Sunday, February 28, 2010

Architecture versus Feature

I'll give NetApp CEO Tom Georgens credit for one thing, he knows how to stir the pot. There’s been lots of good and interesting debate over a feature offered by several storage suppliers since he made that comment.

Notice I used the word "feature" - that's an important distinction. Automated tiered storage (I'll say ATS as a generic term - Compellent calls it Data Progression, others have different marketing terms) is a feature built on top of an underlying storage architecture. Other features include thin provisioning, snapshots, replication, data protection and storage management. It's important to understand the foundation used to offer up features when deciding how functional and useful they really are in YOUR environment.

In many cases storage companies have developed ways to virtualize physical storage in order to treat the available installed disk capacity (or some subset of that capacity) as a single logical pool. Using this abstraction, volumes or LUNs can be created which ignore the limitations imposed by a single physical disk array (such as being able to change RAID protection levels on a LUN). Depending on the way in which storage has been virtualized the ability to deliver more value from the aforementioned features will be impacted.

For example, some virtualization schemes are built on top of existing, traditional array architectures which limit the level of granularity for virtualization. Be aware that any architecture with a long legacy will show signs of these limitations by restricting the utility of the newer features. By necessity, these legacy systems must maintain backwards compatibility with older generations so that services such as replication and storage management aren't "broken" which is a good thing. The trade off is a watered down capability for emerging feature sets. Sometimes this is because of hardware dependencies in earlier generations of products.

In the case of newer generation platforms, such as Compellent Storage Center, there is no such bolting on of new features and software engineers are free to implement these exciting new capabilities in more valuable ways.

For ATS, this means having the ability to create a logical volume which provides storage economy by addressing performance requirements without the cost penalty associated with locking the entire volume into high performance disk. For legacy architectures it means moving the entire volume around to address performance spikes while maintaining a reservation of storage in each tier for these volume moves. You can see there's a huge difference in the implementation between an ATS offering on one architecture versus another.

To REALLY understand how any of these features can help you, it's important to take the time to learn about the foundational architecture used to build these features. Take a look at Compellent's Fluid Data architecture and you'll see why we are perfectly suited to deliver advanced storage features in an easy to manage package.

Everyone sells to their strengths, which is why Mr. Georgens is trying to convince you that tiering is dying. By understanding what those strengths (and associated weaknesses) are you'll be better able to make the best decision on future storage purchases for your business.

Focus on architecture before you get sold on features.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Kickstart Your Replication

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Given that this particular storage array had a capacity of about 20 terabytes this picture is arguably worth two trillion words. I’ll try to use far less words than that to explain this photo.

What is this catastrophe, you ask? Clearly not a good day for some storage administrator (and trust me when I tell you I know all too well how he felt at this moment). Let’s rewind and figure out how things got to this point, shall we?

Replicating data to a disaster recovery site is really a great thing – provided you have either oodles of bandwidth or many days (weeks?) to get your data protected, or what we in the business call TTP (Time to Protect). Until your data is fully replicated or “sync’d up” as we say, you’re really at continued risk. Since not many companies can afford the high speed WAN connectivity to pull this off, traditional storage vendors offer a simple, if not brute force, solution… I call this the CTAM protocol.

That’s right, the Cargo Truck Async Mirror protocol involves standing up the DR array in your production data center and performing an initial sync between the production and DR systems over LAN or FC speeds. In addition to potential problems like the one depicted in the picture you have the cost of your storage vendors' professional services for an additional install, plus the packing and shipping services (and trust me you do NOT want to go cheap here) as well as dealing with your risk officer and explaining the detailed shipping process which includes hourly tracking updates (typically when you’d rather be sleeping).

Fortunately, Compellent customers have another option in Portable Volume. A couple weeks ago I called one of my customers, Dane Babin, CIO of Business First Bank to see if he was free for lunch and he told me that he’d sent his Portable Volume kit to his DR site earlier that morning with a kickstart replication. He’d have time for lunch and then we could both go back to his office and finish up the process.

When we got back he went straight to his office and I set my gear down and popped over to the break room for a bottle of water. By the time I got back, he was grinning from ear to ear having just finished the process of importing the data and could go into the weekend secure in the knowledge that his company's critical data was protected at a DR site four hours away.

I asked Dane what Portable Volume meant to him as a customer and he said, "It was very easy. I connected it at my production site, made a few clicks in Enterprise Manager and a short time later packed up the drives and sent them off. I had a branch manager connect at the DR site and the Storage Center immediately recognized the drives and started copying data. It was so easy even a branch manager could do it!"

Not that branch managers aren't capable people, but the point is Dane didn't need to tie up one of his engineers to get the job done. Dane can reuse his Portable Volume kit to kick start more replications in the future or to help recover his production site if the need should arise.
For a demonstration of Portable Volume in action go to this link featuring Peter Fitch, IT Infrastructure Manager at Rudolph Technologies. Notice Peter mentions being influential as a customer in the design and implementation of Portable Volume - Compellent listens to customers!

You can also view a demonstration of Portable Volume here.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Hello World

This year is the beginning of a new era for me professionally. I've lived in the corporate IT world for 15 years doing everything from report writing to desktop support to server support and finally carved a niche for myself by jumping on the shared storage bandwagon at the turn of the century (I love saying that).

Career progression is great, but as I found myself moving up the chain, and thus away from the technology front lines, I began to reconsider where I wanted to be over the long haul. Strange as it may sound, I've always been attracted to the sales side of things - I mean, after all we're all salespersons at the end of the day. So, when the opportunity presented itself I said a bittersweet farewell to my cubicle and jumped on the chance to join Compellent as a Storage Architect.

The most interesting thing I've noticed in this side of the business is that the sales teams you meet as a customer are pretty much all on speaking terms outside of your conference room. You wouldn't believe the waves and static a customer makes in the general sales world with a simple comment, question, complaint or praise... I didn't realize as a customer that I had that much influence. I guess I should have, but I never really thought about it.

So, my message to comrades I left behind on the front lines of keeping the business running is two fold:

1. You have tremendous powers of influence on the IT industry
2. Use your powers wisely

Thanks for reading my blog and I hope it adds value - as Storage Mojo says, courteous comments are welcome!