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Chuck Hollis
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From the time enterprise data centers sprang into existence, we’ve had this burning desire to automate the heck out of them. From early mainframe roots to today’s hybrid cloud, the compulsion never wanes to progressively automate each every aspect of operations. The motivations have been compelling: use fewer people, faster responses, be more efficient, make outcomes more predictable, and make services resilient. But the obstacles have also been considerable: both technological and operational. With the arrival of vSphere 6.0, a nice chunk of new technology has been introduced to help automate perhaps the most difficult part of the data center – storage. It's worth digging into these new storage automation features: why they are needed, how they work, and why they should be seriously considered. Background Automating storage in enterprise data centers is most certainly not a new topic. Heck, it's been around as least as long as I have, and that's a long time :) Despite decades of effort by both vendors and enterprise IT users, effective storage automation still is an elusive goal for so many IT teams. When I'm asked "why is this so darn hard?", here's what I point to: Storage devices had very limited knowledge... Continue reading
Posted Feb 24, 2015 at Chuck's Blog
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In the IT biz, all forms of converged infrastructure are now the rage. Rightfully so: their pre-integrated nature and single-support model eliminates much of the expensive IT drudgery that doesn’t usually create significant value: selecting individual components, integrated them, supporting them, upgrading them, etc. How much easier is it to order a block, brick, node, etc. of IT infrastructure as a single supportable product, and move on to more important matters? A lot easier, it seems ... Reference architectures have been around for ages. I think of them as a blueprints for building a car, and not like buying one. Some assembly required. Useful, yes, but there’s room for more. VCE got the party started years back with Vblocks: pre-integrated virtualized infrastructure, sold and supported as a single product — with their success to be quickly followed by other vendors who saw the same opportunity. A group of smaller vendors took the same idea, but did storage in software vs. requiring an external array, dubbing themselves “hyper-converged”: Nutanix, Simplivity and others. They, too, have seen some success. Last August, VMware got into this market in a big way by introducing EVO:RAIL — an integrated software product that — when combined... Continue reading
Posted Feb 3, 2015 at Chuck's Blog
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As part of the vSphere 6.0 announcement festivities, there’s a substantially updated new version of Virtual SAN 6.0 to consider and evaluate. Big news in the storage world, I think. I have been completely immersed in VSAN for the last six months. It's been great. And now I get to publicly share what’s new and — more importantly — what it means for IT organizations and the broader industry. If there was a prize for the most-controversial storage product of 2014, VSAN would win. In addition to garnering multiple industry awards, it’s significantly changed the industry's storage discussion in so many ways. Before VSAN, shared storage usually meant an external storage array. Now there’s an attractive alternative — using commodity components in your servers, with software built into the world’s most popular hypervisor. While the inevitable “which is better?” debate will continue for many years, one thing is clear: VSAN is now mainstream. This post is a summary of the bigger topics: key concepts, what’s new in 6.0, and a recap of how customers and industry perspective has changed. Over time, I’ll unpack each one in more depth — as there is a *lot* to cover here. The Big Idea... Continue reading
Posted Feb 2, 2015 at Chuck's Blog
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I admit I had my obsession with All Things Cloud back in the day. Like so many others, I found the industry move to cloud fascinating on so many levels: new technology models, new operational models, new application models, new consumption models, etc. I wrote endless, lengthy blog posts attempting to explore every nook and cranny. Even to this day, the topic continues to intrigue me. One of the things I spent much time considering was what I dubbed the "cloud supply chain". As an example, supply chains in the physical world are responsible for transforming raw materials into finished goods we all consume. Every company along the way specializes at what they do best at, and cooperates with others who are good at other things. It's rare when you see a single company responsible for everything from raw materials to customer service. Cloud services should be no different, I thought. Specialized players -- each with different strengths -- could and should combine into supply chains to create more value than any single player alone. Today, VMware's vCloud Air service announced a strategic partnership with Google's Cloud Platform Services. Customers of vCloud Air can now use select Google Cloud Platform... Continue reading
Posted Jan 29, 2015 at Chuck's Blog
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I used to regularly do my list of New Year predictions. My success rate has been reasonable, but this year is different. Why? Because this year, I believe there is one vastly important trend that will begin to drive more change across the IT landscape than all the other possible candidates combined. And that driving force is the 3rd platform — and the new breed of applications it supports. We’ve all been talking about it for a few years. It’s not a contentious discussion, although it's been rather abstract for many. But, in 2015, it shows every sign of getting very real for many more IT groups. The required ingredients are now in place. The spark is beginning to ignite the mixture. And the changes should come very quickly as a result. Like a meteor hitting the earth — the IT world is going to look very different before too long. IT Reality 101 Those of us buried in the trenches can lose sight of a fundamental truth: IT exists solely for the purpose of delivering the applications people want to use. When the desired application model changes, the IT world is forced to change around it. Quite often, you... Continue reading
Posted Jan 6, 2015 at Chuck's Blog
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Just a quick note? Next Tuesday Dec 10th at 12noon eastern, I'll be hosting a webinar entitled "Software-Defined Storage: An Enterprise Architect's Perspective" over on BrightTalk. My goal is simple: share some of the big ideas, and how they're different than the storage we know and love today. Useful for those who haven't wanted to wade through my extended series ... I'll be running through some high-level slides, but what I'm hoping for is that a few of you show up and ask interesting questions. I won't be getting overly technical, unless you want me to ... That's the best part of any presentation :) If this sounds like something you'd like, check out the link here. Continue reading
Posted Dec 4, 2014 at Chuck's Blog
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Yesterday morning, there was an interesting announcement: NetApp’s intent to sell EVO: RAIL bundled/integrated with their FAS storage array products. “Hmm, makes total sense” I thought over my morning coffee. But the level of resulting confusion on the interwebs was exceptional. So I thought I’d share my personal opinions as to what’s going on here, and why I think it makes sense. A Little Background? Our story starts with VSAN (specifically VMware Virtual SAN), a software-only storage product from that is deeply integrated with vSphere. Although many industry-watchers think that VSAN “competes” with other storage product out there (external arrays like NetApp and EMC, software-only products like Scality and ScaleIO), I don’t look at it that way. In my world, products are “competitors” only if they are reasonable alternatives for similar use cases. If I’m looking at hand tools, two different hammers might compete. A hammer and a screwdriver certainly don’t. Anyone who has spent time looking at VSAN comes away with the same impression — it’s a distinctly different storage offering than other alternatives. The only real discussion that remains is around use cases and suitability for specific requirements. The big news at VMworld in August was EVO: RAIL... Continue reading
Posted Dec 4, 2014 at Chuck's Blog
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I suppose I asked for it. Way back when VSAN was introduced, I wrote how its deep integration with the vSphere kernel and software stack gave it some pretty interesting advantages — especially as compared to any storage software that ran in a guest OS. I sparked a bit of a debate, but that's normal :) Well, VMware is not the kind of company that wants to preclude deep, value-added integration with vSphere, so I knew it was only a matter of time until one or more storage software vendors could claim that, yes, they too were “kernel integrated” with vSphere — at least, to some degree. So now I’m in the slightly awkward position of having to dig even deeper into the topic for those that care. The technical distinctions do matter to a certain crowd; everyone else might want to skip this post :) If You’re Doing Storage Software … External storage arrays are well-established entities when it comes to performance, availability, functionality, support model, etc. So what inherent challenges arise when one attempts to translate that known model to software running on generic servers? Quite a few, it turns out … For starters, you’ve got to get... Continue reading
Posted Dec 2, 2014 at Chuck's Blog
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So, yeah, I mostly write about keyboards: playing them, amplifying them, etc. Why would I write a post about a mixer? Well, in most bar bands, someone has to bring the PA and the mixer. And in some of the bands I play in, that lucky guy is me. I... Continue reading
Posted Dec 2, 2014 at Late Bloomer
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I was born in 1959. I guess I have the dubious honor of watching the world change for over half a century. Yes, I could fill several uninteresting pages with the rapid pace of innovation in technology, human health, physics, economics, chemistry, etc. It seems the boundaries of human knowledge continue to expand like a supernova. More interesting to me is how this new world is changing us — as individuals, and as members of society. It’s easy to get caught up in the wave of “now”, and lose sight of how we used to think about the world. But, make no mistake, as we change the world, the world changes us. A Starting Point If I could point to one world-morphing change above all else, it would be the internet — and everything that goes with it: the web, mobile devices, search engines, big data, the proverbial IoT, social media, constant connectivity — the whole online world We all realize the internet is a big deal, but just what is it doing to us personally? Staying Constantly Connected Is A Given I do love staying constantly connected to my family and friends. Huge win. But not all is rosy.... Continue reading
Posted Nov 25, 2014 at Chuck's Blog
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Like so many people in this industry, I can get easily enamored by Big Ideas. Powerfully intoxicating, they take your mind off the day-to-day, and transport you to a different place that might exist in the future. Like a moth to a flame, I’m drawn in — and it takes major willpower to put them down, and move on to something else. Fortunately, I don’t appear to be alone in this regard. Over the course of eight years of blogging and 1200+ blog posts, there are clearly times when I have fallen prey to the seductive power of Big Ideas. I thought it might be fun to go back and ask the question — where are they now? Private Clouds This one goes way back to 2009. It was an interesting time. Virtualization (primary VMware) was clearly on its journey of encapsulating the majority of enterprise workloads. Nick Carr had written “The Big Switch”, which foretold that a world of cheap, limitless computing from public clouds would consume all forms of enterprise computing — a premise I didn’t entirely agree with at the time, and still don’t to this day. Amazon and Microsoft were trying to convince the world that... Continue reading
Posted Nov 13, 2014 at Chuck's Blog
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After finishing university work, I assiduously kept many of my textbooks, thinking they would be incredibly useful at some point in the future. After all, they were so expensive! I was a fool. After the second house move, I tossed them. They were interesting, but certainly not worth lugging around. And nobody wanted them, either. As I reflect back on various chapters in my personal Storage Encyclopedia, I’m realizing that there are vast tranches that are candidates for leaving behind. Yes, many topics were once interesting, but not exactly useful going forward. I suppose that’s progress? On Knowing A Lot About A Topic Most People Find Incredibly Boring When working with colleagues or customers, I’ll often get the comment “gee, you know a lot about this stuff”. I guess I should by now. I’ve spent over twenty years working with just about every aspect of storage — from the underlying technologies and their supply chains, to macroeconomic consumption patterns and operational models and the structure of the overall storage industry. With a whole lot in-between. I never set out to be an expert in anything, but I guess that sort of happened along the way. It's not very useful at... Continue reading
Posted Nov 7, 2014 at Chuck's Blog
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I had a bit of fun last week, commenting on Nigel Poulton’s blog post discussing this topic, among others. What I really enjoyed was the polite but vivacious discussion that emerged in the comments. For the most part, people were disagreeing without being disagreeable. How civil. That being said, I tend to reflect on things after the fact. I came to the conclusion that it was an incomplete discussion on several levels. If you’re not into storage stuff, perhaps this would be a good post to skip. A friendly reminder: everything in this blog represents my personal opinion, and is not reviewed nor approved by employer. Or anyone else for that matter. Why Are We Talking About This? If you’re in the world of enterprise IT, storage is a big deal — it’s where all the information lives. Storage in an enterprise IT setting can be costly and difficult to manage. Storage professionals can make a good living by helping IT teams to tame the storage beast so that’s it a bit less unruly. The winds of change are upon us, though. Server designs (and storage software) has matured to the point where it can be seriously considered as an... Continue reading
Posted Oct 30, 2014 at Chuck's Blog
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OK, I’m a sucker for cool words. Especially when they neatly summarize a very complex and nuanced discussion. I heard this one being used at one of our internal VMware meetings, and it rang like a bell in my brain. I’ll reserve the right to give credit where credit is due when I track down the original source. Hybrid — as in hybrid clouds. “-icity” — a measure of degree, as in “elasticity”. Hybridicity: a measure of just how hybrid is a particular cloud computing environment. In this context, more hybridicity is better than less hybridicity. If we’re going to see more mainstream adoption of public cloud services by enterprise IT groups, I believe the core argument is going to be around hybridicity — how much, what kind, how good? Standard Experiences Matter I travel a lot, and I frequently rent a car. Fortunately for me, driving a car rented from vendor A is remarkably similar to driving a car rented from vendor B. The control surfaces are the same. The behaviors are the same. And, if something should go wrong, my problem resolution process is the same. Not to belabor the point, but imagine if every car rental agency... Continue reading
Posted Oct 29, 2014 at Chuck's Blog
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As keyboard players, we spend endless time obsessing over our choice of instrument: sounds, keybed feel, upgradeability, weight, etc. Many of us also spend a great deal of time obsessing over our amplifcation -- and for good reason: that's the link between our instrument and the audience. In the world... Continue reading
Posted Oct 28, 2014 at Late Bloomer
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The enterprise IT model is changing fast: IT now strives to become the internal service provider of choice, offering an attractive portfolio of services that are convenient for the business to consume. This transformation should not be a revelation to anyone. All of the sudden, IT starts to look more like modern manufacturing, and less of a project-oriented crafts guild. As anyone who has run a good-sized business will know, it’s all about “the numbers”: how much, how good, how fast, etc. You wouldn’t try to run a business without good financial instrumentation — and the same is quickly becoming true for many progressive IT shops. But the question comes up — what tools exist that do all of this? I’d like take you on a quick tour through VMware’s vRealize Business offering. I think is one of the many “hidden gems” in the VMware portfolio. It offers a surprisingly rich suite of ITBM (IT Business Management) functionality that’s becoming essential in modern IT environments — and stands head-and-shoulders above many alternatives. Say what you want about bean-counters: money matters. Why This Is Becoming More Important When IT didn’t have to move fast, its business management tools didn’t have to... Continue reading
Posted Oct 15, 2014 at Chuck's Blog
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In our increasingly digital world, sometimes there is no substitute for the Real Thing. As a keyboard player, there are all sorts of great digital analogs of real pianos: stage pianos, software pianos that run on your laptop, etc. Amazing technology -- good sounding, infinitely adjustable, etc. If someone was... Continue reading
Posted Oct 12, 2014 at Late Bloomer
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One of the more fascinating efforts across the EMC Federation (EMC II, VMware and Pivotal) is the substantial investment behind what is now known as Federation Solutions Like many of you, I have developed a natural skepticism of just about anything branded a “solution”, as so many are just marketing wrappers for familiar technologies. This time, though, it appears to be quite different — there’s real engineering at work here, pointed at real heavy-duty challenges. Once you wade into the gory details, there’s a lot to like. The New IT Agenda The rationale for Federation Solutions is based on the presumption that most enterprise IT organizations will have to field 5 new capabilities in the near future. None of these should be a surprise to anyone. 1) Mobility — provide access to all applications and data through mobile devices 2) Apps — use agile development to build new customer-centric applications 3) Big data — build a business data lake to deliver insights using all available data 4) Infrastructure — move to a software-defined data center (SDDC) infrastructure, expand to hybrid cloud 5) Security — use adaptive, data-driven security to rapidly respond to emerging threats Any one of these is a... Continue reading
Posted Oct 9, 2014 at Chuck's Blog
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The news over the weekend that HP was splitting into two separate businesses made me deeply ruminate over the future of the IT industry — helped along by a few adult beverages. At one level, one could simply say that this is the familiar changing-of-the-guard in the IT business: larger companies with familiar business models being overtaken by smaller and more nimble upstarts. But I think there’s more going on here that meets the eye. When I talk about the future of the IT industry with my colleagues and customers, there's all sorts of theories about what's happening, and why. And, yes, I do have my opinions. Theory #1 — Startups Are Eating The Established Player’s Lunches There’s something many people find exciting about following the startup scene. Me, not so much. It’s like the lottery: many play, few win. In my little corner of the IT world (e.g. storage), we’ve seen all manner of new startups in the last few years. The insider consensus is that supply exceeds demand: the market doesn’t need that many new storage players, so there will be winners and losers. Some seem to be competing on how fast they can burn cash. Too much... Continue reading
Posted Oct 6, 2014 at Chuck's Blog
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Navigating a typical career isn’t easy. Your interests aren’t always aligned with everyone else’s: your employer, your manager, your co-workers, etc. Give in to external pressure, and you can end up miserable before long. Take a strong, independent stand, and everyone will likely be unhappy with you before long. So how do you navigate that quintessential win-win? That’s how I see mentoring: helping good people craft their approach to getting what they want out of their career. The advantages for those being mentored are substantial: an impartial perspective, good advice, new connections, and honest feedback. But being a mentor for others also has its rewards, often unappreciated by many. I’ve had the good fortune of being mentored, and being a mentor. I’d recommend both for just about anyone so inclined. On Being Mentored Much has been written on this topic. Some of it is good advice, and some of it is completely unrealistic based on my experience. Not every senior person can be a decent mentor, it demands a specific profile which isn’t exactly common. And not every person who fits the profile has the time or interest in being a mentor. One frequent error I see is people aiming... Continue reading
Posted Sep 25, 2014 at Chuck's Blog
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A memo from Captain Obvious: flash continues to change how we think about storage. For me, the party started way back in 2008 when EMC introduced an enterprise-grade flash drive for Symmetrix. Fast forward to 2014, and the party is still rocking strong … Up to now, most of my customer discussions have been how to best use flash with precision: surgical strikes on key areas where IO response times are a problem. The approach makes a certain sense: flash drives are more expensive than the magnetic spinning variety. But in the last six months, it’s not unusual to meet a customer that sees themselves going “all flash” either now, or before too long. The mindset has clearly begun to shift from "use flash to manage performance problems" to "use flash as the default". We're not talking exotic use cases, it's showing up in bread-and-butter enterprise IT settings. And the motivations are quite interesting. The Basics Of Flash If we’re going to over-simplify, it’s all about the need for speed. Yes, flash capacity is more expensive than disk capacity. But when it comes to performance, it’s an outright bargain. For most IO profiles, flash drives clearly offer more performance bang-for-buck... Continue reading
Posted Sep 16, 2014 at Chuck's Blog
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If you’re a server manufacturer, you’re playing a very demanding game. There’s a never-ending parade of new technologies you’ve got to rapidly adopt. Customers expect both flawless execution as well as steadily declining prices. And you’ve got some pretty aggressive competitors as well :) You’re also paying attention to shifting workload demands from your customers. As I track the various server vendor announcements, I couldn’t help but notice a pronounced shift towards designs that are obviously intended to be used as part of a storage or database farm. Looks like the pendulum is swinging — again. Differentiating Terms Here, we’re discussing software-based storage (vs. software-defined storage). The distinction is important: software-based storage is anything that doesn’t prefer specialized external storage hardware, e.g. designed to run on industry-standard servers. In this category should be software-based storage products (VSAN, Nexenta, ScaleIO, Scality, Maxta, etc.) as well as HDFS (basically a storage system for big data) as well as the newer databases, etc. Any software that stores and retrieves data, provides persistence and protection, etc. would be part of this discussion. Indeed, even IDC -- the scorekeeper of the storage biz -- has introduced a new tracking category: software-defined storage platform, or SDS-P.... Continue reading
Posted Sep 9, 2014 at Chuck's Blog
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For those of you interested in software-defined storage, I wanted to point you to two pieces (written by me) that you might find useful. The first is more of a conversational treatment: if you're interested in SDS, what should you be looking for? It's a quick read, and doesn't require that you be an enterprise architect to follow along. The second is a more exhaustive treatise on SDS from a VMware perspective. It is lengthy, detailed and is aimed at enterprise architects who need to take a multi-year view. It will also give you a sense of some of the areas VMware will be focusing on (both alone and with partners) without getting into roadmap details. At some point, these will be posted on the VMware website -- just wanted to give you all a preview! "Understanding The DNA Of Software-Defined Storage" "The VMware Perspective On Software-Defined Storage" As always: feedback, commentary, criticisms, complaints, etc. -- all welcome! -------------------------------- Like this post? Why not subscribe via email? Continue reading
Posted Sep 4, 2014 at Chuck's Blog
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Browse the various online forums, and you’ll see that a good portion of the discussion is around the merits (or lack thereof) of one keyboard vs. another. Hey, we’re keyboard players — no surprise that we pay a lot of attention to the instruments we play! I could make this... Continue reading
Posted Sep 1, 2014 at Late Bloomer
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So many keyboard players obsess on getting the right keyboard (or perhaps several keyboards!). They spend many thousands of dollars — over and over again — looking for that better sound. These same people then often don’t give all that much thought to their amplification. Maybe they think the sound... Continue reading
Posted Sep 1, 2014 at Late Bloomer