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.

Pure Storage Expands Portfolio, Adds Capacity And Performance

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.

Pure Storage announced two additions to its portfolio of products today: FlashArray//C and DirectMemory Cache. I had the opportunity to hear about these two products at the Storage Field Day Exclusive event at Pure//Accelerate 2019 and thought I’d share some thoughts here.

 

DirectMemory Cache

DirectMemory Cache is a high-speed caching system that reduces read latency for high-locality, performance-critical applications.

  • High speed: based on Intel Optane SCM drives
  • Caching system: repeated accesses to “hot data” are sped up automatically – no tiering = no configuration
  • Read latency: only read performance is affected – no changes to latency
  • High-locality: only workloads that reuse often a dates that fits in the cache will benefit
  • Performance-Critical: high-throughput latency sensitive workloads

According to Pure, “DirectMemory Cache is the functionality within Purity that provides direct access to data and accelerates performance critical applications”. Note that this is only for read data, write caching is still done via DRAM.

How Can This Help?

Pure has used Pure1 Meta analysis to arrive at the following figures:

  • 80% of arrays can achieve 20% lower latency
  • 40% of arrays can achieve 30-50% lower latency (up to 2x boost)

So there’s some real potential to improve existing workloads via the use of this read cache.

DirectMemory Configurations

Pure Storage DirectMemory Modules plug directly into FlashArray//X70 and //X90, are inserted into the chassis, and are available in the following configurations:

  • 3TB (4x750GB) DirectMemory Modules
  • 6TB (8x750GB) DirectMemory Modules

Top of Rack Architecture

Pure are positioning the “top of rack” architecture as a way to compete some of the architectures that have jammed a bunch of flash in DAS or in compute to gain increased performance. The idea is that you can:

  • Eliminate data locality;
  • Bring storage and compute closer;
  • Provide storage services that are not possible with DAS;
  • Bring the efficiency of FlashArray to traditional DAS applications; and
  • Offload storage and networking load from application CPUs.

 

FlashArray//C

Typical challenges in Tier 2

Things can be tough in the tier 2 storage world. Pure outlined some of the challenges they were seeking to address by delivering a capacity optimised product.

Management complexity

  • Complexity / management
  • Different platforms and APIs
  • Interoperability challenges

Inconsistent Performance

  • Variable app performance
  • Anchored by legacy disk
  • Undersized / underperforming

Not enterprise class

  • <99.9999% resiliency
  • Disruptive upgrades
  • Not evergreen

The C Stands For Capacity Optimised All-Flash Array

Flash performance at disk economics

  • QLC architecture enables tier 2 applications to benefit from the performance of all-flash – predictable 2-4ms latency, 5.2PB (effective) in 9U delivers 10x consolidation for racks and racks of disk.

Optimised end-to-end for QLC Flash

  • Deep integration from software to QLC NAND solves QLC wear concerns and delivers market-leading economics. Includes the same evergreen maintenance and wear replacement as every FlashArray

“No Compromise” enterprise experience

  • Built for the same 99.9999%+ availability, Pure1 cloud management, API automation, and AI-driven predictive support of every FlashArray

Flash for every data workflow

  • Policy driven replication, snapshots, and migration between arrays and clouds – now use Flash for application tiering, DR, Test / Dev, Backup, and retention

Configuration Details

Configuration options include:

  • 366TB RAW – 1.3PB effective
  • 878TB RAW – 3.2PB effective
  • 1.39PB RAW – 5.2PB effective

Use Cases

  • Policy based VM tiering between //X and //C
  • Multi-cloud data protection and DR – on-premises and multi-site
  • Multi-cloud test / dev – workload consolidation

*File support (NFS / SMB) coming in 2020 (across the entire FlashArray family, not just //C)

 

Thoughts

I’m a fan of companies that expand their portfolio based on customer requests. It’s a good way to make more money, and sometimes it’s simplest to give the people what they want. The market has been in Pure’s ear for some time about delivering some kind of capacity storage solution. I think it was simply a matter of time before the economics and the technology intersected at a point where it made sense for it to happen. If you’re an existing Pure customer, this is a good opportunity to deploy Pure across all of your tiers of storage, and you get the benefit of Pure1 keeping an eye on everything, and your “slow” arrays will still be relatively performance-focused thanks to NVMe throughout the box. Good times in IT isn’t just about speeds and feeds though, so I think this announcement is more important in terms of simplifying the story for existing Pure customers that may be using other vendors to deliver Tier 2 capabilities.

I’m also pretty excited about DirectMemory Cache, if only because it’s clear that Pure has done its homework (i.e. they’ve run the numbers on Pure1 Meta) and realised that they could improve the performance of existing arrays via a reasonably elegant solution. A lot of the cool kids do DAS, because that’s what they’ve been told will yield great performance. And that’s mostly true, but DAS can be a real pain in the rear when you want to move workloads around, or consolidate performance, or do useful things like data services (e.g. replication). Centralised storage arrays have been doing this stuff for years, and it’s about time they were also able to deliver the performance required in order for those companies not to have to compromise.

You can read the press release here, and the Tech Field Day videos can be viewed here.

Apstra’s Intent – What Do They Mean?

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.

As part of my attendance at VMworld US 2019 I had the opportunity to attend Tech Field Day Extra sessions. You can view the videos from the Apstra session here, and download my rough notes from here.

 

More Than Meets The Eye

A lot of people like to talk about how organisations need to undertake “digital transformation”. One of the keys to success with this kind of transformation comes in the form of infrastructure transformation. The idea is that, if you’re doing it right, you can improve:

  • Business agility;
  • Application reliability; and
  • Control costs.

Apstra noted that “a lot of organisations start with choosing their hardware and all other choices are derived from that choice, including the software”. As a result of this, you’re constrained by the software you’ve bought from that vendor. The idea is you need to focus on business-oriented outcomes, which are then used to determine the technical direction you’ll need to take to achieve those outcomes.

But even if you’ve managed to get yourself a platform that helps you achieve the outcomes you’re after, if you don’t have an appropriate amount of automation and visibility in your environment, you’re going to struggle with deployments being slowed down. You’ll likely also find that that a lack of efficient automation can lead to:

  • Physical and logical topologies that are decoupled but dependent;
  • Error-prone deployments; and
  • No end to end validation.

When you’re in that situation, you’ll invariably find that you’ll struggle with reduced operational agility and a lack of visibility. This makes it hard to troubleshoot issues in the field, and people generally feel sad (I imagine).

 

Intent, Is That What You Mean?

So how can Apstra help? Will they magically make everything work the way you want it to? Not necessarily. There are a bunch of cool features available within the Apstra solution, but you need to do some work up front to understand what you’re trying to achieve in the first place. But once you have the framework in place, you can do some neat stuff, using AOS to accelerate initial and day 2 fabric configuration. You can, for example, deploy new racks and L2 / L3 fabric VLANs at scale in a few clicks:

  • Streamline new rack design and deployment;
  • Automate fabric VLAN deployment;
  • Closed-loop validation (endpoint configuration, EVPN routes expectations); and
  • Include jumbo frame configuration for overlay networks.

The idea behind intent-based networking (IBN) is fairly straightforward:

  • Collect intent;
  • Expose intent;
  • Validate; and
  • Remediate.

You can read a little more about IBN here. There’s a white paper on Intent-based DCs can be found here.

 

Thoughts

I don’t deal with complicated network deployments on a daily basis, but I do know some people who play that role on TV. Apstra delivered a really interesting session that had me thinking about the effectiveness of software solutions to control infrastructure architecture at scale. There’s been a lot of talk during conference keynotes about the importance of digital transformation in the enterprise and how we all need to be leveraging software-defined widgets to make our lives better. I’m all for widgets making life easier, but they’re only going to be able to do that when you’ve done a bit of work to understand what it is you’re trying to do with all of this technology. The thing that struck me about Apstra is that they seem to understand that, while they’re selling some magic software, it’s not going to be any good to you if you haven’t done some work to prepare yourself for it.

I rabbit on a lot about how technology organisations struggle to understand what “the business” is trying to achieve. This isn’t a one-way problem either, and the business frequently struggles with the idea that technology seems to be a constant drain on an organisation’s finances without necessarily adding value to the business. In most cases though, technology is doing some really cool stuff in the background to make businesses run better, and more efficiently. Apstra is a good example of using technology to deliver reliable services to the business. Whether you’re an enterprise networker, or toiling away at a cloud service provider, I recommend checking out how Apstra can make things easier when it comes to keeping your network under control.

NetApp, Workloads, and Pizza

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.

 

As part of my attendance at VMworld US 2019 I had the opportunity to attend Tech Field Day Extra sessions. You can view the videos from the NetApp session here, and download my rough notes from here.

 

Enhanced DC Workloads

In The Beginning There Were Workloads

Andy Banta started his presentation by talking about the evolution of the data centre (DC). The first-generation DCs were resource-constrained. As long as there was something limiting (disk, CPU, memory), things didn’t get done. The later first-generation DCs were comprised of standalone hosts with applications. Andy called “2nd-generation DCs” those hosts that were able to run multiple workloads. The evolution of these 2nd-generation DCs was virtualisation – now you could run multiple applications and operating systems on one host.

The DC though, is still all about compute, memory, throughput, and capacity. As Andy described it, “the DC is full of boxes”.

[image courtesy of NetApp]

 

But There’s Cool Stuff Happening

Things are changing in the DC though, primarily thanks to a few shifts in key technologies that have developed in recent times.

Persistent Memory

Persistent memory has become more mainstream, and application vendors are developing solutions that can leverage this technology effectively. There’s also technology out there that will let you slice this stuff up and share it around, just like you would a pizza. And it’s resilient too, so if you drop your pizza, there’ll be some still left on your plate (or someone else’s plate). Okay I’ll stop with the tortured analogy.

Microvisors

Microvisors are being deployed more commonly in the DC (and particularly at the edge). What’s a microvisor? “Imagine a Hypervisor stripped down to only what you need to run modern Linux based containers”. The advent of the microvisor is leading to different types of workloads (and hardware) popping up in racks where they may not have previously been found.

Specialised Cores on Demand

You can now also access specialised cores on demand from most service providers. You need access to some GPUs to get some particular work done? No problem. There are a bunch of different ways you can slice this stuff up, and everyone’s hip to the possibility that you might only need them for a short time, but you can pay a consumption fee for however long that time will be.

HPC

Even High Performance Compute (HPC) is doing stuff with new technology (in this case NVMeoF). What kinds of workloads?

  • Banking – low-latency transactions
  • Fluid dynamics – lots of data being processed quickly in a parallel stream
  • Medical and nuclear research

 

Thoughts

My favourite quote from Andy was “NVMe is grafting flesh back on to the skeleton of fibre channel”. He (and most of us in the room) are of the belief that FC (in its current incantation at least) is dead. Andy went on to say that “[i]t’s out there for high margin vendors” and “[t]he more you can run on commodity hardware, the better off you are”.

The DC is changing, and not just in the sense that a lot of organisations aren’t running their own DCs any more, but also in the sense that the types of workloads in the DC (and their form factor) are a lot different to those we’re used to running in first-generation DC deployments.

Where does NetApp fit in all of this? The nice thing about having someone like Andy speak on their behalf is that you’re not going to get a product pitch. Andy has been around for a long time, and has seen a lot of different stuff. What he can tell you, though, is that NetApp have started developing (or selling) technology that can accommodate these newer workloads and newer DC deployments. NetApp will be happy to sell you storage that runs over IP, but they can also help you out with compute workloads (in the core and edge), and show you how to run Kubernetes across your estate.

The DC isn’t just full of apps running on hosts accessing storage any more – there’s a lot more to it than that. Workload diversity is becoming more and more common, and it’s going to be really interesting to see where it’s at in ten years from now.

Dell Technologies World 2019 – Wrap-up and Link-o-rama

Disclaimer: I recently attended Dell Technologies World 2019.  My flights, accommodation and conference pass were paid for by Dell Technologies via the Media, 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.

Here’s a quick post with links to the other posts I did surrounding Dell Technologies World 2019, as well as links to other articles I found interesting.

 

Product Announcements

Here’re the posts I did covering the main product-related announcements from the show.

Dell EMC Announces Unity XT And More Cloudy Things

Dell EMC Announces PowerProtect Software (And Hardware)

Dell Announces Dell Technologies Cloud (Platforms and DCaaS)

 

Event-Related

Here’re the posts I did during the show. These were mainly from the media sessions I attended.

Dell – Dell Technologies World 2019 – See You Soon Las Vegas

Dell Technologies World 2019 – Monday General Session – The Architects of Innovation – Rough Notes

Dell Technologies World 2019 – Tuesday General Session – Innovation to Unlock Your Digital Future – Rough Notes

Dell Technologies World 2019 – Media Session – Architecting Innovation in a Multi-Cloud World – Rough Notes

Dell Technologies World 2019 – Wednesday General Session – Optimism and Happiness in the Digital Age – Rough Notes

Dell Technologies World 2019 – (Fairly) Full Disclosure

 

Dell Technologies Announcements

Here are some of the posts from Dell Technologies covering the major product announcements and news.

Dell Technologies and Orange Collaborate for Telco Multi-Access Edge Transformation

Dell Technologies Brings Speed, Security and Smart Design to Mobile PCs for Business

Dell Technologies Powers Real Transformation and Innovation with New Storage, Data Management and Data Protection Solutions

Dell Technologies Transforms IT from Edge to Core to Cloud

Dell Technologies Cloud Accelerates Customers’ Multi-Cloud Journey

Dell Technologies Unified Workspace Revolutionizes the Way People Work

Dell Technologies and Microsoft Expand Partnership to Help Customers Accelerate Their Digital Transformation

 

Tech Field Day Extra

I also had the opportunity to participate in Tech Field Day Extra at Dell Technologies World 2019. Here are the articles I wrote for that part of the event.

Liqid Are Dynamic In The DC

Big Switch Are Bringing The Cloud To Your DC

Kemp Keeps ECS Balanced

 

Other Interesting Articles

TFDx @ DTW ’19 – Get To Know: Liqid

TFDx @ DTW ’19 – Get To Know: Kemp

TFDx @ DTW ’19 – Get to Know: Big Switch

Connecting ideas and people with Dell Influencers

Game Changer: VMware Cloud on Dell EMC

Dell Technologies Cloud and VMware Cloud on Dell EMC Announced

Run Your VMware Natively On Azure With Azure VMware Solutions

Dell Technologies World 2019 recap

Scaling new HPC with Composable Architecture

Object Stores and Load Balancers

Tech Field Day Extra with Liqid and Kemp

 

Conclusion

I had a busy but enjoyable week. I would have liked the get to some of the technical breakout sessions, but being given access to some of the top executives in the company via the Media, Analysts and Influencers program was invaluable. Thanks again to Dell Technologies (particularly Debbie Friez and Konnie) for having me along to the show. And big thanks to Stephen and the Tech Field Day team for having me along to the Tech Field Day event as well.

Big Switch Are Bringing The Cloud To Your DC

Disclaimer: I recently attended Dell Technologies World 2019.  My flights, accommodation and conference pass were paid for by Dell Technologies via the Media, 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.

As part of my attendance at Dell Technologies World 2019 I had the opportunity to attend Tech Field Day Extra sessions. You can view the videos from the Big Switch Networks session here, and download my rough notes from here.

 

The Network Is The Cloud

Cloud isn’t a location, it’s a design principle. And networking needs to evolve with the times. The enterprise is hamstrung by:

  • Complex and slow operations
  • Inadequate visibility
  • Lack of operational consistency

It’s time that on-premises needs is built the same way as the service providers do it.

  • Software-defined;
  • Automated with APIs;
  • Open Hardware; and
  • Integrated Analytics.

APIs are not an afterthought for Big Switch.

A Better DC Network

  • Cloud-first infrastructure – design, build and operate your on-premises network with the same techniques used internally by public cloud operators
  • Cloud-first experience – give your application teams the same “as-a-service” network experience on-premises that they get with the cloud
  • Cloud-first consistency – uses the same tool chain to manage both on-premises and in-cloud networks

 

Thoughts and Further Reading

There are a number of reasons why enterprise IT folks are looking wistfully at service providers and the public cloud infrastructure setups and wishing they could do IT that way too. If you’re a bit old fashioned, you might think that loose and fast isn’t really how you should be doing enterprise IT – something that’s notorious for being slow, expensive, and reliable. But that would be selling the SPs short (and I don’t just say that because I work for a service provider in my day job). What service providers and public cloud folks are very good at is getting maximum value from the infrastructure they have available to them. We don’t necessarily adopt cloud-like approaches to infrastructure to save money, but rather to solve the same problems in the enterprise that are being solved in the public clouds. Gone are the days when the average business will put up with vast sums of cash being poured into enterprise IT shops with little to no apparent value being extracted from said investment. It seems to be no longer enough to say “Company X costs this much money, so that’s what we pay”. For better or worse, the business is both more and less savvy about what IT costs, and what you can do with IT. Sure, you’ll still laugh at the executive challenging the cost of core switches by comparing them to what can be had at the local white goods slinger. But you better be sure you can justify the cost of that badge on the box that runs your network, because there are plenty of folks ready to do it for cheaper. And they’ll mostly do it reliably too.

This is the kind of thing that lends itself perfectly to the likes of Big Switch Networks. You no longer necessarily need to buy badged hardware to run your applications in the fashion that suits you. You can put yourself in a position to get control over how your spend is distributed and not feel like you’re feeling to some mega company’s profit margins without getting return on your investment. It doesn’t always work like that, but the possibility is there. Big Switch have been talking about this kind of choice for some time now, and have been delivering products that make that possibility a reality. They recently announced an OEM agreement with Dell EMC. It mightn’t seem like a big deal, as Dell like to cosy up to all kinds of companies to fill apparent gaps in the portfolio. But they also don’t enter into these types of agreements without having seriously evaluated the other company. If you have a chance to watch the customer testimonial at Tech Field Day Extra, you’ll get a good feel for just what can be accomplished with an on-premises environment that has service provider like scalability, management, and performance challenges. There’s a great tale to be told here. Not every enterprise is working at “legacy” pace, and many are working hard to implement modern infrastructure approaches to solve business problems. You can also see one of their customers talk with my friend Keith about the experience of implementing and managing Big Switch on Dell Open Networking.

Kemp Keeps ECS Balanced

Disclaimer: I recently attended Dell Technologies World 2019.  My flights, accommodation and conference pass were paid for by Dell Technologies via the Media, 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.

As part of my attendance at Dell Technologies World 2019 I had the opportunity to attend Tech Field Day Extra sessions. You can view the videos from the Kemp session here, and download my rough notes from here.

 

Kemp Overview

Established early 2000s, Kemp has around 25000+ customers globally, with 60000+ app deployments in over 115 countries. Their main focus is an ADC (Application Delivery Controller) that you can think of as a “fancy load balancer”. Here’s a photo of Frank Yue telling us more about that.

Application Delivery – Why?

  • Availability – transparent failover when application resources fail
  • Scalability – easily add and remove application resources to meet changing demands
  • Security – authenticate users and protect applications against attack
  • Performance – offload security processing and content optimisation to Load Balancer
  • Control – visibility on application resource availability, health and performance

Product Overview

Kemp offer a

LoadMaster – scalable, secure apps

  • Load balancing
  • Traffic optimisation 
  • Security

There are a few different flavours of the LoadMaster, including cloud-native, virtual, and hardware-based.

360 Central – control, visibility

  • Management
  • Automation
  • Provisioning

360 Vision – Shorter MTTD / MTTR

  • Predictive analytics
  • Automated incident réponse
  • Observability

Yue made the point that “[l]oad balancing is not networking. And it’s not servers either. It’s somehow in between”. Kemp look to “[d]eal with the application from the networking perspective”.

 

Dell EMC ECS

So what’s Dell EMC ECS then? ECS stands for “Elastic Cloud Storage”, and it’s Dell EMC’s software-defined object storage offering. If you’re unfamiliar with it, here are a few points to note:

  • Objects are bundled data with metadata;
  • The object storage application manages the storage;
  • No real file system is needed;
  • Easily scale by just adding disks;
  • Delivers a low TCO.

It’s accessible via an API and offers the following services:

  • S3
  • Atmos
  • Swift
  • NFS

 

Kemp / Dell EMC ECS Solution

So how does a load balancing solution from Kemp help? One of the ideas behind object storage is that you can lower primary storage costs. You can also use it to accelerate cloud native apps. Kemp helps with your ECS deployment by:

  • Maximising value from infrastructure investment
  • Improving service availability and resilience
  • Enabling cloud storage scalability for next generation apps

Load Balancing Use Cases for ECS

High Availability

  • ECS Node redundancy in the event of failure
  • A load balancer is required to allow for automatic failover and event distribution of traffic

Global Balancing

[image courtesy of Kemp]

  • Multiple clusters across different DCs
  • Global Server Load Balancing provides distribution of connections across these clusters based on proximity

Security

  • Offloading encryption from the Dell EMC ECS nodes to Kemp LoadMaster can greatly increase performance and simplify the management of transport layer security certificates
  • IPv6 to IPv4 – Dell EMC ECS does not support IPv6 natively – Kemp will provide that translation to IPv4

 

Thoughts and Further Reading

The first thing that most people ask when seeing this solution is “Won’t the enterprise IT organisation already have a load-balancing solution in place? Why would they go to Kemp to help with their ECS deployment?”. It’s a valid point, but the value here is more that Dell EMC are recommending that customers use the Kemp solution over the built-in load balancer provided with ECS. I’ve witnessed plenty of (potentially frustrating) situations where enterprises deploy multiple load balancing solutions depending on the application requirements or where the project funding was coming from. Remember that things don’t always make sense when it comes to enterprise IT. But putting those issues aside, there are likely plenty of shops looking to deploy ECS in a resilient fashion that haven’t yet had the requirement to deploy a load balancer, and ECS is that first requirement. Kemp are clearly quite good at what they do, and have been in the load balancing game for a while now. The good news is if you adopt their solution for your ECS environment, you can look to leverage their other offerings to provide additional load balancing capabilities for other applications that might require it.

You can read the deployment guide from Dell EMC here, and check out Adam’s preparation post on Kemp here for more background information.

Liqid Are Dynamic In The DC

Disclaimer: I recently attended Dell Technologies World 2019.  My flights, accommodation and conference pass were paid for by Dell Technologies via the Media, 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.

As part of my attendance at Dell Technologies World 2019 I had the opportunity to attend Tech Field Day Extra sessions. You can view the videos from the session here, and download my rough notes from here.

 

Liqid

One of the presenters at Tech Field Day extra was Liqid, a company that specialises in composable infrastructure. So what does that mean then? Liqid “enables Composable Infrastructure with a PCIe fabric and software that orchestrates and manages bare-metal servers – storage, GPU, FPGA / TPU, Compute, Networking”. They say they’re not disaggregating DRAM as the industry’s not ready for that yet. Interestingly, Liqid have made sure they can do all of this with bare metal, as “[c]omposability without bare metal, with disaggregation, that’s just hyper-convergence”.

 

[image courtesy of Liqid]

The whole show is driven through Liqid Command Center, and there’s a switching PCIe fabric as well. You then combine this with various hardware elements, such as:

  • JBoF – Flash;
  • JBoN – Network;
  • JBoG – GPU; and
  • Compute nodes.

There are various expansion chassis options (network, storage, and graphics) and you can add in standard x86 servers. You can read about Liqid’s announcement around Dell EMC PowerEdge servers here.

Other Interesting Use Cases

Some of the more interesting use cases discussed by Liqid included “brownfield” deployments where customers don’t want to disaggregate everything. If they just want to disaggregate GPUs, for example, they can add a GPU pool to a Fabric. This can be done with storage as well. Why would you want to do this kind of thing with networking? There are apparently a few service providers that like the composable networking use case. You can also have multiple fabric types with Liquid managing cross composability.

[image courtesy of Liqid]

Customers?

Liqid have customers across a variety of workload types, including:

  • AI & Deep Learning
    • GPU Scale out
    • Enable GPU Peer-2-Peer at scale
    • GPU Dynamic Reallocation/Sharing
  • Dynamic Cloud
    • CSP, ISP, Private Cloud
    • Flexibility, Resource Utilisation, TCO
    • Bare Metal Cloud Product Offering
  • HPC & Clustering
    • High Performance Computing
    • Lowest Latency Interconnect
    • Enables Massive Scale Out
  • 5G Edge
    • Utilisation & Reduced Foot Print
    • High Performance Edge Compute
    • Flexibility and Ease of Scale Out

Thoughts and Further Reading

I’ve written enthusiastically about composable infrastructure in the past, and it’s an approach to infrastructure that continues to fascinate me. I love the idea of being able to move pools of resources around the DC based on workload requirements. This isn’t just moving VMs to machines that are bigger as required (although I’ve always thought that was cool). This is moving resources to where they need to be. We have the kind of interconnectivity technology available now that means we don’t need to be beholden to “traditional” x86 server architectures. Of course, the success of this approach is in no small part dependent on the maturity of the organisation. There are some workloads that aren’t going to be a good fit with composable infrastructure. And there are going to be some people that aren’t going to be a good fit either. And that’s fine. I don’t think we’re going to see traditional rack mount servers and centralised storage disappear off into the horizon any time soon. But the possibilities that composable infrastructure present to organisations that have possibly struggled in the past with getting the right resources to the right workload at the right time are really interesting.

There are still a small number of companies that are offering composable infrastructure solutions. I think this is in part because it’s viewed as a niche requirement that only certain workloads can benefit from. But as companies like Liqid are demonstrating, the technology is maturing at a rapid pace and, much like our approach to on-premises infrastructure versus the public cloud, I think it’s time that we take a serious look at how this kind of technology can help businesses worry more about their business and less about the resources needed to drive their infrastructure. My friend Max wrote about Liqid last year, and I think it’s worth reading his take if you’re in any way interested in what Liqid are doing.

Dell – Dell Technologies World 2019 – See You Soon Las Vegas

This is a quick post to let you all know that I’ll be heading to Dell’s annual conference (Dell Technologies World) this year in Las Vegas, NV. I’m looking forward to catching up with some old friends and meeting some new ones. If you haven’t registered yet but feel like that’s something you might want to do – the registration page is here. To get a feel for what’s on offer, you can check out the agenda here. I’m looking forward to hearing more about stuff like this.

I’ll also be participating in a Tech Field Day Extra event at Dell Technologies World. You can check out the event page for that here.

Massive thanks to Konstanze and Debbie from Dell for organising the “influencer” pass for me. Keep an eye out for me at the conference and surrounding events and don’t be afraid to come and say hi (if you need a visual – think Grandad Wolverine).

Kingston’s NVMe Line-up Is The Life Of The Party

Disclaimer: I recently attended VMworld 2017 – US.  My flights were paid for by ActualTech Media, VMware provided me with a free pass to the conference and various bits of swag, and Tech Field Day picked up my hotel costs. 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.

You can view the video of Kingston‘s presentation at Tech Field Day Extra VMworld US 2017 here, and download a PDF copy of my rough notes from here.

 

It’s A Protocol, Not Media

NVMe has been around for a few years now, and some people get it confused for a new kind of media that they plug into their servers. But it’s not really, it’s just a standard specification for accessing Flash media via the PCI Express bus. There’re a bunch of reasons why you might choose to use NVMe instead of SAS, including lower latency and less CPU overhead. My favourite thing about it though is the plethora of form factors available to use. Kingston touched on these in their presentation at Tech Field Day Extra recently. You can get them in half-height, half-length (HHHL) add-in cards (AIC), U.2 (2.5″) and M.2 sizes. To give you an idea of the use cases for each of these, Kingston suggested the following applications:

  • HHHL (AIC) card
    • Server / DC applications
    • High-end workstations
  • U.2 (2.5″)
    • Direct-attached, server backplane, just a bunch of flash (JBOF)
    • White box and OEM-branded
  • M.2
    • Client applications
    • Notebooks, desktops, workstations
    • Specialised systems

 

It’s Pretty Fast

NVMe has proven to be pretty fast, and a number of companies are starting to develop products that leverage the protocol in an extremely efficient manner. Coupled with the rise of NVMe/F solutions and you’ve got some pretty cool stuff coming to market. The price is also becoming a lot more reasonable, with Kingston telling us that their DCP1000 NVMe HHHL comes in at around “$0.85 – $0.90 per GB at the moment”. It’s obviously not as cheap as things that spin at 7200RPM but the speed is mighty fine. Kingston also noted that the 2.5″ form factor would be hanging around for some time yet, as customers appreciated the serviceability of the form factor.

 

[Kingston DCU1000 – Image courtesy of Kingston]

 

This Stuff’s Everywhere

Flash media has been slowly but surely taking over the world for a little while now. The cost per GB is reducing (slowly, but surely), and the range of form factors means there’s something for everyone’s needs. Protocol advancements such as NVMe make things even easier, particularly at the high end of town. It’s also been interesting to see these “high end” solutions trickle down to affordable form factors such as PCIe add-in cards. With the relative ubiquity of operating system driver support, NVMe has become super accessible. The interesting thing to watch now is how we effectively leverage these advancements in protocol technologies. Will we use them to make interesting advances in platforms and data access? Or will we keep using the same software architectures we fell in love with 15 years ago (albeit with dramatically improved performance specifications)?

 

Conclusion and Further Reading

I’ll admit it took me a little while to come up with something to write about after the Kingston presentation. Not because I don’t like them or didn’t find their content interesting. Rather, I felt like I was heading down the path of delivering another corporate backgrounder coupled with speeds and feeds and I know they have better qualified people to deliver that messaging to you (if that’s what you’re into). Kingston do a whole range of memory-related products across a variety of focus areas. That’s all well and good but you probably already knew that. Instead, I thought I could focus a little on the magic behind the magic. The Flash era of storage has been absolutely fascinating to witness, and I think it’s only going to get more interesting over the next few years. If you’re into this kind of thing but need a more comprehensive primer on NVMe, I recommend you check out J Metz’s article on the Cisco blog. It’s a cracking yarn and enlightening to boot. Data Centre Journal also provide a thorough overview here.