Pure//Accelerate 2019 – Cloud Block Store for AWS

Disclaimer: I recently attended Pure//Accelerate 2019.  My flights, accommodation, and conference pass were paid for by Pure Storage. There is no requirement for me to blog about any of the content presented and I am not compensated by Pure Storage 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.

Cloud Block Store for AWS from Pure Storage has been around for a little while now. I had the opportunity to hear about it in more depth at the Storage Field Day Exclusive event at Pure//Accelerate 2019 and thought I’d share some thoughts here. You can grab a copy of my rough notes from the session here, and video from the session is available here.

 

Cloud Vision

Pure Storage have been focused on making everything related to their products effortless from day 1. An example of this approach is the FlashArray setup process – it’s really easy to get up and running and serving up storage to workloads. They wanted to do the same thing with anything they deliver via cloud services as well. There is, however, something of a “cloud divide” in operation in the industry. If you’re familiar with the various cloud deployment options, you’ll likely be aware that on-premises and hosted cloud is a bit different to public cloud. They:

  • Deliver different application architectures;
  • Deliver different management and consumption experience; and
  • Use different storage.

So what if Pure could build application portability and deliver common shared data services?

Pure have architected their cloud service to leverage what they call “Three Pillars”:

  • Build Your Cloud
  • Run anywhere
  • Protect everywhere

 

What Is It?

So what exactly is Cloud Block Store for AWS then? Well, imagine if you will, that you’re watching an episode of Pimp My Ride, and Xzibit is talking to an enterprise punter about how he or she likes cloud, and how he or she likes the way Pure Storage’s FlashArray works. And then X says, “Hey, we heard you liked these two things so we put this thing in the other thing”. Look, I don’t know the exact situation where this would happen. But anyway …

  • 100% software – deploys instantly as a virtual appliance in the cloud, runs only as long as you need it;
  • Efficient – deduplication, compression, and thin provisioning deliver capacity and performance economically;
  • Hybrid – easily migrate data bidirectionally, delivering data portability and protection across your hybrid cloud;
  • Consistent APIs – developers connect to storage the same way on-premises and in the cloud. Automated deployment with Cloud Formation templates;
  • Reliable, secure – delivers industrial-strength perfromance, reliability & protection with Multi-AZ HA, NDU, instant snaps and data at rest encryption; and
  • Flexible – pay as you go consumption model to best match your needs for production and development.

[image courtesy of Pure Storage]

Architecture

At the heart of it, the architecture for CVS is not dissimilar to the FlashArray architecture. There’re controllers, drives, NVRAM, and a virtual shelf.

  • EC2: CBS Controllers
  • EC2: Virtual Drives
  • Virtual Shelf: 7 Virtual drives in Spread Placement Group
  • EBS IO1: NVRAM, Write Buffer (7 total)
  • S3: Durable persistent storage
  • Instance Store: Non-Persistent Read Mirror

[image courtesy of Pure Storage]

What’s interesting, to me at least, is how they use S3 for persistent storage.

Procurement

How do you procure CBS for AWS? I’m glad you asked. There are two procurement options.

A – Pure as-a-Service

  • Offered via SLED / CLED process
  • Minimums 100TiB effective used capacity
  • Unified hybrid contracts (on-premises and CBS, CBS)
  • 1 year to 3 year contracts

B – AWS Marketplace

  • Direct to customer
  • Minimum, 10 TiB effective used capacity
  • CBS only
  • Month to month contract or 1 year contract

 

Use Cases

There are a raft of different use cases for CBS. Some of them made sense to me straight away, some of them took a little time to bounce around in my head.

Disaster Recovery

  • Production instance on-premises
  • Replicate data to public cloud
  • Fail over in DR event
  • Fail back and recover

Lift and shift

  • Production instance on-premises
  • Replicate data to public cloud
  • Run the same architecture as before
  • Run production on CBS

Use case: Dev / test

  • Replicate data to public cloud
  • Instantiate test / dev instances in public cloud
  • Refresh test / dev periodically
  • Bring changes back on-premises
  • Snapshots are more costly and slower to restore in native AWS

ActiveCluster

  • HA within an availability zone and / or across availability zones in an AWS region (ActiveCluster needs <11ms latency)
  • No downtime when a Cloud Block Store Instance goes away or there is a zone outage
  • Pure1 Cloud Mediator Witness (simple to manage and deploy)

Migrating VMware Environments

VMware Challenges

  • AWS does not recognise VMFS
  • Replicating volumes with VMFS will not do any good

Workaround

  • Convert VMFS datastore into vVOLs
  • Now each volume has the Guest VM’s file system (NTFS, EXT3, etc)
  • Replicate VMDK vVOLs to CBS
  • Now the volumes can be mounted to EC2 with matching OS

Note: This is for the VM’s data volumes. The VM boot volume will not be usable in AWS. The VM’s application will need to be redeployed in native AWS EC2.

VMware Cloud

VMware Challenges

  • VMware Cloud does not support external storage, it only supports vSAN

Workaround

  • Connect Guest VMs directly to CBS via iSCSI

Note: I haven’t verified this myself, and I suspect there may be other ways to do this. But in the context of Pure’s offering, it makes sense.

 

Thoughts and Further Reading

There’s been a feeling in some parts of the industry for the last 5-10 years that the rise of the public cloud providers would spell the death of the traditional storage vendor. That’s clearly not been the case, but it has been interesting to see the major storage slingers evolving their product strategies to both accommodate and leverage the cloud providers in a more effective manner. Some have used the opportunity to get themselves as close as possible to the cloud providers, without actually being in the cloud. Others have deployed virtualised versions of their offerings inside public cloud and offered users the comfort of their traditional stack, but off-premises. There’s value in these approaches, for sure. But I like the way that Pure have taken it a step further and optimised their architecture to leverage some of the features of what AWS can offer from a cloud hardware perspective.

In my opinion, the main reason you’d look to leverage something like CBS on AWS is if you have an existing investment in Pure and want to keep doing things a certain way. You’re also likely using a lot of traditional VMs in AWS and want something that can improve the performance and resilience of those workloads. CBS is certainly a great way to do this. If you’re already running a raft of cloud-native applications, it’s likely that you don’t necessarily need the features on offer from CBS, as you’re already (hopefully) using them natively. I think Pure understand this though, and aren’t pushing CBS for AWS as the silver bullet for every cloud workload.

I’m looking forward to seeing what the market uptake on this product is like. I’m also keen to crunch the numbers on running this type of solution versus the cost associated with doing something on-premises or via other means. In any case, I’m looking forward to see how this capability evolves over time, and I think CBS on AWS is definitely worthy of further consideration.

Backblaze Has A (Pod) Birthday, Does Some Cool Stuff With B2

Backblaze has been on my mind a lot lately. And not just because of their recent expansion into Europe. The Storage Pod recently turned ten years old, and I was lucky enough to have the chance to chat with Yev Pusin and Andy Klein about that news and some of the stuff they’re doing with B2, Tiger Technology, and Veeam.

 

10 Years Is A Long Time

The Backblaze Storage Pod (currently version 6) recently turned 10 years old. That’s a long time for something to be around (and successful) in a market like cloud storage. I asked to Yev and Andy about where they saw the pod heading, and whether they thought there was room for Flash in the picture. Andy pointed out that, with around 900PB under management, Flash still didn’t look like the most economical medium for this kind of storage task. That said, they have seen the main HDD manufacturers starting to hit a wall in terms of the capacity per drive that they can deliver. Nonetheless, the challenge isn’t just performance, it’s also the fact that people are needing more and more capacity to store their stuff. And it doesn’t look like they can produce enough Flash to cope with that increase in requirements at this stage.

Version 7.0

We spoke briefly about what Pod 7.0 would look like, and it’s going to be a “little bit faster”, with the following enhancements planned:

  • Updating the motherboard
  • Upgrade the CPU and consider using an AMD CPU
  • Updating the power supply units, perhaps moving to one unit
  • Upgrading from 10Gbase-T to 10GbE SFP+ optical networking
  • Upgrading the SATA cards
  • Modifying the tool-less lid design

They’re looking to roll this out in 2020 some time.

 

Tiger Style?

So what’s all this about Veeam, Tiger Bridge, and Backblaze B2? Historically, if you’ve been using Veeam from the cheap seats, it’s been difficult to effectively leverage object storage to use as a repository for longer term data storage. Backblaze and Tiger Technology have gotten together to develop an integration that allows you to use B2 storage to copy your Veeam protection data to the Backblaze cloud. There’s a nice overview of the solution that you can read here, and you can read some more comprehensive instructions here.

 

Thoughts and Further Reading

I keep banging on about it, but ten years feels like a long time to be hanging around in tech. I haven’t managed to stay with one employer longer than 7 years (maybe I’m flighty?). Along with the durability of the solution, the fact that Backblaze made the design open source, and inspired a bunch of companies to do something similar, is a great story. It’s stuff like this that I find inspiring. It’s not always about selling black boxes to people. Sometimes it’s good to be a little transparent about what you’re doing, and relying on a great product, competitive pricing, and strong support to keep customers happy. Backblaze have certainly done that on the consumer side of things, and the team assures me that they’re experiencing success with the B2 offering and their business-oriented data protection solution as well.

The Veeam integration is an interesting one. While B2 is an object storage play, it’s not S3-compliant, so they can’t easily leverage a lot of the built-in options delivered by the bigger data protection vendors. What you will see, though, is that they’re super responsive when it comes to making integrations available across things like NAS devices, and stuff like this. If I get some time in the next month, I’ll look at setting this up in the lab and running through the process.

I’m not going to wax lyrical about how Backblaze is democratising data access for everyone, as they’re in business to make money. But they’re certainly delivering a range of products that is enabling a variety of customers to make good use of technology that has potentially been unavailable (in a simple to consume format) previously. And that’s a great thing. I glossed over the news when it was announced last year, but the “Rebel Alliance” formed between Backblaze, Packet and ServerCentral is pretty interesting, particularly if you’re looking for a more cost-effective solution for compute and object storage that isn’t reliant on hyperscalers. I’m looking forward to hearing about what Backblaze come up with in the future, and I recommend checking them out if you haven’t previously. You can read Ken‘s take over at Gestalt IT here.

VMware – VMworld 2019 – HBI2537PU – Cloud Provider CXO Panel with Cohesity, Cloudian and PhoenixNAP

Disclaimer: I recently attended VMworld 2019 – US.  My flights and accommodation were paid for by Digital Sense, and VMware provided me with a free pass to the conference and various bits of swag. There is no requirement for me to blog about any of the content presented and I am not compensated by VMware 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.

Here are my rough notes from “HBI2537PU – Cloud Provider CXO Panel with Cohesity, Cloudian and PhoenixNAP”, a panel-type presentation with the following people:

You can grab a PDF copy of my notes from here.

Introductions are done.

YR: William, given your breadth of experience, what are some of the emerging trends you’ve been seeing?

WB: Companies are struggling to keep up with the pace of information generation. Understanding the data, storing and retaining it, and protecting it. Multi-cloud adds a lot of complexity. We’ve heard studies that say 22% of data generated is actually usable. It’s just sitting there. Public cloud is still hot, but it’s settling down a little.

YR: William comes from a massive cloud provider. What are you guys using?

WB: We’ve standardised on vCloud Director (vCD) and vSphere. We came from build our own but it wasn’t providing the value that we hoped it would. Customers want a seamless way to manage multiple cloud resources.

YR: Are you guys familiar with VCPP?

AP: VCPP is the crown jewel of our partner program at VMware. 4000+ providers, 120+ countries, 10+ million VMs, 10000+ DCs. We help you save money, make money (things are services ready). We’re continuing to invest in vCD. Kubernetes, GPUs, etc. Lots of R&D.

YR: William, you mentioned you standardised on the VMware platform. Talk to us about your experience. Why vCD?

WB: It’s been a checkered past for vCD. We were one of the first five on the vCloud Express program in 2010 / 11. We didn’t like vCD in its 1.0 version. We thought we can do this better. And we did. We launched the first on-demand, pay by the hour public cloud for enterprise in 2011. But it didn’t really work out. 2012 / 13 we started to see investments being made in vCD. 5.0 / 5.5 improved. Many people thought vCD was gong to die. We now see a modern, flexible portal that can be customised. And we can take our devs and have them customise vCD, rather than build a customised portal. That’s where we can put our time and effort. We’ve always done things differently. Always been doing other things. How do we bring our work in visual cloud into that cloud provider portal with vCD?

YR: You have an extensive career at VMware.

RR: I was one of the first people to take vCD out to the world. But Enterprise wasn’t mature enough. When we focused on SPs, it was the right thing to do. DIY portals needs a lot of investment. VMware allows a lot of extensibility now. For us, as Cohesity, we want to be able to plug in to that as well.

WB: At one point we had 45 devs working on a proprietary portal.

YR: We’ve been doing a lot on the extensibility side. What role are services playing in cloud providers?

AP: It takes away the complexities of deploying the stack.

JT: We’re specifically in object. A third of our customers are service providers. You guys know that object is built for scale, easy to manage, cost-effective. 20% of the data gets used. We hear that customers want to improve on that. People are moving away from tape. There’s a tremendous opportunity for services built on storage. Amazon has shown that. Data protection like Cohesity. Big data with Splunk. You can offer an industry standard, but differentiate based on other services.

YR: As we move towards a services-oriented world, William how do you see cloud management services evolving?

WB: It’s not good enough to provide some compute infrastructure any more. You have to do something more. We’re stubbornly focussed on different types of IaaS. We’re not doing generic x86 on top of vSphere. Backup, DR – those are in our wheelhouse. From a platform perspective, more and more customers want some kind of single pane of glass across their data. For some that’s on-premises, for some its public, for some it’s SaaS. You have to be able to provide value to the customer, or they will disappear. Object storage, backup with Cohesity. You need to keep pace with data movement. Any cloud, any data, any where.

AP: I’ve been at VMware long enough not to drink the Kool-Aid. Our whole cloud provider business is rooted in some humility. vCD can help other people doing better things to integrate. vCD has always been about reducing OPEX. Now we’re hitting the top line. Any cloud management platform today needs to open, extensible, not try to do anything.

YR: Is the crowd seeing pressure on pure IaaS?

Commentator: Coming from an SP to enterprise is different. Economics. Are you able to do a show back with vCD 9 and vROps?

WB: We’re putting that in the hands of customers. Looking at CloudHealth. There’s a benefit to being in the business management space. You have the opportunity to give customers a better service. That, and more flexible business models. Moving into flexible billing models – gives more freedom to the enterprise customer. Unless you’re the largest of the large – enterprises have difficulty acting as a service provider. Citibank are an exception to this. Honeywell do it too. If you’re Discount Tire – it’s hard. You’re the guy providing the service, and you’re costing them money. There’s animosity – and there’s no choice.

Commentator: Other people have pushed to public because chargeback is more effective than internal show back with private cloud.

WB: IT departments are poorly equipped to offer a breadth of services to their customers.

JT: People are moving workloads around. They want choice and flexibility. VMware with S3 compatible storage. A common underlying layer.

YR: Economics, chargeback. Is VMware (and VCPP) doing enough?

WB: The two guys to my right (RR and JT) have committed to building products that let me do that. I’ve been working on object storage use cases. I was talking to a customer. They’re using our IaaS and connected to Amazon S3. You’ve gone to Amazon. They didn’t know about it though. Experience and cost that can be the same or better. Egress in Amazon S3 is ridiculous. You don’t know what you don’t know. You can take that service and deliver it cost-effectively.

YR: RR talk to us about the evolution of data protection.

RR: Information has grown. Data is fragmented. Information placement is almost unmanageable. Services have now become available in a way that can be audited, secured, managed. At Cohesity, first thing we did was data protection, and I knew the rest was coming. Complexity’s a problem.

YR: JT. We know Cloudian’s a leader in object storage. Where do you see object going?

JT: It’s the underlying storage layer of the cloud. Brings down cost of your storage layer. It’s all about TCO. What’s going to help you build more revenue streams? Cloudian has been around since 2011. New solutions in backup, DR, etc, to help you build new revenue streams. S3 users on Amazon are looking for alternatives. Many of Cloudian’s customers are ex-Amazon customers. What are we doing? vCD integration. Search Cloudian and vCD on YouTube. Continuously working to drive down the cost of managing storage. 1.5PB in a 4RU box in collaboration with Seagate.

WB: Expanding service delivery, specifically around object storage, is important. You can do some really cool stuff – not just backup, it’s M&E, it’s analytics. Very few of our customers are using object just to store files and folders.

YR: We have a lot of providers in the room. JT can you talk more about these key use cases?

JT: It runs the gamut. You can break it down by verticals. M&E companies are offering editing suites via service providers. People are doing that for the legal profession. Accounting – storing financial records. Dental records and health care. The back end is the same thing – compute with S3 storage behind it. Cloudian provides multi-tenanted, scalable performance. Cost is driven down as you get larger.

YR: RR your key use cases?

RR: DRaaS is hot right now. When I was at VMware we did stuff with SRM. DR is hard. It’s so simple now. Now every SP can do it themselves. Use S3 to move data around from the same interface. And it’s very needed too. Everyone should have ubiquitous access to their data. We have that capability. We can now do vulnerability scans on the data we store on the platform. We can tell you if a VM is compromised. You can orchestrate the restoration of an environment – as a service.

YR: WB what are the other services you want us to deliver?

WB: We’re an odd duck. One of our major practices is information security. The idea that we have intelligent access to data residing in our infrastructure. Being able to detect vulnerabilities, taking action, sending an email to the customer, that’s the type of thing that cloud providers have. You might not be doing it yet – but you could.

YR: Security, threat protection. RR – do you see Cohesity as the driver to solve that problem?

RR: Cohesity will provide the platform. Data is insecure because it’s fragmented. Cohesity lets you run applications on the platform. Virus scanners, run books, all kinds of stuff you can offer as a service provider.

YR: William, where does the onus lie, how do you see it fitting together?

WB: The key for us is being open. Eg Cohesity integration into vCD. If I don’t want to – I don’t have to. Freedom of choice to pick and choose where we went to deliver our own IP to the customer. I don’t have to use Cohesity for everything.

JT: That’s exactly what we’re into. Choice of hardware, management. That’s the point. Standards-based top end.

YR: Security

*They had 2 minutes to go but I ran out of time and had to get to another meeting. Informative session. 4 stars.

Random Short Take #20

Here are some links to some random news items and other content that I recently found interesting. You might find them interesting too. Episode 20 – feels like it’s becoming a thing.

  • Scale Computing seems to be having a fair bit of success with their VDI solutions. Here’s a press release about what they did with Harlingen WaterWorks System.
  • I don’t read Corey Quinn’s articles enough, but I am glad I read this one. Regardless of what you think about the enforceability of non-compete agreements (and regardless of where you’re employed), these things have no place in the modern workforce.
  • If you’re getting along to VMworld US this year, I imagine there’s plenty in your schedule already. If you have the time – I recommend getting around to seeing what Cody and Pure Storage are up to. I find Cody to be a great presenter, and Pure have been doing some neat stuff lately.
  • Speaking of VMworld, this article from Tom about packing the little things for conferences in preparation for any eventuality was useful. And if you’re heading to VMworld, be sure to swing past the VMUG booth. There’s a bunch of VMUG stuff happening at VMworld – you can read more about that here.
  • I promise this is pretty much the last bit of news I’ll share regarding VMworld. Anthony from Veeam put up a post about their competition to win a pass to VMworld. If you’re on the fence about going, check it out now (as the competition closes on the 19th August).
  • It wouldn’t be a random short take without some mention of data protection. This article about tiering protection data from George Crump was bang on the money.
  • Backblaze published their quarterly roundup of hard drive stats – you can read more here.
  • This article from Paul on freelancing and side gigs was comprehensive and enlightening. If you’re thinking of taking on some extra work in the hopes of making it your full-time job, or just wanting to earn a little more pin money, it’s worthwhile reading this post.

Spectra Logic – BlackPearl Overview

I recently had the opportunity to take a briefing with Jeff Braunstein and Susan Merriman from Spectra Logic (one of those rare occasions where getting your badge scanned at a conference proves valuable), and thought I’d share some of my notes here.

 

BlackPearl Family

Spectra Logic sell a variety of products, but this briefing was focused primarily on the BlackPearl series. Braunstein described it as a “gateway” device, with both NAS and object front end interfaces, and backend capability that can move data to multiple types of archives.

[image courtesy of Spectra Logic]

It’s a hardware box, but at its core the value is in the software product. The idea is that the BlackPearl acts as a disk cache, and you configure policies to send the data to one or more storage targets. The cool thing is that it supports multiple retention policies, and these can be permanent too. By that I mean you could spool one copy to tape for long term storage, and have another copy of your data sit on disk for 90 days (or however long you wanted).

 

Local vs Remote Storage

Local

There are a few different options for local storage, including BlackPearl Object Storage Disk, functioning as “near line archive”. This is configured with 107 enterprise quality SATA drives, (and they’re looking at introducing 16TB drives next month), providing roughly 1.8PB RAW capacity. They function as power-down archive drives (using the drive spin down settings), and delivers a level of resilience and reliability by using ZFS as the file system,. There are also customer-configurable parity settings. Alternatively, you can pump data to Spectra Tape Libraries, for those of you who still want to use tape as a storage format.

 

Remote Storage Targets

In terms of remote storage targets, BlackPearl can leverage either public cloud, or other BlackPearl devices as replication targets. Replication to BlackPearl can be one way or bi-directional. Public Cloud support is available via Amazon S3 (and S3-like products such as Cloudian and Wasabi), and MS Azure. There is a concept of data immutability in the product, and you can turn on versioning to prevent your data management applications (or users) from accidentally clobbering your data.

Braunstein also pointed out that tape generations evolve, and BlackPearl has auto-migration capabilities. You can potentially have data migrate transparently from tape to tape (think LTO-6 to LTO-7), tape to disk, and tape to cloud.

 

[image courtesy of Spectra Logic]

In terms of how you leverage BlackPearl, some of that is dependent on the workflows you have in place to move your data. This could be manual, semi-automated, or automated (or potentially purpose built into existing applications). There’s a Spectra S3 RESTful API, and there’s heaps of information on developer.spectralogic.com on how to integrate BlackPearl into your existing applications and media workflows.

 

Thoughts

If you’re listening to the next-generation data protection vendors and big box storage folks, you’d wonder why companies such as Spectra Logic still focus on tape. It’s not because they have a rich heritage and deep experience in the tape market (although they do). There are plenty of use cases where tape still makes sense in terms of its ability to economically store large amounts of data in a relatively secure (off-line if required) fashion. Walk into any reasonably sized film production house and you’ll still see tape in play. From a density perspective (and durability), there’s a lot to like about tape. But BlackPearl is also pretty adept at getting data from workflows that were traditionally file-based and putting them on public cloud environments (the kind of environments that heavily leverage object storage interfaces). Sure, you can pump the data up to AWS yourself if you’re so inclined, but the real benefit of the BlackPearl approach, in my opinion, is that it’s policy-driven and fully automated. There’s less chance that you’ll fat finger the transfer of critical data to another location. This gives you the ability to focus on your core business, and not have to worry about data management.

I’ve barely scratched the surface of what BlackPearl can do, and I recommend checking out their product site for more information.

Random Short Take #14

Here are a few links to some random news items and other content that I found interesting. You might find them interesting too. Episode 14 – giddy-up!

NetApp And The Space In Between

Disclaimer: I recently attended Storage Field Day 18.  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.

NetApp recently presented at Storage Field Day 18. You can see their videos from Storage Field Day 18 here, and download a PDF copy of my rough notes from here.

 

Bye, Dave

We were lucky enough to have Dave Hitz (now “Founder Emeritus” at NetApp) spend time with us on his last day in the office. I’ve only met him a few times but I’ve always enjoyed listening to his perspectives on what’s happening in the industry.

Cloud First?

In a previous life I worked in a government department architecting storage and virtualisation solutions for a variety of infrastructure scenarios. The idea, generally speaking, was that those solutions would solve particular business problems, or at least help to improve the processes to resolve those problems. At some point, probably late 2008 or early 2009, we started to talk about developing a “Cloud First” architecture policy, with the idea being that we would resolve to adopt cloud technologies where we could, and reduce our reliance on on-premises solutions as time passed. The beauty of working in enterprise environments is that things can take an awfully long time to happen, so that policy didn’t really come into effect until some years later.

So what does cloud first really mean? It’s possibly not as straightforward as having a “virtualisation first” policy. With the virtualisation first approach, there was a simple qualification process we undertook to determine whether a particular workload was suited to run on our virtualisation platform. This involved all the standard stuff, like funding requirements, security constraints, anticipated performance needs, and licensing concerns. We then pushed the workload one of two ways. With cloud though, there are a few more ways you can skin the cat, and it’s becoming more obvious to me that cloud means different things to different people. Some people want to push workloads to the cloud because they have a requirement to reduce their capital expenditure. Some people have to move to cloud because the CIO has determined that there needs to be a reduction in the workforce managing infrastructure activities. Some people go to cloud because they saw a cool demo at a technology conference. Some people go to cloud because their peers in another government department told them it would be easy to do. The common thread is that “people’s paths to the cloud can be so different”.

Can your workload even run in the cloud? Hitz gave us a great example of some stuff that just can’t (a printing press). The printing press needs to pump out jobs at a certain time of the day every day. It’s not going to necessarily benefit from elastic scalability for its compute workload. The workloads driving the presses would likely run a static workload.

Should it run in the cloud?

It’s a good question to ask. Most of the time, I’d say the answer is yes. This isn’t just because I work for a telco selling cloud products. There are a tonne of benefits to be had in running various, generic workloads in the cloud. Hitz suggests though, that the should it question is a corporate strategy question, and I think he’s spot on. When you embed “cloud first” in your infrastructure architecture, you’re potentially impacting a bunch of stuff outside of infrastructure architecture, including financial models, workforce management, and corporate security postures. It diens’t have to be a big deal, but it’s something that people sometimes don’t think about. And just because you start with that as your mantra, doesn’t mean you need to end up in cloud.

Does It Feel Cloudy?

Cloudy? It’s my opinion that NetApp’s cloud story is underrated. But, as Hitz noted, they’ve had the occasional misstep. When they first introduced Cloud ONTAP, Anthony Lye said it “didn’t smell like cloud”. Instead, Hitz told us he said it “feels like a product for storage administrators”. Cloudy people don’t want that, and they don’t want to talk to storage administrators. Some cloudy people were formerly storage folks, and some have never had the misfortune of managing over-provisioned midrange arrays at scale. Cloud comes in all different flavours, but it’s clear that just shoving a traditional on-premises product on a public cloud provider’s infrastructure isn’t really as cloudy as we’d like to think.

 

Bridging The Gap

NetApp are focused now on “finding the space between the old and the new, and understanding that you’ll have both for a long time”. And that’s what NetApp’s focusing on moving forward. They’re not just working on cloud-only solutions, and they have no plans to ditch their on-premises. Indeed, as Hitz noted in his presentation, “having good cloudy solutions will help them gain share in on-premises footprint”. It’s a good strategy, as the on-premises market will be around for some time to come (do you like how vague that is?). It’s been my belief for some time that companies, like NetApp, that can participate in both the on-premises and cloud market effectively will be successful.

 

Thoughts and Further Reading

So why did I clumsily paraphrase a How To Destroy Angels song title and ramble on about the good old days of my career in this article instead of waxing lyrical about Charlotte Brooks’s presentation on NetApp Data Availability Services? I’m not exactly sure. I do recommend checking out Charlotte’s demo and presentation, because she’s really quite good at getting the message across, and NDAS looks pretty interesting.

Perhaps I spent the time focusing on the “cloud first” conversation because it was Dave Hitz, and it’s likely the last time I’ll see him presenting in this kind of forum. But whether it was Dave or not, conversations like this one are important, in my opinion. It often feels like we’re putting the technology ahead of the why. I’m a big fan of cloud first, but I’m an even bigger fan of people understanding the impact that their technology decisions can have on the business they’re working for. It’s nice to see a vendor who can comfortably operate on both sides of the equation having this kind of conversation, and I think it’s one that more businesses need to be having with their vendors and their internal staff.

Big Switch Announces AWS Public Cloud Monitoring

Big Switch Networks recently announced Big Mon for AWS. I had the opportunity to speak with Prashant Gandhi (Chief Product Officer) about the announcement and thought I’d share some thoughts here.

The Announcement

Big Switch describe Big Monitoring Fabric Public Cloud (it’s real product name) as “a seamless deep packet monitoring solution that enables workload monitoring within customer specified Virtual Private Clouds (VPCs). All components of the solution are virtual, with elastic scale-out capability based on traffic volumes.”

[image courtesy of Big Switch]

There are some real benefits to be had, including:

  • Complete AWS Visibility;
  • Multi-VPC support;
  • Elastic scaling; and
  • Consistent with the On-Prem offering.

Capabilities

  • Centralised packet and flow-based monitoring of all VPCs of a user account
  • Visibility-related traffic is kept local for security purposes and cost savings
  • Monitoring and security tools are centralised and tagged within the dedicated VPC for ease of configuration
  • Role-based access control enables multiple teams to operate Big Mon 
  • Supports centralised AWS VPC tool farm to reduce monitoring cost
  • Integrated with Big Switch’s Multi-Cloud Director for centralised hybrid cloud management

Thoughts and Further Reading

It might seem a little odd that I’m covering news from a network platform vendor on this blog, given the heavy focus I’ve had over the years on storage and virtualisation technologies. But the world is changing. I work for a Telco now and cloud is dominating every infrastructure and technology conversation I’m having. Whether it’s private or public or hybrid, cloud is everywhere, and networks are a bit part of that cloud conversation (much as it has been in the data centre), as is visibility into those networks. 

Big Switch have been around for under 10 years, but they’ve already made some decent headway with their switching platform and east-west monitoring tools. They understand cloud networking, and particularly the challenges facing organisations leveraging complicated cloud networking topologies. 

I’m the first guy to admit that my network chops aren’t as sharp as they could be (if you watched me setup some Google WiFi devices over the weekend, you’d understand). But I also appreciate that visibility is key to having control over what can sometimes be an overly elastic / dynamic infrastructure. It’s been hard to see traffic between availability zones, between instances, and contained in VPNs. I also like that they’ve focussed on a consistent experience between the on-premises offering and the public cloud offering. 

If you’re interested in learning more about Big Switch Networks, I also recommend checking out their labs.

Pure Storage Goes All In On Hybrid … Cloud

I recently had the opportunity to hear from Chadd Kenney about Pure Storage’s Cloud Data Services announcement and thought it worthwhile covering here. But before I get into that, Pure have done a little re-branding recently. You’ll now hear them referring to Cloud Data Infrastructure (their on-premises instances of FlashArray, FlashBlade, FlashStack) and Cloud Data Management (being their Pure1 instances).

 

The Announcement

So what is “Cloud Data Services”? It’s comprised of:

According to Kenney, “[t]he right strategy is and not or, but the enterprise is not very cloudy, and the cloud is not very enterprise-y”. If you’ve spent time in any IT organisation, you’ll see that there is, indeed, a “Cloud divide” in play. What we’ve seen in the last 5 – 10 years is a marked difference in application architectures, consumption and management, and even storage offerings.

[image courtesy of Pure Storage]

 

Cloud Block Store

The first part of the puzzle is probably the most interesting for those of us struggling to move traditional application stacks to a public cloud solution.

[image courtesy of Pure Storage]

According to Pure, Cloud Block Store offers:

  • High reliability, efficiency, and performance;
  • Hybrid mobility and protection; and
  • Seamless APIs on-premises and cloud.

Kenney likens building a Purity solution on AWS to the approach Pure took in the early days of their existence, when they took off the shelf components and used optimised software to make them enterprise-ready. Now they’re doing the same thing with AWS, and addressing a number of the shortcomings of the underlying infrastructure through the application of the Purity architecture.

Features

So why would you want to run virtual Pure controllers on AWS? The idea is that Cloud Block Store:

  • Aggregates performance and reliability across many cloud stores;
  • Can be deployed HA across two availability zones (using active cluster);
  • Is always thin, deduplicated, and compressed;
  • Delivers instant space-saving snapshots; and
  • Is always encrypted.

Management and Orchestration

If you have previous experience with Purity, you’ll appreciate the management and orchestration experience remains the same.

  • Same management, with Pure1 managing on-premises instances and instances in the cloud
  • Consistent APIs on-premises and in cloud
  • Plugins to AWS and VMware automation
  • Open, full-stack orchestration

Use Cases

Pure say that you can use this kind of solution in a number of different scenarios, including DR, backup, and migration in and between clouds. If you want to use ActiveCluster between AWS regions, you might have some trouble with latency, but in those cases other replication options are available.

[image courtesy of Pure Storage]

Not that Cloud Block Store is available in a few different deployment configurations:

  • Test/Dev – using a single controller instance (EBS can’t be attached to more than one EC2 instance)
  • Production – ActiveCluster (2 controllers, either within or across availability zones)

 

CloudSnap

Pure tell us that we’ve moved away from “disk to disk to tape” as a data protection philosophy and we now should be looking at “Flash to Flash to Cloud”. CloudSnap allows FlashArray snapshots to be easily sent to Amazon S3. Note that you don’t necessarily need FlashBlade in your environment to make this work.

[image courtesy of Pure Storage]

For the moment, this only being certified on AWS.

 

StorReduce for AWS

Pure acquired StorReduce a few months ago and now they’re doing something with it. If you’re not familiar with them, “StorReduce is an object storage deduplication engine, designed to enable simple backup, rapid recovery, cost-effective retention, and powerful data re-use in the Amazon cloud”. You can leverage any array, or existing backup software – it doesn’t need to be a Pure FlashArray.

Features

According to Pure, you get a lot of benefits with StorReduce, including:

  • Object fabric – secure, enterprise ready, highly durable cloud object storage;
  • Efficient – Reduces storage and bandwidth costs by up to 97%, enabling cloud storage to cost-effectively replace disk & tape;
  • Fast – Fastest Deduplication engine on the market. 10s of GiB/s or more sustained 24/7;
  • Cloud Native – Native S3 interface enabling openness, integration, and data portability. All Data & Metadata stored in object store;
  • Single namespace – Stores in a single data hub across your data centre to enable fast local performance and global data protection; and
  • Scalability – Software nodes scale linearly to deliver 100s of PBs and 10s of GBs bandwidth.

 

Thoughts and Further Reading

The title of this post was a little misleading, as Pure have been doing various cloud things for some time. But sometimes I give in to my baser instincts and like to try and be creative. It’s fine. In my mind the Cloud Block Store for AWS piece of the Cloud Data Services announcement is possibly the most interesting one. It seems like a lot of companies are announcing these kinds of virtualised versions of their hardware-based appliances that can run on public cloud infrastructure. Some of them are just encapsulated instances of the original code, modified to deal with a VM-like environment, whilst others take better advantage of the public cloud architecture.

So why are so many of the “traditional” vendors producing these kinds of solutions? Well, the folks at AWS are pretty smart, but it’s a generally well understood fact that the enterprise moves at enterprise pace. To that end, they may not be terribly well positioned to spend a lot of time and effort to refactor their applications to a more cloud-friendly architecture. But that doesn’t mean that the CxOs haven’t already been convinced that they don’t need their own infrastructure anymore. So the operations folks are being pushed to migrate out of their DCs and into public cloud provider infrastructure. The problem is that, if you’ve spent a few minutes looking at what the likes of AWS and GCP offer, you’ll see that they’re not really doing things in the same way that their on-premises comrades are. AWS expects you to replicate your data at an application level, for example, because those EC2 instances will sometimes just up and disappear.

So how do you get around the problem of forcing workloads into public cloud without a lot of the safeguards associated with on-premises deployments? You leverage something like Pure’s Cloud Block Store. It overcomes a lot of the issues associated with just running EC2 on EBS, and has the additional benefit of giving your operations folks a consistent management and orchestration experience. Additionally, you can still do things like run ActiveCluster between and within Availability Zones, so your mission critical internal kitchen roster application can stay up and running when an EC2 instance goes bye bye. You’ll pay a bit less or more than you would with normal EBS, but you’ll get some other features too.

I’ve argued before that if enterprises are really serious about getting into public cloud, they should be looking to work towards refactoring their applications. But I also understand that the reality of enterprise application development means that this type of approach is not always possible. After all, enterprises are (generally) in the business of making money. If you come to them and can’t show exactly how they’ save money by moving to public cloud (and let’s face it, it’s not always an easy argument), then you’ll find it even harder to convince them to undertake significant software engineering efforts simply because the public cloud folks like to do things a certain way. I’m rambling a bit, but my point is that these types of solutions solve a problem that we all wish didn’t exist but it does.

Justin did a great write-up here that I recommend reading. Note that both Cloud Block Store and StorReduce are in Beta with planned general availability in 2019.

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.