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Chuck Hollis
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It's become an obligatory part of most enterprise IT conversations I have -- what's the latest org structure? I joke that most enterprise IT shops are always in one of three states: (1) in the middle of a reorg, (2) getting over the last reorg, and (3) preparing for the next big reorganization. I have been unable to find any useful industry data to confirm my impression that many larger IT shops appear to be in an almost-perpetual state of reorganization and realignment. Much more so it seems than other corporate functions: sales, marketing, finance, HR, etc. Which brings up the obvious question -- why is this? And what does it imply for enterprise IT strategy in general? It's Not Universal To be fair, there might be some sampling bias on my part. I tend to work with larger IT groups in fast-moving industries. If things are hunky-dory in your world, I'm unlikely to connect with you. Some IT groups I meet are comparatively stable: same leaders, same people -- maybe a bit of readjustment around the edges over the years -- but nothing too dynamic. Stable, predictable evolution. Others seem to be in a constant state of organizational upheaval:... Continue reading
Posted Jan 21, 2016 at Chuck's Blog
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I have been prattling on about cloud topics for over six years now, helping IT practitioners come to terms with the changing world around them. It has often become a soul-searching, emotion-laden discussion. Maybe I should get business cards that say "Cloud Therapist"? In the last few months, it seems that cloud angst has started to reach an entirely new highs. No such thing as a short meeting when someone needs to pour their heart out. I think that's because -- when it comes to cloud -- most enterprise IT thinkers are waking up to the realization that they've hit an architectural wall, and it's starting to hurt. It Didn't Start That Way Go back many years, and I was explaining to people what a "cloud" was, and how it was different than traditional forms of IT architecture. Intellectually interesting, but hardly relevant to the world of enterprise IT back then. As an abstract concept, it was at a comfortably safe distance from day-to-day reality. After AWS burst onto the scene, IT leaders were pressured to understand what cloud did, and potentially use it for some of their needs. Frequently, there was an emotional tone to the topic, as public... Continue reading
Posted Dec 17, 2015 at Chuck's Blog
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The cloud discussion has been percolating through IT for about seven years now. It shows every sign of now going to a full boil. Most every IT leader I meet is now accountable for having an acceptable "cloud strategy" of some sort. Up to now, I think it's fair to say that most IT leaders have been playing what might be charitably described as an edge game, largely by keeping cloud at the periphery of the IT landscape, and far away from the core. Time is running out. Sooner or later, cloud is going to crash into the core of IT. Just like two planets colliding, the result will look very different for both. And the decisions you make today will greatly affect what the new world looks like when the inevitable happens. The Many Faces Of Cloud Fully appreciated, cloud has multiple aspects: a consumption model, an operational model, a service delivery model, even a business model for enterprise IT. Most importantly, the advent of cloud has fundamentally changed the way we think about things, arguably for the better. Sorry, there's no going back :) Just as most IT shops couldn't have made it through the last decade without... Continue reading
Posted Dec 4, 2015 at Chuck's Blog
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It's sometimes depressing to realize that I have been in and around IT infrastructure types for at least 30 years. Sigh. I certainly appreciate how they look at the world, but I despair when I see their own interests diverge from that of the businesses they serve. Even though I suppose that's human nature, it's certainly not ideal. Case in point: building for the averages vs. building for the extremes. Here's the synopsis: in an effort to "standardize" the infrastructure stack, huge opportunities for portfolio optimization aren't fully considered. But what might work for IT doesn't always work for the business. Inside The IT Infrastructure Mind Not everyone thinks the same way, but there's certainly a cohort that thinks alike. They view IT infrastructure architecture as a layered stack, with clear preferred choices at each layer: server, storage, hypervisor and so on. The idea is to ostensibly pick the "best" for each component, and standardize its usage as much as possible. While everyone appreciates a modicum of integration between stack layers (e.g. the hypervisor and storage), the bigger goal is to reduce dependencies between layers, and ideally produce an architecturally agnostic stack. The stated goal of being architecturally agnostic is... Continue reading
Posted Dec 1, 2015 at Chuck's Blog
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And while we're at it, where does the whole category of converged and hyperconverged vendors go from here? Right now, this is the #1 question I get from colleagues, IT pros and industry-watchers. Make no mistake: I was a passionate advocate of VCE -- at the time. Many of my colleagues have worked for VCE, or -- in some cases -- still work for VCE. By the way, a big shout-out to my colleague Nina Hargus, just promoted from being VCE's CMO to EMC's. I tend to want to wish people the best, but unfortunately the future looks quite dark through my lens. The products may not have yet changed, but the context certainly has. The Big Idea VCE was born Nov 3 2009 (yes, six years ago) as a response to a problem we all saw in the industry -- customers were getting killed trying to self-assemble infrastructure. To this day, many still are. Folks would take storage from one vendor, compute from a second, fabric from a third and a hypervisor from a fourth-- and that's when the fun started. Some assembly required. Infrastructure projects became lengthy and complex, with uncertain schedules and outcomes. Worse, keeping everything patched,... Continue reading
Posted Nov 12, 2015 at Chuck's Blog
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Coming off of Oracle Open World, the message was clear: cloud, cloud and more cloud. Larry Ellison called it the biggest industry transition since the desktop PC. In my words: cloud in all its sundry forms fundamentally re-invents how IT services are produced and consumed. It's the new design pattern for enterprise IT architectures. Turmoil and controversy abound as a result. On the vendor side, not all of the current industry players will cross the chasm. Many have tried, and are flailing. On the enterprise IT side, hard choices and big bets need to be made, and soon. I've seen some of the industry press express skepticism around Oracle's cloud ambitions. While we're all entitled to our opinions, not all of us have the same insight into what really seems to be happening. I've looked at cloud from my previous employers: EMC and VMware. I've worked with service providers on architectures and business models. And I've spent way too much time in the bowels of enterprise IT. I, too, am entitled to my opinions. Here I present my personal, biased case for Oracle's cloud strategy in all its forms -- evaluated as a mature paradigm through the lens of enterprise... Continue reading
Posted Nov 4, 2015 at Chuck's Blog
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There was a time decades ago when I was intensely interested in CPU technology. RISC, CISC, all that. Endless debates about which one was "better", which one was going to win in the long term, etc. Well, we know how the story ended up for most of the datacenter market: it’s mostly an Intel world. Like most people, I thought "well, that's that": most everything was going to run on x86 unless there was a good reason not to. Sort of like regular-grade unleaded gas, or basic cable TV. Fast forward a bunch of years, and I land at Oracle. I find that the Sun-derived technologies are alive and well, and carving out a fascinating market segment where everyday x86 doesn't do so well: demanding workloads where using a fewer number of smarter processors can do more work than a boatload of familiar x86. As part of this week's Oracle Open World and the launch of the new M7 processor, I enjoyed getting my CPU geek back on, and found a lot to really like. I think you will too. Generic Vs. Co-Engineered In my opinion, the familiar x86 has become generic -- the basic architecture is expected to support... Continue reading
Posted Oct 26, 2015 at Chuck's Blog
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One of the red-meat topics in IT guaranteed to spark a debate is the topic of "lock in", e.g. the difficulty in moving away from a given technology should the desire present itself. Lock-in is frequently presented as an evil thing, to be avoided at all costs. The reality is a bit more nuanced: if you're working in enterprise IT, some degree of lock-in is inevitable -- there will always be switching costs involved. For experienced practitioners, it's just one more aspect of a complex equation to be managed and optimized. Like most aspects of enterprise IT, I've given the topic considerable thought, as I'm sure others have done. When I was at EMC, lock-in was a huge customer concern. At VMware, paradoxically it didn't come up all that much. And now that I'm in Oracle, I'm back in the middle of lock-in debates. So lets' get started, shall we? My Theory Of Enterprise IT At a high level, enterprise IT groups exist to deliver information services to the businesses that need them. To the people who pay the bills, enterprise IT is essentially a black box: money goes in, services come out. Success can be measured by reducing the... Continue reading
Posted Oct 20, 2015 at Chuck's Blog
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So much has been written about the tech industry's largest buyout -- a mind-numbing $67 billion. It's been exactly one week since the announcement -- just enough time for me to get my thoughts in order. 19 years at EMC, two years at VMware -- yes, I'm entitled to an opinion or two. As you might expect with a transaction of this magnitude and complexity, it's going to take some time. I figure 9-12 months to close, another 6-9 months of getting organized, so we'll be well into 2017 before we all know how it ends up. That's two years from now -- assuming that there aren't any significant legal challenges. Here's the problem: a lot can happen in two years. Not good to be sitting on the sidelines, waiting for future clarity. As with everyone who's been involved with EMC, VMware and all the other players, there are mixed emotions all around. Some of the articles got a few key points right, a few I thought were way off base. And there was a whole lot of echo chamber. Bottom line: although I wish all my ex-colleagues well, this event does not bode well for those employed by horizontal... Continue reading
Posted Oct 19, 2015 at Chuck's Blog
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Many IT infrastructure groups are intent on building their own landscapes, using horizontal technologies. Maybe they want to standardize on HP servers, vSphere for virtualization, RedHat for Linux, Cisco for the data center network, EMC for the storage, and so on. The specific choices aren't relevant in this argument; the underlying philosophy is what matters. The newer thinking in this arena is pre-integrated stacks: converged (e.g. VCE Vblocks, HP CI, etc.) or perhaps some of the newer hyperconverged offerings (e.g. VMware's EVO, Nutanix, etc.). Less effort all around thanks to a modicum of integration, but still a generic stack by any other name. So, let me ask a clarifying question: what are the most important and demanding workloads in your landscape? I'm guessing it's databases, and the applications that use them. Might it make sense to think in terms of *optimized* stacks for these crown jewels vs. generic ones? If your business is heavily invested in databases, maybe mainstream generic infrastructure thinking isn't doing you any favors. A Moment Of Somber Reflection? If you're like most enterprises, databases are at the very heart of your business. We almost take for granted that timely, accurate information is immediately available at our... Continue reading
Posted Oct 8, 2015 at Chuck's Blog
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One of the more popular buzzwords in our industry is consolidation: the idea of combining multiple individual workloads into a single platform or system. The stated goal is usually around saving money, although there are certainly other benefits. Newton's Third Law states that for every action in nature, there is an equal opposing reaction, and consolidation is no exception. I think IT vendors tend to push consolidation without a full appreciation for the very valid opposing forces. And I think IT organizations sometimes lack the will to overcome these resisting forces in pursuit of a better outcome. Case in point: now that I'm at Oracle, I see these amazing cost-saving proposals around database consolidation. We're talking eye-popping big savings numbers, buttressed with a rock-solid justification. But I don't see nearly enough leaders acting on these opportunities. Nobody's right, nobody's wrong -- but it shouldn't be that way. The Simple Ideas Take 100 medium-sized applications. You could run them on 100 individual servers -- don't forget, we all actually did that at one time. You could virtualize them on 20 individual servers, or run them all in a shared cluster of maybe 10 servers. Your cost-to-serve drops dramatically as you push... Continue reading
Posted Sep 25, 2015 at Chuck's Blog
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Enterprise IT is a tough job for most practitioners. The list of things that need to be done never stops growing, and resources are always constrained. Distractions don't help, and there are no shortage of these it seems. One of the biggest IT distractions I've witnessed -- and perhaps most damaging -- has been what I call "cloud envy". Maybe call it "Google envy" "Amazon envy" or perhaps "Facebook envy"? The symptoms are always the same. Folks in IT leadership become enamored with what these web-scale companies are doing with their clouds. They may even visit with them, take the data center tour, all that. They are inevitably dazzled by the experience. They come away thinking, "hey, maybe we could do that too!". Much time and effort is then lost chasing a dream that isn't right for them: wrong model, wrong motivations, wrong abilities, etc. Precious resources that could have been spent on things that really move the needle get needlessly frittered away on a fantasy that can't -- and shouldn't -- happen. We Are Who We Are I've always been impressed by the time and dedication it takes to be a professional ballet dancer. It's not for everyone. There... Continue reading
Posted Sep 21, 2015 at Chuck's Blog
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When I announced that I was leaving EMC and VMware to join Oracle, the reaction was interesting to say the least. There was a certain crowd that thought I’d be part of the EMC Federation forever. There was another crowd that couldn’t truly believe I’d join Oracle, and enthusiastically at that. Gratifyingly, there were also plenty of well-wishers -- that was nice! At the time, I really couldn’t go into the reasons why this made such logical sense to me. It had a lot to do with what I was seeing in enterprise IT – both on the supply and demand side. When the world changes, you need to change as well. So I did. Obligatory disclaimer: these are entirely my personal views – they have not been reviewed nor approved by my employer. I take full personal responsibility for everything I say here. A Jaundiced View Of Enterprise IT Organizations I’ve enjoyed studying literally thousands of IT organizations from multiple angles. The more I look, the more new patterns emerge. I find it fascinating. I guess I’m easily entertained. One interesting lens is segmentation by the value of the applications they are responsible for. By value, I mean “value... Continue reading
Posted Sep 14, 2015 at Chuck's Blog
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Do-it-yourself always entails a few risks, no? More and more enterprise IT groups are becoming disenchanted with “traditional do-it-yourself” infrastructure assembly. Selecting individual components. Evaluating beyond the data sheet. Testing both standalone and combined. Self-integrating and self-supporting the entire end-to-end result. This hasn't been lost on IT vendors. There’s now a burgeoning category "integrated" solutions intended to lessen that burden and produce more predictable results with less effort -- reference architectures, converged systems, hyperconverged systems and similar. Each of these are attempting to tackle the same ugly reality: do-it-yourself IT infrastructure is losing its appeal. The projects take too long, they cost too much, they sap precious IT resources, they require unique skills and they often produce unpredictable or substandard results. Somewhat uniquely, Oracle has invested heavily in what it calls “engineered systems”. I’ve come to appreciate it’s a completely different take on the broader infrastructure solutions category. If you’re running critical applications — especially those built on Oracle’s database — Oracle's engineered systems deserve your consideration. That being said, I also realize that most IT pros might not be familiar with what an engineered system really is, and how it is fundamentally different than apparently similar offerings. So I... Continue reading
Posted Sep 9, 2015 at Chuck's Blog
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Anyone who knows me well knows that I have been infatuated with all keyboard instruments: pianos, organs, synths, accordions, melodicas -- you name it, I've had my fun with it. However, in the hierarchy, acoustic pianos rule. And within that category, real acoustic grands rule - six feet or better.... Continue reading
Posted Sep 4, 2015 at Late Bloomer
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Yes, I've moved to Oracle to work on infrastructure products and solutions. What I haven't shared yet was my real motivation -- a deep and fundamental shift in my personal perspective of what's really going on in the enterprise IT industry -- and what's happening in enterprise IT shops. For me, when I realize the world has substantially changed, then I inevitably have to make a change in response. That's a decent piece of career advice, by the way. Needless to say, ours is a dynamic industry -- both on the supply side and the demand side. Enterprise IT shops are getting slammed to do more with less. They don't have the time, the money or the people to address even a small fraction of what they could potentially contribute. Worse, they tend to spend far too much time on things that don't create unique value, and far too little time on things that could really move the needle. That's the uncomfortable truth. Enterprise IT vendors are getting slammed as well: the commoditization of IT infrastructure, death-match competition, overly-funded startups running amok, the cloud in all of its many forms, activist investors -- you name it, it's happening. That's another... Continue reading
Posted Sep 1, 2015 at Chuck's Blog
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It’s been a long time since Jake and Elwood got the Blues Brothers back together. Similarly, it’s been a very long time since I’ve worked for Dave Donatelli when I was at EMC. I really enjoyed the experience, and now I have a chance to do it again. Starting August 24th, I’ll be working for Dave, this time at Oracle’s new converged infrastructure group. Yes, I’m excited about the new opportunity. I thought I’d share a few personal thoughts behind my move. The Lure Of A Great Leader Very early in my career, Dave was my boss, my mentor and my friend. We started working together at a time when EMC was essentially a single-product company: Symmetrix. When Symmetrix demand inevitably started to wane, Dave drove the Data General acquisition, which gave EMC the Clariion product line -- the right thing at the right time. It was a critical turning point for EMC. From there, other acquisitions came fast and steady, creating the modern EMC we see today. Even though that period in time was a rough patch for everyone at EMC, I really learned a lot from watching Dave in action. Without that opportunity, I probably wouldn’t be where... Continue reading
Posted Aug 22, 2015 at Chuck's Blog
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Scan any half-dozen vendor pitches, and you come away with the impression that doing enterprise IT isn’t all that difficult. After all, all you have to do is buy/use/implement a few simple things, and the rest is easy, right? Just consider the marketing phrases we’re using: single pane of glass, pushbutton automation, cloud, one click to upgrade, etc. It conjures up the naive picture that in some strange alternate reality, IT admins sit comfy chairs -- idly monitoring a bunch of green lights and occasionally clicking on an icon when needed. Nothing could be further from the truth. While it’s true that enterprise IT is inherently complex — and could certainly be simpler — no one is doing anyone any favors by creating a false impression of the challenges involved. Doing enterprise IT right is hard work, and it means knowing the details. A healthy dose of skepticism doesn't hurt, either ... A Short Digression? I went through an expensive period when I was seriously into home theatre. Amps, pre-amps, multiple video and sound sources, multiple speaker routings, etc. I could make it do exactly what I wanted to. Geek nirvana. But there was a tiny problem — I was... Continue reading
Posted Jul 27, 2015 at Chuck's Blog
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Many of you who follow the going-ons in our little corner of the IT industry may have noticed a continuing dust-up between myself and many Nutanix employees. Competition is generally a good thing for our industry, when done right. Maybe I'm naive, but I think that IT professionals deserve ready access to critical information that could impact their decision. As every IT pro knows, a lot is at stake when you sign that PO for that new thing :) It's funny -- not many folks want to go toe-to-toe against another company in a public forum. For some reason, that isn't a problem for me. I consider it a healthy industry behavior. Since this isn't my first competitive rodeo in the industry, I thought I'd share how I go about being a strong industry competitor when the situation arises. Usually, the trigger is a competitor who is seriously and consistently misrepresenting reality, as I believe the case is here. And getting to the truth can be hard for many IT pros -- so I do want to help. Who knows? For those of you who work at IT vendors, you too might be called to do what I do! #1... Continue reading
Posted Jun 30, 2015 at Chuck's Blog
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What makes us truly happy? One of life's most important questions, no? A group of researchers at Mayo Clinic think they may have the answer: train the mind to focus on positive experiences vs. negative ones. The rationale is simple: we are conditioned by evolution to focus on — and thus avoid — the negatives in our lives vs. celebrating the positives. Although few of us will have the opportunity to partake in their 10 week, four-step program — it made me reflect on how I’ve been challenged over the years to crack that code for myself. It wasn’t easy. And I meet so many good people who are trying to be happier. I don't know what will work for them, but I do know what worked for me. The Early Career Years When I got out of school, for me it was all about proving yourself: getting a good job, a good salary, having cool friends, driving a cool car, the latest toys, etc. It seemed to me that everyone had a head start on this life thing, and I was the one playing catch-up. When I eventually got what I thought I wanted, I wasn’t really happy. Life... Continue reading
Posted Jun 17, 2015 at Chuck's Blog
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I naively want to think that things should slow up a bit as we get into the summer months, but no such luck it seems. Between work and life, the pace has been unusually hectic. I've been neglectful in posting recently, as I've been focusing my increasingly scarce writing time on a new VMware company blog ("Virtual Blocks"). Going forward, I'm going to try and keep my day-job product technology stuff over there, and write about broader topics here. We'll see how well I do keeping up on TWO blogs -- yikes!! In case you missed it, a few posts you may find interesting? The Collapse Of Storage VSAN vs. Nutanix Head-to-Head Performance Comparison -- Part 1 VSAN vs. Nutanix Head-to-Head Performance Comparison -- Part 2 VSAN vs. Nutanix Head-to-Head Performance Comparison -- Part 3 VSAN vs. Nutanix Head-to-Head Pricing Comparison -- Why Pay More? Have a great weekend, everyone! Continue reading
Posted Jun 12, 2015 at Chuck's Blog
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In an industry powered by new, shiny things — we’ve got a new one that’s gaining traction: hyperconverged. The basic idea is simple: collapse external storage (and, eventually networking) into a single, software-powered environment that runs on commodity servers. The potential benefit is two-fold: reduced capex through use of commodity server platforms, and reduced opex through less reliance on storage (and network) specialists. The market pundits forecast that this category will continue to grow. VMware plays in multiple ways, but so do a bevy of startups. The realist in me knows that everything has its pros and cons. Enterprise IT is a diverse, complex beast — where does hyperconverged fit, and — most importantly — where does it not? Aggregation Vs. Disaggregation The power of hyperconverged is aggregating previously disparate functions into a single software platform and associated server-based consumption model. One somewhat valid criticism is there’s less ability to independently scale compute, memory and storage. While there is decent ability to vary configurations, the server combined form-factor can be more limiting than the disaggregated alternative. Does this matter? Yes and no. Certain applications can demand a lot more of one or the other. Imagine an archival content app —... Continue reading
Posted Jun 11, 2015 at Chuck's Blog
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If you've read through my stuff, you probably know that I believe that: (a) getting your keyboard amplification right really matters if you want to play in a band, (b) I have historically been a fan of self-powered PA systems for this purpose, and (c) I am a recent convert... Continue reading
Posted May 16, 2015 at Late Bloomer
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Hyperconverged is the latest justifiable buzz-worthy topic in IT. VMware’s software-led approach supports multiple hardware consumption options: from mild to wild — you’re not limited to someone else’s idea of an appliance if that’s not your thing. And I’m really enjoying seeing the creativity from our hardware partners in coming up with clever and unique configurations. The more the better! At EMC World, the Intel team certainly raised the bar on impressive off-the-shelf Virtual SAN configuration — a 32-node all-flash NVMe-capable VSAN configuration that delivers both outrageous performance and substantial capacity in a slick single-rack footprint. Better yet, they splurged for some very cool custom bezel graphics. After all, it’s all about how your equipment looks, right? I tweeted out a picture and a brief description from the show floor. My twitter gang went so crazy commenting and retweeting, I thought I should loop back and share more detail. In particular, I wanted to interview John Hubbard — the cool cat at Intel that put this impressive rig together in very short order. John, tell a bit about yourself and what you do … I’m a network engineer that was asked to test SSDs. My first impression was that it... Continue reading
Posted May 6, 2015 at Chuck's Blog
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You just have to love enterprise IT tech. While much of it can be safely identified as “settled science”, interesting portions predictably morph and evolve quickly at the edges. In my cozy little world, it’s clear that one category is showing obvious signs of splitting cleanly into two completely different beasts that share the same name — software-defined storage. In many ways, this split has very little to do with vendors and technology — and everything to do with how customers are putting the technology to work. The Basics Of SDS I’ve written a lot on the topic — maybe too much! — but I’ve also gotten good at boiling things down to its fundamentals: in this case, the ability to dynamically compose storage services using an API. That's what makes it "software defined". Today, most storage exposes static service levels, and does so on convenient storage boundaries, e.g. a LUN. Under SDS, storage services can be dynamically requested, and are provided on convenient application boundaries, e.g. a VM. That's the big idea, in a nutshell. Note that this definition has little to do with how storage is actually implemented: external arrays, or using software running on servers. And that’s... Continue reading
Posted Apr 28, 2015 at Chuck's Blog