Axellio Announces Azure Stack HCI Support

Microsoft recently announced their Azure Stack HCI program, and I had the opportunity to speak to the team from Axellio (including Bill Miller, Barry Martin, and Kara Smith) about their support for it.

 

Azure Stack Versus Azure Stack HCI

So what’s the difference between Azure Stack and Azure Stack HCI? You can think of Azure Stack as an extension of Azure – designed for cloud-native applications. The Azure Stack HCI is more for your traditional VM-based applications – the kind of ones that haven’t been refactored (or can’t be) for public cloud.

[image courtesy of Microsoft]

The Azure Stack HCI program has fifteen vendor partners on launch day, of which Axellio is one.

 

Axellio’s Take

Miller describes the Axellio solution as “[n]ot your father’s HCI infrastructure”, and Axellio tell me it “has developed the new FabricXpress All-NVMe HCI edge-computing platform built from the ground up for high-performance computing and fast storage for intense workload environments. It delivers 72 NVMe SSDS per server, and packs 2 servers into one 2U chassis”. Cluster sizes start at 4 nodes and run up to 16. Note that the form factor measurement in the table below includes any required switching for the solution. You can grab the data sheet from here.

[image courtesy of Axellio]

It uses the same Hyper-V based software-defined compute, storage and networking as Azure Stack and integrates on-premises workloads with Microsoft hybrid data services including Azure Site Recovery and Azure Backup, Cloud Witness and Azure Monitor.

 

Thoughts and Further Reading

When Microsoft first announced plans for a public cloud presence, some pundits suggested they didn’t have the chops to really make it. It seems that Microsoft has managed to perform well in that space despite what some of the analysts were saying. What Microsoft has had working in its favour is that it understands the enterprise pretty well, and has made a good push to tap that market and help get the traditionally slower moving organisations to look seriously at public cloud.

Azure Stack HCI fits nicely in between Azure and Azure Stack, giving enterprises the opportunity to host workloads that they want to keep in VMs hosted on a platform that integrates well with public cloud services that they may also wish to leverage. Despite what we want to think, not every enterprise application can be easily refactored to work in a cloud-native fashion. Nor is every enterprise ready to commit that level of investment into doing that with those applications, preferring instead to host the applications for a few more years before introducing replacement application architectures.

It’s no secret that I’m a fan of Axellio’s capabilities when it comes to edge compute and storage solutions. In speaking to the Axellio team, what stands out to me is that they really seem to understand how to put forward a performance-oriented solution that can leverage the best pieces of the Microsoft stack to deliver an on-premises hosting capability that ticks a lot of boxes. The ability to move workloads (in a staged fashion) so easily between public and private infrastructure should also have a great deal of appeal for enterprises that have traditionally struggled with workload mobility.

Enterprise operations can be a pain in the backside at the best of times. Throw in the requirement to host some workloads in public cloud environments like Azure, and your operations staff might be a little grumpy. Fans of HCI have long stated that the management of the platform, and the convergence of compute and storage, helps significantly in easing the pain of infrastructure operations. If you then take that management platform and integrate it successfully with you public cloud platform, you’re going to have a lot of fans. This isn’t Axellio’s only solution, but I think it does fit in well with their ability to deliver performance solutions in both the core and edge.

Thomas Maurer wrote up a handy article covering some of the differences between Azure Stack and Azure Stack HCI. The official Microsoft blog post on Azure Stack HCI is here. You can read the Axellio press release here.

Scale Computing and Leostream – Better Than Bert And Ernie

Scale Computing recently announced some news about a VDI solution they delivered for Illinois-based Paris Community Hospital. I had the opportunity to speak with Alan Conboy about it and thought I’d share some coverage here.

 

VDI and HCI – A Pretty Famous Pairing

When I started to write this article, I was trying to think of a dynamic duo that I could compare VDI and HCI to. Batman and Robin? Bert and Ernie? MJ and Scottie? In any case, hyper-converged infrastructure and virtual desktop infrastructure has gone well together since the advent of HCI. It’s my opinion that HCI is in a number of enterprises by virtue of the fact that a VDI requirement arose. Once HCI is introduced into those enterprise environments, folks start to realise it’s useful for other stuff too.

Operational Savings

So it makes sense that Scale Computing’s HC3 solution would be used to deliver VDI solutions at some stage. And Leostream can provide the lifecycle manager / connection broker / gateway part of the story without breaking a sweat. According to Conboy Paris Community Hospital has managed to drastically reduce its operating costs, to the point that it’s reduced its resource investment to a part-time operations staff member to manage the environment. They’re apparently saving around $1 million (US) over the next five years, meaning they can now afford an extra doctor and additional nursing staff.

HCI – It’s All In The Box

If you’re familiar with HCI, you’ll know that most of the required infrastructure comes with the solution – compute, storage, and hypervisor. You also get the ability to do cool stuff in terms of snapshots and disaster recovery via replication.

 

Thoughts

VDI solutions have proven popular in healthcare environments for a number of reasons. They generally help the organisation control the applications that are run in the (usually) security-sensitive environment, particularly at the edge. It’s also useful in terms of endpoint maintenance, and removes the requirement to deploy high end client devices in clinical environments. It also provides a centralised mechanism to ensure that critical application updates are performed in a timely fashion.

You won’t necessarily save money deploying VDI on HCI in terms of software licensing or infrastructure investment. But you will potentially save money in terms of the operational resources required for endpoint and application support. If you can then spend those savings on medical staff, that has to be a win for the average healthcare organisation.

I’m the first to admit that I don’t get overly excited about VDI solutions. I can see the potential for value in some organisations, but I tend to lose focus rapidly when people start to talk to me about this stuff. That said, I do get enthusiastic about HCI solutions that make sense, and deliver value back to the business. It strikes me that this Scale Computing and Leostream combo has worked out pretty well for Paris Community Hospital. And that’s pretty cool. For more insight, Scale Computing has published a Customer Case Study that you can read here.

Random Short Take #12

Here are a few links to some random news items and other content that I found interesting. You might find it interesting too. Maybe.

  • I’ve been a fan of Backblaze for some time now, and I find their blog posts useful. This one, entitled “A Workflow Playbook for Migrating Your Media Assets to a MAM“, was of particular interest to me.
  • Speaking of Backblaze, this article on SSDs and reliability should prove useful, particularly if you’re new to the technology. And the salty comments from various readers are great too.
  • Zerto just announced the myZerto Labs Program as a way for “IT professionals to test, understand and experiment with the IT Resilience Platform using virtual infrastructure”. You can sign up here.
  • If you’re in the area, I’m speaking at the Sydney VMUG UserCon on Tuesday 19th March. I’ll be covering how to “Build Your Personal Brand by Starting and Maintaining a Blog”. It’s more about blogging than branding, but I’m hoping there’s enough to keep the punters engaged. Details here. If you can’t get along to the event, I’ll likely publish the deck on this site in the near future.
  • The nice people at Axellio had some success at the US Air Force Pitch Day recently. You can read more about that here.
  • UltraViolet is going away. This kind of thing is disheartening (and a big reason why I persist in buying physical copies of things still).
  • I’m heading to Dell Technologies World this year. Michael was on the TV recently, talking about the journey and looking ahead. You can see more here.

Random Short Take #11

Here are a few links to some random news items and other content that I found interesting. You might find it interesting too. Maybe. Happy New Year too. I hope everyone’s feeling fresh and ready to tackle 2019.

  • I’m catching up with the good folks from Scale Computing in the next little while, but in the meantime, here’s what they got up to last year.
  • I’m a fan of the fruit company nowadays, but if I had to build a PC, this would be it (hat tip to Stephen Foskett for the link).
  • QNAP announced the TR-004 over the weekend and I had one delivered on Tuesday. It’s unusual that I have cutting edge consumer hardware in my house, so I’ll be interested to see how it goes.
  • It’s not too late to register for Cohesity’s upcoming Helios webinar. I’m looking forward to running through some demos with Jon Hildebrand and talking about how Helios helps me manage my Cohesity environment on a daily basis.
  • Chris Evans has published NVMe in the Data Centre 2.0 and I recommend checking it out.
  • I went through a basketball card phase in my teens. This article sums up my somewhat confused feelings about the card market (or lack thereof).
  • Elastifile Cloud File System is now available on the AWS Marketplace – you can read more about that here.
  • WekaIO have posted some impressive numbers over at spec.org if you’re into that kind of thing.
  • Applications are still open for vExpert 2019. If you haven’t already applied, I recommend it. The program is invaluable in terms of vendor and community engagement.

 

 

Random Short Take #10

Here are a few links to some random news items and other content that I found interesting. You might find it interesting too. Maybe. This will be the last one for this year. I hope you and yours have a safe and merry Christmas / holiday break.

  • Scale Computing have finally entered the Aussie market in partnership with Amnesium. You can read more about that here
  • Alastair is back in the classroom, teaching folks about AWS. He published a bunch of very useful notes from a recent class here.
  • The folks at Backblaze are running a “Refer-A-Friend” promotion. If you’re looking to become a new Backblaze customer and sign up with my referral code, you’ll get some free time on your account. And I will too! Hooray! I’ve waxed lyrical about Backblaze before, and I recommend it. The offer runs out on January 6th 2019, so get a move on.
  • Howard did a nice article on VVols that I recommend checking out.
  • GDPR has been a challenge (within and outside the EU), but I enjoyed Mark Browne‘s take on Cohesity’s GDPR compliance.
  • I’m quite a fan of the Netflix Tech Blog, and this article on the Netflix Media Database was a ripper.
  • From time to time I like to poke fun at my friends in the US for what seems like an excessive amount of shenanigans happening in that country, but there’s plenty of boneheaded stuff happening in Australia too. Read Preston’s article on the recently passed anti-encryption laws to get a feel for the heady heights of stupidity that we’ve been able to reach recently.

 

Random Short Take #9

Here are a few links to some random news items and other content that I found interesting. You might find it interesting too. Maybe.

 

 

Scale Computing Have Been Busy

I recently had the opportunity to get on a call with Alan Conboy to talk about what’s been happening with Scale Computing lately. It was an interesting chat, as always, and I thought I’d share some of the news here.

 

Detroit Rock City

It’s odd how sometimes I forget that pretty much every type of business in existence uses some form of IT. Arts and performance organisations, such as the Detroit Symphony Orchestra are no exception. They are also now very happy Scale customers. There’s a YouTube video detailing their experiences that you can check out here.

 

Lenovo Partnership

Scale and Lenovo recently announced a strategic partnership, focussed primarily on edge workloads, with particular emphasis on retail and industrial environments. You can download a solution brief here. This doesn’t mean that Lenovo are giving up on some of their other HCI partnerships, but it does give them a competent partner to attack the edge infrastructure market.

 

GCG, Yeah You Know Me

Grupo Colón Gerena is a Puerto Rico-based “restaurant management company that owns franchises of brands including Wendy’s, Applebee’s, Famous Davés, Sizzler’s, Longhorn Steakhouse, Olive Garden and Red Lobster throughout the island”. You may recall Puerto Rico suffered through some pretty devastating weather in 2017 thanks to Hurricane Maria. GCG have been running the bulk of their workload in Google Cloud since just before the event, and are still deciding whether they really want to move it back to an on-premises solution. There’s definitely a good story with Scale delivering workloads from the edge to the core and through to Google Cloud. You can read the full case study here.

 

Thoughts

It’s no big secret that I’m a fan of Scale Computing. And not just because I have an old HC1000 in my office that I fire up every now and then (Collier I’m still waiting on those SSDs you promised me a few years ago). They are relentlessly focussed on delivering easy to use solutions that work well and deliver great resiliency and performance, particularly in smaller environments. Their DRaaS play, and partnership with Google, has opened up some doors to customers that may not have considered Scale previously. The Lenovo partnership, and success with customers like GCG and DSO, is proof that Scale are doing a lot of good stuff in the HCI space.

Anyone who’s had the good fortune to deal with Scale, from their executives and founders through to their support staff, will tell you that they’re super easy to deal with and pretty good at what they do. It’s great to see them enjoying some success. It strikes me that they go about their business without a lot of the chest beating and carry on associated with some other vendors in the industry. This is a good thing, and I’m looking forward to seeing what comes next for them.

Maxta Announces MxIQ

Maxta recently announced MxIQ. I had the opportunity to speak to Barry Phillips (Chief Marketing Officer) and Kiran Sreenivasamurthy (VP, Product Management) and thought I’d share some information from the announcement here. It’s been a while since I’ve covered Maxta, and you can read my previous thoughts on them here.

 

Introducing MxIQ

MxIQ is Maxta’s support and analytics solution and it focuses on four key aspects:

  • Proactive support through data analytics;
  • Preemptive recommendation engine;
  • Forecast capacity and performance trends; and
  • Resource planning assistance.

Historical data trends for capacity and performance are available, as well as metadata concerning cluster configuration, licensing information, VM inventory and logs.

Architecture

MxIQ is a server – client solution and the server component is currently hosted by Maxta in AWS. This can be decoupled from AWS and hosted in a private DC environment if customers don’t want their data sitting in AWS. The downside of this is that Maxta won’t have visibility into the environment, and you’ll lose a lot of the advantages of aggregated support data and analytics.

[image courtesy of Maxta]

There is a client component that runs on every node in the cluster in the customer site. Note that one agent in each cluster is active, with the other agents communicate with the active agent. From a security perspective, you only need to configure an outbound connection, as the server responds to client requests, but doesn’t initiate communications with the client. This may change in the future as Maxta adds increased functionality to the solution.

From a heartbeat perspective, the agent talks to the server every minute or so. If, for some reason, it doesn’t check in, a support ticket is automatically opened.

[image courtesy of Maxta]

Privileges

There are three privilege levels that are available with the MxIQ solution.

  • Customer
  • Partner
  • Admin

Note that the Admin (Maxta support) needs to be approved by the customer.

[image courtesy of Maxta]

The dashboard provides an easy to consume overview of what’s going on with managed Maxta clusters, and you can tell at a glance if there are any problems or areas of concern.

[image courtesy of Maxta]

 

Thoughts

I asked the Maxta team if they thought this kind of solution would result in more work for support staff as there’s potentially more information coming in and more support calls being generated. Their opinion was that, as more and more activities were automated, the workload would decrease. Additionally, logs are collected every four hours. This saves Maxta support staff time chasing environmental information after the first call is logged. I also asked whether the issue resolution was automated. Maxta said it wasn’t right now, as it’s still early days for the product, but that’s the direction it’s heading in.

The type of solution that Maxta are delivering here is nothing new in the marketplace, but that doesn’t mean it’s not valuable for Maxta and their customers. I’m a big fan of adding automated support and monitoring to infrastructure environments. It makes it easier for the vendor to gather information about how their product is being used, and it provides the ability for them to be proactive, and super responsive, to customer issues as the arise.

From what I can gather from my conversation with the Maxta team, it seems like there’s a lot of additional functionality they’ll be looking to add to the product as it matures. The real value of the solution will increase over time as customers contribute more and more telemetry data and support to the environment. This will obviously improve Maxta’s ability to respond quickly to support issues, and, potentially, give them enough information to avoid some of the more common problems in the first place. Finally, the capacity planning feature will no doubt prove invaluable as customers continue to struggle with growth in their infrastructure environments. I’m really looking forward to seeing how this product evolves over time.

Axellio Announces FX-WSSD

 

Axellio (a division of X-IO Technologies) recently announced their new FX-WSSD appliance based on Windows Server 2019. I had the opportunity to speak to Bill Miller (CEO) and Barry Martin (Product Manager for the HCI WSSD product) and thought I’d share some thoughts here.

 

What Is It?

Axellio recently announced the new FabricXpress Hyper-Converged Infrastructure (HCI) | Windows Server Software-Defined Datacenter (known as FX-WSSD to its friends). It’s built on the Axellio Edge FX-1000 platform and comes licensed with Windows Server Datacenter Edition 2019 and runs Microsoft Storage Spaces Direct. You can manage it with Windows Admin Center and the (optional) 5nine management suite.

 

Density

A big part of the Axellio story here revolves around density. You get 4 nodes in 4 RU, and up to 36 NVMe drives per server. Axellio tell me you can pack up to 920TB of raw NVMe-based storage in these things (assuming you’re deploying 6.4TB NVMe drives). You can also have a minimum of 4 drives per server if you have a requirement that is more reliant on processing. There’s a full range of iWARP adapters from Chelsio Communications available with support for 4x 10, 40, or 100GbE connections.

[image courtesy of Axellio]

You can start small and scale up (or out) if required. There’s support for up to 16 nodes in a cluster, and you can manage multiple clusters together if need be.

 

Not That Edge

When I think of edge computing I think of scientific folks doing funky things with big data and generally running Linux-type workloads. While this type of edge computing is still common (and well-catered for with Axellio’s solutions), Axellio are going after what they refer to as the “enterprise edge” market as opposed to the non-Windows workloads. The Windows DC Edition licensing makes sense if you want to run Hyper-V and a number of Windows-based workloads, such as Active Directory domain controllers, file and print services, small databases (basically the type of enterprise workloads traditionally found in remote offices).

 

Thoughts and Further Reading

I’m the first to admit that my working knowledge of current Windows technologies is nowhere near what it was 15 years ago. But I understand why choosing Windows as the foundation platform for the edge HCI appliance makes sense for Axellio. There’s a lot less investment they need to make in terms of raw product development, the Windows virtualisation platform continues to mature, there’s already a big install base of Windows in the enterprise, and operations folks will be fairly comfortable with the management interface.

I’ve written about Axellio’s Edge solution previously, and this new offering is a nice extension of that with some Windows chops and “HCI” sensibilities. I’m not interested in getting into a debate about whether this is really a hyper-converged offering or not, but there’s a bunch of compute, storage and networking stuck together with a hypervisor and management tier to help keep it running. Whatever you want to call it, I can see this being a useful (and flexible) solution for those shops who need to have certain workloads close to the edge, and are already leveraging the Windows operating platform to do it.

You can grab the Axellio Data Sheet from here, and a copy of the press release can be found here.

Scale Computing Announces Partnership With APC by Schneider Electric For DCIAB

(I’m really hoping the snappy title will bring in a few more readers). I recently had a chance to speak with Doug Howell, Senior Director Global Alliances at Scale Computing about their Data Centre In A Box (DCIAB) offering in collaboration with APC by Schneider Electric and thought I’d share some thoughts.

 

It’s A Box

Well, a biggish box. The solution is built on APC’s Micro Data Centre solution, combined with 3 Scale HC3 1150 nodes. The idea is that you have 1 SKU to deal with, which includes the Scale HC3 nodes, UPS, PDUs, and rack. You can then wheel it in, plug it in to the wall and network and it’s ready to go. Howell mentioned that they have a customer that is in the process of deploying a significant amount of these things in the wild.

Note that this is slightly different to the EMEA campaign with Lenovo from earlier in the year and is focused, at this stage, on the North American market. You can grab the solution brief from here.

 

Thoughts

The “distributed enterprise” has presented challenges to IT organisations for years now. Not everyone works in a location that is nicely co-located with headquarters. And these folks need compute and storage too. You’ve no doubt heard about how the “edge” is the new hotness in IT, and I frequently hear pitches from vendors talking about how they handle storage or compute requirements at the edge in some kind of earth-shattering way. It’s been a hard problem to solve, because locality (either for storage or compute or both) is generally a big part of the success of these solutions, particularly from the end user’s perspective. This is oftentimes at odds with traditional enterprise deployments, where all of the key compute and storage components are centrally located for ease of access, management and protection. Improvements in WAN technologies, and distributed application availability is changing that story to an extent though, hence the requirement for these kind of edge solutions. Sometimes, you just need to have stuff close to where you’re main business activity is occurring.

So what makes the Scale and APC offering any different? Nothing really, except that Scale have built their reputation on being able to deliver simple to operate hyper-converged infrastructure to small and medium enterprises with a minimum of fuss and at a reasonable price point. The cool thing here is that you’re also leveraging APC’s ability to deliver robust micro DC services with Scale’s offering that can fit in well with their other solutions, such as DRaaS.

Not every solution from every vendor needs to be unique for it to stand out from the crowd. Scale have historically demonstrated a relentless focus on quality products, excellent after-sales support and market focus. This collaboration will no doubt open up some more doors for them with APC customers who were previously unaware of the Scale story (and vice versa). This can only be a good thing in my opinion.