Storage Informer
Storage Informer

Tag: Iomega

Storage Is Software

by on Jul.09, 2010, under Storage

Storage Is Software

EMC logo
The title of this post is a variant on the intriguing "infrastructure is code" meme from the #devops community. I think it’s a useful idea to remind ourselves of — especially as technology transitions.

Even though some of you reading this might thing the statement is blindingly obvious, it’s clear that the vast majority of people think of boxes with blinking lights when you say the word "storage".

And I think this is going to be up for change sooner than later.

Things Change

Having now been directly involved in storage for over 15 years, I feel I can safely make a reasonable judgment when things are changing.

So let’s go look at the current landscape …

For starters, most storage hardware today is built out of the same industry-standard parts bin used by the server guys.  Yes, there are a few storage stalwarts trying to claim differentiation through this bit or that bit of unique silicon, but the secular trend is pretty obvious — parts is parts.

Now, I think there’s still room for useful hardware differentiation in areas like innovative architecture, or clever packaging, or using the latest merchant silicon chips, or perhaps more reliable manufacturing processes. 

All that being said, I think the opportunities for sustained differentiation through hardware prowess alone are becoming more rare over time.

And we all p lay in a very competitive market indeed  Much like customers won’t accept dated or over-priced server hardware designs, they won’t accept dated or over-priced storage hardware designs.

Thinking About Storage Software

At its most basic level, you expect to write information to a storage platform, and get it back again. 

You’d like to do so in a convenient format — more traditional block and file formats, perhaps something newer like objects, even maybe something like tables.  That’s a function of software, not hardware.

You’d like the integrity of the data protected from all sorts of bad things that can happen — hardware failures, software failures, human error, the list goes on.  That’s a function of software, not hardware.

You’d like to wring the maximum in performance and efficiency from the hardware you own: move the popular data to the high-perfrmance media, the less-popular data to cost-effective stuff, and wring the excess capacity out with things like compression and deduplication.

More software.

If you tend to think geographically, you’d like the right information in the right location at the right time if possible.  Whether that’s to better protect, or improve user experience, or something else — that’s all software as well.

I could go on, but — when you think about it — just about everything we talk about that’s new, interesting and useful tends to boil dow n to a software discussion. 

Sure, there are new hardware bits like faster processors, and enterprise flash drives, and newer 10GbE interconnects — but it takes software to make all that stuff really useful.

The Impact Of Open Source

Much like industry-standard components and architectures set the floor for cost-effective hardware, I think open source software sets the floor for cost-effective software functionality.

There’s still room to innovate in software, but you have to do it in areas that haven’t been well-covered by the open source community.  And — make no mistake — it’s a safe bet that open source software will be an ever-increasing part of our enterprise environments.

Resistance to either trend appears futile :-)

Separating Software From Hardware

We’ve just come to assume that storage software is inevitably woven to storage hardwa re.  But as the industry moves to more standard components and architectures, that’s becoming more of a business model discussion, and less of a technology discussion.

Examples are starting abound, especially within EMC’s portfolio. 

Our Atmos cloud storage platform is now available as a VMware virtual machine.  Run it on just about any VMware-supported hardware platform, and you’ve got a fully featured, next-generation distributed object-oriented metadata-rich policy-driven cloud storage environment

One could separately debate the meri ts of running Atmos storage software on a generic hardware platform vs. one that is specifically built for purpose, but that’s more of a discussion around implementation choices — and choice is good.

Many of you are aware that the Avamar client-side dedupe backup platform works basically the same way — your backup target can either be a dedicated hardware device running Avamar, or the same functionality running in a VM on generic hardware — it’s your choice.

Going further, there’s a much larger universe of EMC storage products just waiting to escape the confines of phy sical hardware: RecoverPoint, VPLEX, Celerra, Centera — the list goes on. 

Even some interesting open-source choices if you go looking: for example, the EMC LifeLine stack which powers the increasingly more powerful Iomega unified storage devices.

So why aren’t all these great things being done today?  Lots of issues, but the big one is — it’s hard!

Making storage software work predictably and reliably in a virtual machine takes substantial engineering effort.  And that incremental effort&#016 0; has to be balanced against other investment opportunities: things like adding new features, or supporting new hardware, or perhaps deep integrations with other environments.

It’s happening — it’s just not an overnight process.  Sorry to say, the future isn’t quite here yet …

Fast Forward Several Years

Imagine you’re in charge of storage decisions at your company, and you’re trying to put together a solution for part of your operation.

You might start by assembling a set of services you’ll need to provide for applications and users.  You evaluate different software stack options. for functionality, price, reliability, support, ease-of-use, integration, APIs, etc.

You do so by composing various storage software VMs, and putting the resulting stacks through their paces.  Basic presentation services (file, block, object, etc.).  Some replication stuff, maybe some auto-tier ing and or intelligent archival stuff.

You test features and functions, integration points and management interfaces.  All using virtual machines in whatever test bed you’ve got handy.

No need to consider storage as hardware just yet.

When you’re ready to implement, you’ve got more choices: you can stick with the storage-software-in-a-VM approach, or perhaps consider purpose-built hardware if your needs so dictate. 

Functionality first, implementation second.

Farther Down The Line

The migration of storage functionality from hardware to software will likely change how storage hardware itself is built.  At the low end of the market, all-in-one storage can learn new tricks simply by invoking new elements of a (presumably virtualized) software stack.

And at the high end of the market, it’s not hard to imagine larger, dynamic pools of virtualized storage capabilities that flex both resources and functionality much the way virtualized servers do today.  To be fair, though, that’s a reasonable description of what a VMAX and VPLEX does today.

Indeed, w e can easily see storage software functionality running flexibly where it makes the most sense — on a general purpose all-in-one storage hardware platform, or perhaps as a set of virtualized tasks in a server farm, or perhaps on an appliance dedicated to a task — or any combination as needs shift.

And that’s going to force some changes in thinking all around.

Final Thoughts

The runaway success of VMware has caused many of us to think of "servers" in terms of software images that are invoked as needed.  The hardware is still there, and it needs to do its job, but we think about it differently.

Will we learn to think of storage the same way?

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The Cone Of Silence Is Lifted

by on Jul.20, 2009, under Storage

Data Domain: The Cone Of Silence Is Lifted

EMC logo Data Domain: The Cone Of Silence Is Lifted

You may or may not know that — during an acquisition — we are very limited as to what we can say. Rather than run afoul of various mysterious rules and regulations, we all just feel it’s better if we…

You may or may not know that — during an acquisition — we are very limited as to what we can say. 

Rather than run afoul of various mysterious rules and regulations, we all just feel it’s better if we clam up until the deal is actually done.

Well, this morning we were informed that — for all intents and purposes – we can start talking about the acquisition publicly.

This post covers what it means to EMC, Data Domain and Data Domain’s customers. 

I’d like to write a subsequent post at some point with what this means to NetApp — especially in the broader context of industry consolidation and go-forward strategies.  And it ain’t pretty.

So let’s dive in, shall we?

The Core Of A New Business

The internal letter was pretty clear and unambiguous: Data Domain will eventually be a full product division within EMC.

This means that — over time — they will likely be the core orchestrator of all related EMC assets in this space — engineering, partnering, go-to-market, support, etc. 

This is roughly analogous to what happened with other acquisitions: EMC has a bunch of related assets, we acquire a centerpiece, make them the core, and continue to integrate and innovate around that core.

It’s a play we know well.

What Technology Assets Could Fit?

The list of potential EMC assets that could potentially play one way or another with Data Domain is quite extensive. 

Disclaimer: none of these are commitments, just idle speculation on the kinds of things that are possible once you juxtapose Data Domain across the broader EMC.

This sort of hybridization can be very powerful — we’ve already done it with a number of technology acquisitions.  It takes time to sort out the roadmap, do the integration work, productize, etc. — but it’s all interesting stuff.

So … let’s take a tour around the EMC portfolio, shall we?

On the hardware side, we’ve got some nice storage target devices to choose from that complement what Data Domain is selling today: CLARiiON, V-Max, Celerra, Centera, Atmos — even Iomega!  Potentially these might be sold as an integrated appliance, or as a software target — lots of interesting scenarios there.

Next up, the EMC backup and recovery portfolio: the NetWorker suite that does not only all the classical backup/restore stuff (using a variety of mechanisms), but EMC’s Data Protection Advisor (DPA) which has found a strong following from people who need to manage this stuff at a service delivery level.

Can’t forget Avamar either — the industry’s premier client-side dedupe which now can be paired in interesting ways with the industry’s premeir target-side dedupe.

Celerra — in particular — has a nice abstraction where files can be stored in dedupe format transparently from the access mechanism — another interesting potential pairing.  That same abstraction might make sense for other EMC storage platforms as well.

And, of course, there’s RSA security, Ionix end-to-end management, EMC’s general proficiency and differentiation with VMwareand fully virtualized environments, and — well — there’s no shortage of cool things to look at.

There’s more I could share, but I think you get the picture.

What Integration Assets Could Fit?

EMC spends a lot of time and money bringing pieces together — not only technology integrations, but qualification, solutioneering, etc. — basically making sure all the pieces work together as a complete environment that’s fully characterized, supported, documented, etc.

I guess the first starting point is EMC’s eLab — still the industry standard for device-level interoperability and qualification.  Right away, you can see the Data Domain product being qualified as part of larger and/or more complex topologies, backed by EMC’s methodologies and customer service.

And then there’s the EMC Proven Solution effort that’s focused primarily on fully virtualized environments running tier 1 applications such as Exchange, SAP, Oracle et. al.  Won’t be too long before Data Domain is part of that party as well.

There’s also a few specialized labs of note — in particular the newer VCE lab (VMware, Cisco and EMC), which represents a rather largish investment focused on building private clouds built on virtualization for both enterprises and service providers.

Again, plenty here that makes the Data Domain capabilities potentially even more valuable and attractive in an EMC context over time.

What Go-To-Market Assets Could Fit?

I know most people outside the industry don’t think much about go-to-market strategies, preferring instead to debate the pros and cons of different technologies, but — in the final analysis — nothing really succeeds unless there’s an efficient way for it to reach a mass audience.

And there the picture is potentially very interesting.

Of course, we’ve got our worldwide direct sales force — already engaged in storage and backup discussions, and already selling complementary technologies.  Data Domain just plugs in to this effort.

We’ve also have a specialized sales force that works with customers having more modest requirements, and brings in a wide range of partners, resellers and integrators in doing so.  Again, another plug in.

Not to mention our existing engagements with OEMs, global system integrators, outsourcers and service providers — again, more synergy from an existing market engagement model that’s already focused in this space.

And, finally, there’s EMC’s professional services that can assess a requirement, do the integration, create the run book, and event run the entire environment in a managed services context.  All potentially very complementary, if you think about it.

And Let’s Not Forget Customer Service

One thing EMC is known for is best-in-class customer service.  We’ve built the business largely on that reputation.  Bringing EMC’s global customer services capabilities to any acquired product removes an important set of concerns for many customers, making it easier to move ahead with newer technology.

Again, more synergy.

Feel Free To Criticize

Everyone has their opinion about this acquisition — was it a good idea, was it a fair price, what was the real rationale, etc. Some people just don’t like it when EMC does something smart.

People are free to speculate as they see fit — as they always will do — but from where I sit, there is a real and tangible 1+1=5 scenario here.

Data Domain employees win.  Data Domain partners win.  Data Domain customers win.  EMC customers, employees and stakeholders win.

You just have to look at it the right way.

Welcome Aboard, Data Domain .. And Your Customers

There’s already been some great communication and interaction with the Data Domain team, and — again, from where I sit — we’re all excited to have this great team as part of the EMC family.

And, to all of Data Domain’s customers, I’d encourage you to ignore all the competitive FUD you’re likely to hear over the next few months.  None of it will be true, I’ll assure you now.

We know how to do this integration stuff … we’ve done it many times before, with great resutls for everyone.  And this should be no different.

Only great things are ahead …

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