Category: Scalar


Data Automation

With consolidation and virtualization of infrastructure, many benefits can be achieved; however they should not require increased management or complex processes to maintain through the life of the asset and solution.  One key to this is automation – and notably, the ability for tasks normally requiring administrative intervention or complex policy/script writing to be automated and initiated on-demand or scheduled without user analysis and execution.

 

Today’s storage arrays come with a wide array of software management capabilities that allow for intelligent, automated provisioning capabilities which traditionally needed to be manually performed:  RAID Parity, Striping, LUN creation, device discovery, etc.   However the most notable ones in todays generation of storage solutions are wide striping, thin provisioning, and dynamic data placement/caching.

Wide Striping places data within a LUN (Volume, Filesystem) across as many disks as possible.  Sometimes this is limited to a Pool of disks, other times it is across the entire set of disks.  The objective is to create as much parallel IO as possible across as many devices as makes sense to drive IO rates up across all co-located data.  In some cases, this capability is tied to a defined set of disks, grouped together in a pool or aggregate.  This can be good for manageability or bad, depending on your perspective, and your particular storage vendor will have their own opinions they’re more than happy to share.  Typically you will hear wide striping talked about at the “array”, “pool”, or “aggregate” level, depending on a particular vendors implementation.

Generally, wide striping is enabled hand-in-hand with Thin Provisioning, another feature commonly available at the same array, pool, or aggregate level.  Thin provisioning allows storage to be allocated across a set of disks as needed, not preallocated ahead of time, greatly improving storage efficiency and enabling administrators to provision for the life of the asset, not initial requirements – saving future administration activities and related impacts to application availability, reducing overtime to implement a change window activity.

Thin Provisioning implies a certain amount of block level virtualization, which is why wide striping is discussed at the same time – however other functions that work at the block level can also be implemented since the logic to virtualize a block’s location has already been implemented.  These can include encryption, compression, and data deduplication, features that generally improve security and storage efficiency.  Notably, block level deduplication of shared blocks can be of great benefit in environments when those blocks end up being served from cache frequently – it means less cache is required to improve application performance for a large number of workloads, without creating IO spikes.  This is very noticeable in such applications as Virtual Desktops, particularly boot and anti-virus storms which tend to occur with regularity.

Dynamic Data Placement is a capability that enables you to put data on the right tier at the right time – at the block (or sub-LUN, in some cases) level.  One of the issues that storage tiering has is that the granularity is at the Volume level.  Sometimes it is not possible to determine what tier the data should be on prior to deployment, and not easily separated into multiple Volumes in different tiers should only part of a workload require higher performance (and thus more costly) storage to perform well.  Dynamic Data Placement lets the intelligence in the storage array figure this out based on real-time statistics gathering, and on a scheduled or dynamic basis will move data to the appropriate tier.

This is typically implemented, again, at the array, pool, or aggregate level, and done across multiple tiers – SSD, SAS/FC, and SATA – generally with different and sometimes multiple RAID types for each (although this may not always be supported).

Associated with this type of data movement is Dynamic Data Caching.  Rather than actually move a block’s location between tiers, it is instead cached in FLASH or SSD.  The benefit to this approach is that an array’s read cache becomes much larger, and works well for larger working sets (such as virtualization), without actually having to relocate all data onto expensive SSD.  As data ages in the cache, it will fall out and be replaced by more active data automatically.  The negative is that you can’t pin data in cache, like you could if it was placed on SSD, and that this performance improvement is generally targeted at READ data only – write speed is not improved.  Notably, if this is combined with a storage solution that caches writes first, than de-stages in full stripes to new (virtualized) locations on disk (i.e., RAID3 or RAID4), write performance will generally still be very good when there are a large number of drives in the RAID group (or pool, or aggregate).  The typical write penalty for RAID is eliminated due to the fact that all writes normally go to new disk locations, eliminating the read-calcualate-write data/parity activity entirely.

Having gotten this far, you must be asking yourself – does my storage array have any of these features?  Well, maybe.  But probably not, unless you recently purchased it, but whether the features are licensed or in use is another matter altogether.  All too often features get marketed but never sold or properly implemented; sometimes due to budgeting, but more often they just don’t work as advertised and get turned off prior to deployment into production.

If you find yourself in this situation, or are looking at options to replace, upgrade, augment, or properly deploy what you already have, give us a call.  Sometimes it’s just a matter of better using what you already own – or replacing it when it’s lifecycle ends, with something capable of delivering the value you’re looking for in a consolidated, virtualized storage infrastructure to support your application and business services.

Michael Traves
michael.traves@scalar.ca

 

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‘Twas the week before Christmas and all through the office,
Mice were a clicking, online shopping quite wondrous.
But more was to be done, to close out the year,
Much money was left, to spend on new gear.

For while budgets for next year were causing torment,
Money from this years was as yet unspent.
Such failure to do so would reflect your poor planning,
And cuts for next year would result to planned spending.

So what can you do when this problem unveils?
Why call your sales person, and see what’s on sale.
Just remember whatever you should decide to buy,
It must be ready to ship, and by New Years arrive.

A few moments later, you call your loading dock,
They’ll be working New Years, this should come as no shock.
While they moan, and gripe, call their families to complain,
You sit back satisfied, things will work out again.

With Santa on his way, you relax where you sit,
But in the back of your mind something festers just a bit
Will it arrive in time, to count in this years budget?
Or will you have to call finance and explain your failed gambit?

But good fortune then smiles, as Santa sackful,
Arrives with new toys, your loading dock jammed full.
This new years you’re able to celebrate with a toast,
For all is good news for you and the finance folks.

Back to work on Monday, you unwrap your new toys,
Inspecting for damage before its eventual deploys.
Now what had you been planning to do with this stuff,
You think to yourself, while wondering if it’ll be enough.

No matter you think, it’s time to install,
We’ll figure it out as we go along.
Your budget was spent just as you had forecasted,
There’s no reason to worry about being lambasted.

So you call in the vendors you bought the stuff from,
And schedule install meetings while appearing aplomb.
Unboxed, racked and cabled, with precision and reason,
Ready to use, oh wait – it’s RRSP season!

Lots of time you think, now we can do this properly,
Instead of rushing things along, you can plan it precisely.
Four months to play, in dev/test and QA,
Before rolling it into production, some time in May.

So with last years budget spent, your new toys nicely racked,
This years budget can be planned, before you get sidetracked.
Strategically planned, to ensure optimal spending,
Hopefully approved before Q3 quarter ending.

So what have we learned from this recurring experience,
Have you acquired shelfware without good prudence?
Did you spend last years budget, good advice well heeded,
Did you get the best deal on what you really needed?

Scalar can help break this cycle of insanity,
And make use of that stuff you acquired so hastily.
Accelerate your ROI, TCO – pick your acronym of choice,
Give us a call, we can help – before you get your next invoice! 

Over the past couple of several years, acquisitions and mergers have been the focus of great speculation, anguish, disappointment, and frustration. But are they good for the industry, consumers, and most importantly your business? What does it mean for innovation? And how important is that?

It wasn’t so long ago that I can remember companies with project teams whose sole purpose it was to rid themselves of a particular vendors technology in their infrastructure. Depending on how invested they were on the technology, the costs involved in replacing it, and how ingrained it might be with their systems and processes these projects would take months and sometimes years. The interesting fact here is that in many cases these project teams never dissolved – whatever vendor they were targeting for replacement very likely had acquired someone else that had an impact on their infrastructure so by the time they finished replacing one they’d be at it again. And again.

As we all know, it’s not always about the best technology, vendor, or solution. Whether the result of poor support, a project gone sideways, or an employees bias, it is quite common for companies to shy away from products manufactured or distributed by specific vendors. More specifically though, it isn’t the company itself with the bad taste, but the people involved with whatever happened. Thus, as people move between companies, so do the biases – for and against – specific vendors. Thus we have the notion of churn in the data centre, with technology purchases and expulsions patterns following employees movement throughout their career, company to company. A successful sales person sells to people, not companies, and thus their success is tied to making individuals successful. The challenge than is in convincing a person to choose against his ingrain bias – something a more successful sales team will accomplish.

Mergers and acquisitions shake up these buying patterns, and as they increase in frequency and size make it difficult if not impossible to target specific vendors or technology for purchase or avoidance. The fact is, innovate technology companies get acquired by larger, not so innovate companies all the time. The success of such an acquisition has more to do with politics and culture than the underlying technology itself – competitors will catch up when given the opportunity to do so, and innovation can be impacted greatly when a company is in the throws of acquisition, particular a hostile one, or one with clear culture differences. Losing all your key people, whether it be people cashing out or being left out isn’t going to make your acquisition pay off.

On the surface, then, all looks gloomy. Or does it?

Successful innovation requires flexible execution, which is generally a trait of smaller, more nimble companies. The challenge smaller companies have is getting their product to market, something which requires successful funding and industry accolades to turn prospects into customers. Turning a profit, one that is consistent and measurable is often a great challenge but should be a marker in companies purchasing decisions. Acquisition is often an objective of these companies, as it greatly accelerates their entry into the market. Being part of a larger organization with the funds and reputation to take smaller, innovative companies farther and faster than they could on their own is a recipe for great success for both organizations. When done correctly, customers will also benefit greatly. When done poorly, the result can be disastrous – for both vendor and customer.

Successful acquisitions allow for continued innovation, and retain the staff the made the company successful in the first place – from the engineers, developers, and support staff with product knowledge, to the sales and technical field engineers who have customer relationships and can instil confidence that “all is well”. You may never be able to convince everyone with a bias against the acquiring company to stay the course, but with the right approach the majority of customers will stick around and benefit long term, while the market opportunity dramatically increases for the vendor.

Mergers, while similar to acquisitions attempt to appeal to clients of both organizations, but generally do neither. A merger is an acquisition of equals, and eventually the corporate culture and management of one company will infiltrate or corrupt the other. Whether the customer will benefit while they take the time to sort that out is hard to determine.

Partnerships, while useful to those who look for integration and interoperability of best of breed products are at constant risk, particularly these days, to acquisition by competitors and the changing tides of business. Partnering allows companies to offer technology, directly through resale/OEM, or indirectly through partners, as a solution. But when a strategic partner gets acquired or folds, it leaves the customer and the vendor exposed to support issues and ultimately triggers technology migration. Partners become competitors and customers are left to deal with the issues. Successive attempts (and failures) by vendors to do this over the long term hurts their credibility and are highly disruptive to customers infrastructure.

Learning to ride the tide of acquisitions in the industry is an important success factor in your business being able to take advantage of new industry trends and technologies to drive bottom line profitability, while minimizing risk.

So the question must be asked – how has your infrastructure been impacted by acquisition and merger activity? Has it been positive? Did it bring any tangible or technical benefits to your business or day-to-day activities? And when you look to acquire new technology and solutions from a vendor, does their perceived risk to acquisition factor in to your buying decision?

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