Archive for Tech Field Day

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!



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.

I Like Big Files and I Cannot Lie

You other vendors, can’t deny,
When an array walks in with an itty bitty waste [-ed capacity],
And many spindles in your face
You get sprung, want to pull up tough,
‘Cause you notice that storage was stuffed!

Ok… I’ll stop now! I’m just a bit sad and always wanted an excuse to to use that as a post opener! 🙂

There is a certain, quite specific type of customer whose main requirements revolve around the storage of large data sets consisting of thousands to millions of huge files. Think media / TV / movie companies, video surveillance or even PACS imaging and genomic sequencing. Ultimately we’re talking petabyte-scale capacities – more than your average enterprise needs to worry about!

How you approach storage of this type of data is worlds apart from your average solution!

The Challenges of “Chunky” Data

Typical challenges involve having multiple silos of your data across multiple locations, with different performance and workload characteristics. Then you have different storage protocols for different applications or phases in their data processing and delivery. Each of those silos then requires different skills to manage, and different capacity management regimes.

Sir Mixalot likes big files

On top of that, for the same reason as we moved away from parity groups in arrays to wide striping, these silos then have IO and networking hotspots, wasted capacity (sometimes referred to as trapped white space) and wasted performance, which cannot be shared across multiple systems.

Finally (and arguably most importantly), how do you ensure the integrity, resilience, and durability of this data, as by its very nature, it typically requires long-term retention?

Ideal Solution

What you really need is a single storage system which can not only scale to multi-petabyte capacities with multiple protocols, but is reasonably easy to manage, even with a high admin to capacity ratio.

You then need to ensure that data can also be protected against accidental, or malicious file modification or deletion.

Finally, you need the system to be able to replicate additional copies to remote sites, as backing up petabytes of data is simply unrealistic! Similarly, you may want multiple replicas or additional pools outside of your central repository which all replicate back to the mothership, for example for ROBO or multi-site solutions where editing large files needs to be done locally.

As my good friend Josh De Jong said recently:

Of course, the biggest drawback of using this approach is that you have one giant failure domain. If something somehow manages to proverbially poison your “data lake”, that’s a hell of a lot of data to lose in one go!

DellEMC Isilon

During our recent Tech Field Day 12 session at DellEMC, I was really interested to see how the DellEMC Isilon scale-out NAS system was capable of meeting many of these requirements, especially as this is a product which can trace its heritage all the way back to 2001! In fact, their average customer on Isilon is around 1PB in size, and their largest customer is using 144PB! Scalability, check!

The Isilon team also confirmed that around 70% of their 8,000+ customers trust the solution sufficiently to not use any external backup solution, trusting in SnapshotIQ, SyncIQ and in some cases SmartLock, to protect their data. That’s a pretty significant number!

One thing I am not so keen on with the Isilon (and to be fair, many other “traditional” /  old guard storage vendor offerings) is the complexity and breadth of the licensing; almost all of the interesting features each have to have their own license. If the main benefit to the data lake is simplicity, then I would far rather have a single price with perhaps one or two uplift options for licenses, than an a la carte menu.

In addition, the limit of 50 security domains provides some flexibility for service providers, but then limits the size of your “data lake” to 50 customers. It would be great to see this limit increased in future.Data Lake

The Tekhead Take

Organisations looking to retain data in these quantities need to weigh up the relative risks of using a single system for all storage, versus the costs of and complexity of multiple silos. Ultimately it is down to each individual organisation to work out what closest matches their requirements, but for the convenience of a single large repository of all of your data, the DellEMC Islion still remains a really interesting proposition.

Further Info

You can catch the full Isilon session at the link below:
Dell EMC 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.

Scale-Out. Distributed. Whatever the Name, it’s the Future of Computing

Scale Out

We are currently living in the fastest period of innovation in the technology space which there has probably ever been. New companies spring up every week with new ideas, some good, some bad, some just plain awesome and unexpected!

One of the most common trends I have seen in this however was described in a book I read recently, “The Second Machine Age” by Erik Brynjolfsson & Andrew McAfee. This trend is that the majority of new ideas are (more often than not) unique recombinations of old ones.

Take for example the iPhone. It was not the first smart phone. It was not the first mobile phone, the first touch screen, or the first device to run installable apps. However, Apple recombined an existing set of technologies into a very compelling product.

We also reached a point a while back where clock speeds of CPUs are no longer increasing, and even CPUs are scaling horizontally. Workloads are therefore typically being designed to scale horizontally instead of vertically, taking advantage of the increased compute resources available whilst avoid being locked to vertically scaling clock speeds.

Finally, another trend we have seen in the industry of late is inexpensive and low power CPUs from ARM, being used in all sorts of weird and wonderful places; often providing solutions to problems we didn’t even know we had. Up until now, their place has generally been confined outside of the data centre. I am, however, aware of a number of companies now working on bringing them to the enterprise in a big way!

So, in this context of recombination, imagine then if you could provide a scale-out storage architecture where every single spindle had its own compute directly attached. Then combine many of these “nano-servers” together in a scale-out JBOD form factor on subscription pricing, all managed from a Meraki-style cloud portal… well that’s exactly what Igneous Systems have designed!

Igneous Systems Nano-Servers

One of the coolest things about scaling out like this, is that instead of a small number of large fault domains based around controllers, you actually end up with many tiny fault domains instead. The loss of any one controller or drive is basically negligible within the system and replacements can be sorted at the convenience of the administrators, rather than panicking about replacement of components asap. Igneous claim that you can also scale fairly linearly, avoiding the traditional bottlenecks of a dual controller (or similar) system. It will be interesting to see some performance benchmarks as they become available!

It’s still early days, so they are doing code deployments at some pretty high rates, around every 2 weeks, and to be honest I think there is a bit of work to be done around clarity of their SLAs, but in general it looks like a very interesting platform, particularly when pricing is claimed to be as low as half the price of Amazon S3.

Now as you might expect from a massively distributed solution, the entry point is not small, typically procured in 212TiB chunks, so don’t expect to use it for your SMB home drives! If however you have petabyte-scale data volumes and are looking for an on-prem(ises!) S3 compatible datastore, then its certainly worth looking at Igneous.

The future in the scale-out space is certainly bright, now if only I could get people to refactor their single-threaded applications!… 🙂

Further Info

You can catch the full Igneous session at the link below – it certainly was unexpected and interesting, for sure!

Igneous Systems 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.

Tech Field Day 12 (TFD12) – Preview

Tech Field Day 12 (TFD12)

For those people who haven’t heard of Tech Field Day, it’s an awesome event run by the inimitable Stephen Foskett. The event enables tech vendors and real engineers / architects / bloggers (aka delegates) to sit down and have a conversation about their latest products, along with technology and industry trends.

Ever been reading up on a vendor’s website about their technology and had some questions they didn’t answer? One of the roles of the TFD delegates is to ask the questions which help viewers to understand the technology. If you tune in live, you can also post questions via twitter and the delegates, who will happily ask them on your behalf!

As a delegate it’s an awesome experience as you get to spend several days visiting some of the biggest and newest companies in the industry, nerding out with like-minded individuals, and learning as much from the other delegates as you do from the vendors!

So with this in mind, I am very pleased to say that I will be joining the TFD crew for the third time in San Jose, for Tech Field Day 12, from the 15th-16th of November!

Tech Field Day 12 (TFD12) Vendors

As you can see from the list of vendors, there are some truly awesome sessions coming up! Having previously visited Intel and Cohesity, as well as written about StorageOS, it will be great to catch up with them and find out about their latest innovations. DellEMC are going through some massive changes at the moment, so their session should be fascinating. Finally, I haven’t had the pleasure of visiting rubrik, DriveScale or Igneous to date, so should be very interesting indeed!

That said, if there was one vendor I am probably most looking forward to visiting at Tech Field Day 12, it’s Docker! Container adoption is totally changing the way that developers architect and deploy software, and I speak to customers regularly who are now beginning to implement them in anger. It will definitely be interesting to find out about their latest developments.

If you want to tune in live to the sessions, see the following link:
Tech Field Day 12

If for any reason you can’t make it live, have no fear! All of the videos are posted on YouTube and Vimeo within a day or so of the event.

Finally, if you can’t wait for November, pass the time by catching some of the fun and highlights from the last event I attended:

Storage Field Day 9 – Behind the Curtain

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