Tag Archives: cloud

The technical pathways of Brocade in cloud storage adoption

Brocade isn’t always very forthcoming about what they are working on. Obviously a fair chunk of development and engineering efforts are spent on cloud integration  and enablement of their software and hardware stack into this computing methodology. Acquisitions like Foundry, Vyatta and now Connectem show that the horizon has broadened the views of Brocade. To keep up with the ever increasing demands for network features and functions it makes sense to review the current product lines they have and when you read between the lines you may be able to spot some interesting observations.

Cloud Storage

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Storage in 2013 and beyond.

It’s comes to no surprise that a couple of technologies really struck in 2012. Flash disk drives, and specifically in flash arrays, have gone mainstream. One more technology still clinging on is converged networking and of course Big Data.

Big Data has become such a hype-word that many people have different opinions and descriptions for it. What is basically boils down to is that too many people have too much stuff hanging around which they never clean up or remove. This undeniably causes a huge burden on many IT departments who only have one answer: Add more disks……..

So where do we go from here. There is no denial that exabyte type storage environments become more apparent in many companies and government agencies. The question is what is being done with all these “dead” bytes. Will they even be used again. What is being done to safeguard this information?

Some studies show that the cost of managing this old data outgrows the benefit one could obtain from it. The problem is there are so many really useful and beneficial pieces of data in this enormous pile of bits but none of them are classified and tagged as such. This makes the “delete all” option a no-go but the costs of actually determining what needs to be kept can run side-by-side with keeping it all. We can be fairly certain that neither of the two options can hack it in the long run. Something has to be done to actually harvest the useful information and finally get rid of the old stuff.

The process of classification needs to be via heuristic mathematical deterministics. A mouth full but what it actually means is that every piece of information needs to be tagged with a value. Lets call this value X. This X is generated based upon business requirements related to the type of business we’re actually in. Whilst indexing the entire information base certain words, values, and other pieces of information appear more often than others. These indicators can cause a certain information type to obtain a higher value then others and there ranks higher (ie the X value increases). Of course you can have a multitude of information streams where one is by definition larger and causes data to appear more frequent in which case it rank higher even though the actual business value is not that great whilst you might have a very small project going on that could generate a fair chunk of your annual revenue. To identify those these need to be tagged with a second value called Y. And last but not least we have age. Since all data loses its accuracy and therefore value the data needs to be tagged with a third value called Z.

Based upon these three values we can create 3 dimensional value maps which can be projected on different parts of the organization. This outlines and quantifies where the most valuable data resides and where the most savings can be obtained. This allows for a far more effective process of data elimination and therefore huge cost savings. Different mathematical algorithms already exist however have not been applied in this way and therefore such technologies do not exist yet. Maybe something for someone to pick up. Good luck.

As for the logical parts of the Big Data question in 2013 we will will see a bigger shift towards object based storage. If you go back to one of my first articles you will see that I predicted this shift 6 years ago. Data objects need to get smarter and more intelligent by nature in order to increase value and manageability. By doing this we can think of all sorts of smarts to utilize the information to the fullest extend.

As for the other, more tangible technologies my take on them is as follows.


Flash technology will continue to evolve en price erosion will, at some point, will cause it to compete with normal disks but that is still a year or two away. R&D costs will still have a major burden on the price point of these drives/arrays so as the uptake of flash continues it will level out. Reliability has mostly been tackled by advances in redundancy and cell technology so that argument can be mostly negated. My take on dedicated flash arrays is that these are too limited in their functions and therefore overpriced. The only benefit they provide is performance but that is easily countered by the existing array vendors by adding dedicated flash controllers and optimized internal data-paths in their equipment. The benefit is that these can utilize the same proven functions that have been available for years. One of the most useful and cost-effective is of course auto-tiering which allows to have optimum usage is gives the most bang for your buck.

Converged networking

Well, what can I say. If designed and implemented correctly it just works but many companies are just not ready from a knowledge standpoint to adopt it. There are just too many differentiation in processes, knowledge and many other point which conflicts between the storage and networking folks. The arguments I ventilated in my previous post have still not been countered by anyone and as such my standpoint has not changed. If reliability and uptime is one of your priorities than don’t start with converged networking. Of course there are some exceptions. If for instance use want to buy a Cisco UCP then this system runs converged networking internally from front-to-back but there is not really much than is configurable so the “Oeps” factor is significantly minimized.

Processor and overall system requirements

More and more focus will be placed upon power requirements and companies will be forcing vendors to the extreme to reduce the amount of watts their systems suck from the wall socket. Software developers are strongly encouraged (and that’s an understatement) to sift through their code and check if optimizations can be achieved in this area.


A short look on the techno news sites in 2012 and you’ve probably noticed an increase in court cases were people are held responsible for breaches in confidentiality and  availability of information infrastructures. This will become a real battle with outsourced cloud services in the very near future. Cloud providers like AWS, Rackspace and Microsoft negate all responsibility w.r.t. to service/data-availability and uptime in their terms of use and contracts but just how far can they stretch this? There will be some point in time where courts will hold these provides accountable and you will see a major shift in requirements these providers will put in their infrastructures. All this will of course have significant ramifications on pricing and cloud expectations will have to be adjusted.

Hope you all have a good 2013 and we’ll see if some of these will gain some uptake.


Why convergence still doesn’t work and how you put your business at risk

I browsed through some of the great TechField Day videos and came across the discussion “What is an Ethernet Fabric?” which covered the topic of Brocade’s version of a flat layer 2 Ethernet network based on their proprietary “ether-fabric protocol”. At a certain point the discussion led to the usual “Storage vs. Network” and it still seems there is a lot of mistrust between the two camps. (As rightfully they should. :-))

For the video of the “EtherFabric” discussion you can have a look >>here<<

Convergence between storage en networking has been a wishful thinking ever since parallel SCSI became in it 3rd phase where the command set was separated from the physical infrastructure and became serialised over an “network” protocol called Fibre-Channel.

The biggest problem is not the technical side of the conversion. Numerous options have already been provided which allow multiple protocols being transmitted via other protocols. The SCSI protocol is able to be transmitted via FibreChannelC, TCPIP, iSCSI and even the less advanced protocol ATA can be transferred directly via Ethernet.

One thing that is always forgotten is the intention of which these different networks were created for. Ethernet was developed somewhere in the 70’s by Robert Metcalf at Xerox (yes, the same company who also invented the GUI as we know it today) to be able to have two computers “talk” to each other and exchange information. Along that path the DARPA developed TCP/IP protocol was bolted on top of that to make sure there was some reliability and a more broader spectrum of services including routing etc was made possible. Still the intention has always been to have two computer systems exchange information along a serialised signal.

The storage side of the story is that this has always been developed to be able to talk to peripheral devices and these days the dominant two are SCSI and Ficon (SBCCS over FibreChannel). So lets take SCSI now. Just the acronym already tells you its intent:  Small Computer Systems Interface. It was designed for a parallel bus, 8-bits wide, had a 6 meter distance limitation and could shove data back and forth at 5MB/s. By the nature of the interfaces it was a half-duplex protocol and thus a fair chunk of time was spent on arbitration, select, attention and other phases. At some point in time (parallel) SCSI just ran into brick wall w.r.t. speed, flexibility, performance, distance etc. So the industry came up with the idea to serialise the dataflow of SCSI. In order to do this all protocol standards had to be unlinked from the physical requirements SCSI had always had. This was achieved with SCSI 3. In itself it was nothing new however as of that moment it was possible to bolt SCSI onto a serialised protocol. The only protocols available at that time were Ethernet, token ring, FDDI and some other niche ones. These ware all considered inferior and not fit for the purpose of transporting a channel protocol like SCSI. A reliable, high speed interface was needed and as such FibreChannel was born. Some folks at IBM were working on this new serial transport protocol which had all the characteristics anyone would want in a datacentre. High speed (1Gbit/s, remember Ethernet at that time was stuck at 10Mb/s and token ring at 16Mb/s), both optical and copper interfaces , long distance, reliable (ie no frame drop) and very flexible towards other protocols. This meant that FibreChannel was able to carry other protocols, both channel and network including IP, HIPPI, IPI, SCSI, ATM etc. The FC4 layer was made in such a flexible way that almost any other protocol could easily be mapped onto this layer and have the same functionality and characteristics that made FC the rock solid solution for storage.

So instead of using FC for IP transportation in the datacentre some very influential vendors went the other way around and started to bolt FC on top of Ethernet which resulted in the FCoE standard. So we now have a 3 decade old protocol (SCSI) bolted on top of a 2 decade old protocol (FC) bolted on top of a 4 decade old protocol (Ethernet).

This in al increases the complexity of datacentre design, operations, and troubleshooting time in case something goes wrong. Although you can argue that costs will be reduced due to the fact you only need single CNA’s, switchports etc instead of a combination of HBA’s and NIC’s, but think about the fact you lose that single link. This means you will lose both (storage and network) at the same time. This also means that manageability is reduced to zero and you will to be physically behind the system in order resuscitate it again. (Don’t start you have to have a separate management interface and network because that will totally negate the argument of any financial saving)

Although it might seem that from a topology perspective and the famous “Visio” drawings the design seems more simplified however when you start drawing the logical connections in addition to the configurable steps that are possible with a converged platform you will notice that there is a significant increase in connectivity. 

I’m a support engineer with one of the major storage vendors and I see on a day to day basis the enormous amount of information that comes out of a FibreChannel fabric. Whether it’s related to configuration errors, design issues causing congestion and over-subscription, bugs, network errors on FCIP links and problems with the physical infrastructure. See this in a vertical  way were applications, operating systems, volume managers, file-systems, drivers etc. all the way to the individual array spindle can be of influence of the behaviour of an entire storage network and you’ll see why you do not want to duplicate that by introducing Ethernet networks in the same path as the storage traffic.
I’m also extremely surprised that during the RFE/RFP phase for a new converged infrastructure almost no emphasis is placed on troubleshooting capabilities and knowledge. Companies hardly question themselves if they have enough expertise to manage and troubleshoot such kind of infrastructures. Storage networks are around for over over 15 years now and still I get a huge amount of questions which touch on the most basic knowledge of these networks. Some call themselves SAN engineers however they’ve dealt with this kind of equipment less than 6 months and the only thing that is “engineered” is the day-to-day operations of provisioning LUNs and zones. As soon a zone commit doesn’t work for whatever reason many of them are absolutely clueless and immediate support-cases are opened. Now extrapolate this and include Ethernet networks and converged infrastructures with numerous teams who manage their piece of the pie in a different manner and you will, sooner or later, come to the conclusion that convergence might seem great on paper however there is an enormous amount of effort that goes into a multitude of things spanning many technologies, groups, operational procedures and others I haven’t even touched on. (Security is one of them. Who determines which security policies will be applied on what part of the infrastructure. How will this work on shared and converged networks?)

Does this mean I’m against convergence? No, I think it’s the way to go as was virtualization of storage and OS’es. The problem is that convergence is still in its infancy and many companies who often have a CAPEX driven purchase policy are blind to the operational issues and risks. Many things need to be fleshed out before this becomes real “production ready” and the employees who keep your business-data on a knifes-edge are knowledgeable and confident they master this to the full extent.

My advice for now:

1. Keep networks and storage isolated. This improves spreading of risk, isolates problems and recoverability in case of disasters.
2. Familiarise yourself with these new technologies. Obtain knowledge through training and provide your employees with a lab where they can do stuff. Books and webinars have never been a good replacement for one-on-one instructor led training.
3. Grow towards an organisational model where operations are standardised and each team follows the same principles.
4. Do NOT expect you suppliers to adopt or know these operational procedures. The vendors have thousands of customers and a hospital requires far different methods of operations than an oil company. You are responsible for your infrastructure and nobody else. The support-organisation of you supplier deals with technical problems and they cannot fix your work methods. 
5. Keep in touch with where the market is going. What looks to become mainstream might be obsolete next week. Don’t put your eggs in one basket.

Once more, I’m geek enough to adopt new technologies but some should be avoided. FCoE is one of them at this stage.

Hope this helps a bit in making you decisions.

Comments are welcome.

Erwin van Londen

US Government shoots itself in the foot.

You have to love the Americans. No country in the world has such a diverse range of people from all over the world as they do. The funny thing is you can easily categorise them into classes.

1. The absolute geniuses. These people account around 0.0001 % of the entire population and they are primarily working in some HiTech industries like IT, Aerospace and others where you need some significant time at University or some other area where you need an more than average brain.
2. The Joe Average who has an ordinary job at an office, wife, maybe some kids and leads a regular life with the usual social engagements in sports, etc. They make around 95% of the population.
3. The useless ones. Have no idea what life is about, don’t contribute to anything and make other peoples lives miserable. Criminals amongst them fall into this category. They can make up to even 4.9% of the population
4. And then we have the complete morons. These people are born with stupidity as a baseline. They have no idea what the others want. Act as headless chickens one any unforeseen event and stand in awe when somebody asks them a question. Others refer this category as Politicians.

From a geographical standpoint they are also easily recognisable. The first category is a bit scattered around some specific areas like Silicon Valley in California, Boston in Massachusetts, some high class suburbs in Seattle, Houston, Austin and a few more.  The second category you find everywhere. You most likely know them very well and drink a couple of beers with during the weekend. I’m one of those. The third category are often in places where category 1 and 2 do not show up and don’t want to be.
And then there is category 4. These people like to hang out with each other and the vast majority is seen in the Washington DC area.

When G.W. Bush took office in the early 2000’s everyone already new he wasn’t one of the brightest minds in the field of politics and after many occasions of making a complete fool out of himself he, and his entire administration, reacted on the 9/11 attacks in only a way morons would do. Most likely being pushed by the security and intelligence agencies they came up with the now notorious “Patriot Act” and as a sideline he started a war against two countries who had nothing to do with the entire affair in New York. The PA is a massive document which can be summarised in one sentence: “I we want, we can go through your entire life without permission, consent or any other form of legal justification.” So basically it means the entire US security and intelligence force can throw your life upside down whenever they feel like it and not having to present any accountability.

So why the subject? 10 Years after the 9/11 attacks and the ratification of the Patriot Act, in the IT industry it was the year of CLOUD. (no they didn’t start to predict the weather, search on cloud computing if you want to know what it is.) Companies like Rackspace, HP, Amazon, Google, Microsoft and many more were building huge data-centre’s were other companies could rent computing and storage space. This provides many great options for business who wanted to outsource all (or part) of their IT infrastructure and thus be able to significantly save on capital and operational expenditures. (Refer to other sites on the technicalities.)

The problem

This may seem a fantastic solution for any company to be able to off-load a significant portion of non-core business to those hosting companies however the problem is that the moment your data reaches one of the servers of the hosting provider it immediately falls under the scrutiny of the US Security and Intelligence agencies via the PA.

The Patriot Act shows that any company based in the US OR HAS THEIR HEADQUARTERS ON US SOIL automatically falls under the PA legislation. This even means that US based companies who have data-centre’s in India, Europe, or any other country in the world had to provide all data either owned or managed by them to the US government without any means to appeal to the request. Even agreements between the EU and US (like the “Safe Harbour agreement”) does not prevent this.

Now if your have a small logistics firm and want to host your applications with these providers you might not have a problem with it. You often don’t compete with anyone in the US if you’re located in Spain. If, however, you are working in an industry with highly sensitive information, either from a security perspective or other industry competitive areas like defence, IT, aerospace you name it, you have absolutely no guarantee that your data will not show up, via whatever obscure way, on a desk at a US security agency for “investigation”.

Given the fact that these agencies have proven in the past they are not the most trustworthy government departments in the world I would think not twice but 10 times which data I would send to “the cloud”. You should not be surprised if companies like GE, Northrop Grumman, Intel and you name them, suddenly bring a product to market which look extremely similar to your design.

Even EU politicians have asked via the EU counsel to provide a formal response on this very delicate matter but up to today nobody has received anything. Also senior executives of these “cloud companies” will NOT give any guarantee your data will be safe with them and not leave your countries soil.

As can be seen in many articles around the web, the majority of medium to large scale business are holding off dealing with US based cloud companies because of this “catch 22” situation. This in turn means that these US based companies are missing millions, if not billions, of $$ each day since they are not able to get customers in countries and industries as mentioned above.

To rephrase and emphasize the subject line, the US government has, without them even realising the ramifications of ratifying the PA, closed off a huge portion of international business and thus losing a significant amount of money which could have helped creating new wealth, jobs and other much needed facilities the US economy and people are screaming for.

Great job, morons.


P.S. a six part short analysis is done by Jennifer Van Bergen and can be found over here. http://www.truthout.org/docs_02/04.02A.JVB.Patriot.htm

She starts of with “The USA Patriot Act is an insult to Americans. The name, itself, is insulting, given what the Act contains and what it will someday be known for: its complete abdication of democratic law and principles. It should be called the Constitution Shredding Act. “. Recommended reading.

If you have 2 hours to spare take a look at “Zeitgeist, The Movie“. Wait a while past the religious part and see an analysis of US politics in history. Another one is “Fahrenheit 9/11”.

Beyond the Hypervisor as we know it

And here we are again. I’ve busy doing some internal stuff for my company so the tweets and blogs were put on low maintenance.

Anyway, VMware launched its new version of vSphere and the amount of attention and noise it received is overwhelming both from a positive as well as negative side. Many customers feel they are ripped off by the new licensing schema whereas from a technical perspective all admins seem to agree the enhancements being made are fabulous. Being a techie myself I must say the new and updated stuff is extremely appealing and I can see why many admins would like to upgrade right away. I assume that’s only possible after the financial hurdles have been taken.

So why this subject? “VMware is not going to disappear and neither does MS or Xen” I hear you say. Well, probably not however let take a step back why these hypervisors were initially developed. Basically what they wanted to achieve is the option to run multiple applications on one server without having any sort of library dependency which might conflict and disturb or corrupt another application. VMware hasn’t been the initiator of this concept but the birthplace of this all was IBM’s mainframe platform. Even back in the 60’s and 70’s they had the same problem. Two or more applications had to run on the same physical box however due to conflicts in libraries and functions IBM found a way to isolate this and came up with the concept of virtual instances which ran on a common platform operating system. MVS which later became OS/390 and now zOS.

When the open systems guys spearheaded by Microsoft in the 80’s and 90’s took off they more or less created the same mess as IBM had seen before. (IBM did actually learn something and pushed that into OS/2 however that OS never really took off).
When Microsoft came up with so called Dynamic Link Libraries this was heaven for application developers. They could now dynamically load a DLL and use its functions. However they did not take into account that only one DLL with a certain function could be loaded as any one particular point. And thus when DLL got new functionality and therefore new revision levels sometimes they were not backward compatible and very nasty conflict would surface. So we were back to zero.

And along came VMware. They did for the Windows world what IBM had done many years before and created a hypervisor which would let you run multiple virtual machines each isolated from each other with no possibility of binary conflicts. And they still make good money of it.

However also the application developers have not been pulling things out of their nose and sit still. They also have seen that they no longer can utilize the development model they used for years. Every self respecting developer now programs with massive scalability and distributed systems in mind based on cloud principles. Basically this means that applications are almost solely build on web technologies with javascript (via node.js), HTML 5 or other high level languages. These applications are then loaded upon distributed systems like openstack, hadoop and one or two others. These platforms create application containers where the application is isolated and has to abide by the functionality of the underlying platform. This is exactly what I wrote almost two years ago where the application itself should be virtualised instead of the operating system. (See here)

When you take this into account you can imagine that the hypervisors, as we know them now, at some point in time will render themselves useless. The operating system itself is not important anymore and is doesn’t matter where these cloud systems run on. The only thing that is important is scalability and reliability.  Companies like VMware, Microsoft, HP and others are not stupid  and see this coming. This is also the reason why they start building these massive data centres to accommodate the customers who adopt this technology and start hosting these applications.

Now here come the problems with this concept. SLA’s. Who is going to guarantee you availability when everything is out of your control. Examples like outages with Amazon EC2, Microsoft’s cloud email service BPOS, VMware’s Cloud Foundry outage or Google GMAIL service show that even these extremely well designed systems at some point in time run into Murphy and the question is do you want to depend on these providers for business continuity. Be aware you have no vote how and were your application is hosted. That is totally at the discretion of the hosting provider. Again, its all about risk assessment versus costs versus flexibility and other arguments you can think of so I leave that up to you.

So where does this take you? Well, you should start thinking about your requirements. Does my business need this cloud based flexibility or should I adopt a more hybrid model where some applications are build and managed by myself/my staff.

In any way you will see more and more applications being developed for both internal, external and hybrid cloud models. This then brings us back to the subject line that the hypervisors as we know them today will cease to exist. It might take a while but the software world is like a diesel train, it starts slowly but when it´s on a roll its almost impossible to stop so be prepared.

Kind regards,
Erwin van Londen