Wednesday, December 21, 2016

On Disruption

A few months ago, there was an email thread at my employer asking the question if All-Flash Storage was a “disruptive” technology. Disruptive, in the business sense, refers to Clayton Christensen’s definition of the term from his book, “The Innovators’ Dilemma”.

This, from a year ago, Christensen reviews his concept:

What Is Disruptive Innovation?

However, I think this is a narrow, and perhaps obsolete definition. He says Uber is not disruptive, because it did not originate in the low-end or new-market segments. However, while Uber did not disrupt car for hire, it did disrupt the capital model of cars for hire, and it did disrupt the medallion licensing model. Then the article also talks about how Netflix, in its original format (DVDs by mail) attacked an underserved periphery—not the low end, and not a new segment—of the market.

If we use the pure Christensen definition, All-Flash Arrays (AFAs) are not disruptive, but HyperConverged Infrastructure meets the definition. But perhaps we should look more broadly at the definition.

“The Innovator’s Dilemma” is 20 years old. It was written during the Dot-Com boom. Business books are not canonical. If they were there would never be revisions and follow-ons.

I think we need to take a wider view of disruptive technologies. Uber disrupted car for hire capital and licensing models. Driving an Uber is much less expensive than buying a taxi medallion, so the cost of entry was disrupted.

So how does that apply to AFAs? We know cost of IOPS is much lower with AFAs. We also know the costs of sizing and performance management dramatically decrease. One can argue the TCO of AFAs is lower. While AFAs did not enter at the low-end or a new-market segment, it did enter at a periphery, at a market segment (high transactional performance storage) where it offered a lower cost. AFAs disrupted a market segment of the overall frame storage market. Not the Mainframe attach segment, and not the extreme reliability segment, but at the assured high performance segment.

But here is another aspect of AFAs I am seeing—they mandate changes to a customer’s operational model. AFAs were made cost effective in part by using data reduction technologies (deduplication and compression). While there were some hard-drive based storage arrays which leveraged data reduction technologies (NetApp FAS, EMC Celerra, Sun/Oracle ZFS based arrays), these data reduction technologies were not available on high-end frame storage (EMC Symmetrix/DMX/VMAX, HDS USP/VSP, IBM ESS/DS8000). These data reduction technologies worked well for certain workloads: virtual machines benefited from deduplication, and OLTP databases benefited from compression.

This meant AFAs with built-in data reduction, targeting small, peripheral workloads (VDI, high-transaction OLTP), were set up for easy success.

However, at the same time other trends were occurring. To more effectively leverage the expensive high-end frame storage, some DBAs were turning on compression within their database software. Yes, this increased the number of CPUs needed to run the database, and increased their cost, but often DB licensing was a sunk cost. It was also possible to compress at the OS/filesystem level. It was not unusual in organizations where IT departments charged back storage capacity to users, for users to turn on compression in their servers to reduce their chargeback.

The second thing that happened over the last five years has been the fear of a data breach. This has driven the need to encrypt data at rest. While storage arrays offer this capability through Self-Encrypting Drives, encryption boards, or software encryption running on the array’s controller, often enabling storage encryption could only be done after upgrading the storage array to a new model. As a result, turning on encryption at the application level (i.e., the database), at the OS level (encrypting file systems), or at the VM level (using products like HyTrust) was a much faster path to security for many customers. Also, customers were assured only host level encryption ensured data was encrypted “over the wire” in addition to at rest.

The result of either of these technologies is it eliminates ability of the data reduction technology in the storage array to provide any benefit, and it returns the cost per gigabyte of flash storage to what it was with early generation, non-efficient architectures, which ultimately lost out to the AFAs with built-in data reduction.

The only way to benefit from an AFA’s data reduction features are to ensure applications and operating systems are not running host level compression or encryption. It may mean ripping out products like HyTrust and Vormetric. It may mean internal battles with DBAs. It may mean new terms and conditions in internal SLAs and storage chargebacks. The All-Flash Data Center sounds innovative on paper, but implementing it means working across traditional IT divides of applications, servers, security, and storage.

There are some data types which are natively compressed. For example, all the current Microsoft Office file formats are compressed. Additionally, most image files are compressed. Traditional file shares full of PowerPoint files are not going to benefit from AFA data reduction. Generally these workloads have never rated high-performance storage, and because of the lack of reducible data, it will take more time for the cost per gigabyte of All-Flash storage to come down to a point to provide the necessary payback to justify migrating these workloads to flash.

Why did I go down this path? It was to point the potential limits of a disruptive technology. When AFAs were narrowly applied to certain workloads, there was a cost-benefit which accelerated their adoption. When they are applied more broadly, they hit organizational barriers to adoption. Perhaps these barriers mean AFAs do not fit the definition of a disruptive technology. However, in IT I see many “disruptive technologies” which ultimately force significant operational changes on IT organizations. That was true for UNIX, Storage Area Networks, Windows, Linux, and VMware. It will likely be true for All-Flash Storage, Software Defined Networking, and adoption of Cloud Computing.

Friday, October 07, 2016

Why is There Not More Scepticism on Climate Science?

I continue to be surprised at how many people, especially Millennials (who are supposed to be skeptical), take "Climate Change" as gospel, despite evidence of highly questionable, and in some cases fraudulent science, such as the math used in Mann's "Hockey Stick" formula, and other questionable science revealed in the East Anglia email leaks.

Here are the questions I pose to anyone on the topic:
  • What percentage of warming is due to CO2 emissions due to the burning of fossil fuels?
  • What percentage of warming is due to other man-caused reasons?
  • What percentage of warming is due to changes in solar activity?
  • What percentage of warming is due to changes in other natural reasons?

Given observed questionable surface temperature measurement stations, and a noticeable difference in surface station temperatures and atmospheric temperatures, do Climate Scientist's heavy dependence on surface temperature measurements lead to unreliable results?

Source: New study shows half of the global warming in the USA is artificial

Source: 7 questions with John Christy and Roy Spencer: Climate change skeptics for 25 years

Given many Climate Scientists claim solar activity plays no significant role in Climate Change, but other Climate Scientists claim the significant pause in global warming is due to a decline in solar activity, how trustworthy is the climate science regarding solar activity?

Source: New study claims low solar activity caused "the pause" in global temperature – but AGW will return!

Source: Tiny Solar Activity Changes Affect Earth's Climate

Given one can insert random numbers into Michael Mann's equation and still produce a "Hockey Stick" output, how trustworthy should Dr Mann's science be considered?

Source: Michael Crichton - On Michael Mann's Climate Temperature Graph

Given evidence scientist Keith Briffa selectively picked evidence to support his desired outcome, and discarded evidence which did not support his desired outcome, how trustworthy should Dr Briffa's science be considered?

Source: YAD06 – the Most Influential Tree in the World

Given evidence scientist Philip Jones stated he used Michael Mann's "trick" to "hide the decline" of late 20th century cooling to overstate warming in the industrial era, how trustworthy should Dr Jones's science be considered?

Source: Climategate reveals 'the most influential tree in the world'

Source: IPCC and the "Trick"

Given climate scientists refused to allow critical peer review of their research, and only allowed it to be peer-reviewed within their tight circle of fellow climate scientists who believed the same way they did, how trustworthy should their science be considered?

Source: The tribalistic corruption of peer review – the Chris de Freitas incident

Given climate scientists working at government organizations refused FOIA requests for details of their research, how trustworthy should their science be considered?

Source: Climategate: James Hansen Finds Complying with FOIA To Be Too Much of a Burden

So there it is. Why not more skepticism, not that temperatures are rising, but skepticism of the science? I have said repeatedly, Climate Science is a Social Science, not a Physical Science. It is more about computer methods and curated data, and less about measurement. And other Social Science is held to much greater skepticism than Climate Science.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

"True" Private Clouds

Wikibon is talking about "True" Private Clouds. I think their definition is too narrow, and gets into the weeds. It misses the true customer of a "true" private cloud. And there are two customers. The first is the organizational customer that purchases a private cloud. The second is the internal end-consumer of cloud services.

To Wikibon's credit, the definition of "Private Cloud" is an issue that needs to be addressed. In my career I have seen too many organizations overuse the term "Private Cloud". I have seen a VMware cluster deployed on disparate hardware with no upper level cloud management platform called a private cloud. I have seen converged infrastructure, acquired but managed identically to non-converged infrastructure (as discrete components each managed by their functional staff) called private clouds.

Converged infrastructure plays a role in a private cloud, be even that term is challenged. I have seen disparate servers and storage, purchased separately at different times, cobbled together and called converged infrastructure after the fact. I have also seen single-SKU converged infrastructure broken apart, support for component infrastructure separated, and individual components upgraded on different life-cycles.

From an operations perspective, I have seen mature IT organizations in large enterprises provide similar levels of managed services as traditional managed service providers. I have also seen the converged infrastructure single-support model dramatically fail organizational customers, and provide no better single support that that provided by an reseller or managed service provider.

If the goal of a "true" private cloud is to provide a similar level of service offering to internal end-consumers they receive from a public cloud, but with higher levels of compliance and data sovereignty, then much of the detailed requirements Wikibon mentions are not necessary. As long as the organization can provide an offering to internal end-consumers which is competitive (on cost,  ease of consumption, and reliability), it should meet the definition.

Here are what I believe are required of a "True" Private Cloud:
  • Acquired in consolidated units of management, virtualization, compute, network, and storage with common amortization, and common life-cycle management.
  • Components supported as an integrated whole, with a single number, first-call support model, and escalated support abstracted from the internal end-consumer.
  • Compute, storage, network, and virtualization managed as a single entity by a single, cross-functional team.
  • Provisioned and managed via a cloud management platform (CMP).
  • Consumed by internal end-consumer as a shared resource in logical, not physical increments, i.e., VMs and GBs.
  • End-consumer offerings include multiple performance and data protection SLAs.
  • Provides charge-back to internal end-consumers.
  • Provides the Private Cloud operator performance, capacity, and licensing budgeting of the infrastructure; performance metering and capacity measurement to manage over-subcription, prevent over-consumption (especially of performance), and allow for elastic performance and capacity scaling; and provide built-in performance and capacity planning for predictable infrastructure growth.
  • Managed by high IT maturity organizational customer IT staff, or optionally part of a managed services offering  that does not require organizational customer IT staff to manage.
  • Financed to organizational customer either through capital purchase, capital lease, operational lease, capacity lease, or pay-per-use offering.

Some organizational customers will want to capitalize the "True" Private Cloud and manage it themselves. Others will want to basically rent the whole stack to include the software, and have it managed for them. But the common denominator should be how the internal end-consumer consumes the offering. It should look, feel, and cost as much like the public cloud as possible.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

U.S. Cyber Command's Requirements Demand Warrant Officers

Yesterday there was a hearing in front of the House Armed Services Committee, "Outside Perspectives on the Department of Defense Cyber Strategy".

Some of the points brought up were about the personnel management of military cyber warriors. This is a challenge, because "cyber" (BTW, I HATE the term) is both an infrastructure (i.e, IT Infrastructure), and a domain (Information Warfare). It is an area where both warriors and janitors walk, more akin to urban warfare than other historic domains.

Since the late 1980s, the military has treated IT as an area where COTS technologies should rule, to both increase the productivity of the military, and to reduce operating costs. At the same time, the PC and client-server boom of the 1990s drew skilled IT technicians from the military to the higher paying civilian sector.

Through the 1980s, the military, had its own data, uniformed, processing specialists. The father of a high-school friend was a Technical Sergeant in the Air Force and a Burroughs mainframe programmer.  In the 1990s, most of the programming positions were either converted civil service, or outsourced to contractors.

The second wave occurred in the 1990s with the decentralization of IT acquisition, management, and support from central service commands (i.e., Air Force Communications Command) to the local military bases.  This was followed with A-76 studies converting many base level IT jobs to a combination of civil service management and contractor work forces.

The result of all of this is the military lost its uniformed expertise in information technology.

Fast forward to today, and information infrastructure is as much a domain in warfighting as the seas and the air, yet the military is left without the skills in uniform which correlate not only to captains of ships and pilots of airplanes, but also to the technicians, operators, and maintainers. As a result, the military has once again centralized IT acquisition, management, and support, and is once again filling positions with uniformed personnel.

However, IT skills is unique in several ways. They are perishable. Old skill requirements (i.e., Novell NetWare, UNIX) become obsolete and unneeded, and are replaced with new skill requirements (i.e., Windows Server, Linux). To ensure quality, they require validation (i.e., IT Certifcations). Because they are COTS based, they are inexpensive compared to unique military skills. They are fungible and readily transferable to the civilian sector.

Another unique aspect of the military is ab initio training. The military will take someone from high school with the appropriate aptitude, enlist them, and train them up to a level of reasonable, beginners level, productivity. It then will use on the job training and continuing education to build expertise. In the case of an in demand skill set, this creates issues with retention. This is a bigger deal than a military turbine engine mechanic--there are only a handful of airlines needing them. But almost every organization needs a Windows administrator.

Then there are the challenges. The military needs, smart, highly skilled, problem solvers for day to day operation of the IT infrastructure. The military information infrastructure is more likely to be attacked both in peace and in wartime, but rapid recovery is critical in wartime. Poor retention hurts this need. The military needs deeply skilled, highly experienced IT technicians. But the need for operational managers is not that great, so the college educated, commissioned officer corps is not the appropriate career path for an IT technician. Something else is needed.

The military position of Warrant Officer is that of an technical specialist. Historically, the technical expertise came from experience serving in the enlisted corps.  In modern times, the Army uses Warrant Officers as helicopter pilots and trains them to the appropriate level or technical expertise.

Warrant Officers can serve as highly skilled individual contributors or as first level managers. It would seem a perfect career path for an enlisted military IT specialist. Tie it to certifications, and perhaps an Associate Degree, along with a service commitment and a retention bonus.

On the commissioned officer side, the career plan should be more on IT architecture, Information Warfare and advanced academic education. College educated officers would start focusing on both supervisory roles, and architectural roles. Then the focus should be on an advanced degree in the appropriate field of study. From there, moving to an Information Warfighting planning role, followed by the appropriate mid-career professional military education. Cross flow between related fields such as military intelligence would also be appropriate, however, this should be treated with care, as military intelligence often recruits from liberal arts studies such as history, foreign language, and political science. A cross flow program should not disrupt either the military intelligence corps, or the information warfare corps. Finally, the Joint Forces Staff College should create a dedicated Command and Staff school for information warfighters, with the goal of creating cadre of information warfighting leaders for all of the services.

Ultimately, the combination of a cadre of commissioned information warfighting leaders, combined with a corps of highly skilled warrant officer information warfighting specialists, would go a long way towards developing the cyber warrior force our nation requires.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

A Reply to Chris M. Evans' "The NetApp Conundrum"

Storage blogger Chris M. Evans wrote a recent post on LinkedIn entitled "The NetApp Conundrum".

As a NetApp employee, and long-time member of the IT vendor industry, I have provided the following response.

I am having trouble resolving two points you made Chris. One is Data ONTAP is old (23 years, to be exact), and storage architectures only last 20 odd years. The second is clustered Data ONTAP is not Data ONTAP (the 23 year old one), but a new and different product created by merging some of Spinnaker's technology (acquired in 2003), with some of NetApp's technology in 2009. By my math, that makes clustered Data ONTAP six years old, and by your own calculation, it has 14 years of longevity left.

A few other points:

It is impressive HDS VSP's SVOS can run on a laptop. I can run a four-node clustered Data ONTAP cluster on my laptop.

The debate over the HA-Pair construct vs. a multi-node HA construct is an engineering and design debate, based on customer requirements, performance, time to market, predictable failure characteristics, and trade-offs--not ideology or perceived elegance. I would note VMAX engines are failover pairs for the same reason we use failover pairs in clustered Data ONTAP. It is also worth noting EMC changed the cache mirroring approach in Isilon with its Endurant Cache to a logical cache pair construct to maximize performance. Similar to clustered Data ONTAP, EMC XtremIO uses a cluster constructed of failover pairs, and Pure Storage use a failover pair scale up architecture similar to NetApp 7-Mode or EMC VNX.

True scale-out, distributed storage is interesting, but it presents challenges in developing fast, reliable, predictable failover. It is also very difficult to implement highly efficient data protection schemes, such as parity, double/triple-parity, and erasure coding in such an architecture. There is a reason Hadoop clusters, VSAN clusters, and Nutanix clusters use mirroring and triple mirroring for data protection. Nutanix's just announced EC is only for cold data.

What is happening today is almost all of the new all-flash array start-ups (XtremIO, Pure, Kaminario, Whiptail/Cisco, and Nimbus Data), and hybrid array start-ups (Nimble, Tintri, and Tegile), use log-structured filesystems, non-volatile memory and write coalescing, write to free-space, and parity RAID algorithms as the basic underlying technologies for their arrays. These concepts are more than 20 years old. NetApp built WAFL and Data ONTAP on these concepts more than 20 years ago because they worked. And they still work today, especially for NAND flash media. That is why NetApp continues to improve and develop Data ONTAP. Because the alternative to Data ONTAP looks a awful lot like Data ONTAP. Don't take my word for it--just look at the recent hybrid and all-flash storage players out there.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Thoughts on the HP Split

Too many people equate the PC business side of current HPQ as Compaq, and the enterprise side of current HPQ as the old HP. The truth is the old HP was nearly dead as a enterprise computing products company after spinning out Agilent and before acquiring Compaq. A quick look at HP's current technology portfolio shows much of it came in through acquisition. Much original HP technology has faded away. What is worse is much of HP's acquired technologies have been neglected to atrophy.

All of HP's current x86 server technology is former Compaq technology. The HP c-Class Blade System is a Compaq design which was in the works prior to the acquisition. HP's rack-mount x86 server technology is former Compaq. Engineering for HP x86 servers is done at the former Compaq facility in Houston.

Prior to the Compaq acquisition, HP's x86 server business was struggling to compete with IBM and Compaq's x86 server offerings. HP's x86 servers suffered from product quality issues, and little innovation.

HP's enterprise storage portfolio was a joke prior to the Compaq acquisition. Their organic mid-range system was sub-par, and they relied on an OEM relationship with EMC for their high-end solution.

Through the Compaq acquisition HP acquired the most sophisticated mid-range SAN platform of its time, the Enterprise Virtual Array (EVA). This was developed by Digital's StorageWorks division, which was working on the EVA prior to Compaq's acquiring them.

Within a decade, HP failed to innovate the EVA, and had to acquire 3PAR (and pay three times its market price due to a bidding war with Dell), to reinvigorate its mid-range storage line. HP also acquired LeftHand Network's SMB iSCSI systems to address the low end of its portfolio. HP still relies on an OEM relationship for the high-end, but now with HDS.

HP divested itself of the microprocessor business, ceding its HP-WideWord VLIW design to Intel to become the Itanium EPIC processor.

In the enterprise server space, HP's acquisition of Convex Computer gave it the SuperDome system, which originated as Convex's next generation Exemplar. While HP has iterated and evolved Convex's NUMA interconnect several times, there has been no net-new high-end server design from HP. The SuperDome 2 simply marries the "Convex Exemplar++" interconnect with the Compaq c-Class I/O backplane. And the idea that the coming "x86 SuperDome" will be anything other than a niche system is not going to happen.

In operating systems, other than its "Ignigte" bare-metal provisioning technology, HP-UX has lagged technologically behind Solaris and AIX for two decades now. HP's "innovations" were to OEM Veritas filesystem and volume management technology.

In automation, HP acquired OpsWare, the best technology out there in 2007. But now all of the oxygen in data center automation is being sucked up by either VMware or OpenStack.

HP had an excellent managed services organization (it used to be headquartered here in Atlanta), but this organization was subsumed into whatever is left of the former EDS post acquisition.

So the only organic components of HP I see still having value are the 30% of HP Services which was not part of the EDS acquisition and HP's printing division. Hewlett-Packard Enterprise is little more than a publicly traded private equity fund, a holding company of various technology brands (Tandem/DEC/Compaq/3PAR/OpsWare/EDS), in the mold of CA Technologies. In that way, they are similar to IBM, which also has acquired and failed to maintain many technologies. The difference is, IBM's organic enterprise technology (Mainframe, POWER, DB2, etc.) is aggressively maintained.

I honestly think the HP PC/Printer spin out will never happen as envisioned. Instead, HP will likely sell of HP PC/Printer to a private equity company who seeks the printer division as a cash flow business, and sees the PC division as something they have to buy in order to get the printer business. They will likely sell the PC business to an ODM who seeks a branded entry.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Where was I?

Where was I? It seems everyone is answering this question.

I worked for Sun Microsytems at the time and was in the King and Queen building complex in Atlanta in a sales training class. There were no TVs, so we only go the news via cell phones and the Internet. But the Internet had ground to a halt.. As soon as it happened, I knew it was Bin Laden. I was convinced Bin Laden (not Iranian Hezbollah) was behind the Khobar Towers bombing, which killed five of my 71st Rescue Squadron mates in 1996. I felt it odd to be explaining Bin Laden (who I described that day as the closest thing to a James Bond super villain who actually existed on this earth), continuance of government, and SCATANA to my coworkers. It was like I was in on everything which was happening and everyone else was blind. Somewhere in there I called my Reserve unit in Alabama and let them know if they needed me I could be ready and down there in four hours.

At some point someone said Sun's New York sales office was in the World Trade Center (floors 25 and 26 of the South Tower, the second tower hit, and the first to collapse). That realization changed the dynamic of our class. Within about an hour we got word the entire Sun office evacuated after the North Tower was hit, and everyone in the office made it out safely. Crazily enough, we pressed on with our class. We wandered like zombies to HoneyBaked Ham for lunch, came back, and I presented my portion of the training class.

That evening, after a couple of Jack on the Rocks at Joey D's Oak Room with my colleagues, I drove home. On the drive, I called a former 71ster (Darryle Grimes) stationed at the Pentagon. He had been in the Pentagon during the attack, but was far enough away to not actually feel the impact. He told me the Pentagon had gone to 24 hours operations and he had to be back there in a about an hour.

The second thing I remember is I was not able to sleep that night. That is only one of two nights in my adult life I was not able to sleep at all.