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Chuck Hollis
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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 2 days ago 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
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If you’re going to be part of a band, that means learning new music. If you’re going to be moving between bands on a semi-regular basis, that can mean learning a lot of new music quickly. While it would be nice to leisurely learn a new song every few weeks,... Continue reading
Posted Aug 30, 2014 at Late Bloomer
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Maybe they see me playing in one of my bands. Maybe I’m at a party, there’s alcohol involved, and there’s a piano nearby. Regardless, I frequently get approached by later-in-life people with that burning question: how do I learn to do what you’re doing? It looks like so much fun... Continue reading
Posted Aug 29, 2014 at Late Bloomer
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If you look how an orchestra is organized, you’ll find the piano next to the other percussion instruments: tympani drums, etc. As pianos produce their sound by hammers hitting strings, it makes a certain sense. While I’m always impressed by a piano player whose technique can produce sensuous and melodic,... Continue reading
Posted Aug 29, 2014 at Late Bloomer
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No surprise, I’m out in gorgeous SF for the annual gathering of the vFaithful — VMworld 2014. As before, it’s quite an experience, even for a jaded event veteran like me. Like a desert blooming after a rainstorm, Moscone Center is transformed into a fascinating technology experience, and — then — we wait until next year for it to happen all over again. I’m not capable of giving you a detailed report on everything that happened at VMworld — there’s way too much to cover. Instead, I thought I’d share with you what stood out for me personally. What A Great Place Many of you have been to Las Vegas for big industry events. Let me just say it — San Francisco has its special charms: food, culture, people, weather, scenery, etc. I’m always reminded by what a nice place it can be if you just let it wash over you. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of time to be a tourist. For most people, VMworld is an all-day slog from Sunday through Wednesday, and perhaps Thursday. If you’re involved in IT infrastructure, this is the big show of the year. Yes, it’s about server virtualization. It’s also about networking,... Continue reading
Posted Aug 27, 2014 at Chuck's Blog
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My corner of the IT industry is foisting a new concept on enterprise IT shops: software-defined storage. Supposedly, it’s TNT — the next thing! But we as vendors need to be held accountable for making our case. The existing storage kit seems to be doing the job; why would we need anything radically different? Where’s the big advantage, and — more importantly — is the expected gain worth the trouble? Unless we — as an industry — can make our case for the new technology, it will join the scrap heap of glittery ideas once considered and eventually discarded. But that won’t happen here — at least, that’s what I think. When Will You Hit The Storage Wall? Maybe software-defined storage doesn’t solve an immediate, burning problem for you right now, but — over time — many IT organizations will hit an interesting wall. Some are clearly there already, more are inevitably approaching. Here’s what the "storage wall" looks like: #1 -- Storage capacities continue to grow and grow; fueled by a potent combination of new information types (e.g. big data, IoT, rich content, etc.) and rapidly declining hardware costs. Gigabytes become terabytes and then petabytes and on to exabytes.... Continue reading
Posted Aug 20, 2014 at Chuck's Blog
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"Music is like sex -- it's more fun when you do it with other people" There's only so much fun you can have playing music by yourself. At some point, most of us will venture out and try to join other like-minded musicians to be part of a band. Some... Continue reading
Posted Aug 18, 2014 at Late Bloomer
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As a younger version of my present self, I was supremely confident in what I knew to be true — especially when it came to all things enterprise IT tech. There was generally accepted wisdom about many things; to disagree with certain tenets made people question your expertise. But with age and experience, I realized that many of the “obvious truths” on which I had built my belief system were quickly becoming fallacies. Time for a new religion? No, not really — more of a never-ending appreciation of how the world really works. That means modifying old frameworks, and creating new ones. I often meet younger versions of myself, also supremely confident in their current beliefs. I don’t try and challenge them directly, but I do make the point that “obvious truths” in this business have a very short shelf-life indeed. Enterprise IT Matters Since I’ve spent most of my career working for IT vendors, it was natural for me to assume early on that I was selling to the most important people on earth: enterprise IT organizations. Imagine my disappointment when I started to realize that — in many situations — IT is just another supporting function, like HR,... Continue reading
Posted Aug 18, 2014 at Chuck's Blog
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I have always been a piano player first and foremost. Other keyboardists are all about organ, or synths, or sometimes a Rhodes fan here or there -- but my roots are firmly planted in the sounds of acoustic pianos. I am what I am. It's one thing when you're playing... Continue reading
Posted Aug 17, 2014 at Late Bloomer
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The more I meet different musicians, the more I realize most everyone's motivations for playing are different. Some people aren't quite sure why they do what they do. But if I'm going to be successful at interacting with them -- and making it work musically -- I'll sooner or later... Continue reading
Posted Aug 17, 2014 at Late Bloomer
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No, I didn’t append the word “stupid” to the title of this blog post. I do admit I had a moment of temptation, but then realized that I don’t like demeaning titles, and assume the same for most of you as well. But I will ‘fess up to a certain level of frustration results when discussing advanced IT concepts with my colleagues and customers. The natural temptation is to put whatever’s being discussed on the operating table, and surgically dismembering a big concept into constituent technologies, which are then individually criticized. Frequently, the forest is lost in a critique about individual components of the trees. Can I attempt a big picture? IT consumption continues to balloon exponentially with no end in sight. Between commodity hardware and open source, the traditional ingredients are predictably getting cheaper and cheaper — but not outracing demand, it seems. Which leaves us with a renewed and intense focus on operational efficiency: primarily the effort required to get something done. While new shiny technologies are always interesting, the new lens should be “how does this new thing enable a new operational model?” Because how we do things is becoming much more important than what we use... Continue reading
Posted Aug 4, 2014 at Chuck's Blog
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Many of my VMware colleagues and I are seeing the same thing, time and time again. We’re doing a general update on things VMware — a smorgasbord of different topics. We get to the segment on vCHS — VMware’s vCloud Hybrid Service. Frequently, they either haven’t heard about it, or don’t know much about it. That's an opportunity waiting to happen. Because within 5 minutes, they’ll quickly grasp how a hybrid cloud is different, and how they might use it. Heads nod, light bulbs go off, the discussion gets animated — all that. Given the inherent skepticism of many enterprise IT groups towards All Things Cloud, you might not expect that sort of positive reaction. But true hybrid clouds aren’t like other public cloud services — and that’s what makes them so darn appealing to so many enterprise IT groups. Understanding Hybrid Clouds The vast majority of public cloud services are built from a self-contained perspective. They have their own suite of services, their own management tools, their own processes, their own behaviors, etc. We’ve seen enormous differentiation and maturation over the last several years: and there are many good public cloud services out there to choose from. But no... Continue reading
Posted Jul 30, 2014 at Chuck's Blog
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Several years ago, it became clear to me that the next aspirational model for enterprise IT was “IT as a Service”, or ITaaS. At its core was a simple yet powerful idea: that the core IT operational model should be refashioned around the convenient consumption of IT services. Under the ITaaS model, most everything IT does is now presented as a variable service, marketed to users, with supply driven by the resulting demand. IT becomes the internal service provider of choice. Now, several years later, that once-controversial idea has clearly grown deep roots, with many examples of progressive IT organizations embracing this perspective. Some have made the transition, some are mid-journey, others have yet to begin. The IT world has moved forward. So, it’s fair to ask — what might come next? I have a strong suspicion as to what the next operational model will be. Automation: The Ultimate IT Productivity Lever "Give me a lever long enough, and a fulcrum one which to place it, and I will move the world" -- Archimedes When it comes to continually improving IT productivity, automation is that lever. It's the gift that keeps on giving when it comes to IT outcomes. Progressively... Continue reading
Posted Jul 28, 2014 at Chuck's Blog
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I have the distinct privilege of working closely with VMware’s VSAN team. As a career storage guy, I find VSAN fascinating on many levels: - It’s a bona-fide storage product from a company not known for storage - It’s a 100% software product, uniquely interwoven with the vSphere hypervisor - It doesn’t look or act like a familiar storage array To say there were a few personal worry-bubbles when we took it to market would be an understatement. What would our customers think? How would storage people react to it? Now that the first full quarter is behind us (and largely public information), I can safely declare: VSAN shows every sign of being a winner. The Public Information As part of VMware’s earnings call, VSAN was identified as a “growth product”, also “well exceeded internal plan” and, in a later interview had “over 300 paying customers”. NSX — another growth product which has been out for bit longer — is now at a $100m run rate. Not too bad for VSAN’s first full quarter out. Heck, just getting a mention in the earnings call is a big deal :) But there's more to the story than those sparse tidbits ...... Continue reading
Posted Jul 22, 2014 at Chuck's Blog
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In one corner of our industry, we have a familiar discussion regarding hypervisors, or — more precisely — software-defined compute. In another corner, we have a vigorous debate around software-defined networking. And, closer to home, a completely separate debate around software-defined storage. Shouldn’t they all be aspects of the same discussion? What do we gain by preferring a singular, consistent and integrated view of software-defined disciplines — and what do we lose by considering them individually, using a traditional lens? Let’s Start With Compute … Wrapping your head around software-defined anything can take some serious effort, if my personal experience is any guide. I do what I can to help explain the key ideas, and why they are important. A good starting point for wading into the deep end is our familiar server virtualization — something we all have experience with. Seen through a “software defined” lens, we could better describe it as using application policy to dynamically compose compute services. Here’s an application. Here are the server resources and services I want it to have: memory, vCPUs, HA, priority, etc. I express my desires to the hypervisor using a policy, which then dynamically allocates and manages the resources and... Continue reading
Posted Jul 17, 2014 at Chuck's Blog
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I haven't been keeping up on my usual steady blogging pace recently. Maybe there's an industry lull, maybe it's the warm summer, who knows? In the meantime, I'd like to offer my regular readers a selection of earlier posts that have stood the test of time in terms of broad popularity and relevancy. If you've seen these before, my apologies in advance :) #1 -- Writing A Good Strategy Doc For some reason, Google loves this post. I had no idea it would be this popular -- it's been viewed over 100K times, with hundreds of new views every day. That's a lot for me. I guess there are a great deal of people out there who find themselves in the position of having to do this important task, and they go searching. #2 -- Coaching For Corporate Creatives This one touched a deep nerve in more than a few people, judging by the response. Life isn't always grand when you're a square peg and all you can see is round holes. #3 -- Ten Career Tips I've Learned The Hard Way Pragmatic career coaching is something I've always done when the opportunity presents itself. Here's the essence of my... Continue reading
Posted Jul 16, 2014 at Chuck's Blog
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One of the time-honored rituals in the IT industry is the periodic publishing of Gartner’s Magic Quadrants for different enterprise technology categories. While some inevitably poke fun (e.g. the Mystical Quadrilateral, the Prescient Parallelogram, etc.), most any IT vendor will tell you it’s very serious business indeed. Years of effort are spent trying to painfully nudge our particular dot upwards and to the right. Gartner doesn’t hand out free passes. Once you get your product into a favored position (e.g. one of the leaders), the goal then shifts to create as much distance as you can between your dot and everyone else in your category. This is the fifth year Gartner has recognized VMware as one of the leaders in the hypervisor category. Per Gartner’s rules, vendors can’t claim to be the singular leader, just one of the plural leaders. No shock, Gartner identified two MQ leaders in hypervisor technology: VMware and Microsoft. Fair enough. It wouldn’t do to have just one :) But as I read through the Gartner analysis and criteria for judging, it felt almost historical in nature. How Gartner has historically viewed hypervisor choice — and how I think enterprise IT groups now view hypervisor choice... Continue reading
Posted Jul 15, 2014 at Chuck's Blog
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Complexity is the perpetual bane of enterprise IT groups everywhere. The individual infrastructure components are straightforward enough when considered individually; getting everything to interoperate smoothly is far more burdensome. As hardware prices fall — and IT capacity balloons — the focus has clearly shifted to improved operational efficiency: doing more/faster/better but without adding more people. “Simple” is the new killer app in enterprise IT infrastructure. All three approaches to integrated infrastructure — converged, hyper-converged, hypervisor-converged — have that singular goal in mind: making things simpler. But each approaches the problem in a different way — and with different results. With Best Intentions Most IT infrastructure vendors invest heavily in their products so that they can be used with others: providing external interfaces, testing for interoperability, writing lengthy reference architectures, and so on. But despite best intentions, the resulting environments end up being notoriously difficult to architect, integrate, support and manage efficiently on a day-to-day basis. As Philip K. Dick said “exactly what the powers of hell feed on: the best instincts in man” — a purgatory many IT professionals know well. Form inevitably follows function: look at most traditional IT organizational charts, and you can see familiar server teams, network... Continue reading
Posted Jul 8, 2014 at Chuck's Blog
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In case you missed it: the beta for vSphere "next" is live, available here: It's an open beta -- just about anyone can participate. That's cool. If you're a storage geek like me, you'll find the vVol bits are there, and -- depending on your storage vendor -- you can start to put the new vVol storage management model through its paces. If you're not familiar, more on that here. If you're into VSAN, you'll find the beta of the next version as well. Big fun. For those of you who were worried you had nothing to do during the upcoming holiday weekend in the US, here's your project. My apologies in advance to your families. Continue reading
Posted Jul 1, 2014 at Chuck's Blog
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We humans can be a funny lot. We talk a good game. We speak ardently and intellectually of change, progression, moving things ahead, driving forward, etc. But then entropy sets in: we’re busy, we’re distracted, perhaps politics are in play. Besides, isn’t there a World Cup game that needs watching? Change the circumstance to a crisis footing (or the perception of one), and — all of the sudden — the ball moves much faster down the field, obstacles diminish and magic can often result. Those of us who aspire to be change agents should take ample note of this useful human foible, and always be on the lookout for a good crisis that can be used to advance the agenda. Or, failing that, perhaps fabricate your own. It’s Evolution Not all that long ago (biologically speaking), we were hunter/gatherers who spent most of our days looking for food. Not infrequently, we’d be seen as food by other, larger species. Those of us that could summon deeper abilities on short notice (faster thinking, a quick escape or putting up a good fight) survived to live another day. Genetic selection being what it is, most of us have this ability to “turn... Continue reading
Posted Jun 26, 2014 at Chuck's Blog
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Another unpleasant aspect of our new “information economy”. A promising young start-up (Code Spaces) was held up for ransom by an intruder who broke into their AWS account and took control. The digital kidnapper wanted a payoff, or else … A sad posting says that — basically — all their customer’s data is gone, and they’re done for. That’s it. There’s no coming back for them. Not to mention the pain inflicted on their trusting customers. In a not entirely-unrelated story, in the US, the IRS (the tax agency) is in serious hot water because they can’t produce emails in the context of a congressional investigation. The excuse? The emails were on a personal hard drive (??), which failed, and has long been disposed of. While the IRS is not out of business (after all, they’re a government agency), they’re certainly seriously impacted by the incident, making doing business more difficult. No, I’m not going to try and claim the same with my personal tax records … And with every tragedy, there are lessons to learn. Do You Have A REAL Backup? IT professionals know that a REAL backup is one that’s completely separate and isolated from the original data... Continue reading
Posted Jun 19, 2014 at Chuck's Blog