Scale-Out Doesn’t Just Mean Applications

Scale Out

A couple of months ago I wrote a post entitled Scale-Out. Distributed. Whatever the Name, it’s the Future of Computing.

Taking the concept a step further, I recently started thinking about other elements in IT which are moving in that direction; not just applications and storage, but underlying infrastructure and management elements too.

Then it dawned on me that this really is not a new thing… we’ve been taking this approach for years! Technologies like VMware vSphere, have enabled us to become trusting, almost presumptuous, that we can add resources as we need them; increasing the shared pool transparently and enabling us to continue to service requirements, whilst eliminating downtime. (You can even use them to scale up on-the-fly if you really have to!)

The current breed of infrastructure engineers and startups have grown up in this era and the great thing is that this has now become part of their DNA! Typically, no longer are solutions designed from scratch to be scale-up in nature; hitting some artificial limit in capacity or having to scale specific elements of a solution to avoid nasty bottlenecks.

Instead, infrastructure is being designed to scale-out natively; distributed architectures, balancing workloads and metadata evenly across platforms. This has the added benefit, of course, of making them more resilient to failure of individual components.Distributed Systems

Backup isn’t Sexy, but it’s Necessary

One great example of this new architecture paradigm (drink!), is Rubrik, a startup in the backup space who we met at Tech Field Day 12. Their home-grown distributed file system, distributed metadata, built in off-site replication and global namespace, provide a massively scalable and resilient backup system.

All of the roles from a traditional backup solution (such as backup proxies/media servers/metadata servers, etc) are now rolled into a single, scale-out platform. As I seem to find myself saying more and more often these days, KISS personified!kiss - Keep it simple stupid EFS

With shrinking IT teams, I commonly find that companies are willing to trade budget for time savings. Utilising a simple, policy-driven management interface and enabling off-site replication to be done over-the-wire, has a lot of benefits to operational time!

As an added bonus, it can even replicate out to S3, Blob and NFS targets, to give even more options for off-site replication. Of course, a big fat pipe to the internet will cost you more each month; though you’re probably investing in that anyway, to meet your employee’s peak lunchtime demand for facebook and youtube! 🙂

Much like any complex machine, under the hood, Rubrik is pretty impressive. There is a masterless cluster management solution, multi-tier flash and disk for performance, and a clever redirect-on-write snapshot chain algorithm, which minimises capacity utilisation whilst providing very granular restores.

The key thing here, though, is we don’t really care; we are a consumer society who just wants things to work, as we have more exciting things than backup to worry about!

rubrik

TLDR;

We have enough complexity in IT these days without having to worry about backup. I would say that the simple to manage, scale-out solution from Rubrik is certainly worth considering as part of any PoC or RFP! 🙂

Further Info

You can catch the full Rubrik session at the link below:
Rubrik Presents at Tech Field Day 12

Further Reading

Some of the other TFD delegates had their own takes on the presentation we saw. Check them out here:

Disclaimer: My flights, accommodation, meals, etc at Tech Field Day 12 were provided by Tech Field Day, but there was no expectation or request for me to write about any of the vendors products or services.

Juxtaposition Time Pt2! Join us at Scotland VMUG to talk AWS! – April 20th 2017

Woohoo! If everything goes to plan, Chris Porter and I will be taking our AWS for VMware Admins talk on the road to the April 2017 Scottish VMUG. Even more interesting is the fact that Ian Massingham, AWS Chief Evangelist will be there too!

Yes, that’s not only an AWS session at a VMUG, but a senior person from AWS in the house too! Has the world gone MAD?! 😮

Why?

For those people who have been living in a bunker on the isle of Jura for the past few years, AWS has been taking the IT industry by storm. So much so, at VMworld 2016, VMware announced their new product “VMware Cloud on AWS“!

Whatever the reasons that VMware have decided to do this (and I’m not going to go into my opinions of that right now), it leaves VMware admins in a position where even if they aren’t already doing some AWS today, the likelihood of them doing so in the near future has just jumped by an order of magnitude!

Meanwhile in a parallel universe...

Meanwhile in a parallel universe…

What’s the session about then?

The session is a quick intro on the key features of AWS, some tips on how to learn more and get certified, as well as some of Chris and my experiences of working with and designing for AWS (which is rather different to doing things in VMware, for sure!). We also cover some ways to protect your account when you first start, to avoid becoming a bitcoin mining statistic!

Hopefully it should be a pretty interesting session, especially if you haven’t had much exposure to AWS yet!

What else can you see at the event?

As always, there will be many awesome speakers at the McVMUG event, including a keynote from Joe Baguley, a Real World Nutanix session from James Kilby, and my good friend Robbie Jerrom doing a session on Cloud Native Apps (which is well worth seeing!).

There will also be a load of other sessions, so check out the agenda below:

Scottish VMUG April 20th 2017

Scottish VMUG April 20th 2017 Agenda
Wrapping up the event there will also be the eponymous vBeers event from 5-7pm (address TBC), so make sure you hang around after and join us for what is often the best part of the day!

Lastly, thanks very much to the McVMUG sponsors, Zerto, Morpheus and Pure Storage, capito, IGEL Technology and Softcat, without whom it would not be possible to hold these events!

I’m in! How do I register?

You can register for the event at the Scotland VMUG workspace here:

Scottish VMUG April 2017 Registration

The location is The Studio, 67 Hope Street, Glasgow, G2 6AE, which is pretty easy to get to via your preferred public transport methods, though I will be flying in that morning so may be slightly late arriving.

If you do see me on the day (I’m 6’7” so you can’t miss me), please do come and say hi! 🙂

VMware vExpert 2017 – It’s not just about the schwag!

vexpert 2017

This year I was fortunate enough to have reached a wee milestone of a 5th vExpert award so it prompted a post!

Needless to say I am honoured to be still counted among such an awesome community of folk who spend their own free time helping others to understand and consume VMware technology.

Looking back to when I received my first vExpert title in May 2013, it feels like time has just flown by! As well as being part of the awesome community, getting free licenses from VMware, awesome awesome free training from Pluralsight which has helped me loads in my career, and a bunch of vendor other schwaaaag, it’s also opened up a great many opportunities!

For example, I’ve made loads of great friends, gotten to speak at a number of events, and even had the chance to become a Tech Field Day delegate, traveling to the US several times to visit a load of tech companies and startups, whilst learning from some seriously clever people. What I’ve put into the community I have easily received back tenfold, and I am massively grateful to be part of it.community

Do it! Do it now!…

If you have the time to put into it, I highly recommend anyone takes the time to share and hopefully become part of the community.

Here are a few examples from my entry this year, which might hopefully give people some ideas as to the kinds of things which you could do too!

  • Member of a panel at a VMUG
  • Presented a short 15-minute talk at a VMUG
  • Ran a “roundtable” session at a VMUG (for around 30 people)
  • Founded a new website on homelabs (http://openhomelab.org)
  • Started a new podcast with some other VMUG members and vExperts around homelabbing and tech news (http://opentechcast.com)
  • Posted a blog a week (in the past I have aimed to do one a month and built it up over time)

The entry bar to becoming a vExpert is not massively high; you certainly don’t have to do all of the above, or even any of the above! That said, if you are not currently a vExpert, and you can achieve just a couple of these kinds of items, you could be well on the way to becoming one too!

Trust me, it’s worth the effort!

What’s your definition of Cloud DR, and how far down do the turtles go?

Dr Evil Disaster Recovery

WARNING – Opinion piece! No Cloud Holy Wars please!

DR in IT can mean many different things to different people. To a number of people I have spoken to in the past, it’s simply HA protection against the failure of a physical host (yikes!)! To [most] others, it’s typically protection against failure of a data centre. As we discovered this week, to AWS customers, a DR plan can mean needing to protect yourself against a failure impacting an entire cloud region!

But how much is your business willing to pay for peace of mind?

When I say pay, I don’t just mean monetarily, I also mean in terms of technical flexibility and agility as well.

What are you protecting against?

What if you need to ensure that in a full region outage you will still have service? In the case of AWS, a great many customers are comfortable that the Availability Zone concept provides sufficient protection for their businesses without the need for inter-region replication, and this is perfectly valid in many cases. If you can live with a potential for a few hours downtime in the unlikely event of a full region outage, then the cost and complexity of extending beyond one region may be too much.

That said, as we saw from the failure of some AWS capabilities this week, if we take DR in the cloud to it’s most extreme, some organisations may wish to protect their business against not only a DC or region outage, but even a global impacting incident at a cloud provider!

This isn’t just technical protection either (for example against a software bug which hits multiple regions); what if a cloud provider goes under due to a financial issue? Even big businesses can disappear overnight (just ask anyone who used to work for Barings Bank, Enron, Lehman Brothers, or even 2e2!).

Ok, it’s true that the likelihood of your cloud provider going under is pretty teeny tiny, but just how paranoid are your board or investors?

Cloud DR

Ultimate Cloud DR or Ultimate Paranoia?

For the ultimate in paranoia, some companies consider protecting themselves against the ultimate outage, by replicating between multiple clouds. In doing so, however, they must stick to using the lowest common denominator between clouds to avoid incompatibility, or indeed any potential for the dreaded “lock-in”.

At that point, they have then lost the ability to take advantage of one of the key benefits of going to cloud; getting rid of the “undifferentiated heavy lifting” as Simon Elisha always calls it. They then end up less agile, less flexible, and potentially spend their time on things which fail to add value to the business.

What is best for YOUR business?

These are all the kinds of considerations which the person responsible for an organisation’s IT DR strategy needs to consider, and it is up to each business to individually decide where they draw the line in terms of comfort level vs budget vs “lock-in” and features.

I don’t think anyone has the right answer to this problem today, but perhaps one possible solution is this:

No cloud is going to be 100% perfect for every single workload, so why not use this fact to our advantage? Within reason, it is possible to spread workloads across two or more public clouds based on whichever is best suited to those individual workloads. Adopting a multi-cloud strategy which meets business objectives and technical dependencies, without going crazy on the complexity front, is a definite possibility in this day and age!

(Ok, perhaps even replicating a few data sources between them, for the uber critical stuff, as a plan of last resort!).

The result is potentially a collection of smaller fault domains (aka blast radii!), making the business more resilient to significant outages from major cloud players, as only some parts of their infrastructure and a subset of applications are then impacted, whilst still being able to take full advantage of the differentiating features of each of the key cloud platforms.replication photocopierOf course, this is not going to work for everyone, and plenty of organisations struggle to find talent to build out capability internally on one cloud, never mind maintaining the broad range of skills required to utilise many clouds, but that’s where service providers can help both in terms of expertise and support.

They simply take that level of management and consulting a little further up the stack, whilst enabling the business to get on with the more exciting and value added elements on top. Then it becomes the service provider’s issue to make sure they are fully staffed and certified on your clouds of choice.

*** Full Disclosure *** I work for a global service provider who does manage multiple public clouds, and I’m lucky enough to have a role where I get to design solutions across many types of infrastructure, so I am obviously a bit biased in this regard. That doesn’t make the approach any less valid! 🙂

The Tekhead Take

Whatever your thoughts on the approach above are, it’s key to understand what the requirements are for an individual organisation, and where their comfort levels lie.

An all-singing, all-dancing, multi-cloud, hybrid globule of agnostic cloudy goodness is probably a step too far for most organisations, but perhaps a failover physical host in another office isn’t quite enough either…

I would love to hear your thoughts? Don’t forget to comment below!

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