Tag Archive for SFD8

How often do you upgrade your storage array software?

Upgrades are scary!

Having managed and implemented upgrades on highly available systems such as the old Sun StorageTech line of rebranded HDS USP/VSP arrays back in the day, I can tell you that we did not take upgrades lightly!

Unless there was a very compelling reason for an upgrade, the line taken was always “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, but then we were looking after storage in a massively high security environment where even minor changes were taken very seriously indeed. When it came to storage we didn’t have or need anything very fancy at all, just a some high performance LUNs cut from boat loads of small capacity 15K drives, a bit of copy on write snappage to a set of 3rd party arrays and some dual site synchronous replication. Compared to some of the features and configurations of today, that’s actually pretty minimal!

Updates

Now this approach meant that the platform was very stable. Great! It also meant that because we only did upgrades once in a blue moon, the processes were not what you might call streamlined, and the changes made by each upgrade were typically numerous, thereby running a pretty decent risk of something breaking. It was also key to ensure that we checked the compatibility matrix for every release to ensure that the 3rd party arrays would continue to function.

They say that software is eating the world. I’d say it seems the same could be reasonably said for the hardware storage vendors we saw at Storage Field Day 8, as they seem to mostly be moving towards more Agile development models. Little and often means lower risk for every upgrade as there are fewer changes. New features and improvements can be released on a more regular basis (especially those taking advantage of flash technologies which are changing by the minute!). A significant number of the vendors we saw had internal release cycles of between 2 and 4 weeks and public release cycles of 2-8 weeks!

In the case of one vendor, Pure Storage, they are not only releasing code every couple of weeks, but customers have obviously taken this new approach on board with vigour! Around 91% of Pure’s customer base is currently using an array software version 8 months old or less. An impressive stat indeed!

This is Hardware. Software runs on it...

This is Hardware. Software runs on it…

This sounds like a relatively risky approach, but they mitigate it to a great extent by using the telemetric data uploaded every 30 seconds to their Pure1 SaaS management platform from customer arrays, building up a picture of both individual customers and their customer base as a whole. They then use their fingerprint engine to proactively pre-check every customer array to find out which may be susceptible to any potential defect in a new software release. Arrays which pass this pre-check have the upgrades rolled out remotely by Pure Storage engineers on a group by group basis to minimise risk. Obviously this is also done in conjunction and agreement with customers change windows etc. You wouldn’t expect your controllers to start failing over without any notice! 🙂

If I’m honest I am torn in two about this approach. The ancient storage curmudgeon in me says an array should just sit in the corner of the room quietly ticking away with minimal risk to availability and data durability (at least to known bugs anyway!). This new style of approach means that it doesn’t matter how many redundant bits of that rusty tin you have, as Scott D Lowe said last week:

That said we need to be realistic, we don’t live in ye olde world any more. Every part of the industry is moving towards more agile development techniques, driven largely by customer and consumer demand. If the “traditional” storage industry doesn’t follow suit, it risks being left behind by newer technologies such as SDS and hyper convergence.

There is one other key benefit to this deployment method which I haven’t mentioned of course; those big scary upgrades of the past now become minor updates, and the processes we wrap around them as fleshy sacks of water become mundane. That does sound quite tempting!

Perhaps upgrades aren’t that scary any more?

I’d love to hear your opinions either way, feel free to fire me a comment on twitter!

Further Reading
Some of the other SFD8 delegates have their own takes on the presentation we saw. Check them out here:

Dan Frithhttp://www.penguinpunk.net/blog/pure-storage-orange-is-the-new-black-now-what/

Scott D. Lowehttp://www.enterprisestorageguide.com/overcoming-new-vendor-risk-pure-storages-techniques

Pure1 Overview at SFD8

 
Disclaimer/Disclosure: My flights, accommodation, meals, etc, at Storage Field Day 8 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 and I was not compensated in any way for my time at the event.

Without good Analytics you dont have a competitive storage product

Throughout my career, analysing storage utilisation for solution design and capacity management has not been an easy task! Even recently when I speak to customers about utilisation, they often don’t have the management tools in place on their legacy arrays or servers to be able to help us understand what their true workloads look like, or indeed often just basic statistics.

Gathering them is laborious at best, and almost impossible at worst. For example:

  • One previous major vendor I used to work with was only able to surface a small amount of basic throughput and latency data over the past 30 days or so, along with a bit of controller and port utilisation, through their Java-based BUI (Java version specific of course – I still shudder at the thought).
  • More recently another vendor I have used has a web based stats console which can aggregate multiple arrays, but they use a rather outdated method of visualisation which requires filling in a big form to get the stats generated and the produced graphs don’t include any kind of trending data or 95th percentile, etc.
  • Another vendor array I work with fairly regularly requires you to run an API call against the array which only provides you with the stats since the last time you ran it. By then running the API every 30 seconds to a minute, you can build up a body of stats over time. Not brilliant, and it’s a total pain to rationalise the exported data.
  • Even if you have the stats at the array, you need to then gather the same stats at the connected hosts, to ensure that they roughly correlate and that you don’t have any potential issues on the network (which is significantly more likely if say you are running storage and IP traffic on a converged network fabric).

In a word; clunky!

One of the things that struck me about many if not all of the vendors at Storage Field Day 8, was how much better the management consoles and analytics engines were than virtually all of those I have used in the past.

Several vendors use their dial home features to send the analytics back to HQ. This way the stats for individual customers as well as their customer base as a whole can be kept almost indefinitely and used to improve the product, as well as pre-emptively warning customers of potential issues through analysis of this “big data”. This also avoids customers having to spend yet more money on storing the data about their data storage!

Of those we spoke to, one vendor in particular really stood out for me; Nimble Storage. Their InfoSight platform gathers 30-70m data points per array, per day, which are uploaded to their central analytics platform and accessible via their very user friendly interface. It can produce a number of very useful graphs and statistics, send scheduled reports, and will even provide predictive upgrade modelling based on current trends.

Recently they have also added a new opt-in VMVision service which can actually plug into your vCenter server to track the IO stats for the VMs from a host / VM perspective as well, presenting these in conjunction with the array data. This will show you exactly where your potential bottlenecks are / are not, meaning that in a troubleshooting scenario you can avoid wasting precious time looking in the wrong place and all of the data is automatically rationalised into a single view, with no administrative effort required.

As certain storage array features are becoming relatively commoditised, it’s becoming harder for vendors to set themselves apart from the field. Having strong analytics and management tools is definitely one way to do this. So much so, I was compelled to tweet the following at the time:

Disclaimer/Disclosure: My flights, accommodation, meals, etc, at Storage Field Day 8 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 and I was not compensated in any way for my time at the event.

Looking Forward to Storage Field Day 8

Storage Field Day

I have been a fan of the Tech Field Day events for some time. They provide a really interesting approach to tech marketing and are a great way of keeping up with the latest developments in the industry, as tech startups and established players alike take to the stage to showcase / discuss (and often get grilled by the delegates about) their shiniest new toys and features.

One of the key services I see the guys at TFD providing (free!) to the community is helping to maintain our knowledge of the bewildering array (pardon the pun) of vendors and solutions that are available out there, in an easy to consume format. It’s important to keep up with current trends and releases in the storage arena, even if you only have vendor X or Y in your current environment. If only so that when your IT Director says to you he wants to go out and buy vendor Z you can have a sensible, fact based conversation as to why or why not to consider them (instead of the obvious knee jerk reaction which they will potentially be expecting!). In my case I’m just a massive geek who loves talking / learning / reading / writing about tech, so keeping up definitely isn’t a chore for me! 🙂

So with that in mind, I am very honoured and excited to have been invited to attend Storage Field Day 8 from the 21st to 23rd October this year. Thank you very much to Stephen Foskett (@SFoskett) and Claire Chaplais (@cchaplais) for the awesome opportunity!

I would consider myself an IT generalist with a penchant for virtualisation and storage. The thing that has really drawn my interest to the storage field has been the fact that it is one of the fastest moving parts of the industry today, with the most innovation and potential disruption from startups.

You don’t have to be an established player to be successful any more. The cost of entry when basing your solutions on Intel chips and white box chassis with a layer of cleverly written software is a heck of a lot cheaper than the custom hardware driven solutions of the past! As many companies have a wide selection of storage silos across their estates, it is also not so difficult to encourage them to try out your new solution to initially replace a single silo either. Lastly lets be honest, we all like an underdog, and there are quite a few underdogs nipping at the bellies of the 880lb storage gorillas as we speak!

Morpheus doesnt like high margin storage

For the past three years I have been working as a Solution Architect at Claranet, an independent pan-European managed services provider, designing hosting solutions for the mid-market; an interesting and challenging sector where aspirations sometimes exceed budgets. That said, I will try not to repeat the traditional service provider mantra of “Can I securely multi-tenant it?” and “Do you provide an Opex commercial model?” too much…

I am really looking forward to enabling my brain sponge and soaking up the vast combined knowledge of the delegates and presenters at the event (some of whom I listen to regularly on the highly recommended podcasts Greybeards on Storage and In Tech We Trust and all of whom are known for producing awesome community content), so be sure to check them out and follow them on twitter!

The list of vendors at SFD8 is extensive too… with some new names who only came out of stealth in the past year along with the more familiar ones, it should be a fascinating week!

SFD8 Vendors

You can join the live stream during the event, and recordings of all sessions are available after, all of which you can find here:
http://techfieldday.com/event/sfd8/

PS: Being half Saffa, half Scot I was a bit concerned I might miss some of the RWC 2015 action by being in the States during the semi final stage, but after spending this Saturday sitting in the stands during the (now infamous) SA vs Japan game, I’m sadly less concerned about that possible outcome now!

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