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Chuck Hollis
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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 yesterday 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 3 days ago 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 3 days ago 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 4 days ago 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 4 days ago 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
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So many people enamored with the brave new world of web-scale IT. You see them online, at conferences, etc. — brimming with passion, enthusiasm and excitement. I call them the clouderati — their heads are clearly in the clouds. It seems that every few weeks this group brings us a new shiny meme that captures a lot of attention: containers, devops, OpenStack, NoSQL databases, Open Compute — even machine-learning algorithms for energy efficiency. I’m certainly not immune to the attraction. So many innovative concepts to learn about, evaluate, debate, etc. If you’re looking for intellectual stimulation, there’s no shortage. But, in many ways, it’s world unto itself — this world of the clouderati. A shiny bubble, floating over the vast and often grim landscape of real-world enterprise IT. No one is debating the coolness of whatever the latest idea might be; it’s just that it’s not consumable by the vast majority of enterprise IT shops. If it’s not consumable, it’s not particularly interesting to this audience. Judging by many of the conversations I’ve had, I believe that many of these enthusiastic new web-scale tech people might not have a gritty appreciation of the enterprise IT terrain. So, in an effort... Continue reading
Posted Jun 18, 2014 at Chuck's Blog
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I don't usually do much commentary on industry happenings these days, but things do seem to be heating up as of late. It's getting interesting again, especially with regards to all things "cloud". I had a good introduction to the Hindu pantheon at an early age, and I keep thinking of cloud as Shiva The Destroyer -- knocking down the old IT world order, and creating the opportunity for the next. Simply put, cloud changes all three aspects of traditional IT: the technology model, the operational model and the consumption model. Everything we know is being remade, and will be remade again and again. Anyone who claims to have this all figured out is either being presumptive, or is far smarter than I. You can appreciate my fascination :) Private Clouds Are Here To Stay -- And Apparently Growing One of the more vitriolic debates amongst the clouderati has historically been the role of private clouds. There were many who just couldn't grasp why IT organizations weren't getting out of the business of owning IT assets, and instead consume 100% of their IT needs externally. For those of us who've spent their career working with enterprise IT organizations, we know... Continue reading
Posted Jun 11, 2014 at Chuck's Blog
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Anytime a new concept enters the marketplace, the inevitable Definition Wars begin. Understandably, it takes a while for the industry to collectively wrap its head around a consensus perspective regarding a new subject. When it comes to one of my personal hot topics (software-defined storage), I do try to patient, but I fail. I despair as I encounter many of the flaccid definitions currently in vogue. Maybe my standards are too high? Making matters more irritating is the seemingly endless army of chirpy storage marketing types looking to slap a fresh label on familiar products and technologies — inserting even more noise into an already weak signal. In this post, I’m going to resist the temptation to assert a black-and-white definition, and disclaim all others. The reality is that software-defined storage is a cluster of related concepts: some fundamental, others more optional depending on requirements. Depending on your situation, good enough may be good enough. As I walk through the list here, I’d encourage the motivated reader to assemble their own personal list of attributes he/she considers important in their emerging environment. Essential: Programmability Of Behavior If nothing else, software-defined storage should be capable of being entirely under external programmatic... Continue reading
Posted Jun 10, 2014 at Chuck's Blog
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I felt I owed everyone a post about an illustrative incident that happened over the last few days. As we move to more software-based storage stacks, there are some interesting questions arising about the new responsibilities of the various parties involved: software vendors, hardware suppliers, partner and end users. There’s a new model emerging for building storage solutions, and we now have a well-documented example of some of the inevitable bumps along the way. What Happened Last Saturday morning, as I was drinking my morning coffee, I saw that Twitter had a number of tweets referring to a formidably titled Reddit post “My VSAN Nightmare”. Lovely, I thought. What I found was a well-documented story of what happened when Jason Gill failed over a VSAN node to a new set of disks. It’s worth reading in its entirety here. You can feel his pain. For the TL;DR crowd -- Jason added new hardware as he was replacing a failed server, and the cluster became IO saturated for many hours as it rebuilt unprotected objects. After working through its backlog, the cluster became usable again, with no data loss or corruption. But it was a rough stretch there for a while.... Continue reading
Posted Jun 5, 2014 at Chuck's Blog
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It looks like most decent-sized enterprise IT organizations have either begun their transformation to an IT-as-a-service model, or are well along their path. Maybe it’s sampling bias on my part, but it’s rare these days to meet an IT team who isn’t doing at least something with the concepts. At some point along the way, the quintessential subject of automation emerges as a Really Important Topic. And — sad to say — there is no “automation pill”. A few weeks ago, I was asked to share my perspective on the different “cloud automation” packages that are out there. As a VMware employee, I would have been quite justified in singing the praises of vCAC, and dissing all alternatives. But I didn’t take the easy bait. Instead, we got into a great discussion around the desirability of having an “automation philosophy” that could help IT leaders guide their choices and approach. The Setup I see the move to an ITaaS model as I do adolescence: sooner or later, it happens to everyone. Yes, it’s awkward at the beginning, but things do get better as you mature :) With ITaaS, IT refashions itself as the IT service provider of choice, a builder/broker... Continue reading
Posted May 28, 2014 at Chuck's Blog
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When I was seven, I received a men’s wallet as a birthday gift. My parents thought it an important milestone towards growing up, being more responsible, etc. I guess I didn't get that memo, as I was hoping for a slingshot at the time. As I saw the wallet as completely useless, it sat in a drawer for many years gathering dust. Today, I was buying gas. I reached into my wallet to pull out a credit card, and — dang!! — the entire contents fell into the Crevice Of No Return: that slim gap between the driver’s seat and the center console. Down on my knees, fishing out small plastic cards, I became seriously exasperated. And I was once again reminded of how utterly useless a men’s wallet should be in this day and age. Gentlemen, Check Your Wallets If your wallet is like mine, here are the contents: - ID: a Massachusetts driver’s license, my employee ID (photo, name, ID number) - two dozen plastic cards, each with my name and a set of digits encoded - paper currency from a few places, depreciating slowly as all currency does - taxi receipts I haven’t yet expensed — some... Continue reading
Posted May 22, 2014 at Chuck's Blog
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I thought it fitting that I close out this series on software-defined storage with a bit of practical advice for those of you who are intrigued — and motivated — to move in this direction. To be transparent, it would be inaccurate for me to say that there’s a landslide of significant SDS deployments to date. Yet interest is very, very high. That’s to be expected: I remember the early days of cloud, big data, etc. All were once exotic concepts, but all are quite mainstream today. And I’ve met enough architects who have that gleam in their eye to be encouraged :) Let’s Start At The Beginning At the risk of repeating myself endlessly, here’s the quick definition of software-defined storage we've been using: the ability to dynamically compose storage services, aligned on application boundaries, driven by policy Although it's a terse definition, it quickly unpacks into a very large and powerful set of of concepts. Similar definitions can be constructed for software-defined networking, software-defined compute, et. al. Three important disclaimers: Just because storage is implemented in software doesn’t make it software-defined. Just because storage software comes packaged in an array doesn’t mean it can’t be part of a... Continue reading
Posted May 21, 2014 at Chuck's Blog
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Do you recall the classic fable? The master craftsman Daedalus built wings from feathers and wax to escape Crete with his son Icarus. He told Icarus to not fly too close to the sun, as the wax would melt. Icarus — of course — ignored his father's warning and fell to his death. Gravity wins again. Without being unduly over-dramatic, I see the same scene played out countless times for those of us that work as IT vendors. Many of us aspire to be truly consultative to our customers and clients — but the gravity of having to sell specific products and services (with assigned quotas) inevitably drags us down to where we started. If we fly too close to the sun, we can fall very far indeed. But it's somewhat paradoxical: the IT industry is changing fast. Simply having a better widget isn’t any guarantee of success; what really matters is your customers’ ultimate success. And that demands a consultative approach. We often talk the talk, but walking the walk is proving to be much more difficult. Things Are Changing In The IT Biz These days, IT transformation is becoming the norm. The “third platform” (or cloud-mobile if you... Continue reading
Posted May 20, 2014 at Chuck's Blog
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In the early days of cloud, we were beset by competing (and confusing) definitions, often delivered with generous helpings of vitriol and rancor. When it comes to software-defined storage, things are surprisingly genteel: I yet to witness a good #twitpiss on the topic. Maybe it’s too early? As part of this series on SDS, I think it’s worthwhile to share and critique other definitions besides the framework we’ve established here. While there seems to be no shortage of frustratingly shallow marketing pieces that glom onto the term; I have been laboring to find a reasonable alternate framework to compare and contrast. Fortunately, someone sent me a link to a short PDF produced under the auspices of SNIA — the Storage Networking Industry Association. Although it’s only a working draft, it does show that reasonable people can get together and come up with a definition that’s quite different than the one presented here. A Bit Of Background If you’re in storage, you know SNIA has been around for a while. While not exactly a monumental force in shaping the industry, we can thank them for key contributions such as SMI-S, CDMI as well as some great training. As I was reading... Continue reading
Posted May 14, 2014 at Chuck's Blog