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Chuck Hollis
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Welcome back to an ongoing series, exploring the new world of software-defined storage. If you’d like to catch up, please take a moment to read the previous posts: “Introducing The Software-Defined Storage Series” “Why Software-Defined Storage Matters” “Building The SDS Conceptual Model — Part 1” In the last post, we introduced the notions of applications, their containers -- and policy. We also discussed how policy is interpreted by the control plane, while mediating access to services and providing the required perspective to multiple stakeholders. In this post, we’ll extend our SDS model to discuss data services (snaps, dedupe, etc.) as well as the data plane where data is physically stored and persisted. What Is A Data Service? To briefly recap our SDS model, we started with applications, their containers, and policies attached to each that list specific requirements for each. Policies are interpreted by the control plane, which provisions services needed by the application, mediating access to resources, and providing storage-related views to multiple roles within the organization. The next stop on our journey is data services. If I were to attempt a definition, it would be “something that alters the state of storage”. Yes, that’s vague. It’s far easier... Continue reading
Posted 3 days ago at Chuck's Blog
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If we’re going to dig into software-defined storage, we’re going to need a conceptual model — just so we can keep the discussion organized. The particular model I’ll be using for this discussion is the one VMware currently uses. Vendor bias aside, I’ve personally found it the most useful model out there for explaining not only software-defined storage, but exposing important differences as compared to the way things are done today. The model itself is not bound to any specific technology — but you will find many aspects already implemented in VMware’s current product set. And an open invitation: if someone has a better model, please share it! I think of a conceptual model as a precursor to an architectural model. The conceptual model details the functions and how they’d ideally interact; the architectural model instantiates them into a specific set of technologies and use cases. As with any model, you’ll certainly find familiar functions and concepts — but here they are grouped and abstracted in different ways than you might expect. If you’re new to this series — and are willing to do some prep — you might want to read this post and this post. Models Do Matter... Continue reading
Posted 4 days ago at Chuck's Blog
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We live in an information age. All those zettabytes of ones and zeros need to live somewhere. If they are to be of any value, they must be stored, protected and managed. The more information we produce, consume — and depend on — the more storage matters. This was true twenty years ago; it will be true twenty years hence. At the same time, it appears that software is eating our world: extending the power of human intellect in ways that continually surprise us — now often powered by the avalanche of information we are creating about ourselves and the world around us. In particular, software is transforming how we think about data centers: the technologies and operating principles that enable us to produce, consume and act on information quickly and efficiently. Software is inevitably changing core data center technologies — compute, network and storage — both individually and how they work together. I believe this is what makes software-defined storage an interesting and relevant question for IT architects: how can we use software to become far better at storing, protecting and managing information? These people are thinking about the future, and what it might bring. The Expanding Digital Universe... Continue reading
Posted 4 days ago at Chuck's Blog
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If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know my story: I’m a storage geek at heart, I work for VMware, and I think the next big phase of this industry is software-defined storage. While I’ve written more than a few posts on the topic, I think I haven’t done justice to an important (yet complex!) set of concepts that promise to forever change the way we store, protect and manage information. As far as I can tell, there’s a noticeable void. I have yet to find a suitably weighty or thorough discussion on software-defined storage that satisfies. I never complain without proposing a solution: my goal is to to create a series of discussions that goes much deeper than what I’ve seen out there. My hope is that you will find it suitably satisfying. As I work through the outline, it’s clear I’ll be speaking to those of an architectural bent: enterprise architects, cloud architects, and the like. These are the people who weigh the impact of big technology ideas, and find ways to pragmatically introduce the best of them into their environments. My purpose is not only to share and educate, but also to discuss and debate... Continue reading
Posted 4 days ago at Chuck's Blog
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I think the announcement of VMware's new vCHS disaster recovery service deserves some extra attention. One reason is that I work in the same group that built the product, so of course I want to share some love. But there’s more: having been in the DR and BC space for a l-o-o-o-n-g time, I think the new vCHS RaaS (recovery as a service) brings something comparatively new to the table. And, more broadly, this new service clearly reflects the distinctive vCHS “works the way you do” philosophy. All good. I can see three use cases for vCHS - DR. The obvious one is as a net-new solution for important applications that should be protected, but aren’t. There’s another market out there with folks who aren’t happy with what they’ve already got for remote recovery (costs, complexity, etc.) And there’s a third great use case around tertiary protection in addition to an existing remote recovery solution. My Sordid History With Disaster Recovery — And Business Continuity When I first came to EMC in 1994, the engineers were working on a very cool new product: SRDF — the Symmetrix Remote Data Facility. We let the engineers choose the product names back then,... Continue reading
Posted 4 days ago at Chuck's Blog
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One aspect of our industry that I find especially annoying is the "pay-to-say" analyst model. The usual scenario is that one vendor wants to discredit one or more other vendors to make themselves look better. They contract with a freelance analyst, who hopefully brings more expertise and the appearance of independence to the table. The few analysts who use this model fiercely brand themselves "independent", perhaps in the sense that they are not affiliated with one of the big name industry analyst firms. I guess by the same standard my lawyer is "independent", but I certainly pay for results! Shortly after VMware announced VSAN's general availability, George Crump and Colm Keegan of Storage Swiss published a short piece entitled "The Problems With Server Side Storage, Like VSAN", which appears to be sponsored by GridStore. Despite taking substantial criticism from many IT practitioners in a number of forums, George has stubbornly defended his statements, encouraging those who object to offer up a "professional response". I find myself doing so reluctantly: weighing the need to correct many of George's and Colm's erroneous statements vs. giving unwarranted attention where none is deserved. All of my responses are based on widely published information; a... Continue reading
Posted Apr 8, 2014 at Chuck's Blog
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The recent price cutting from the big public cloud vendors (Google, Amazon, Microsoft) has re-energized the familiar debate about which is more cost-effective: using a public cloud service, or doing it yourself? While any intelligent answer involves a healthy amount of “it depends”, I found myself thinking about another time and place — where we as an industry were debating the merits of outsourcing vs. keeping IT operations in-house. Then as now, the primary argument for outsourcing was economic. A lot of people took the bait — but it didn’t always work out well. Of course, things are certainly different in 2014 — but are they all that different? Antecedents Being well over 50 isn't always an advantage in this industry, but you do have the benefit of seeing what's happened in the past. I can’t precisely recall when it started in earnest — maybe ten years ago? — but all of the sudden the notion of outsourcing IT production to specialists became very popular. As I was working for EMC, this was a matter of some concern at the time. Our primary customer engagement model was to work closely with enterprise IT groups to design and implement rather sophisticated... Continue reading
Posted Apr 1, 2014 at Chuck's Blog
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The positive response to one of my recent blog posts ("A Look In The Mirror: Are You Creative?") made me suddenly aware that there are quite a few folks out there who feel challenged in bridging the gap between their personal creativity and the normal corporate ethos. If this is you, I know it can be unpleasant at times. You feel frustrated. You doubt yourself. You wonder if it's you, or them. We invest heavily in our jobs and careers, and we would like more from the investment than our paycheck. We want very much to make meaningful contributions, and hopefully be recognized for those contributions. I meet these people across many professions: technical, legal, healthcare, teachers, etc. I've learned to recognize them quickly. But how to go about bridging that gap between creativity and consistency? I've been thinking about it, and I've come up with some guidelines that might help if you're so afflicted. They've worked for me -- they might work for you as well. The Challenge It can be a strange dichotomy in the corporate world. On one hand, so much depends on great execution and rampant standardization. Certain processes simply have to function well -- and... Continue reading
Posted Mar 27, 2014 at Chuck's Blog
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With Google’s announcements today at the GCP (Google Cloud Platform) event, the public cloud landscape appears to have dramatically snapped into an entirely new configuration. Google made it clear it fully intends to be the ultimate price aggressor: not only for today, but for the foreseeable future. And Amazon simply matching Google’s stance isn’t as simple as it might sound. Although it’s going to take a while for all the ramifications to be felt, today was certainly a big day in the evolution of the public cloud marketplace. Now we have to figure out what it all means ... The News I won’t cover it here, simply because it’s been covered so well elsewhere, but you should take away two elements. First, Google announced eye-opening reductions in their compute, memory and storage pricing — as well as many of the services that use these basic resources. Second, Google committed to “follow the industry curve” on hardware prices, and continually pass along savings to customers on a regular basis. The first statement is impressive, the second one is stunning. The Meaning Behind The Statements Clearly, Google sees public cloud as a “must win” — most likely not as a standalone business,... Continue reading
Posted Mar 25, 2014 at Chuck's Blog
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Most of my career, I've watched with great interest as tech memes come and go. Like viruses, their eventual success can be measured by their reach. Some stay isolated to small, focused populations. Others break out and dramatically change the way we think about things. Unlike viruses, certain tech memes do much good if they are spread widely. Consider "the web" or "big data" if you will. These powerful ideas transcended the tech world, and eventually redefined how business leaders and policy makers charted their paths forward. When it comes to "software defined" anything, I often feel that we as technologists haven't successfully made our case to those outside the technology world. There are very powerful ideas at play here, with the clear potential to change how we think about things going forward. But to bring about that positive change, we're going to have to get much better at infecting others :) What Makes For A Successful Organization? One popular theory is the corporations and organizations compete through expertise -- know-how, if you will. They know their subject matter, and can apply it in a variety of ways across many domains. So much of corporate activity can be traced directly... Continue reading
Posted Mar 24, 2014 at Chuck's Blog
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Last night, I came across a very insightful post: “18 Things Highly Creative People Do Differently”. If you see yourself as creative, or endeavoring to be more creative, it’s certainly worth your time. For me, it was incredibly positive reinforcement. Much of the social feedback I get in corporate settings tends to discourage these traits; I now feel somewhat vindicated. Since I work with so many people who also have strong creative tendencies, I thought the list was worth elaborating on — especially for those of us who work in demanding business environments! Why This Resonates With Me So much of corporate life can discourage creativity — it’s all about getting things done, what’s the plan, what’s the status, what do the numbers look like, etc. Interjecting a creative thought or two into the discussion can be seen as distracting — or even disruptive — to the task at hand: finishing the con call on time! I now realize that my need to express my creativity in a corporate setting is one of the reasons I’m such an enthusiastic blogger. There are big ideas out there that I think need to be shared; putting them in blog form allows people... Continue reading
Posted Mar 20, 2014 at Chuck's Blog
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There’s plenty of enthusiasm around VSAN. Many folks are comparing and contrasting what can now be done in the hypervisor vs. familiar storage arrays. And it’s fun to watch the discussion and debates unfold. While the purists might debate theory, most IT shops are far more pragmatic. It can’t be an either-or proposition of one or the other — it has to be both. Besides the obvious fact that IT shops are heavily invested in storage array tech, there are certain things that storage arrays do very well. But at the same time, people are certainly intrigued with VSAN: the performance, the management model, the compelling economics, etc. I’ve started to see a few smart types figure out clever ways to combine VSAN’s strengths with those of external storage arrays — a design pattern I’ve started to dub “VSAN plus”, as in “VSAN plus (insert name of familiar storage array)”. And, from what I can tell so far, it’s a big win-win-win all around. Storage Arrays Do Have Their Strengths It’s hard to argue against the advantages of a modern external storage array. I’ve now spent twenty years in and around them — starting with the very first DG Clariion!... Continue reading
Posted Mar 19, 2014 at Chuck's Blog
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By all that is right and just in the world, advanced automation should be the holy grail of modern enterprise IT. You might expect progressive IT organizations to be investing like crazy in a never-ending race to automate, automate, automate — an arms race that never ends. If that’s happening, I’m not seeing a lot of it. When I talk to enterprise IT organizations, automation is usually on the list of “yeah, we’re working on that too”. This puzzles me. On one hand, there’s ample evidence from many non-IT industries that a continual pattern of heavy investment in automation is required to successfully compete. On the other hand, so few enterprise IT organizations seem to be willing to organize and invest appropriately. Everything exists for a reason, and I think I’ve come up with a handful of reasons why the disparity between opportunity and execution remains so great. For those of you grappling with these issues in your own environments, see if any of these apply to you. The Promise Of Automation There’s a long list of extremely competitive industries that have been fundamentally transformed by successive waves of automation: manufacturing, telecommunications, drug research, financial services, logistics, etc. Look closely,... Continue reading
Posted Mar 11, 2014 at Chuck's Blog
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New storage products rarely generate as much as enthusiasm as we've seen with VSAN. That’s good. But I’ve been dismayed to see industry commentary where VSAN gets arbitrarily lumped in with either (a) a gaggle of software-based storage products, or (b) some of the newer software-clothed-in-hardware products. From my perspective, that’s not ideal. Something important is getting lost in translation. I see strong, relevant architectural differences between VSAN and everything else that’s out there today. Maybe those differences are important to people, maybe not — but the distinctions need to be understood and appreciated to be intelligently debated. So let’s dig in … Background If this whole VSAN thing is new to you, I’ve written a few posts that’ll bring you up to speed. Want to go deeper? There’s a ton of deep technical content out there from bloggers around the world. And there will be a VSAN "special online event" on March 6th. The beta has been long and successful, GA is promised for Q1, which would be before the end of March. The source of the enthusiasm is clear: VSAN is a new kind of storage solution, targeted at a new storage buyer. It establishes a very different... Continue reading
Posted Feb 27, 2014 at Chuck's Blog
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So many IT leaders realize their world is becoming a different place, and fast. You can see it in their faces, hear it in the tone of their voices — almost feel the anxiety. Like most leaders, they often go looking for examples from others who are adjusting well to their new realities. While there is plenty to learn from their peers, I usually counsel that understanding how modern manufacturing has changed (and continues to change!) provides ample lessons and tools about how to think about the modern IT organization. One things for sure, there’s no going back to Kansas anytime soon … A Wealth Of Parallels At a fundamental level, manufacturing is about creating value-add around physical goods. One could make an argument that IT (and computing in general) is about creating value-add around information. Both manufacturing and IT face somewhat similar constraints: the cost of capital, labor, limits in technology, unpredictable demand, long supply chains, and much more. Both find themselves aggressively competing for their customers. Both are continually figuring out their unique value-add: what things do we do for ourselves, and what things do we leave to others to do more efficiently? Both have to continually re-invent... Continue reading
Posted Feb 25, 2014 at Chuck's Blog
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An awkward moment: I’m with a customer group, and someone asks me an innocent question: “so, what’s happening in the storage world these days?”. Gulp! OK, do they really want to know? I give them a choice between the short answer and the long answer. The short answer? A lot is changing, maybe too much. Ready for the longer answer? Once you understand it, you may be sorry you asked :) Why You Should Care Enterprises invest an awful lot in storage technology, the rough cut is about $30B annually in hardware alone. I think that’s a low number — we have to consider software, services and the all-important investment in skills, people and processes to make it all work usefully. That money invested in storage technology is intended to last a long time: a minimum of 3 years, with longer periods not unusual. So the technology decisions people are making today will be used through 2017, or longer. The considerable investment in processes and skills around the technology, even longer. I'm empathetic: given the rate of change that’s now in play, making “safe” bets with that sort of time horizon is becoming an increasingly difficult challenge. This makes things... Continue reading
Posted Feb 19, 2014 at Chuck's Blog
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For those of you who managed to stay awake in your Economics class, you’ll recall that — between inflation and deflation — the latter is thought worse, and is associated with economic depressions. During deflationary periods, prices for goods fall at such a rate that consumer behavior changes. Why buy something today when it’s virtually certain that its price will fall tomorrow? There’s now a strong economic disincentive to carry any inventory at all — defer purchases as much as possible, and buy only what you need when you absolutely need it. While it’s true that I now work for VMware, I came from the storage hardware business. I scrutinize analyst reports, earnings announcements, etc. And I think I could construct a plausible argument that we are in a sustained deflationary period for storage capacity: disks and arrays. If that’s true, there are plenty of implications all around … Understanding Deflation If you were buying home computers during the previous decade, you know what this is all about. You’d buy the latest-greatest desktop technology, and — no sooner than you got it up and running — that something newer, faster, better (and cheaper!) was just reaching the marketplace. You felt... Continue reading
Posted Feb 13, 2014 at Chuck's Blog
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In our clubby storage-meets-virtualization world, few new products have generated as much excitement as VSAN: VMware’s Virtual SAN. As part of the VMware PEX (Partner EXchange) keynotes this week, VMware’s new CTO Ben Fathi shared a fairly detailed “status update” on VSAN, ahead of general availability. I thought I’d recap what Ben shared publicly — in case you weren’t at PEX, or maybe you’re just wondering what all the fuss might be about :) The Basics This slide provides a good first-approximation of what VSAN does. It’s storage software that makes internally-attached server storage into a shared, protected storage pool. Unlike other software-only storage solutions, it doesn’t suffer the inefficiencies and complexities associated with running in a dedicated VM: VSAN is fully integrated with the vSphere kernel and all that it implies — more on that later. VMware is describing this architecture as "hypervisor-converged" -- and I think it's a useful distinction. VSAN will be sold as a standalone product. As we’ll see, it has surprisingly good performance in its current form. It competes well on CAPEX, and does exceptionally well on OPEX thanks to its app-centric policy-based management model. And — as everyone comments — it’s dead simple to... Continue reading
Posted Feb 11, 2014 at Chuck's Blog
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Nobody moves to New England for the weather. I certainly didn’t. There’s a joke here that New England has four main seasons: 1) waiting for snow 2) snow 3) recovering from snow 4) road construction When I speak to my friends who work in enterprise IT settings, it seems the same thing is becoming true. It looks like there are four predictable seasons: 1) planning for a re-org 2) re-organizing 3) recovering from a re-org 4) actually doing work If you think about it, this represents a somewhat radical culture change over the last few years. IT organizations have historically been stable and predictable, and now most of them seem to be in continual turmoil. Why is this — and what can we expect for the future? This Isn’t Business As Usual In the book “Who Moved My Cheese?”, Dr. Spencer Johnson shares the allegorical tale of mice in a maze who discover their cheese has been moved, and looks at their different coping strategies. I think it’s safe to say that there’s plenty of cheese being moved around in IT organizations these days. Years ago, working in enterprise IT looked like a pretty predictable gig: good pay, mostly regular... Continue reading
Posted Feb 11, 2014 at Chuck's Blog
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I don’t know who originally came up with the meme “infrastructure as code”, but it certainly stuck with me. It’s becoming a given: IT infrastructure is morphing from hardware to software — everything becomes code, everything becomes programmable and orchestrateable. At VMware, we call that set of concepts SDDC — the software-defined data center. But this move to software-defined implies that your traditional IT infrastructure becomes more of a developer’s platform. Your best customers want to do more than configure, they want to code! A few weeks back, the Ecosystem Engineering team at VMware approached me to share what they had been working on: a vastly revised and improved portal for multiple flavors of VMware developers. In its own way, it’s a relatively significant development — especially if you’re heavily invested in VMware technology. The Developer Gap? VMware has grown very fast over the years, and it’s not unexpected to find the occasional gap when you go looking. One of the more worrisome strategic gaps in my view has been VMware’s somewhat haphazard approach to developers: not only software companies trying to develop compatible products, but the growing number of enterprise IT customers who want to write their own #devops-style... Continue reading
Posted Feb 5, 2014 at Chuck's Blog
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One of the tidbits out of Cisco last week was a relatively quiet announcement around their interest in what they've described as "fog computing": think dispersed nodes, internet-of-things, etc. Leaving commentary on their choice of names aside, I found myself drawn in, reviewing all the material in some detail. Why do I find this so interesting? The move from centralized to dispersed architectures is one of those meta-topics that is on many minds, including mine. So much so that I did a fun piece about a year ago ("The Emergence Of Dispersed Clouds") -- one of those way-out-there speculative jaunts where I felt something very new had to emerge to fill a clear gap in the technology landscape. Not to namecheck with buzzwords, but think internet of things, real-time analytics, intelligent sensors everywhere ... I guess Cisco sees the same mega-trends others see. That’s good. But as I went through their materials, it was very clear they saw the world differently than I did. I suppose that’s good as well. The Setup We are entering a world where there is arguably more and cheaper compute (and storage and potential bandwidth) at the edge of networks vs. the core. That's hard... Continue reading
Posted Feb 4, 2014 at Chuck's Blog
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So many different ways to store data these days: SAN, NAS, object, scale-up, scale-out, cloud, software-defined, flash, tape, geo-dispersed, etc. You are forgiven if your head hurts from time to time. It might seem that we in the storage business are intentionally complicating things. Not so -- the reality is that there are so many different use cases that can be optimized. Add to that the inherent noise generated by the current crop of startups, and it all can be distracting. I'm going to make matters worse. I believe the substantial value in storage technology will move up the stack -- away from simply persisting data, and to an entirely different layer: storage data services -- snaps, caching, dedupe, encryption, etc. Up to this point, we've mostly thought of physical storage arrays as providing both: persisting data as well as providing important data services. You couldn't have one without the other. But in the emerging software-defined storage world, these can easily be considered separate functions that can work independently of each other. And that's where it gets interesting. What Brings This About You probably know I work at VMware, mostly focusing on software-defined storage. My core belief is simple: much... Continue reading
Posted Jan 28, 2014 at Chuck's Blog
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One of my favorite books from my youth was Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, published in 1943. Although the writing style is clearly dated by today’s standards, there’s a great plot. The archetypal lead character (Howard Roark) is a struggling architect with a burning vision; willing to toil in obscurity while rejecting conventional wisdom — and paying an enormous personal price to stay true to his vision. The architects of the era were focused on creating buildings with enduring value. Today’s enterprise architects might be seen the modern equivalent: creating the digital “buildings” that we all live and work in. Like the protagonist Roark, the road that enterprise architects must travel can be lonely, with obstacles and challenges at every turn. But when they are able to do their job well, the result can create long-lasting value for the people who employ their services. My Experience With Enterprise Architects I’m realistic here — I’ve worked on the IT vendor side of the business for most of my career. Part of being a successful IT vendor is being able to introduce new technology — and, very often — new architectural models and associated operational models that go with it. If your new... Continue reading
Posted Jan 23, 2014 at Chuck's Blog
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Farmers buy tractors. If you’re in the tractor business, you know a lot about farmers: how they look at the world, what they think is important. Similarly, if you’re in the printing press business, you know a lot about print shops. The same is true with enterprise IT vendors: you know your buyer. Most buying decisions tend to fall along predictable lines: the server team chooses the servers, the database team picks the database, and so on. When it comes to storage, it’s been the same way for as long as I can remember: the storage team makes the recommendation. If you’re in the storage business, you tend to know a lot about storage teams: how they’re organized, what they care about, how they interact with others, etc. But what if a relatively new storage buyer is emerging? One whose orientation is very different than the familiar storage professional? And perhaps not all that interested in the familiar offerings? Present newer concepts around software-defined storage (SDS) to a traditional storage group, and you’ll mostly get polite interest and head-nodding, rarely more. However, repeat that exact same presentation to one of these newer storage buyers, and you’ll likely get substantial interest... Continue reading
Posted Jan 21, 2014 at Chuck's Blog
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It was great to read Wikibon's first take on a new market segment -- "server SANs" -- written by my colleague Stu Miniman (@stu). Of all the various industry analysis available, the Wikibon content regularly does it for me, at least when it comes to storage. Not to mention the attractiveness of their open, collaborative model. While I don't always agree with everything they publish, they consistently play a valuable role in our community. While this particular article makes a great start, I found myself thinking "but what about ... and what about ... and ...". Time for a blog post ... Different Paths To Server SAN There are multiple paths that get us to Wikibon's notion of a "server SAN". One path is simply the motivation of providing a distinct alternative to other models: familiar external storage, simple DAS, hyperscale, cloud, etc. But, to be clear, server SAN is positioned as an alternative to external storage arrays, and not a good fit for cloud, hyperscale, etc. So, according to Wikibon, most enterprise storage users now have an alternative that's becoming worthy of evaluating: newer server SAN solutions, or more familiar external storage arrays. Pretty straightforward. But there's another path... Continue reading
Posted Jan 9, 2014 at Chuck's Blog