Storage Field Day 20 – Wrap-up and Link-o-rama

Disclaimer: I recently attended Storage Field Day 20.  My flights, accommodation and other expenses were paid for by Tech Field Day. There is no requirement for me to blog about any of the content presented and I am not compensated in any way for my time at the event.  Some materials presented were discussed under NDA and don’t form part of my blog posts, but could influence future discussions.

This is a quick post to say thanks once again to Stephen and Ben, and the presenters at Storage Field Day 20. I had a super fun and educational time. For easy reference, here’s a list of the posts I did covering the events (they may not match the order of the presentations).

Storage Field Day 20 – I’ll Be At Storage Field Day 20

Storage Field Day 20 – (Fairly) Full Disclosure

Cisco MDS, NVMe, and Flexibility

Qumulo – Storage Your Way

Pure Storage Announces Second Generation FlashArray//C with QLC

Nebulon – It’s Server Storage Jim, But Not As We Know It

VAST Data – The Best Is Yet To Come

Intel Optane And The DAOS Storage Engine


Also, here’s a number of links to posts by my fellow delegates (in no particular order). They’re all very smart people, and you should check out their stuff, particularly if you haven’t before. I’ll attempt to keep this updated as more posts are published. But if it gets stale, the Storage Field Day 20 landing page will have updated links.


David Chapa (@DavidChapa)

“High Optane” Fuel For Performance


Becky Elliott (@BeckyLElliott)

Guess Who’s Attending Storage Field Day 20?


Ray Lucchesi (@RayLucchesi)

Storage that provides 100% performance at 99% full


Vuong Pham (@Digital_KungFu)

Storage Field Day 20.. oh yeah!!


Keiran Shelden (@Keiran_Shelden)

Let’s Zoom to SFD20


Enrico Signoretti (@esignoretti)

An Intriguing Approach to Modern Data Center Infrastructure


[image courtesy of Stephen Foskett]

Random Short Take #43

Welcome to Random Short Take #43. A few players have worn 43 in the NBA, including Frank Brickowski, but my favourite from this list is Red Kerr (more for his commentary chops than his game, I think).  Let’s get random.

  • Mike Wilson has published Part 2 of his VMware VCP 2020 Study Guide and it’s a ripper. Check it out here. I try to duck and weave when it comes to certification exams nowadays, but these kind of resources are invaluable.
  • It’s been a while since I had stick time with Data Domain OS, but Preston’s article on password hardening was very useful.
  • Mr Foskett bought a cloud, of sorts. Read more about that here. Anyone who knows Stephen knows that he’s all about what’s talking about what’s happening in the industry, but I do enjoy reading about these home projects as well.
  • Speaking of clouds, Rancher was named “A Leader” in multi-cloud container development platforms by an independent research firm. You can read the press release here.
  • Datadobi had a good story to share about what it did with UMass Memorial Health Care. You can read the story here.
  • Steve O has done way too much work understanding how to change the default theme in Veeam Enterprise Manager 10 and documenting the process so you don’t need to work it out. Read about the process here.
  • Speaking of data protection, Zerto has noticed Azure adoption increasing at quite a pace, amongst other things.
  • This was a great article on open source storage from Chin-Fah.

Intel Optane And The DAOS Storage Engine

Disclaimer: I recently attended Storage Field Day 20.  My flights, accommodation and other expenses were paid for by Tech Field Day. There is no requirement for me to blog about any of the content presented and I am not compensated in any way for my time at the event.  Some materials presented were discussed under NDA and don’t form part of my blog posts, but could influence future discussions.

Intel recently presented at Storage Field Day 20. You can see videos of the presentation here, and download my rough notes from here.


Intel Optane Persistent Memory

If you’re a diskslinger, you’ve very likely heard of Intel Optane. You may have even heard of Intel Optane Persistent Memory. It’s a little different to Optane SSD, and Intel describes it as “memory technology that delivers a unique combination of affordable large capacity and support for data persistence”. It looks a lot like DRAM, but the capacity is greater, and there’s data persistence across power losses. This all sounds pretty cool, but isn’t it just another form factor for fast storage? Sort of, but the application of the engineering behind the product is where I think it starts to get really interesting.


Enter DAOS

Distributed Asynchronous Object Storage (DAOS) is described by Intel as “an open source software-defined scale-out object store that provides high bandwidth, low latency, and high I/O operations per second (IOPS) storage containers to HPC applications”. It’s ostensibly a software stack built from the ground up to take advantage of the crazy speeds you can achieve with Optane, and at scale. There’s a handy overview of the architecture available on Intel’s website. Traditional object (and other storage systems) haven’t really been built to take advantage of Optane in quite the same way DAOS has.

[image courtesy of Intel]

There are some cool features built into DAOS, including:

  • Ultra-fine grained, low-latency, and true zero-copy I/O
  • Advanced data placement to account for fault domains
  • Software-managed redundancy supporting both replication and erasure code with online rebuild
  • End-to-end (E2E) data integrity
  • Scalable distributed transactions with guaranteed data consistency and automated recovery
  • Dataset snapshot capability
  • Security framework to manage access control to storage pools
  • Software-defined storage management to provision, configure, modify, and monitor storage pools

Exciting? Sure is. There’s also integration with Lustre. The best thing about this is that you can grab it from Github under the Apache 2.0 license.


Thoughts And Further Reading

Object storage is in its relative infancy when compared to some of the storage architectures out there. It was designed to be highly scalable and generally does a good job of cheap and deep storage at “web scale”. It’s my opinion that object storage becomes even more interesting as a storage solution when you put a whole bunch of really fast storage media behind it. I’ve seen some media companies do this with great success, and there are a few of the bigger vendors out there starting to push the All-Flash object story. Even then, though, many of the more popular object storage systems aren’t necessarily optimised for products like Intel Optane PMEM. This is what makes DAOS so interesting – the ability for the storage to fundamentally do what it needs to do at massive scale, and have it go as fast as the media will let it go. You don’t need to worry as much about the storage architecture being optimised for the storage it will sit on, because the folks developing it have access to the team that developed the hardware.

The other thing I really like about this project is that it’s open source. This tells me that Intel are both focused on Optane being successful, and also focused on the industry making the most of the hardware it’s putting out there. It’s a smart move – come up with some super fast media, and then give the market as much help as possible to squeeze the most out of it.

You can grab the admin guide from here, and check out the roadmap here. Intel has plans to release a new version every 6 months, and I’m really looking forward to seeing this thing gain traction. For another perspective on DAOS and Intel Optane, check out David Chapa’s article here.



VAST Data – The Best Is Yet To Come

Disclaimer: I recently attended Storage Field Day 20.  My flights, accommodation and other expenses were paid for by Tech Field Day. There is no requirement for me to blog about any of the content presented and I am not compensated in any way for my time at the event.  Some materials presented were discussed under NDA and don’t form part of my blog posts, but could influence future discussions.

VAST Data recently presented at Storage Field Day 20. You can see videos of their presentation here, and download my rough notes from here.


Feature Progress

VAST Data has come up with a pretty cool solution, and it continues to evolve as time passes (funny how that works). You can see that a whole stack of features has been added to the platform since the 1.0 release in November 2018.

[image courtesy of VAST Data]

The Similarity

One feature that caught my eye was the numbers that VAST Data presented that had been observed with the similarity-based data reduction capability (introduced in 1.2). In the picture below you’ll see a lot of 3:1 and 2:1. It doesn’t seem like that great a ratio, but the data that’s being worked on here is pre-compressed. My experience with applying data reduction techniques to pre-compressed and / or pre-deduplicated data is that it’s usually tough to get anything decent out of it, so I think this is pretty neat.

[image courtesy of VAST Data]

Snap to S3

Another cool feature (added in 3.0) is snap to cloud / S3. This is one of those features where you think, ha, I hadn’t been looking for that specifically, but it does look kind of cool.

[image courtesy of VAST Data]

Replicate snaps to object store

  • Independent schedule, retention

Presented as .remote folder

  • Self service restore (<30 days .snapshots, >30 days .remote)

Large objects

  • Data and metadata
  • Compressed


  • Presents read-only .remote
  • .ovf, AMI
  • Parallel for bandwidth


Thoughts and Further Reading

You’ll notice I haven’t written a lot in this article. This isn’t because I don’t think VAST Data is intriguing, or that I don’t like what it can do. Rather, I think you’d be better served checking out the Storage Field Day presentations yourself (I recommend the presentations from both Storage Field Day 18 and Storage Field Day 20). You can also read my summary of the tech from Storage Field Day 18 here, but obviously things have progressed significantly since then.

As Howard Marks pointed out in his presentation, this is not the first rodeo for many of the folks involved in VAST Data’s rapid development. You can see from the number of features being added in a short time that they’re keen on making more progress and meeting the needs of the market. But it still takes time. SMB failover is cool, but some people might be more interested in seeing vSphere support sooner rather than later. I have no insight into the roadmap, but based on what I’ve seen over the last 20ish months, there’s been some great stuff forthcoming, and definitely more cool things to come. Coupled with the fact that this thing relies heavily on QLC and you’ve got a compelling platform at potentially a super interesting price point upon which you can do a bunch of interesting things, storage-wise. I’m looking forward to seeing what’s in store over the next 20 months.

Nebulon – It’s Server Storage Jim, But Not As We Know It

Disclaimer: I recently attended Storage Field Day 20.  My flights, accommodation and other expenses were paid for by Tech Field Day. There is no requirement for me to blog about any of the content presented and I am not compensated in any way for my time at the event.  Some materials presented were discussed under NDA and don’t form part of my blog posts, but could influence future discussions.

Nebulon recently presented at Storage Field Day 20. You can see videos of the presentation here, and download my rough notes from here. I’d also like to thank Siamak Nazari (CEO), Craig Nunes (COO), and the team for taking the time to do a follow-up briefing with me after the event. I think I took a lot more in when it was done during waking hours.


What Is It?

Nebulon defines its offering as “cloud-defined storage (CDS)”. It’s basically an add-in card that delivers “on-premises, server-based enterprise-class storage that consumes no server CPU / memory resources and is defined and managed through the cloud”. This is achieved via a combination of nebulon ON (the cloud management plane) and the Nebulon Services Processing Unit (SPU).



The SPU is the gateway to the solution, and

  • Runs in any 2RU / 24 drive server;
  • Connects to server SSDs like any RAID card; and
  • Presents local or shared volumes to the application.

A group of SPU-equipped servers is called an “nPod”.

The SPU is built in such a fashion as to deliver some features you may not traditionally associate with host-side storage, including:

  • All-flash performance via a high perfromance 8-core 3GHz CPU and 32GB NVRAM for tier-1 performance with all-flash latencies; and
  • Zero-trust security using hardware-accelerated encryption engines, a token-based “security triangle”, and crypto-authentication chip.

The Nebulon solution is designed to scale out, with support for up to 32 heterogeneous, SPU-enabled servers per nPod connected by 2x 25Gb Ethernet ports. Note that you can scale out your compute independently of your storage needs.


[image courtesy of Nebulon]

Key Features

Offloads the full storage software stack from the server.

Enterprise data services

  • Data efficiency: deduplication, compression, thin provisioning
  • Data protection: encryption, erasure coding, snapshots, replication

No software dependencies

  • In-box drivers for all hypervisors and operating systems without managing multi-pathing or firmware dependencies

1.3x more performance from each server

  • Application / VM density advantage vs “restrictive” SDS

isolated fault domain

  • Storage and data services are not impacted by operating system or hypervisor reboots


It’s Not On, nebulon ON

Always Up-to-Date Software

The cool thing is the nebulon ON cloud control plane is always being updated and delivered as a service. You can leverage new features instantly, and there’s scope for some AI stuff to be done there too. The SPU runs a lightweight storage OS: nebOS. Nebulon says it’s fast, with infrequent updates and no disruption to service, and scheduling updates is also apparently easy.


Thoughts and Further Reading

I tried to come up with a witty title for this post, because the name Nebulon makes me think of Star Trek. But I’ll admit my knowledge of Star Trek runs to “Star Trekkin’” by The Firm, so I can’t really say whether that’s a valid thing. In any case, I didn’t immediately get the value that Nebulon offered, and it wasn’t until the team took me through the offering for a second time (and it wasn’t the middle of the night for me) that I think I started to get the value proposition. Perhaps it was because I’m still working with “traditional” storage vendors on a more regular basis – the exact solution that Nebulon is looking to remove from environments.

“Server storage” is an interesting thing. There are a lot of reasons why it’s a good thing, and well suited to a number of workloads. When coupled with a robust management plane and “enterprise” resilience features, server storage can have a lot of appeal, particularly if you need to scale up or down quickly. One thing that makes the Nebulon solution super interesting is the fact that the management is done primarily from the cloud offering. I confirmed with the team that nothing went bad with the storage itself when the management plane was unavailable for a period of time. I also confirmed that the typical objection handling they were seeing in the field regarding security came down to the need to do a workshop and run through the solution with the security folks to get it over the line.

This solution has a lot of appeal, depending on how you’re consuming your storage resources today. If you’re already down the track of server storage, this may not be as exciting, because you might have already done a lot of the heavy lifting and gotten things working just so. But if you’re still using a traditional storage solution and looking to change things up, Nebulon could have some appeal, particularly as it provides some cloud-based management and some level of grunt on the SPUs. The ability to couple this with your preferred server vendor will also have appeal to the bigger shops looking to leverage their buying power with the bigger server slingers. Enrico covered Nebulon here, and you can read more on cloud-defined storage here.

Pure Storage Announces Second Generation FlashArray//C with QLC

Disclaimer: I recently attended Storage Field Day 20.  My flights, accommodation and other expenses were paid for by Tech Field Day. There is no requirement for me to blog about any of the content presented and I am not compensated in any way for my time at the event.  Some materials presented were discussed under NDA and don’t form part of my blog posts, but could influence future discussions.

Pure Storage recently announced its second generation FlashArray//C – an all-QLC offering offering scads of capacity in a dense form factor. Pure Storage presented on this topic at Storage Field Day 20. You can see videos of the presentation here, and download my rough notes from here.


It’s A Box!

FlashArray//C burst on to the scene last year as an all-flash, capacity-optimised storage option for customers looking for storage that didn’t need to go quite as fast the FlashArray//X, but that wasn’t built on spinning disk. Available capacities range from 1.3PB to 5.2PB (effective).

[image courtesy of Pure Storage]

There are a number of models available, with a variety of capacities and densities.

  Capacity Physical



Up to 1.3PB effective capacity**

366TB raw capacity**

3U; 1000–1240 watts (nominal–peak)

97.7 lbs (44.3 kg) fully loaded

5.12” x 18.94” x 29.72” chassis




Up to 1.9PB effective capacity**

494TB raw capacity**

3U; 1000–1240 watts (nominal–peak)

97.7 lbs (44.3 kg) fully loaded

5.12” x 18.94” x 29.72” chassis




Up to 3.2PB effective capacity**

840TB raw capacity**

6U; 1480–1760 watts (nominal–peak)

177.0lbs (80.3kg) fully loaded

10.2” x 18.94 x 29.72” chassis




Up to 4.6PB effective capacity**

1.2PB raw capacity**

6U; 1480–1760 watts (nominal–peak)

185.4 lbs (84.1 kg) fully loaded

15.35” x 18.94 x 29.72” chassis




Up to 5.2PB effective capacity**

1.4PB raw capacity**

9U; 1960–2280 watts (nominal–peak)

273.2 lbs (123.9 kg) fully loaded

15.35” x 18.94 x 29.72” chassis


There are reasons why the FlashArray//C could be a really compelling option for workload consolidation. More and more workloads are “business critical” in terms of both performance and availability. There’s a requirement to do more with less, while battling complexity, and a strong desire to manage everything via a single pane of glass.

There are some other cool things you could use the //C for as well, including:

  • Automated policy-based VM tiering between //X and //C arrays;
  • DR using the //X at production and //C at your secondary site;
  • Consolidating multiple //X array workloads on a single //C array for test and dev; and
  • Consolidating multiple //X array snapshots to a single //C array for long-term retention.


It’s a QLC World, Sort Of

The second generation is FlashArray//C means you can potentially now have flash all through the data centre.

  • Apps and VMs – provision your high performance workloads to //X, lower performance / high capacity workloads to //C
  • Modern Data Protection & Disaster Recovery – on-premises production applications on //X efficiently replicated or backed up to //C at DR site
  • User File Shares – User file access with Purity 6.0 via SMB, NFS

QLC nonetheless presents significant engineering challenges with traditionally high write latency and low endurance (when compared to SLC, MLC, and TLC). Pure Storage’s answer to that problem has been to engineer the crap out of DirectFlash to get the required results. I’d do a bad job of explaining it, so instead I recommend you check out Pete Kirkpatrick’s explanation.


Thoughts And Further Reading

I covered the initial FlashArray//C announcement here and many of the reasons why this type of offering is appealing remain the same. The knock on Pure Storage in the last few years has been that, while FlashArray//X is nice and fast and a snap to use, it couldn’t provide the right kind of capacity (i.e. cheap and deep) that a number of price-sensitive punters wanted.  Sure, they could go and buy the FlashArray//X and then look to another vendor for a dense storage option, but the motivation to run with a number of storage vendors in smaller enterprise shops is normally fairly low. The folks in charge of technology in these environments are invariably stretched in terms of bodies on the floor to run the environments, and cash in the bank to procure those solutions. A single vendor solution normally makes sense for them (as opposed to some of the larger shops, or specialist organisations that really have very specific requirements that can only be serviced by particular solutions).

So now Pure Storage has the FlashArray//C, and you can get it with some decent density, some useful features (thanks in part to some new features in Purity 6), and integration with the things you know and like about Pure Storage, such as Pure1 and Evergreen storage. It seems like Pure Storage has done an awful lot of work to squeeze performance out of QLC whilst ensuring that the modules don’t need replacing every other week. There’s a lot to like about the evolving Pure Storage story, and I’m interested to see how they tie it all together as the portfolio continues to expand. You can read the press release here, access the data sheet here, and read Mellor’s take on the news here.

Datadobi Announces DobiProtect

Datadobi recently announced DobiProtect. I had the opportunity to speak with Michael Jack and Carl D’Halluin about the announcement, and thought I’d share some thoughts here.


The Problem

Disaster Recovery

Modern disaster recovery solutions tend more towards business continuity than DR. The challenge with data replication solutions is that it’s a trivial thing to replicate corruption from your primary storage to your DR storage. Backup systems are vulnerable too, and most instances you need to make some extra effort to ensure you’ve got a replicated catalogue, and that your backup data is not isolated. Invariably, you’ll be looking to restore to like hardware in order to reduce the recovery time. Tape is still a pain to deal with, and invariably you’re also at the mercy of people and processes going wrong.

What Do Customers Need?

To get what you need out of a robust DR system, there are a few criteria that need to be met, including:

  • An easy way to select business-critical data;
  • A simple way to make a golden copy in native format;
  • A bunker site in a DC or cloud;
  • A manual air-gap procedure;
  • A way to restore to anything; and
  • A way to failover if required.


Enter DobiProtect

What Does It Do?

The idea is that you have two sites with a manual air-gap between them, usually controlled by a firewall of some type. The first site is where you run your production workload, and there’ll likely be a subset of data that is really quirte important to your business. You can use DobiProtect to get that data from your production site to DR (it might even be in a bunker!). In order to get the data from Production to DR, DobiProtect scans the data before it’s pulled across to DR. Note that the data is pulled, not pushed. This is important as it means that there’s no obvious trace of the bunker’s existence in production.

[image courtesy of Datadobi]

If things go bang, you can recover to any NAS or Object.

  • Browse golden copy
  • Select by directory structure, folder, or object patterns
  • Mounts and shares
  • Specific versions

Bonus Use Case

One of the more popular use cases that Datadobi spoke to me about was heterogeneous edge-to-core protection. Data on the edge is usually more vulnerable, and not every organisation has the funding to put robust protection mechanisms in place at every edge site to protect critical data. With the advent of COVID-19, many organisations have been pushing more data to the edge in order for remote workers to have better access to data. The challenge then becomes keeping that data protected in a reliable fashion. DobiProtect can be used to pull data from the core once data has been pulled back from the edge. Because it’s a software only product, your edge storage can be anything that supports object, SMB, or NFS, and the core could be anything else. This provides a lot of flexibility in terms of the expense traditionally associated with DR at edge sites.

[image courtesy of Datadobi]


Thoughts and Further Reading

The idea of an air-gapped site in a bunker somewhere is the sort of thing you might associate with a James Bond story. In Australia these aren’t exactly a common thing (bunkers, not James Bond stories), but Europe and the US is riddled with them. As Jack pointed out in our call, “[t]he first rule of bunker club – you don’t talk about the bunker”. Datadobi couldn’t give me a list of customers using this type of solution because all of the customers didn’t want people to know that they were doing things this way. It seems a bit like security via obscurity, but there’s no point painting a big target on your back or giving clues out for would-be crackers to get into your environment and wreak havoc.

The idea that your RPO is a day, rather than minutes, is also confronting for some folks. But the idea of this solution is that you’ll use it for your absolutely mission critical can’t live without it data, not necessarily your virtual machines that you may be able to recover normally if you’re attacked or the magic black smoke escapes from one of your hosts. If you’ve gone to the trouble of looking into acquiring some rack space in a bunker, limited the people in the know to a handful, and can be bothered messing about with a manual air-gap process, the data you’re looking to protect is clearly pretty important.

Datadobi has a rich heritage in data migration for both file and object storage systems. It makes sense that eventually customer demand would drive them down this route to deliver a migration tool that ostensibly runs all the time as sort of data protection tool. This isn’t designed to protect everything in your environment, but for the stuff that will ruin your business if it goes away, it’s very likely worth the effort and expense. There are some folks out there actively looking for ways to put you over a barrel, so it’s important to think about what it’s worth to your organisation to avoid that if possible.

Qumulo – Storage Your Way

Disclaimer: I recently attended Storage Field Day 20.  My flights, accommodation and other expenses were paid for by Tech Field Day. There is no requirement for me to blog about any of the content presented and I am not compensated in any way for my time at the event.  Some materials presented were discussed under NDA and don’t form part of my blog posts, but could influence future discussions.

Qumulo recently presented at Storage Field Day 20. You can see videos of the presentation here, and download my rough notes from here.


Solving Problems The Qumulo Way

Extreme, Efficient Scalability

Legacy problem

  • Inefficient file system architectures only use 60-80% of purchased capacity
  • Limited capacity and file count scalability
  • Adding capacity and performance complex and often required downtime

Qumulo Solution

  • Get 100% out of your investment
  • Scale to hundreds of billions of files
  • Expand capacity and performance seamlessly

No More Tiers

Legacy problem

  • Data not available in fastest storage when users and applications request it
  • Tiering jobs were slow to execute and often didn’t complete, leaving risk of filling the performance tier

Qumulo Solution

  • Single-tier solution with predictive caching ensures performance SLAs are met
  • Simplified administration and full confidence in access to data


Legacy problem

  • Troubleshooting complexity, unforeseen growth expenditures, and usage bottlenecks plague IT
  • Impossible to track who is using data and for which projects

Qumulo Solution

  • Gain graphical, real-time visibility into user performance, usage trends and performance bottlenecks
  • Proactively plan for future requirements


Flash! Ah-ah

The development of an all-NVMe solution also means Qumulo can do even more to address legacy storage problems.

Intelligent Caching

  • Enables fast random reads from limited and expensive media (SSD)
  • Identifies read I/O patterns and promotes data from disk to SSD
  • Cache eviction policy leverages heat-based strategy

Predictive Prefetch

  • Enables very fast streaming reads
  • Proactively moves data to RAM by anticipating files that will likely be read in large, parallel batches or within a file
  • Constantly automatically adjusting if data is not used at per client granularity

All Writes Go To Flash

  • No special hardware components required
  • Data de-staged to optimise for HDD performance
  • Low latency NVMe makes writes much faster


Thoughts and Further Reading

We’ve been talking about the end of disk-based storage systems for some time now. But there still seems to be an awful lot of spinning drives being used around the globe to power a variety of different workloads. Hybrid storage still has a place in storage world, particularly when you need “good enough” performance in price-sensitive environments. What All-Flash does, however, is provide the ability to deliver some very, very good performance for those applications that need it. Doing high resolution video editing or need to render those files at high speed? An all-NVMe solution is likely what you’re after. But if you just need a bunch of capacity to store video surveillance files, or archives, then a hybrid solution will quite likely meet your requirements. The key to the Qumulo solution is that it can do both of those things whilst using a bunch of software smarts to help you get your unstructured data under control. It’s not just about throwing a new storage protocol at the problem and hoping things will run better / faster though. It’s also important to understand how the solution can scale out, and what kind of visibility you get with said solution. These are two critical aspects of storage solutions used in media production environments, particularly when being able to squeeze every last bit of performance out of the system is a key requirement, and you might be in a position where you need to throw a bunch of workload at the system in a hurry.

Qumulo strikes me as being a super popular solution for video editing, broadcast, production, and so forth. This is one of my favourite market segments, if only because the variety of workloads and solutions that cater to those workloads is pretty insane. That said, when you dig into other market segments, such as Artificial Intelligence and analytics workloads, you’ll also notice that unstructured data access is a common requirement. The delivery of an all-NVMe solution helps Qumulo provide the resources required to satisfy those high-performance applications. But the cool thing isn’t just the performance, or even the ability to scale. It’s the visibility you can get into the platform to work out what’s going on. Managing petabytes of unstructured data is a daunting task at the best of times, so it’s nice to see a company paying attention to making both the end user and the storage administrator happy. I’m the first to admit I haven’t been paying as much attention to Qumulo as I should have, but I will be doing so from now on. For another perspective, check out Ray Lucchesi’s article on Qumulo here.

BackupAssist Announces BackupAssist ER

BackupAssist recently announced BackupAssist ER. I recently had the opportunity to speak with Linus Chang (CEO), Craig Ryan, and Madeleine Tan about the announcement.



Founded in 2001, BackupAssist is focussed primarily on the small to medium enterprise (under 500 seats). They sell the product via a variety of mechanisms, including:

  • Direct
  • Partners
  • Distribution channels


Challenges Are Everywhere

Some of the challenges faced by the average SME when it comes to data protection include the following:

  • Malware
  • COVID-19
  • Compliance

So what does the average SME need when it comes to selecting a data protection solution?

  • Make it affordable
  • Automatic offsite backups with history and retention
  • Most recoveries are local – make them fast!
  • The option to recover in the cloud if needed (the fallback to the fallback)


What Is It?

So what exactly is BackupAssist ER? It’s backup and recovery software.

[image courtesy of BackupAssist]

It’s deployed on Windows servers, and has support for disk to disk to cloud as a protection topology.


Another cool feature is CryptoSafeGuard, providing the following features:

  • Shield from unauthorised access
  • Detect – Alert – Preserve

Disaster Recovery

  • VM Instant boot (converting into a Hyper-V guest)
  • BMR (catering for dissimilar hardware)
  • Download cloud backup anywhere

Data Recovery

The product supports the granular recovery of files, Exchange, and applications.

Data Handling and Control

A key feature of the solution is the approach to data handling, offering:

  • Accessibility
  • Portability
  • Retention

It uses the VHDX file format to store protection data. It can also backup to Blob storage. Chang also advised that they’re working on introducing S3 compatibility at some stage.


The product supports a couple of different retention schemes, including:

  • Local – Keep N copies (GFS is coming)
  • Cloud – Keep X copies
  • Archival – Keep a backup on a HDD, and retain for years


BackupAssist ER is licensed in a variety of ways. Costs are as follows:

  • Per physical machine – $399 US annually;
  • Per virtual guest machine – $199 US annually; and
  • Per virtual host machine – $699 US annually.

There are discounts available for multi-year subscriptions, as well as discounts to be had if you’re looking to purchase licensing for more than 5 machines.


Thoughts and Further Reading

Chang noted that BackupAssist is “[n]ot trying to be the best, but the best fit”. You’ll see that a lot of the capability is Microsoft-centric, with support for Windows and Hyper-V. This makes sense when you look at what the SME market is doing in terms of leveraging Microsoft platforms to deliver their IT requirements. Building a protection product that covers every platform is time-consuming and expensive in terms of engineering effort. What Chang and the team have been focussed on is delivering data protection products to customers at a particular price point while delivering the right amount of technology.

The SME market is notorious for wanting to consume quality product at a particular price point. Every interaction I’ve had with customers in the SME segment has given me a crystal clear understanding of “Champagne tastes on a beer budget”. But in much the same way that some big enterprise shops will never stop doing things at a glacial pace, so too will many SME shops continue to look for high value at a low cost. Ultimately, compromises need to be made to meet that price point, hence the lack of support for features such as VMware. That doesn’t mean that BackupAssist can’t meet your requirements, particularly if you’re running your business’s IT on a couple of Windows machines. For this it’s well suited, and the flexibility on offer in terms of disk targets, retention, and recovery should be motivation to investigate further. It’s a bit of a nasty world out there, so anything you can do to ensure your business data is a little safer should be worthy of further consideration. You can read the press release here.

Cisco MDS, NVMe, and Flexibility

Disclaimer: I recently attended Storage Field Day 20.  My flights, accommodation and other expenses were paid for by Tech Field Day. There is no requirement for me to blog about any of the content presented and I am not compensated in any way for my time at the event.  Some materials presented were discussed under NDA and don’t form part of my blog posts, but could influence future discussions.

Cisco recently presented at Storage Field Day 20. You can see videos of the presentation here, and download my rough notes from here.


NVMe, Yeah You Know Me

Non-Volatile Memory Express, known more commonly as NVMe, is a protocol designed for high performance SSD storage access.  In the olden days, we used to associate fibre channel and iSCSI networking options with high performance block storage. Okay, maybe not the 1Gbps iSCSI stuff, but you know what I mean. Time has passed, and the storage networking landscape has changed significantly with the introduction of All-Flash and NVMe. But NVMe’s adoption hasn’t been all smooth sailing. There have been plenty of vendors willing to put drives in storage arrays that support NVMe while doing some translation on the backend that negated the real benefits of NVMe. And, like many new technologies, it’s been a gradual process to get end-to-end NVMe in place, because enterprises, and the vendors that sell to them, only move so fast. Some vendors support NVMe, but only over FC. Others have adopted the protocol to run over RoCEv2. There’s also NVMe-TCP, in case you weren’t confused enough about what you could use. I’m doing a poor job of explaining this, so you should really just head over to Dr J Metz’s article on NVMe for beginners at SNIA.


Cisco Are Ready For Anything

As you’ve hopefully started to realise, you’ll see a whole bunch of NVMe implementations available in storage fabrics, along with a large number of enterprises continuing to have conversations about and deploy new storage equipment that uses traditional block fabrics, such as iSCSI or FC or, perish the thought, FCoE. The cool thing about Cisco MDS is that it supports all this crazy and more. If you’re running the latest and greatest NVMe end to end implementation and have some old block-only 8Gbps FC box sitting in the corner they can likely help you with connectivity. The diagram below hopefully demonstrates that point.

[image courtesy of Cisco]


Thoughts and Further Reading

Very early in my storage career, I attended a session on MDS at Cisco Networkers Live (when they still ran those types of events in Brisbane). Being fairly new to storage, and running a smallish network of one FC4700 and 8 Unix hosts, I’d tended to focus more on the storage part of the equation rather than the network part of the SAN. Cisco was still relatively new to the storage world at that stage, and it felt a lot like it had adopted a very network-centric view of the storage world. I was a little confused why all the talk was about backplanes and port density, as I was more interested about the optimal RAID configuration for mail server volumes and how I should protect the data being stored on this somewhat sensitive piece of storage. As time went on, I was invariably exposed to larger and larger environments where decisions around core and edge storage networking devices started to become more and more critical to getting optimal performance out of the environment. A lot of the information I was exposed to in that early MDS session started to make more sense (particularly as I was tasked with deploying larger and larger MDS-based fabrics).

Things have obviously changed quite a bit since those heady days of a network upstart making waves in the storage world. We’ve seen increases in network speeds become more and more common in the data centre, and we’re no longer struggling to get as many IOPS as we can out of 5400 RPM PATA drives with an interposer and some slightly weird firmware. What has become apparent, I think, is the importance of the fabric when it comes to getting access to storage resources in a timely fashion, and with the required performance. As enterprises scale up and out, and more and more hosts and applications connect to centralised storage resources, it doesn’t matter how fast those storage resources are if there’s latency in the fabric.

The SAN still has a place in the enterprise, despite was the DAS huggers will tell you, and you can get some great performance out of your SAN if you architect it appropriately. Cisco certainly seems to have an option for pretty much everything when it comes to storage (and network) fabrics. It also has a great story when it comes to fabric visibility, and the scale and performance at the top end of its MDS range is pretty impressive. In my mind, though, the key really is the variety of options available when build a storage network. It’s something that shouldn’t be underestimated given the plethora of options available in the market.