the "Mang" part alludes to "mango", ie the fruit, and was chosen in a hurry to meet trademark inspection deadlines (while the "stor" bit is obvious). The idea had been to use mango branding but that seems to have fallen by the wayside.

So, it might not have a great name but Mangstor makes bold performance claims for its so-called "NVMe over fabric" and "network-optimised storage".

Mangstor provides its NX6320 storage nodes, which are based on Dell R730 servers with capacity via its own MX6300 2.7TB NVMe PCIe cards, with four of them per box. The company offers four models in capacities of between 8TB and 32TB and claims between 1.5 million and 3 million IOPS read IOPS for 4K blocks (1.1 and 2.5 million IOPS are the write figures).

Mangstor's chief selling point is blistering performance. It claims to provide this by the use on its MX cards of storage controller software that manages flash operational and maintenance functionality in conjunction with a Coherent Logix 100-core CPU.

"It's about being extra-efficient in parallel operations," said Prince. "The software schedules reads and writes so queue and device management are optimised. The 100-core CPU dedicates cores to manage different functions."

Mangstor also applies intelligence higher up the stack, at the network traffic level of the controller, where it optimises traffic in and out of the device.

So, what's the chief advantage of using PCIe cards in place of flash drives with connects such as SAS?

Prince says, "The primary advantage of our cards is performance; high throughput and low latency. You could get cards from Intel, Toshiba, Samsung, but they'd be slower."

That's Mangstor's tilt at the market, with claimed blistering speeds and feeds. Prince admits there are a lot of contenders in the all-flash array space already, but believes Mangstor is, "highly differentiated in terms of storage numbers. Across every vertical there are businesses with some apps where performance is important."

Currently, like many first generation all-flash arrays, replication is not built in but can be effected with a third party product. Mangstor is in partnership with Caringo to offer object storage.

The glacial sales cycle of HGST's cold storage Active Archive

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It's not too often you get to hear the exact progress of a new product in the market but this week at Cloud Expo Europe in Frankfurt, HGST senior business development manager for elastic storage products, Manfred Berger, revealed the company - drive maker turned system seller - had not closed a single sale on its Active Archive petabyte-scale array. (See update here).

Now, HGST is unruffled by that. Active Archive is a big investment. It marries Amplidata Himalaya object storage with HGST 8TB HelioSeal helium-filled SATA hard drives and crams in 42U worth of these for a total capacity of 4.7PB. It claims 15 nines reliability using erasure coding and access times of less than 100 milliseconds for 90% of the time.

So, I asked how many customers HGST had secured for Active Archive. "None", said Berger, "but I have 160 prospects and one European order since [launch in] April."

"The sales cycle is longer than with hard drives and it takes at least six months from introduction to purchase order. It's a very long sales cycle - with customers that want an Amazon, but in-house - with organisations that may be very interested but who have to wait until budget cycles make buying possible," added Berger.

Given the budget cycles of likely customers - often university departments - it's no surprise sales cycles are slow. The projects Active Archive aims at are far from trivial, being cases where organisations must build a cloud in-house for legal and compliance reasons and can't entrust data to the public cloud, such as in genome research or where universities want to build Dropbox-type services for PhD papers, theses etc.

* In other news HGST has entered a partnership that will see it sell Point Storage Manager, a software tool that monitors existing NAS assets and identifies "lazy files", ie ones that have not been used for some time and can transfer them to cloud storage or Active Archive. It then leaves a stub on the NAS filer that pulls the full file from Active Archive, the cloud etc when it is accessed.

Rozo brings scale-out NAS plus erasure coding

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I spoke with French startup Rozo this week.

It's USP is that it marries the scalability of scale-out NAS - ie virtual unlimited and with potentially billions of file names - with erasure coding and targets high performance computing (HPC) use cases and analytics, especially with large volumes of large unstructured files.

There seems to be a rumbling battle going on between scale-out NAS and object storage for use cases that involve lots of unstructured data. Both approaches have the ability to deal with very large amounts of files and can usually grow performance and capacity independently.

But usually erasure coding as a data protection method is the preserve of object storage. In this case Rozo applies it to scale-out NAS.

According to Philippe Nicolas, systems advisor with Rozo, erasure coding allows Rozo to sustain high levels of I/O for all data even during disk failures. At the same time it allows clusters to be built more cheaply than most scale-out NAS, which uses replication as its key data protection method.

He said: "Replication is very good for small files. It's fast and there's no coding, just a copy. But with large files replication takes time and there's a CPU impact."

That's because replication requires the customer to provide at least double the storage capacity for those replicated copies. Erasure coding, at least in the Mojette Transform (Mojette is a famous bean in the Nantes area) algorithm, requires only a 1.5x capacity overhead.

According to Nicolas, Rozo is the only scale-out NAS supplier to offer erasure coding for all data. EMC's Isilon uses it only for data above 128Kb.

Customers can build Rozo clusters by installing the software on commodity servers. Storage comes from internal server storage or can be on a JBOD or even the user's existing shared storage array.

The Mojette Transform algorithm encodes all data upon ingest but also maintains metadata for rapid index-related functionality.

Rozo can be downloaded and tried for free in its community edition without optimised erasure coding, while the Advanced commercial version includes it.

Rozo's target markets are high performance computing (HPC) media and entertainment, genomics and specifically, said Nicolas, use cases where you find the Lustre parallel file system, Qumulo scale-out NAS or EMC's Isilon.

VMware's hybrid cloud vision falls short in storage

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VMware's vision of the near future of IT revolves heavily around the hybrid cloud in which customers run both on-premise and off-premises cloud.

Listening to VMware execs at VMworld Europe this week the company's efforts towards this are very much a key message and source of slogans such as "One cloud, one app, any device".

It is perhaps so far, largely just talk, however, and one area that is certainly the case is in storage.

While VMware's Virtual SAN (VSAN) has reached version 6.1 and now supports synchronous replication between site clusters, NVME and RAM storage there is little of the oft-talked of "seamlessness" between in-house VSAN deployments and the cloud.

But is it reasonable to expect such cross-platform functionality? Well, storage hardware vendors such as EMC and NetApp have for at least a year offered the cloud as a tier, also with much talk of hybrid cloud functionality.

EMC offers its EMC Hybrid Cloud Solution, while NetApp offers Cloud Ontap. Both come with partnerships with cloud providers and aim at data portability between on- and off-premise datacentres.

More recently, Avere launched its CloudFusion cloud NAS appliance. This works only in the cloud and tiers between classes of Amazon storage. It's not too much of a stretch to see how in-house and cloud versions of such software could work together.

These types of thing illustrate what might be possible when it comes to seamless (or nearly so) working in hybrid cloud storage.

It shouldn't be too long before VMware comes up with a take of its own, but storage manager Gaetan Castelein said there is nothing in the VMware portfolio of that nature at present and was tight-lipped about plans.

He said: "We don't have an explicit product that can be deployed in the cloud that can tier storage. You can have a connection point between VSAN and vCloudAir to allow replication and providers can offer block and object storage but the customer has no visibility into what that underlying storage is."

Dell and EMC's Big Splash point to hyper-convergence

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On the eve of VMworld Europe it's like witnessing the IT/storage world's equivalent of the Big Splash. Yes, I'm talking about Dell's proposed $67 billion purchase of storage giant EMC.

The aforementioned collision between a proto-earth and a planet the size of Mars is thought to be responsible for the water-bearing, life-supporting sphere we now live on. Will Dell's EMC provide the same?

In storage terms there are likely to be some casualties, largely on the Dell side of things.

EMC has not only been the biggest of the big six storage makers but has been at the forefront of (often acquisition-led) innovation/productisation wave in storage with an early starts in all-flash (XtremIO) and out-there flash acquisitions (DSSD) as well as holding a wide ranging stable, from enterprise class downwards in storage arrays, that can be hybrid and all-flash (VMAX and VNX), Fibre Channel and iSCSI.

Dell doesn't come close in terms of leading edge-ness, and doesn't rival EMC in the enterprise storage space. In the mid-range its Compellent arrays (with Fibre Channel and iSCSI access) compete with VNX, and their future must be surrounded by question marks.

Dell's other key block storage offerings are distinctly entry-level (the iSCSI EqualLogic), and could survive because of that. In file access it's a similar picture with Dell's Windows NAS up against EMC's Isilon scale-out NAS.

Across other key areas EMC is characterised by having its own product offerings while Dell resells someone else's kit - eg, ScaleIO in software-defined storage vs EVO:RAIL; Atmos and ViPR/ECS in object storage vs Scality; in hyper-converged ScaleIO Node vs Nutanix.

But of course the deal must be viewed from a much wider perspective than storage alone. We live in an age where hyper-convergence is a key trend, where combined server, storage and networking are the direction in which the datacentre is moving, dragged along by the web-scale pioneers, Google, Facebook et al.

And it's at this level the giant deal looks to have its key synergy, with Dell adding EMC's storage expertise and VMware's virtualization glue* to its existing market leadership (well, almost) to provide the basis for a hyper-converged infrastructure giant.

Now all it needs is to add networking.

(* Interesting footnote question is can or will Dell's VMware live with Microsoft Hyper-V in its tent via existing relationships on the Dell server front?)

SolidFire puts flash for object (and file) storage on the roadmap

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All-flash array maker SolidFire plans to apply the speed of flash to object storage. So said CEO Dave Wright this week.

We were discussing the prospects for the all-flash datacentre, following IDC's recent publication of a white paper which set 80TB to 90TB of mixed workload data as a feasible threshold for organisations to go all-flash.

Wright generally concurred with this assessment, but added that other areas such as object and file storage would also become candidates for flash treatment. Albeit, as the cost per GB came down.

Wright said: "We're looking forward, as the cost per GB decreases, for more workloads to be run on SolidFire. These include file and object workloads that are primarily on disk right now. You can read into this what we're thinking about, though there's no timing here but we want to be there when this occurs."

He added: "There will be some object storage that can make use of flash. Primarily this will be things like content distribution, for example in e-commerce firms that needs to serve billions of small images. You need object rather than block or file storage for this and traditional deep and cheap ways of supplying object storage are not good for real-time access to data."

"Also, there is a case for flash and object storage for enterprise content repositories such as Sharepoint where there's not a need for intensive I/O but a need for rapid access and regular changes."

StorPool's Linux-based software-defined storage dodges VMware and Hyper-V, for now

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Software-defined storage products seem to be coming thick and fast at the moment.

This week I spoke with another, the Bulgaria-based StorPool, which offers storage software that can be deployed on commodity servers to provide SAN-like block storage from distributed disk but which can sit alongside app processing tasks to provide hyper-converged storage.

StorPool requires at least three instances of server hardware be deployed. These can be for storage only, or - by using only 5% to 10% of CPU performance for storage tasks - can co-reside with compute. Software also has to be deployed on the client side to manage storage consumption.

With an upgrade this week StorPool now claims performance of 250,000 random read IOPS and 4,200 MBps sequential reads on three servers, with these figures increasing as hardware nodes are added with scale-out capability.

Currently however, StorPool is limited to deployment in hardware running Linux operating systems (OS), from where it can be provisioned for Linux-friendly virtualisation platforms such as KVM, Xen or Docker.

CEO Boyan Ivanov said the ability to deploy StorPool into Windows servers is currently under development and will be available within months.

For the moment the Linux-only abilities of StorPool are something to which the company is cutting its cloth to suit. And so the bulk of its target customers are service providers which already run a lot of Linux - among whom it claims deployments of up to several hundred TB - although it also aims at devops use cases in wider verticals.

As Ivanov puts it: "We are a young vendor so we have to do one thing very well."

So, for now it's not targeting the enterprise market with its preferences for VMware, to which StorPool is not natively compatible, though it can run in VMware "with performance degradation," says Ivanov.

Disk types accommodated can be HDD, flash or a combination of the two and storage features include synchronous replication, snapshots and thin provisioning.

Write-back cache enables write operations to be acknowledged by the storage system, but stored in memory and then flushed to the hard disk at a later stage.

Like other software-defined storage products we've looked at recently, StorPool protects data by replicating between a minimum of three hardware instances.

Will 3D XPoint kill flash and leave disk (and tape) standing?

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With the recent announcement of 3D XPoint memory by Intel and Micron, there are, inevitably, more questions than answers.

On the one hand there is the big question for computing architectures at a general level. IE, what will become of the current paradigm of CPU plus RAM and (tiers of) storage if a new medium 1,000x faster and with adequate endurance arises?

On the face of things 3D XPoint will make RAM redundant in compute architectures.

But what will it mean for enterprise storage hardware architectures?

3D XPoint will deal a heavy, possibly fatal, blow to existing NAND flash products. With the Intel-Micron brainchild's 1,000x performance premium and equal or better lifetime endurance, NAND flash's days are numbered. But we knew that anyway (and there are other possible successors).

It's the timing of that eclipse that is currently un-knowable, being dependent on the cost and availability of 3D XPoint. And at present we know nothing certain of either except that the first products are likely to ship in 2016. But will they be ready for mainstream enterprise adoption?

On both counts it's doubtful, for some time at least. We will see 3D XPoint in the much more voluminous consumer market at first. And in fact it's the fabrication plant economies of scale that come with consumer product adoption that help bring the price down to levels acceptable to the relatively minority use case of enterprise storage.

So, for some time 3D XPoint will likely be an exotic and costly but rapid storage medium, and so available in small quantities to enterprise storage and server hardware makers. In that case, what will be it's role?

Probably more or less that of RAM right now. As a fast access cache or tier - in server or array - on top of NAND flash and possibly spinning disk.

But that phase will pass and as the cost comes down and the ubiquity of 3D XPoint, its clones or functional equivalents rises so the process and economies of silicon production probably mean flash will suffer a relatively sudden death.

Ironically, that might leave spinning disk -- and tape! -- still standing after flash has died, with a niche but valuable role at the glacial end of archival storage.

Infinidat stakes claim to the future of hyperscale storage in the enterprise

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Enterprises need hyperscale or webscale storage. They look at the likes of Google and Facebook and need to do what they're doing; processing and storing huge amounts of data with transactions and analysis on the fly. But they lack storage products to do it, and existing enterprise storage isn't up to the job.

Those are the views of Infinidat, which came out of stealth this year and which believes enterprises are trying to solve the problems of the future datacentre with storage architectures from the past.

Infinidat CTO Brian Carmody said: "What we're seeing is a competitive advantage by a small number of technically advanced companies - Facebook, Google etc - who are trying to do what they do with incumbent technology. The experience of these apex big data companies demonstrate a failure by the storage industry."

What Infinidat offers is high capacity (2PB in a 42U rack), high performance (up to 750,000 IOPS, throughput of 12GBps), highly available (99.99999% - seven nines), which it calls mainframe levels of performance and availability but built for enterprise users to handle webscale operations.

It does all this by breaking the mould for enterprise storage in a number of ways. its Infinibox comes with three controllers (in contrast to the standard dual setup) in an active-active-active architecture. These contain DRAM and flash, with all active data held in these two layers, while below that are huge amounts - 480 nearline-SAS HDDs - of spinning disk.

It spreads the workload across all three nodes and out to the massive number of drives. To do that, Inifindat had to throw out the existing Linux SAS drivers and re-write the way the controller nodes handle data to the storage media.

"Each node has a multipath connection to 480 spindles and that is many times more concurrent SAS connections than Linux can handle," said Carmody.

For now, Infinibox is block access only, but NFS file access is planned "shortly". Mainframe access will be available by the end of the year and object "shortly after that", said Carmody.

To achieve such levels of claimed availability Infinidat breaks I/O down into 64kb objects it calls sections with all host I/O being dealt with to and from cache. This is then spread out across the HDDs in a 16-way stripe with parity, based on the RAID 6 model but dubbed Infiniraid. Data is given an "activity vector score" to rank it on whether hot or cold, sequential or random etc. This helps with pre- and de-staging data between tiers and also for rebuilds.

"At hyperscale n+1 is not sufficient," said Carmody. "We have three of everything. It's what hyperscale in the enterprise will look like."

That's an intriguing claim. Watch this space.

Quobyte apes Google storage model and plans a tilt at NetApp and EMC

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Does the world need another software-defined storage/storage virtualisation product? There are plenty to choose from already, such as DataCore, Nexenta, Open-E as well as software storage products from big hitters like VMware with its VSAN.

That's what I thought before speaking to Germany-based startup Quobyte, but its case is quite compelling. It's aim is to provide Google-like webscale server-based grids of hugely scalable storage that are manageable by relatively few IT staff.

Quobyte aims to do this - and to attack the customer bases of the likes of NetApp and EMC Isilon - by decoupling hardware from the software intelligence that runs the storage grid, said founder and CEO Bjoern Kolbeck, who is a former Google employee and contributor to the EU-funded Xtreem OS Linux grid environment.

"At Google we saw how large scale infrastructures worked and it inspired us to take Xtreem FS [the file system from Xtreem OS] and build in ideas around operations and automation from Google."

"Google has datacentres in which a very small team look after storage and don't need to interact with the software team. It's a very nice operational model that scales; if you add more data you don't need to add more people."

Kolbeck explained that in the Quobyte view its software-defined storage system needs to provide fault tolerance of "split brain" situations, so that, for example traffic can be automatically re-routed if a broken top-of-rack switch where that might cause database writes to differ between instances. The same fault tolerance also comes into play for day-to-day maintenance. "If a server is down that should not be an exception," said Kolbeck.

Underlying this is the nub of what Quobyte is all about - namely quorum-based replication. IE, there are three copies of replicated data and there must always be a majority, so two out of three copies and it's OK to shut down one copy.

Quobyte's quorum-based triple-copy replication is based on the Paxos lease algorithm, which sees replicated files communicate and decide on a master copy and use that master to ensure data integrity between them. "Then, if that master fails the nodes elect a new master," said Kolbeck.

Currently, Quobyte lacks features such as synchronous replication that can help it break into the enterprise storage market, but that is planned for later this year. Right now, at least three instances of Quobyte have to be deployed in the same datacentre or metro area for latency reasons, said Kolbeck.

At present Quobyte has implementations aimed at HPC, big data (eg, Hadoop) and OpenStack customer deployments but in the long run it will target NetApp filer users and scale-out storage customers of EMC Isilon, said Kolbeck.

"Asynchronous geo-replication is on the roadmap for enterprise users but we can already be a good fit for virtual machine storage and are running some proofs-of-concept where we are looking to replace NetApp," said Kolbeck.

It'll be interesting to watch the progress of this marrying of software-defined/storage virtualisation and hyperscale storage.

Veeam won't get physical (backup)

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Veeam is a backup software company and pioneer of virtual machine backup. Way back when, while most backup software was firmly rooted in the old world of physical servers and an agent on every box, Veeam and a few others (Quest, PHD Virtual et al) began to offer specialised products aimed at protecting VMs.

Gradually, the mainstream incumbents of the backup world (Symantec, CommVault, HP, EMC, IBM TSM et al) incorporated virtual machine backup into their products. This, one might have imagined, could have adversely affected the fortunes of the VM backup specialists.

But it didn't, and Veeam in particular, roared from nowhere into second place in a TechTarget survey question on customers' backup provider preferences. The mystery then became, why would so many customers, who must have backup products from the incumbents deployed, buy Veeam in such large numbers and add another backup product to their infrastructure?

Speaking to Veeam VP for product strategy Doug Hazelman this week ahead of its VeeamON forum in London he gave his interpretation on that phenomenon. In short, he thinks it's often just too much trouble for enterprises to deploy the new virtualisation-focussed features in their products.

He said: "Many want to have a single vendor environment but the reality is they have more than one, probably 2.5 to 3 on average. Do they like that situation? Everyone thinks it's the Holy Grail to standardise on one backup product but in truth they'd lose a lot of features by doing so."

"Virtualisation and the cloud are the future but in many cases we find customers don't take advantage of the virtualisation features in incumbent products. That's because they'd have to retool their entire existing deployment and so they think, 'Why not just look at best of breed?' Also, lots of companies are just not happy with the backup products they have in place."

It's a plausible explanation, though not one that we can easily test, but it would account for Veeam's good showing in the backup product stakes of late.

The other puzzler for me in backup recently is why server backup software providers do not backup mobile and endpoint devices. Currently you can backup laptops with some of the mainstream backup products but none as far I know extend to smartphones, tablets and the like.

Meanwhile, however, companies such as Druva make a good living by offering endpoint/BYOD backup etc. And it's an area that appears necessary to achieve compliance as data stored anywhere may face a requirement to be retained for legal e-discovery etc.

So, why doesn't Veeam consider it an area it needs to address?

Hazelman's view was this. "If people bring their own stuff into the workplace it's difficult to manage from a backup perspective. Personally, I don't need backup for my own laptop. If I lost it today I wouldn't lose data as it's all also somewhere else. It's a better approach to protect what's on servers than what's on laptops."

I'm a little less than convinced by this. But it'll be interesting to hear the view of others interested in backup and data protection. 

EMC: Open source for the ViPR isn't sauce for the Golden Goose

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This week I spoke to EMC marketing VP Josh Goldstein about XtremIO 4.0.

EMC's flagship all-flash array has seen it move from third place in the all-flash stakes to first, with Gartner in 2013 ranking it at 11.1% market share behind IBM (24.6%) and Pure Storage (17.1%).

By 2014 EMC had achieved pole position with 31.1% market share. Pure Storage was second with 19%, and IBM third with 16% while no other vendor had more than 7%.

That's remarkable progress indeed.

Recently we've also heard much of EMC's forays into open source, with the opening of ViPR code to developers in Project CoprHD, as well as continued commitment to software-defined storage.

In a blog post coinciding with EMC's open sourcing of ViPR Manuvir Das, engineering VP with EMC's advanced software division, spoke of how software development has changed, how open source has become mainstream, how its accelerates innovation and how excited EMC is about its "open source strategy".

So caught up in the excitement was I that when I spoke to Goldstein about XtremIO I thought I'd ask him if it too would become open source.

Of course I already knew the answer and Josh's immediate response was laughter. I pressed further and he said, "There is no plan to open source XtremIO. I'm not sure what the business model would be."

It's not like open source business models are a great mystery. There is a core of software code around a project/product and its open for free use and modification to anyone. Meanwhile, commercial distributions take in updates and changes in a more controlled fashion and charge customers for installation, configuration, support etc.

It could quite easily be applied to any product, even an all-flash array product like XtremIO.

But of course it won't be because it is precisely XtremIO's software that is the goose laying the golden egg for EMC and the upgrade to version 4.0 demonstrated further innovation on the fundamentals of the XtremIO XIOS operating system (OS).

In the upgrades announced at EMC World in May the XtremIO headlines were topped by an increase in X-Brick capacity to 40TB and totals for a rack topping 1PB.

But the other key announcements all built on XIOS's block storage technology, which sees data deduplicated and compressed on ingest. Building on that fundamental characteristic, EMC announced:

  • Integration of XtremIO and its RecoverPoint data protection software with leverage of the same dedupe and compression as in the XIOS engine to speed data transmission over the wire.
  • Copy data management with, for example, versions of Oracle, SQL Server and SAP databases generated over a lifecycle able to reside on XtremIO by use of space-efficient copies based, again, on that dedupe and compression algorithm in XIOS.

So, really, it's not like EMC couldn't open source XtremIO like it has done with ViPR. It's just that XtremIO's software is a goose that's laying a golden all-flash egg for EMC, while ViPR can show no similar market share figures and has been open sourced in an apparent attempt to breathe life into it.

It's obvious really, but EMC could never come out and say this.


PS: Goldstein also said there is no plan to make XtremIO available as a software-only product for customers to install on their chosen X86 hardware.

"It's a choice," said Goldstein. "Our customers like pre-packaged arrays. They're standard X86 servers and CPUs anyway and all the value is in the software so there are no big savings to be made by buying your own hardware."


ViPR and CoprHD: EMC forced to swim with the open source tide

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EMC's move to make its ViPR software-defined storage platform open source (as Project CoprHD) appears a bold one, but I can't help thinking it looks like the giant from Hopkinton, MA, has been been subject to forces too strong to resist.


ViPR - which was launched two years ago at EMC World in 2013 - allows customers to build pools of web-scale storage from heterogenous storage media; EMC or third-party storage vendor arrays or even commodity hardware. ViPR uses its own Object Data Services that can be accessed via REST APIs including Amazon S3 or HDFS to enable analytics of data under its management.


At the time we noted that ViPR's success would be pinned on, as Freeform Dynamics' Tony Lock, put it: ". . . getting third parties involved. That could make or break it. It'll take political will and diplomacy."


And that diplomatic success has proved to be limited, with native support from other storage vendors restricted to NetApp and HDS and other makers' arrays accessible only via the OpenStack Cinder plugin.


In some ways, support from other vendors is the first hurdle, but not necessarily the most important one. Key of course are actual ViPR customers, and those seem to have been limited to short footnotes in EMC press releases.


Meanwhile, of course, open source in the datacentre has come on leaps and bounds, in particular via OpenStack's cloud infrastructure platform and its storage modules. Open source in general has improved its image from beard-and-sandals to near mainstream in the enterprise.


No more proof of that is EMC's conversion to open source, and its keenness to parade its credentials in that respect.


Open source development gains from the involvement of the community and its feedback, in terms of practical improvement to the product and in terms of buy-in and credibility.


Clearly then, EMC has viewed the relative rise of open source as a threat. It initiated ViPR as an EMC product that would tie together a storage and analytics infrastructure over heterogeneous storage.


Two years later EMC has had to bow to that threat, or seize the opportunity, depending on how you wish to spin it, and now ViPR has spawned Project CoprHD.


The Massachusetts storage giant will continue to sell ViPR as a commercial project, but now it will hope its open source alter ego will help its develop and gain respectability in a way it has failed to so far.



Software-defined storage: Not for us says Nimble Storage CEO

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Separating software from hardware is an emerging trend in data storage. Under the phrase software-defined storage it has been at the forefront of vendor hype in recent years.

The appeal is that it potentially allows customers to build their own storage arrays by deploying storage software - which is after all where the main smarts in a storage system reside - on commodity server hardware.

So, it was interesting this week to come across one array maker - hybrid flash specialist Nimble Storage - which said it would not go down the road of offering a software version of its product.

In some ways that goes counter to a rising trend.

Vendors that offer storage software range from hardcore hardware pushers such as HP with its StoreVirtual VSA, virtualisation giant VMware with its Virtual Storage Appliance and VSAN, suppliers that have made their name with storage software such as Nexenta and DataCore, and more recently startup flash array providers like SolidFire that now offers its Element X operating system (OS) as a virtual appliance. Even hardware giant EMC offers software version of its VNX and Celerra products for lab use.

But Nimble Storage says it won't go down that road. CEO Suresh Vasudevan told me this week that while its engineers use software versions of the Nimble OS in test and dev, the company would not offer a software-defined storage product to customers.

Basically, he said there's nothing in it for Nimble. His argument went like this:

Vasudevan said: "If, for example, a storage system costs $100 and the hardware from China is $40 of that, here's how the rest is spent: $28 on sales and marketing, $12 on engineering and R&D, $5 on company admin. So, if I sell just software and the cost of the hardware is the same or possibly more then we would have to sell software at much less. But I still have to pay the same amount to sales and marketing people and to engineers, so it's really not clear there's a benefit."

Vasudevan also said that the software-only hyper-converged model - where server and storage reside together on the same box - is likely to lead to increased customer costs due to the need to protect numerous discrete compute/storage instances.

"When you have software on commodity servers the belief is it will lower costs, but in fact it often leads to overprovisioning. That's because the way people protect data on nodes without redundancy features such as dual controllers is to mirror data, often with triple replication," said Vasudevan.

So, that's why one array supplier will not go down the route of software-defined storage. I guess the argument works, for them, but it could be argued that they could at give the customer that choice. The most compelling part of Vasudevan's case is probably that the hardware will cost the same or more to a customer, but for the largest organisations out there that may not be the case.

World War Datacentre: The VMware empire and its rivals

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In the real world we've seen centuries of wars, largely the result of old empires fading and new contenders arising. And the world of IT show similar parallels, albeit on much reduced timescales and with much less bloodshed.

Currently the VMware empire - keen to expand and therefore cement its grip on large swathes of enterprise IT - is fighting some vigorous skirmishes, most notably with hyperconverged storage supplier Nutanix, while manoeuvres aimed at open source cloud infrastructure OpenStack have also taken place, and while it keeps an eye on the horizon for container technology supplier Docker.

VMware's fight with Nutanix has the character of that between incumbent empire and new, upstart rival (eg, the British Empire vs Germany in the first half of the 20th century) as well as that between hegemonic empire and regional power (such as the USA and Iran in recent times).

On the one hand Nutanix is believed to be developing a hypervisor to rival VMware's. To date Nutanix is most noted for being a supplier of converged server/storage products that marry disk capacity and server power with support for VMware, Hyper-V and KVM hypervisor formats.

VMware's "ecosystem" is, how can we say this, rather comprehensive, and the company bets on customers adopting it from top to bottom of the datacentre and then finding it difficult to disengage. The development of alternative hypervisors by the likes of Nutanix threatens this.

At the same time VMware has developed an existential threat to Nutanix in the form of its own hyper-converged server/storage appliances, EVO:Rail, and has partnered with all the key server/storage vendors to bring that to market.

A recent major outbreak of hostilities came when Nutanix (as well as Amazon and Citrix) managed to halt a pending $1.6 billion VMware contract with the US Department of Defense (DoD). The DoD deal - involving more than two million product licences over five years - is/was something of a flagship for VMware and you can bet Nutanix et al's protests with the US Government Accountability Office went down like breakfast at Pearl Harbour on 7 December 1941.  

Meanwhile, VMware faces another imperial-scale rival in OpenStack, the open source private cloud infrastructure. Between the two there is both a fundamental philosophical difference (proprietary vs open source) and but also some complimentarity. There is no Nazi Germany vs USSR fight to the death implicit in this conflict.

VMware provides its virtualisation hypervisor, to which is appended a rich array of features, including the ability to orchestrate the delivery of IT as a cloud. It has also added storage functionality, for example via its storage APIs that connect to third party storage vendor products and more recently via its Virtual SAN (VSAN), as well as Virtual Volumes (VVOLs) that pin performance to specific virtual machines.

OpenStack is an open source cloud environment, and doesn't provide a virtualisation hypervisor. It does provide components including cloud orchestration, block, file and object storage, networking, security etc.

But despite the lack of core conflict it is possible to replace some VMware components with OpenStack, and this is what seems to have happened in highly publicised cases such as at PayPal, which has reportedly ditched a lot of VMware in favour of the open source cloud infrastructure.

The benefits of this type of move would be to give the customer more freedom, being able to mix and match OpenStack modules, use VMware or another hypervisor where needed, and avoid being locked into a tightly controlled VMware ecosystem.

So, for the time being, to VMware, OpenStack is a large occasionally dangerous rival, able to infiltrate and supplant its efforts to colonise datacentres. Perhaps a politico-military parallel would be the current phase of the relationship of the developed west and China, with the latter quietly making inroads into the worlds markets, African minerals etc, but with no physical showdown on the horizon (yet).

Finally, there is the as yet not quite quantifiable threat to VMware from the container technology typified by Docker, but also offered by Google and Microsoft. This is a form of virtualisation, but which does away with the hypervisor and instead allows apps to sit directly on the host operating system (OS) without the need for multiple guest OSs.

Containers address some shortcomings of hypervisors, namely their use of multiple duplicate running processes, boot volumes etc, and their use of dedicated memory and storage resources.

In the long term containers may hold a grave challenge to virtualisation hypervisors such as VMware's, but for the time being the technology is relatively immature, and lacks, for example, key storage features - such as the ablity to share data between containers, container portability with regard to storage etc - and in terms of security.

So, for now containers/Docker is not a pressing concern to VMware, but in the long term that could develop into a deeper, existential rivalry; perhaps more like the China of 50 years in the future to the developed west.

EVO:Rail and the missing acquisition phase of hyperconverged storage

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It's rare that a storage-related technology arises without there being any acquisitions.

Look at flash. The startups emerged and pushed the big six to either buy some of them or to develop flash architectures from the ground up. Mostly big storage bought its way into the space, witness EMC/XtremIO, IBM/Texas Memory Sytems etc.

But hyperconverged compute/storage has seemingly sidestepped that familiar cycle. It's a hot area that emerged a couple of years ago from pioneers such as Nutanix, Simplivity and Scale Computing. They combine processing and storage in one box, with scale-out capability that allows the customer to grow capacity in grid-like fashion.

It allows easy setup and administration and with a VM-friendly architecture.

Then the font of software-defined everything, VMware, came along and brought out EVO:Rail.

EVO: Rail runs VMware virtualises CPUs with vSphere to, storage with VSAN, networks with NSX, while vCenter Log Insight and the EVO Engine handle deployment, configuration and management of resources.

Currently, EVO:Rail only scales to a 48TB four node cluster, but more is promised when the bigger EVO:Rack hits the market.

Right now, hardware makers that offer pre-configured EVO:Rail appliances include Dell, EMC, NetApp, Hitachi Data Systems, Fujitsu and HP. That's all the top seven storage vendors except IBM.

And so, with a big player weighing in from early on, ie VMware doing a good job of providing the software heart of hyperconverged computing, the usual cycle of acquisitions of startups has been bypassed.

So, will the pioneer hyperconverged players be eclipsed? You could imagine they might feel a bit lonely. They got to the dance first, knew all the trick moves but never got picked. VMware came along and swept all the big boys off their feet with EVO.

That's quite unusual in a world where startups not only innovate but often go on to form the core IP of a big players offerings when they are acquired.

But, the hyperconverged pioneers are not necessarily destined to stay as wallflowers. For a start they offer a choice of the hypervisors they run. Nutanix runs Microsoft Hyper-V and it looks like Simplivity has it planned. Meanwhile, Scale Computing's HC3 products are based on the open source KVM hypervisor.

So, despite the hyperconverged storage and compute market bypassing the usual acquisition phase, it looks like the pioneer startups have a comfortable niche in which to sit, especially given this is mostly an SME to midrange play where they can compete in terms of scale and functionality.

Hybrid flash horse is a winner, but did Dell mean to back it?

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When reflecting on the rise of flash storage over the last couple of years it's easy to come to the conclusion that some storage vendors have been more active, more free-spending, more progressive in the marketplace.

I have in mind the likes of EMC and IBM, with their big ticket flash startup acquisitions and the million-plus IOPS products that lead their all-flash offerings.

At the same time it has been easy to regard, for example, Dell (and others that have opted to retrofit existing arrays), that have not invested in dedicated all-flash arrays in the same way as EMC and IBM, as perhaps lagging behind somewhat.

But it has become apparent that hybrid flash is the most common application of SSD and that all-flash arrays are very much a minority interest. In a blog last year I cited a 451 Group survey that showed 67% of respondents had installed flash in SAN or NAS arrays while only 8% had all-flash arrays deployed.

So, as time has passed it has started to look like Dell may have hit the right spot in the market. Or maybe the right spot in the market has hit Dell?

Dell has all-flash array offerings; the Dell Compellent SC4020 can be completely populated with SSD. But its flash forays have largely been into the world of hybrid. The SC4020 can also house HDDs and there is also an EqualLogic iSCSI hybrid flash array, the PS6210XS.

It looks like Dell has been the beneficiary of a happy accident, but according to storage general manager, Alan Atkinson, Dell's bet in the hybrid vs all-flash stakes was a cert for a long time.

"It's a bit of a philosophical question," said Atkinson. "And we have taken sides."

"We considered all the options and honestly believed we didn't need to buy a flash startup or develop flash systems from the ground up. And I think the market has demonstrated that we didn't need to."

Atkinson's view is that flash is a disruptive technology but that it has transitioned from being most suited to high performance use cases.

"All-flash arrays started off expensive and were targeted at use cases that didn't need the full range of features like replication etc."

"That's a market and it is what it is. But what's happened is that as flash prices have decreased it has become a more general purpose storage medium."

Luckily for Dell, according to Atkinson, its Compellent storage operating system (OS), with its tiering capabilities, lent itself well to uses where flash is mixed with spinning media, and was re-written to some extent to optimise it for these use cases.

So, says Atkinson, Dell has no need for a separate all-flash array platform, especially as its customers want a common interface across HDD and SSD storage, or as he put it (IT marketing euphemism alert!), "all the wood behind one arrow," which, of course, you don't get with EMC or IBM, whose all-flash arrays run on discrete OSs.

It's quite a compelling argument, and the net result is that Dell has solid product offerings in flash in all but the most high-performance use cases. But was it what was intended all along? Hmm, well, the jury is still out on that one for me.

Cloud storage future shown by current limitations. Chapter 96: Ctera

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I've written recently that despite relatively low enterprise take-up of cloud storage - due to concerns over bandwidth, availability, security, compliance, data portability etc - vendors big and not so big are making moves into cloud storage; usually hybrid cloud storage, and always limited by the current capabilities of the cloud.

That's because cloud storage is not fully ready, for all the above reasons, for mission-critical enterprise use.

A vendor whose work in the space illustrates this is CTERA, which finds a way to exploit the currently-usable facets of the cloud to provide branch office storage and backup plus file sync and share for mobile users.

Sure, neither of these represent a full-blow enterprise storage use of cloud storage, but are an adaptation what the cloud offers at present.

CTERA's offer centres on CTERA Portal, a platform that allows users to connect to private and public cloud services with linkages to cloud storage environments from the key vendors.

With CTERA Portal customers can deliver, for example, storage and backup services to remote office users via an on-premises NAS appliance, and file and sync services for mobile users via a software agent on the endpoint device.

The appliance offers local disk capacity in what CTERA marketing VP Rani Osnat calls "disk-to-disk-to-cloud", AKA hybrid cloud, and does so with source and global deduplication.

The company's offerings allow enterprises to deliver remote office and/or mobile device data protection or they can be used by service providers to deliver to customers.

What is significant about them? It's another case where an enterprising business has spotted opportunities to exploit the cloud for storage, whilst at the same time recognising its limitations.

CTERA doesn't offer enterprise-class primary storage in the cloud. It can't. The cloud can't provide that - yet. Instead, it allows businesses to exploit cloud storage for the likes of backup and file sync and share.

In the case of its backup appliances, they are hybrid cloud. They have to be because you must stage to disk locally if you can't guarantee throughput across public networks. Mobile sync and share, meanwhile, deals in small volumes of data that are not time critical and dependent on LAN-like levels of connectivity.

So, for now we have numerous vendors exploiting the opportunities and limitations of cloud storage. It's an interesting space to watch and will be increasingly so as the boundaries of possibility change over time.

One day we may see the likes of CTERA - not to mention EMC and NetApp - bringing products that can truly offer primary data-capable enterprise cloud storage services to market.

But that will then raise the question: If the cloud becomes feasible as a tier 1 storage location, what will become of the existing set of vendors, tied as they are to a world of on-premises arrays?