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September 02, 2008

SSDs: Placement and Perspective

There has been more news in the recent weeks on SSDs, or more specifically, the entry of more memory-based solutions into the data center. Intel announced some of their plans as part of their developer conference,  IDC has firmly created a category to watch, research, and forecast, and IBM announced Project doubt their way of capturing some of the industry buzz.

Memory in all its shapes and forms is advancing in the datacenter, displacing other media types that are no longer effective in getting the job done. This is a naturally occurring technology cycle that has and will continue well beyond this hype-fueled flash frenzy. But that doesn't stop industry players from promoting and positioning their solutions in ways that appeal to specific audiences. MLC flash for this SLC flash for that, battery backed DRAM for this, phase change memory for that, and the list goes on.

On the placement side, there is a race to own as much of the newfangled media as possible. Here, I'd like to comment on a few inevitable truths:

  1. If you make your livelihood selling servers, then servers are the best place to put all this new memory
  2. If you make your livelihood selling disk arrays, then disk drives and arrays are the best place to put all of this new memory
  3. And if you aim to add new value to the data center in ways that break away and improve upon conventional architectures, then you put it somewhere in between.

End users will have to make up their own mind. We have written extensively on the pros and cons of the various approaches, all of which are valid, but serve different markets, segments, and customers. For a more detailed discussion and perspective, please see Memory in the Data Center - The Series.

August 11, 2008

Data Center In A Container

There has been lots of promotion of the data center in a container concept. Sun was one of the early proponents, and Rackable recently showcased their version at the LinuxWorld Expo.

I believe there is some significance to these configurations behind the basic promotional aspects. By putting a fixed amount of computing resources in a 8x8x40 box, it is very easy to concretely identify the space, power, and cooling requirements. Once you are within a building, it is often much more difficult to isolate those variables.

So even if a company does not buy the "container concept" I bet they are paying close attention to the environmental ratings of the configuration at that scale. Most customers do not buy just one server, or even one rack of servers...they buy multiple racks. The data center in a container concept makes the environmental ratings meaningful at a unit of measure suitable to large data centers.

Following is a super short video tour of Rackable's data center container at the LinuxWorld Expo. Enjoy.

Rackable Data Center in a Container from Gary O on Vimeo.

July 30, 2008

American Idol...Meet the Cloud

Earlier this week HP, Intel, and Yahoo! announced a plan to cooperate on a cloud computing testbed. It appears to me like there is a race to prove who is investing more research into this arena. IBM has already announced a couple of initiatives on this front.

Meanwhile Amazon continues to plow along by offering more and more services (the most recent being the various checkout options).

While there is no doubt that the research efforts are important, here's another idea for the big systems vendors that appear to have tons of money to promote cloud computing...

I think they should hold a business plan contest across the major universities looking for the next great web / cloud computing idea. Once they find it, they should offer to build the infrastructure for free.

Think American Idol meets web entrepreneurship. The contest could generate tons of publicity among the early adopter student crowd. The students could vote on the ideas. Crowdsourcing input on the best idea would give the selected service a head-start in user-adoption and spur the whole effort to get over the early adopter hurdles quickly.

Could be interesting....and in my opinion a lot more fun that a traditional research effort.

July 24, 2008

Avoiding the Summer Doldrums

Summer can often be a slower time for business activity, but this week has seen no shortage of interesting M&A activity.

First, Brocade bought Foundry earlier in the week for $3 billion. Brocade and Foundry were both high-flying startups circa 2000. At one point, Brocade had a $30 billion dollar market cap, and Foundry was also in that zone.

But back in reality world, Brocade (and I suspect Foundry) are both trying to figure out how to stay relevant when Cisco has increasingly been able to get customers to implement "all-Cisco" policies for their network.

As someone heavily involved with promoting Ethernet and IP-based storage solutions many years ago, I'm glad to see that Brocade has finally shed its Fibre Channel centric thinking. Not sure that this signals the end of the Fibre Channel switch quite yet, but it is certainly another nail in the coffin.

Second, Microsoft bought DATAllegro today to boost its capabilities in large-scale data warehousing. We have seen many companies emerge in this market space as the conventional methods of scaling data warehouses have not appeared to keep up with the explosion of data being captured. Knowing the ongoing competition between Microsoft and Oracle, it is no surprise that Microsoft is trying to figure out ways to scale data warehousing solutions with a more economical Windows-centric approach.

Business Intelligence (BI) is a huge market. There will be plenty of room for further activity here in startup land. Companies like Microsoft putting money on the line should only increase the amount of attention focused on BI in general.

July 09, 2008

To Tier or Not to Tier

If you read the previous post on Shedding Tiers, you already know my opinions here. Tiered storage is just one more version of HSM and ILM that is great in concept, but awful in execution.

But the day after we posted this article, I received and email proclaiming the benefits of tiered storage from IBM. I have nothing against IBM, and think they do a fine job with their overall solutions.


But I also saw this from another email newsletter:

ILM seems to be MIA, but why?

It is clear we are far from a consensus here. We'll see how it plays out...

July 08, 2008

Shedding Tiers - Feature in CTR

Computer Technology Review just posted an article we contributed titled: Shedding Tiers - Creating a Simpler, More Manageable Storage Infrastructure.

First there was HSM (hierarchical storage management), then there was ILM (information lifecycle management), now their is tiered storage.

One thing we've failed to recognize as an industry is that while segmenting storage into different tiers might appear like an advantageous move economically, it is often more trouble than it is worth management-wise.

Put another way, more buckets don't necessarily make organizing any easier, and they can often make it more complicated.

Check out the full article for more details.

June 25, 2008

Super Structure

The GigaOM team hit the conference scene with a bang by hosting the Structure08 conference today. Here's a few things I enjoyed.

  • The speaker roster and attendee list were top notch.
  • The panels covered pertinent topics on the challenges of building web scale applications.
  • It was a one day, one track conference. Densely packed and too the point.
  • Coverage of the infrastructure supporting the boom in cloud computing applications is long overdue, as evidenced by the sell out crowd.

They have put practically the entire conference online. Best place to start might be the list of Live Coverage of Structure08.

June 20, 2008

Beyond the Component View

There is more news on the SSD front as SearchStorage reports that EMC will introduce another direct-attached memory solution by placing SSD drives within their Clariion arrays. This is similar to the announcement earlier this year that they would make SSD drives available in their high-end Symmetrix arrays. Back then we wrote a series of blog posts about that announcement including:

Just about every major vendor has announced some type of solution to add more memory to their systems. This is an inevitable result of growing application needs and the demand for greater performance. Sun, NetApp and others have all made noise about incorporating more memory into their server and storage systems.

Recently we added another video to our blog on Caching as a Network Service to showcase some of the deployment differences of a number of these solutions.

The great news is that more options for deploying memory in the data center are becoming available, and the component choices only assist in helping customers design effective solutions.

However, the wave of memory-based solutions goes far beyond the introduction of another type of SSD component. It is important that editors and analysts covering this new category of solutions keep an architectural perspective about how memory is being deployed, compared to the just looking at the component view.

The tricky part is that SSDs have been around for over 30 years. Since then there have been a whole wave of new memory-based solutions (many which make use of SSDs) that can reside within servers, within the network, or within the subsystem. In each of these areas, the deployment model be quite different. Sometimes memory will be deployed as a persistent media, often it will be deployed to assist and complement a persistent disk-based infrastructure.

Whichever the case, it is critical that we graduate from component-level coverage to system-level coverage.Our series on Memory in the Data Center is a great resource to get started.

June 18, 2008

Cloud Computing Show - Episode 4

Here is The Cloud Computing Show - Episode 4.

Bert Armijo, Senior Vice President of Sales, Marketing and Product Management, 3tera
John Pozadzides, Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer, Layered Technologies

Gary Orenstein, Vice President of Marketing, Gear6
Steve Norall, Chief Technology Officer, TechValidate

Show notes:

Opening and Introductions

Hot Topics in the Cloud

    -EMC World (Mozy, Hulk & Maui)
    -why do people feel a need to trash the terminology? (see Scattered Clouds)
    -does cloud computing signal the end of the SMB market?

Company Introduction and Q&A - 3TERA

Company Introduction and Q&A - LAYERED TECHNOLOGIES

Overview and Q&A on Collaboration between 3tera and Layered Technologies

June 13, 2008

Cloud Computing Show - Episode 3

We caught up with Robin Harris from StorageMojo to talk a bit about Cloud Computing, what has to happen for greater adoption of cloud-based services, and what might not make it into the cloud.

As always, Robin has an insightful take on the industry, and the short podcast is definitely worth a listen. Enjoy!

Click here for the Cloud Computing Show - Episode 3