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.

Datrium Announces CloudShift

I recently had the opportunity to speak to Datrium‘s Brian Biles and Craig Nunes about their CloudShift announcement and thought it was worth covering some of the highlights here.

 

DVX Now

Datrium have had a scalable protection tier and focus on performance since their inception.

[image courtesy of Datrium]

The “mobility tier”, in the form of Cloud DVX, has been around for a little while now. It’s simple to consume (via SaaS), yields decent deduplication results, and the Datrium team tells me it also delivers fast RTO. There’s also solid support for moving data between DCs with the DVX platform. This all sounds like the foundation for something happening in the hybrid space, right?

 

And Into The Future

Datrium pointed out that disaster recovery has traditionally been a good way of finding out where a lot of the problems exist in you data centre. There’s nothing like failing a failover to understand where the integration points in your on-premises infrastructure are lacking. Disaster recovery needs to be a seamless, integrated process, but data centres are still built on various silos of technology. People are still using clouds for a variety of reasons, and some clouds do some things better than others. It’s easy to pick and choose what you need to get things done. This has been one of the big advantages of public cloud and a large reason for its success. As a result of this, however, the silos are moving to the cloud, even as they’re fixed in the DC.

As a result of this, Datrium are looking to develop a solution that delivers on the following theme: “Run. Protect. Any Cloud”. The idea is simple, offering up an orchestrated DR offering that makes failover and failback a painless undertaking. Datrium tell me they’ve been a big supporter of VMware’s SRM product, but have observed that there can be problems with VMware offering an orchestration-only layer, with adapters having issues from time to time, and managing the solution can be complicated. With CloudShift, Datrium are taking a vertical stack approach, positioning CloudShift as an orchestrator for DR as a SaaS offering. Note that it only works with Datrium.

[image courtesy of Datrium]

The idea behind CloudShift is pretty neat. With Cloud DVX you can already backup VMs to AWS using S3 and EC2. The idea is that you can leverage data already in AWS to fire up VMs on AWS (using on-demand instances of VMware Cloud on AWS) to provide temporary disaster recovery capability. The good thing about this is that converting your VMware VMs to someone else’s cloud is no longer a problem you need to resolve. You’ll need to have a relationship with AWS in the first place – it won’t be as simple as entering your credit card details and firing up an instance. But it certainly seems a lot simpler than having an existing infrastructure in place, and dealing with the conversion problems inherent in going from vSphere to KVM and other virtualisation platforms.

[image courtesy of Datrium]

Failover and failback is a fairly straightforward process as well, with the following steps required for failover and failback of workloads:

  1. Backup to Cloud DVX / S3 – This is ongoing and happens in the background;
  2. Failover required – the CloudShift runbook is initiated;
  3. Restart VM groups on VMC – VMs are rehydrated from data in S3; and
  4. Failback to on-premises – CloudShift reverses the process with deltas using change block tracking.

It’s being pitched as a very simple way to run DR, something that has been notorious for being a stressful activity in the past.

 

Thoughts and Further Reading

CloudShift is targeted for release in the first half of 2019. The economic power of DRaaS in the cloud is very strong. People love the idea that they can access the facility on-demand, rather than having passive infrastructure doing nothing on the off chance that it will be required. There’s obviously some additional cost when you need to use on demand versus reserved resources, but this is still potentially cheaper than standing up and maintaining your own secondary DC presence.

Datrium are focused on keeping inherently complex activities like DR simple. I’ll be curious to see whether they’re successful with this approach. The great thing about something like a generic orchestration framework like VMware SRM is that you can use a number of different vendors in the data centre and not have a huge problem with interoperability. The downside to this approach is that this broader ecosystem can leave you exposed to problems with individual components in the solution. Datrium is taking a punt that their customers are going to see the advantages of having an integrated approach to leveraging on demand services. I’m constantly astonished that people don’t get more excited about DRaaS offerings. It’s really cool that you can get this level of protection without having to invest a tonne in running your own passive infrastructure. If you’d like to read more about CloudShift, there’s a blog post that sheds some more light on the solution on Datrium’s site, and you can grab a white paper here too.

Dell Technologies World 2018 – Dell EMC (H)CI Updates

Disclaimer: I recently attended Dell Technologies World 2018.  My flights, accommodation and conference pass were paid for by Dell Technologies via the Press, Analysts and Influencers program. 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.

Announcement

Dell EMC today announced enhancements to their (hyper)converged infrastructure offerings: VxRail and VxRack SDDC.

VxRail

  • VMware Validated Designs for SDDC to plan, operate, & deploy on-prem cloud
  • Future-proof performance w/NVMe, 2x more memory (up to 3TB per node), 2x graphics acceleration, and 25Gbps networking support
  • New STIG Compliance Guide and automated scripts accelerate deployment of secure infrastructure

VxRack SDDC

  • Exclusive automation & serviceability extensions with VMware Cloud Foundation (VCF)
  • Now leverages more powerful 14th Gen PowerEdge 
  • End-to-end cloud infrastructure security

 

Gil Shneorson on HCI

During the week I also had the chance to speak with Gil Shneorson and I thought it would be worthwhile sharing some of his insights here.

What do you think about HCI in the context of an organisation’s journey to cloud. Is it a stop-gap? “HCI is simply a new way to consume infrastructure (compute and SDS) – and you get some stuff that wasn’t available before. Your environments are evergreen – you take less risk, you don’t have to plan ahead, don’t tend to buy too much or too little”.

Am I going to go traditional or HCI? “Most are going HCI. Where is the role of traditional storage? It’s become more specialised – bare metal, extreme performance, certain DR scenarios. HCI comes partially with everything – lots of storage, lots of CPU. Customers are using it in manufacturing, finance, health care, retail – all in production. There’s no more delineation. Economics are there. Picked up over 3000 customers in 9 quarters”.

Shneorson went on to say that HCI provides “[g]ood building blocks for cloud-like environments – IaaS. It’s the software on top, not the HCI itself. The world is dividing into specific stacks – VMware, Microsoft, Nutanix. Dell EMC are about VMware’s multi-cloud approach. If you do need on-premises, HCI is a good option, and won’t be going away. The Edge is growing like crazy too. Analytics, decision making. Not just point of sale for stores. You need a lot more just in time scale for storage, compute, network.

How about networking? “More is being done. Moving away form storage networks has been a challenge. Not just technically, but organisationally. Finding people who know a bit about everything isn’t easy. Sometimes they stick with the old because of the people. You need a lot of planning to put your IO on the customers’ network. Then you need to automate. We’re still trying to make HCI as robust as traditional architectures”.

And data protection? “Data protection still taking bit of a backseat”.

Are existing VCE customers were upset about some of the move away from Cisco? “Generally, if they were moving away from converged solutions, it was more because they’d gained more confidence in HCI, rather than the changing tech or relationships associated with Dell EMC’s CI offering”.

 

Thoughts

This weeks announcements around VxRail and VxRack SDDC weren’t earth shattering by any stretch, but the thing that sticks in my mind is that Dell EMC continue to iteratively improve the platform and are certainly focused on driving VxRail to be number one in the space. There’s a heck of a lot of competition out there from their good friends at Nutanix, so I’m curious to see how this plays out. When it comes down to it, it doesn’t matter what platform you use to deliver outcomes, they key is that you deliver those outcomes. In the market, it seems the focus is moving more towards how the applications can deliver value, rather than what infrastructure is hosting those applications. This is a great move, but just like serverless needs servers, you still need to think about where your value-adding applications are being hosted. Ideally, you want the data close to the processing, and, depending on the applications, your users need to be close to that data and processing too. Hyper-converged infrastructure can be a really nice solution to leverage when you want to move beyond the traditional storage / compute / network paradigm. You can start small and scale (to a point) as required. Dell EMC’s VxRail and VxRack story is getting better as time goes on.