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Chuck Hollis
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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 7 days ago 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
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Over the past few years, news in the United States has extensively featured the activities of ISIS (ISIL?) — which I perceive as a cult brutalizing innocents in the name of religion. Very nasty stuff, to be sure. But the exact same human behavior is extensively quite visibly on the internet every day — albeit without guns and terrorism involved. Political cults. Religious cults. Climate change cults. And so on and so on. Even in our cozy IT world, cults are among us. And it’s not a good thing — for us as individuals, and us as an industry. Cultism In IT? Just to be clear, I fully respect anyone with strong opinions and reasonable arguments to back them up. I often don’t agree (that’s to be expected!), but I fully value their contribution to the discussion, and I fully welcome any opportunity to intelligently debate what's at hand. But — very often — a line is crossed. “You don’t believe”. “You’re not one of us”. “You just don’t get it”. Sometimes, it devolves into personal attacks, questioning motivations, and devaluing individuals just because they don’t agree with you. This is cultism. It is not a pretty thing. It discourages... Continue reading
Posted Apr 23, 2015 at Chuck's Blog
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Well, I certainly gave the hornet’s nest a good, healthy smack with my recent post (“Ten Reasons Why VMware Is Leading The Hyperconverged Market”). Never underestimate the power of a well-written blog post to shake things up :) In addition to hearing from dozens of enraged Nutanix employees, the usual round of pundits are now weighing in with their perspectives as well. Everyone is entitled to their opinions, and there seems to be no shortage of those. Although I do find it interesting that no one has yet attempted to refute any of the facts behind the ten arguments I presented. That's typical in these situations: lots of passionate emotions, very little discussion of the underlying facts. The good news: I did have a chance to have a few great conversations with intelligent, non-partisan folks who said they were thinking differently after reading my thoughts. Thinking differently is always a good thing :) The observation: most strategic technologies in IT put their users on a pathway to something bigger and better. That’s what makes them strategic, no? The basic question: if hyperconverged is truly “strategic”, what bigger and better world should it lead to? Or, is it an end unto... Continue reading
Posted Apr 8, 2015 at Chuck's Blog
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It's that time of year again -- EMC World in Las Vegas May 4-7. Only a month away! In my world, EMC World is absolutely the best show to talk storage in all its different aspects. You meet some pretty amazing people there. For the last two years, we've held small non-disclosure sessions with select folks at the show. We share some of what we're working on, and we get incredibly valuable feedback on key issues we're debating internally. We'd like to do it again ... if you're up for it! So, here's the deal -- if you're way into virtualization and software-defined storage, maybe you'd like to join us? Space is very limited, though. Previous attendees to prior sessions get first priority. This year, we'll be talking about: the current VSAN roadmap 2016 and beyond new proposals on how we manage VSAN ReadyNodes and the VSAN HCL a new software-defined model for data protection and management plans for deeper integration with vCloud Air and a discussion around "cloud native" applications, time permitting We'll be holding three sessions in a suite at the Venetian, near by: Monday, May 4th 3-5 pm (partners only, please) Tuesday, May 5th 3-5 pm (end... Continue reading
Posted Apr 6, 2015 at Chuck's Blog
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Those of you who have followed me over the years know that I’m not shy when it comes to a good competitive dust-up. I’m OK with the usual puffery and slightly exaggerated claims. All part of the fun. I’m not OK when I believe the claims are misleading. One startup is working very hard to convince everyone that they (and they alone) are leading the current trend in HCI — hyperconverged infrastructure. One of their spokespeople even published a thoughtful piece listing the ten reasons why they thought they deserved the “leader” mantle. While I admire their bravado, I felt the piece did a disservice to both the industry and to customers. I thought it grossly misrepresented both the current and future state of the market. Perhaps most importantly, there was little talk about what mattered most to customers. So — while staying positive — I’d like to share my "ten reasons" why I think VMware is leading — and will continue to lead — the hyperconverged marketplace. Why Hyperconverged? If we’re going to have a polite argument, we ought to at least define what we’re discussing. The first wave was “converged” infrastructure: traditional compute, storage and network products engineered... Continue reading
Posted Mar 25, 2015 at Chuck's Blog
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Looking for a great disruption story in enterprise IT tech? I think what VSAN is doing to the established storage industry deserves to be a strong candidate. I've seen disruptions -- small and large -- come and go. If you're into IT infrastructure, this is one worth watching. A few years ago, I moved from EMC to VMware on the power of that prediction. So far, it’s played out pretty much as I had hoped it would. There’s now clearly a new dynamic in the ~$35B storage industry, and VMware’s Virtual SAN is very emblematic of the changes that are now afoot. There’s a lot going on here, so it’s worth sharing. In each case, you’ll see a long-held tenent around The Way Things Have Always Been Done clearly up for grabs. See if you agree? I began this post by making a list of changes — deep, fundamental changes — that VSAN is starting to bring about in the storage world. To be clear, I’m not talking so much about specific technologies, or how this vendor stacks up against that other one. I’m really far more interested in the big-picture changes around fundamental assumptions as to “how storage is... Continue reading
Posted Mar 11, 2015 at Chuck's Blog
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I’ve now done more gigs that I care to count. But, at one time, I was relatively new to all of this. You might be too. At the beginning, I was way too stressed out: equipment, playing my parts, controlling volume, etc. Much easier now, due in large part in... Continue reading
Posted Mar 7, 2015 at Late Bloomer
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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