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Does your Building Block need a Fabric? <- Part 6

Okay, so this is all well and good, but you have been reading these posts and thinking that your environment is nowhere near the size of my example so Building Blocks are not for you. The fact is you can make individual Building Blocks quite a bit smaller or larger than the example I used in these posts and I’ll use a couple more quick examples to illustrate.

Small Environment: In this example, we’ll break down a 150 VM environment into three Building Blocks to provide the availability benefit of multiple isolated blocks. Additional Building Blocks can be deployed as the environment grows.

150 Total VMs deployed over 12 months
(2 vCPUs/32GB Disk/1GB RAM/25 IOPS per VM)

    • 300 vCPUs
    • 150GB RAM
    • 4800 GB Disk Space
    • 3750 Host IOPS

Assuming 3 Building Blocks, each Building Block would look something like this:

    • 50 VMs per Building Block
    • 2 x Dual CPU – 6 Core Servers (Maintains the 4:1 vCPU to Physical thread ratio)
    • 24-32GB RAM per server
    • 19 x 300GB 10K disks in RAID10 (including spares) — any VNXe or VNX model will be fine for this
      • >1600GB Usable disk space (this disk config provides more disk space and performance than required)
      • >1250 Host IOPS

Very Large Environment: In this example, we’ll scale up to 45,000 VMs using sixteen Building Blocks to provide the availability benefit of multiple isolated blocks. Additional Building Blocks can be deployed as the environment grows.

45000 Total VMs deployed over 48 months
(2 vCPUs/32GB Disk/4GB RAM/50 IOPS per VM)

    • 90000 vCPUs
    • 180,000 GB RAM
    • 1,440,000 GB Disk Space
    • 2,250,000 Host IOPS

Assuming 4 Building blocks per year, each Building Block would look something like this:

    • 2812 VMs per Building Block
    • 18 x Quad CPU – 10 Core Servera plus Hyperthreading (Maintains the 4:1 vCPU to Physical thread ratio)
    • 640GB Ram per server
    • 1216 x 300GB 15K disks in RAID10 (including spares) — one EMC Symmetrix VMAX for each Building Block
      • >90000GB Usable disk space (the 300GB disks are the smallest available but still too big and will provide quite a bit more space than the 90TB required. This would be a good candidate for EMC FASTVP sub-LUN tiering along with a few SSD disks, which would likely reduce the overall cost)
      • >140,000 Host IOPS

Hopefully this series of posts have shown that the Building Block approach is very flexible and can be adapted to fit a variety of different environments. Customers with environments ranging from very small to very large can tune individual Building Block designs for their needs to gain the advantages of isolated, repeatable deployments, and better long term use of capital.

Finally, if you find the benefits of the Building Block approach appealing, but would rather not deal with the integration of each Building Block, talk with a VCE representative about VBlock which provides all of the benefits I’ve discussed but in a pre-integrated, plug-and-play product with a single support organization supporting the entire solution.

Does your Building Block need a Fabric? <- Part 6

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Sizing your Building Block <- Part 5 -> I’m too small for Building Blocks

You may have noticed in the last installment that I did not include any FibreChannel switches in the example BOM. There are essentially three ways to deal with the SAN connectivity in a Building Block and there are advantages as well as disadvantages to each. (Note: this applies to iSCSI as well)

1.) Use switches that already exist in your datacenter: You can attach each storage array and each server back to a common fabric that you already have (or that you build as part of the project) and zone each of the Building Block’s servers to their respective storage array.

  • Advantages:
    • Leverage any existing fabric equipment to reduce costs and centralize management
    • Allow for additional servers to be added to each Building Block in the future
    • Allow for presenting storage from one Building Block to servers in a different Building Block (useful for migrations)
  • Disadvantages:
    • Increases complexity – Requires you to configure zoning within each Building Block during deployment
    • Increases chances for human error that could cause an outage – Accidentally deleting entire Zonesets or VSANs is not as uncommon as you might think
    • Reduces the availability isolation between Building Blocks – The fabric itself becomes a point-of-failure common to all Building Blocks.

2.) Deploy a dedicated fabric within each Building Block: Since each Building Block has a known quantity of storage and server ports, you can easily add a dual-switch/fabric into the design. In our example of 9 hosts you’d need a total of 18 ports for hosts and maybe 8 ports for the storage array for a combined total of 26 switch ports. Two 16-port switches can easily accommodate that requirement.

  • Advantages:
    • Depending on the switches used, it could allow for additional servers in each Building Block in the future
    • Allow for presenting storage from one Building Block to servers in a different building block (useful for migrations) by connecting ISLs between Building Blocks
    • Maintains the Building Block isolation by not sharing the fabric switches across Building Blocks.
  • Disadvantages:
    • Increases complexity – Requires you to configure zoning within each Building Block during deployment
    • Increases chances for human error that could cause an outage – Again, accidentally deleting entire Zonesets or VSANs is not as uncommon as you might think

3.) Dispense with the fabric entirely: Since Building Blocks are relatively small, resulting in fewer total initiator/target pairs, it’s possible in some cases to directly attach all of the hosts to the storage array. In our example, the nine hosts need eighteen ports and the VNX5700 supports up to twenty four FC ports. This means you can directly attach all of the hosts to the array and still have six remaining ports on the array for replication, etc. Different arrays from EMC as well as other vendors will have various limits on the number of FC ports supported. Also, not all vendors support direct attached hosts so you’ll need to check that with your storage vendor of choice to be sure.

  • Advantages:
    • Maintains the Building Block isolation by not sharing the fabric switches across Building Blocks.
    • Simplifies deployment by eliminating the need to do any zoning at all and effectively eliminates any port queue limits (HBA elevator depth settings)
    • Simplifies troubleshooting by eliminating the fabric (buffer to buffer credits, bandwidth, port errors, etc) from the IO path.
  • Disadvantages:
    • Limits the number of hosts per Building Block by the maximum number of ports supported by the storage array.
    • More difficult to non-disruptively migrate VMs between Building Blocks since storage cannot be shared across. (If all Building Blocks are in the same Virtual Data Center in VMWare vSphere, you can still live-migrate VMs via the IP network between Building Blocks using Storage vMotion)

If you decide that the host count limit is okay, and either non-disruptive migration between Building Blocks is unnecessary or Storage vMotion will work for you, then eliminating the fabric can reduce cost and complexity, while improving overall availability and time to deploy. If you need the flexibility of a fabric, I personally like using dedicated switches in each building block. Cisco and Brocade both offer 1U switches with up to 48 ports per switch that will work quite well. Always deploy two switches (as two fabrics) in each Building Block for redundancy.

Okay, so you’ve managed to calculate the size of your environment, how much time it will take you to virtualize it, the number of Building Blocks you need, and the specifications for each Building Block, including whether you need a fabric. Now you can submit your budget, get your final quotes, and place orders. Once the equipment arrives it’s time to implement the solution.

When your first Building Block arrives, it would be a valuable use of time to learn how to script the configuration for each component in the Building Block. An EMC VNX array can be completely configured using Naviseccli or PowerShell, from the Storage Pool and LUN provisioning to initiator registration and Host/LUN masking. VMWare vSphere can similarly be configured using scripts or PowerShell. If you take the time to develop and test your scripts against your first Building Block, then you can use those scripts to quickly stand up each additional Building Block you deploy. Since future Building Blocks will be nearly identical, if not entirely identical, the scripts can speed your deployment time immensely.

EMC Navisphere/Unisphere CLI (for VNX) is documented fully in the VNX Command Line Interface (CLI) Reference for Block 1.0 A02. This document is available on EMC PowerLink at the following location:

Home > Support > Technical Documentation and Advisories > Software ~ J-O ~ Documentation > Navisphere Management Suite > Maintenance/Administration

Be sure to leverage any storage vendor plug-ins available to you for your chosen hypervisor (VMWare, Hyper-V, etc) to improve visibility up and down the layers and reduce the number of management tools you need to use on a daily basis.

For example, EMC Unisphere Manager, the array management UI running on the VNX storage array, includes built-in integration with VMWare and other host operating systems. Unisphere Manager displays the VMFS datastores, RDMs, and VMs that are running on each LUN and a storage administrator can quickly search for VM names to help with management and/or troubleshooting tasks.

EMC also provides free downloadable plug-ins for VMWare vSphere and Hyper-V so server administrators can see what storage arrays and LUNs are behind their VMs and datastores. The plug-ins also allow administrators to provision new LUNs from the storage array through the plug-ins without needing access to the array management tools.

Depending on which storage vendor you choose, if you build a fabric-less Building Block, you may be able to do all of your server and storage administration from vCenter if you leverage the free plug-ins.

Sizing your Building Block <- Part 5 -> I’m too small for Building Blocks

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How many Building Blocks? <- Part 4 -> Does your Building Block need a Fabric?

Now that we know we’ll be deploying about 562 VM’s per Building Block we can use the other metrics to determine the requirements for a single block.

  • Since 562 VMs is about 12.5% of the 4500 total VMs, we then calculate 12.5% of the other metrics determined in the last post.
    • 12.5% of 9000 vCPUs = 1125 vCPUs
    • 12.5% of 4500GB RAM = 562GB RAM
    • 12.5% of 225,000 IOPS = 28125 Host IOPS
    • 12.5% of 562TB = 70TB Usable Disk capacity

First we’ll size the compute layer of the Building Block

  • At 4:1 vCPUs per Physical CPU thread you’d want somewhere around 281 hardware threads per Building Block. Using 4-socket, 8-core servers (32 cores per server) you’d need about 9 physical servers per building block. The number of vCPUs per physical CPU thread affects the % CPU Ready time in VMWare vSphere/ESX environments.
  • For 562GB of total RAM per Building Block, each server needs about 64GB of RAM
  • Per standard best practices, a highly available server needs two HBAs, more than two can be advantageous with high IOPS loads.

Next, we’ll calculate the storage layer of the Building Block

  • Assuming no cache hits, the backend disk load for 28,125 Host IOPS @ 50:50 read/write looks like the following:
    • RAID10 : 28125/2 + 28125/2*2 = 42187 Disk IOPS
    • RAID5 : 28125/2 + 28125/2*4 = 70312 Disk IOPS
    • RAID6 : 28125/2 + 28125/2*6 = 98437 Disk IOPS
  • If you calculate the number of disks required to meet the 70TB Usable in each RAID level, and the # of disks needed for both 10K RPM and 15K RPM disks to meet the IOPS for each RAID level, you’ll eventually find that for this specific example, using EMC Best Practices, 600GB 10K RPM SAS disks in RAID10 provides the least cost option (317 disks including hot spares). Since 10K RPM disks are also available in 2.5” sizes for some storage systems, this also provides the most compact solution in many cases (29 Rack Units for an EMC VNX storage array that has this configuration). In reality this is a very conservative configuration that ignores the benefits of storage array caching technologies and any other optimizations available, it’s essentially a worst case scenario and it would be beneficial to work with your storage vendor’s performance group to perform a more intelligent modeling of your workload.
  • Finally, you’ll need to select a storage array model that meets the requirements. Within EMC’s portfolio, 317 disks necessitate an EMC VNX5700 which will also have more than enough CPU horsepower to handle the 28125 host IOPS requirement.

At this point you’ve determined the basic requirements for a single Building Block which you can use as a starting point to work with your vendors for further tuning and pricing. Your vendors may also propose various optimizations that can help save you money and/or improve performance such as block-level tiering or extended SSD/Flash based caching.

Example bill-of-materials (BOM):

  • 9 x Quad-CPU/8-Core servers w/64GB RAM each
  • 2 x Single port FibreChannel HBAs
  • 1 x EMC VNX5700 Storage Array with 317 x 300GB 2.5” 10K SAS disks

Wait, where’s the fabric?

How many Building Blocks? <- Part 4 -> Does your Building Block need a Fabric?

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The Building Block Approach <- Part 3 -> Sizing your Building Block

The key to sizing Building Blocks is to calculate the ratio between the compute and storage metrics. First you need to take a look at the total performance and disk space requirements for the whole environment, similar to the below example:

  • Total # of Virtual Machines you expect to be hosting (example: 4500 VMs)
  • Total Virtual CPUs assigned to all Guest VMs (average of 2 vCPUs per VM = 9000 vCPUs)
  • Total Memory required across all Guest VMs (average of 1GB per VM = 4.5TB)
  • Total Host IOPS needed at the array for all Guest VMs (average of 50 IOPS per VM = 225,000 Host IOPS)
    • You will need to have a read/write ratio with this as well (we will use 50:50 for these examples)
  • Total Disk Storage required for all Guest VMs. (average of 125GB per VM = 562TB)

Once you have the above data, you need to decide how many Building Blocks you want to have once the entire environment is built out. There are several things to consider in determining this number:

  • How often you want to be deploying additional Building Blocks (more on this below)
  • Your annual budget (I’m ignoring budget for this example, but your budget may limit the size of your deployment each year)
  • How many VMs you think you can deploy in a year (we’ll use 2250 per year for a two year deployment)

Some of these are pretty subjective so your actual results will vary quite a bit, but based what I’ve seen I do have some recommendations.

  • In order to take advantage of the availability isolation inherent in the Building Block approach, you’ll want to start with at least two Building Blocks and then add them one or two at a time depending on how you want to spread your server farms across the infrastructure.
  • Depending on the size of each Building Block you may want to keep Building Block deployments down to one every 3-6 months. That gives you ample time to build each block correctly and hopefully leaves time between deployments to monitor and adjust the Building Blocks.

That said I’d lean toward 4 to 6 Building Blocks per year. Of course this is just my opinion and your mileage may vary. For our example of 4500 VMs over 2 years @ 4 Building Blocks per year. we’ll end up with 8 Building Blocks with about 562 VMs each.

The Building Block Approach <- Part 3 -> Sizing your Building Block

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Build your own Private Cloud <- Part 2 -> How many Building Blocks

Since server virtualization abstracts the physical hardware from the operating systems and applications, essential for Cloud Infrastructures (also known as Infrastructure-as-a-Service), it’s ideally suited for breaking down the physical infrastructure into Building Blocks. Put simply, Building Blocks are repeatable, pre-designed mixes of storage, CPU, and memory.

There are several advantages to the Building Block approach that I’ll point out here:

  1. Rather than dropping a huge amount of capital up front on the entire infrastructure you need over the long haul, some of which will not be used at first, you can start with a smaller capital outlay today, then make multiple similarly small capital purchases only as needed. Further, when the hardware in a single Building Block reaches the end of its life (for any number of reasons), only that one Building Block will need to be refreshed at that time rather than a wholesale replacement of the entire environment.
  2. In an environment where virtualization is a new endeavor, sizing the compute, memory, and storage required is really an educated guess. As each Building Block is consumed, the real-world performance can be analyzed and adjusted for future Building Blocks to more closely match your specific workload.
  3. Building Blocks are inherently isolated which creates natural performance and availability boundaries. This can be leveraged for web and application server farms by spreading nodes of each farm across multiple Building Blocks. In the event of a catastrophic failure of one Building Block, due to major software bug affecting the cluster or the failure of an entire storage array for some reason, nodes of the server farm not hosted on the failed Building Block will be unaffected.
  4. The list price for storage arrays and servers goes down over time. If your growth is similar to many of my customers, where full build out of the physical infrastructure will not be required until 2-3 years after the start of the project, the acquisition cost of each individual Building Block will decrease over time, saving you money overall.
  5. In many cases, and due to a variety of factors, the cost to upgrade a storage array is higher than the cost to purchase the capacity with a new array. Upgrades also add complexity, complicate asset depreciation, and warranty renewals. The Building Block approach eliminates the majority of upgrades and the associated complexity.

Each Building Block can be maintained in its original build state or upgraded independent of the other building blocks so, for example, you don’t have to worry about upgrading every server in your datacenter with new HBA drivers if you decide to upgrade the storage array firmware on one array. You would only need to upgrade the servers in that arrays’ Building Block.

You may be thinking that your environment is not large enough to use a Building Block approach, but the more I worked on this project, the more I realized that Building Blocks can be adjusted to fit even very small environments. I’ll go into that a bit more later.

Build your own Private Cloud <- Part 2 -> How many Building Blocks

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Part 1 -> The Building Block Approach

As 2011 wraps up and I have a little time at home over the holidays, I’ve been reflecting on some of the customer projects I’ve worked on over the past year. Cloud computing and EMC’s vision for the “Journey to the Private Cloud” have been hot topics this year and of the various projects I’ve worked on this past year, one stands out to me as something that could be used as a blueprint for others who want to deploy their own Private Cloud but may not know how to start.

I have been working with a customer with approximately 10,000 servers that support their business and for all intents had zero virtualization as recent as 2010.  As most customers already know, they thought it would be good to begin virtualizing their environment to drive up asset utilization and flexibility while bringing down costs.  In the past, they’ve experimented with multiple server virtualization solutions (such as VMWare ESX and Microsoft Hyper-V) with limited success and had all but abandoned the idea.  A change in leadership in late 2010 brought a top-down initiative to virtualize wherever possible, but in order to instill confidence in virtualized environments within the various business units, the virtual infrastructure needed to be reliable and performant.

The customer spent the latter half of 2010 looking at their existing physical environment, finding that about 80% of the 10,000 servers were various application, file, and web servers; the remaining 20% being various database servers (mostly MS SQL).  Moving an infrastructure this large into a Private Cloud model would take several years and, further adding to the challenge, the DBA teams were particularly wary about virtualizing their database servers.  That said, the newly formed Virtualization and Cloud team set a goal of virtualizing the approximately 8,000 non-database servers over 36 months, starting out with dev/test and gradually adding production and tier-1 applications until only the database servers remained on physical infrastructure.  They believe that if they prove success with virtualization during this first 3 years, the DBAs will be more willing to begin virtualizing their systems, plus there should be more knowledge and tools in the public domain for managing virtual database instances by then.

To accomplish all of their goals, the customer leveraged some experience that individual team members had gained from prior environments to come up with a Building Block based deployment.  I worked with them to finalize the design and sizing for the each Building Block and throughout the year have helped analyze the performance of the deployed infrastructure to help determine how the Building Blocks can be optimized further.  Through the next several posts, I will explain the Building Block approach, detailing the benefits, some of the considerations, and some thoughts around sizing.  I hope that this information will be useful to others.  The content is mostly vendor agnostic except for some example data that uses EMC specific storage best practices.

Part 1 -> The Building Block Approach

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Some customers are afraid of thin provisioning…

Practically every week I have discussions with customers about leveraging thin provisioning to reduce their storage costs and just as often the customer pushes back worried that some day, some number of applications, for some reason, will suddenly consume all of their allocated space in a short period of time and cause the storage pool to run out of space.  If this was to happen, every application using that storage pool will essentially experience an outage and resolving the problem requires allocating more space to the pool, migrating data, and/or deleting data, each of which would take precious time and/or money.  In my opinion, this fear is the primary gating factor to customers using thin provisioning.  Exacerbating the issue, most large organizations have a complex procurement process that forces them to buy storage many months in advance of needing it, further reducing the usefulness of thin provisioning.  The IT organization for one of my customers can only purchase new storage AFTER a business unit requests it and approved by senior management; and they batch those requests before approving a storage purchase.  This means that the business unit may have to wait months to get the storage they requested.

This same customer recently purchased a Symmetrix VMAX with FASTVP and will be leveraging sub-LUN tiering with SSD, FC, and SATA disks totaling over 600TB of usable capacity in this single system.  As we began design work for the storage array the topic of thin provisioning came up and the same fear of running out of space in the pool was voiced.  To prevent this, the customer fully allocates all LUNs in the pool up front which prevents oversubscription.  It’s an effective way to guarantee performance and availability but it means that any free space not used by application owners is locked up by the application server and not available to other applications.  If you take their entire environment into account with approximately 3PB of usable storage and NO thin provisioning, there is probably close to $1 million in storage not being used and not available for applications.  If you weigh the risk of an outage causing the loss of several million dollars per hour of revenue, the customer has decided the risks outweigh the potential savings.  I’ve seen this decision made time and again in various IT shops.

Sub-LUN Tiering pushes the costs for growth down

I previously blogged about using cloud storage for block storage in the form of Cirtas BlueJet and how it would not be to much of a stretch to add this functionality to sub-LUN tiering software like EMC’s FASTVP to leverage cloud storage as a block storage tier as shown in this diagram.

Let’s first assume the customer is already using FASTVP for automated sub-LUN tiering on a VMAX.  FASTVP is already identifying the hot and cold data and moving it to the appropriate tier, and as a result the lowest tier is likely seeing the least amount of IOPS per GB.  In a VMAX, each tier consists of one or more virtual provisioned pools, and as the amount of data stored on the array grows FASTVP will continually adjust, pushing the hot data up to higher tiers and cold data down to the lower tiers  The cold data is more likely to be old data as well so in many cases the data sort of ages down the tiers over time and its the old/least used portion of the data that grows.  Conceptually, the only tier you may have to expand is the lowest (ie: SATA) when you need more space.  This reduces the long term cost of data growth which is great.  But you still need to monitor the pools and expand them before they run out of space, or an outage may occur.  Most storage arrays have alerts and other methods to let you know that you will soon run out of space.

Risk-Free Thin Provisioning

What if the storage array had the ability automatically expand itself into a cloud storage provider, such as AT&T Synaptic, to prevent itself from running out of space?  Technically this is not much different from using the cloud as a tier all it’s own but I’m thinking about temporary use of a cloud provider versus long term.  The cloud provider becomes a buffer for times when the procurement process takes too long, or unexpected growth of data in the pool occurs.  With an automated tiering solution, this becomes relatively easy to do with fairly low impact on production performance.  In fact, I’d argue that you MUST have automated tiering to do this or the array wouldn’t have any method for determining what data it should move to the cloud.  Without that level of intelligence, you’d likely be moving hot data to the cloud which could heavily impact performance of the applications.

Once the customer is able to physically add storage to the pool to deal with the added data, the array would auto-adjust by bringing the data back from the cloud freeing up that space.  The cloud provider would only charge for the transfer of data in/out and the temporary use of space.  Storage reduction technologies like compression and de-duplication could be added to the cloud interface to improve performance for data stored in the cloud and reduce costs.  Zero detect and reclaim technologies could also be leveraged to keep LUNs thin over time as well as prevent the movement of zero’d blocks to the cloud.

Using cloud storage as a buffer for thin provisioning in this way could reduce the risk of using thin provisioning, increasing the utilization rate of the storage, and reducing the overall cost to store data.

What do you think?  Would you feel better about oversubscribing storage pools if you had a fully automated buffer, even if that buffer cost some amount of money in the event it was used?

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I came across this press release today from a company that I wasn’t familiar with and immediately wanted more information.  Cirtas Systems has announced support for Atmos-based clouds, including AT&T Synaptic Storage.  Whenever I see these types of announcements, I read on in hopes of seeing real fiber channel block storage leveraging cloud-based architectures in some way.  So far I’ve been a bit disappointed since the closest I’ve seen has been NAS based systems, at best including iSCSI.

Cirtas BlueJet Cloud Storage Controller is pretty interesting in its own right though.  It’s essentially an iSCSI storage array with a cache and a small amount of SSD and SAS drives for local storage.  Any data beyond the internal 5TB of usable capacity is stored in “the cloud” which can be an onsite Private Cloud (Atmos or Atmos/VE) and/or a Public Cloud hosted by Amazon S3, Iron Mountain, AT&T Synaptic, or any Atmos-based cloud service provider.

Cirtas BlueJet

The neat thing with BlueJet is that it leverages a ton of the functionality that many storage vendors have been developing recently such as data de-duplication, compression, some kind of block level tiering, and space efficient snapshots to improve performance and reduce the costs of cloud storage.  It seems that pretty much all of the local storage (SAS, SSD, and RAM) is used as a tiered cache for hot data.  This gives users and applications the sense of local SAN performance even while hosting the majority of data offsite.

While I haven’t seen or used a BlueJet device and can’t make any observations about performance or functionality, I believe this sort of block->cloud approach has pretty significant customer value.  It reduces physical datacenter costs for power and cooling, and it presents some rather interesting disaster recovery opportunities.

Similar to how Compellent’s signature feature, tiered block storage, has been added to more traditional storage arrays, I think modified implementations of Cirtas’ technology will inevitably come from the larger players, such as EMC, as a feature in standard storage arrays.  If you consider that EMC Unified Storage and EMC Symmetrix VMAX both have large caches and block- level tiering today, it’s not too much of a stretch to integrate Atmos directly into those storage systems as another tier.  EMC already does this for NAS with the EMC File Management Appliance.

Conceptual Diagram

I can imagine leveraging FASTCache and FASTVP to tier locally for the data that must be onsite for performance and/or compliance reasons and pushing cold/stale blocks off to the cloud.  Additionally, adding cloud as a tier to traditional storage arrays allows customers to leverage their existing investment in Storage, FC/FCoE networks, reporting and performance trending tools, extensive replication options available, and the existing support for VMWare APIs like SRM and VAAI.

With this model, replication of data for disaster recovery/avoidance only needs to be done for the onsite data since the cloud data could be accessed from anywhere.  At a DR site, a second storage system connects to the same cloud and can access the cold/stale data in the event of a disaster.

Another option would be adding this functionality to virtualization platforms like EMC VPLEX for active/active multi-site access to SAN data, while only needing to store the majority of the company’s data once in the cloud for lower cost.  Customers would no longer have to buy double the required capacity to implement a disaster recovery strategy.

I’m eagerly awating the implementation of cloud into traditional block storage and I can see how some vendors will be able to do this easily, while others may not have the architecture to integrate as easily.  It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

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Buzzword Much?

If you have seen any of EMC’s marketing for EMC World, or you are attending EMC World in Boston this week, you no doubt noticed a ton of talk about the “Private Cloud”.  There has been a lot more talk from vendors as of late about the “cloud” and “cloud computing” and you may be reminded about how every few years the word “cloud” is shouted out by vendors of all kinds and how inevitably the talk quiets and nothing is really different.  So is it different this time?  I think so.

What is a Cloud?

In the context of IT, there are examples of clouds already.  The Internet and public telephone system are two examples of clouds.  Facebook, Flickr, and Salesforce are examples of clouds as well.  The common theme is that each of these examples provides some sort of service to the end user without requiring the end user to purchase or build any infrastructure to support it.  You can plug a phone into a wall and immediately call nearly anyone in the world.  Cloud is a fancy word (or buzzword) for providing something “as-a-service”. is software-as-a-service (SaaS).

So what is the Private Cloud?  

In the context of enterprise datacenters, the focus of EMC’s vision, the Private Cloud is Infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) and it enables corporate IT to transition from a necessary expense, to a profit center within the business, providing IT-as-a-Service to the rest of the business.  It decouples infrastructure from applications providing unprecedented levels of scalability, availability, and flexibility at lower cost.

What if…
a.) your corporate applications could run from anywhere, and users had access from anywhere?
b.) you could relocate your applications from anywhere to anywhere else, at any time, without disruption to your users.
c.) you could replace any piece of physical hardware in your infrastructure without impacting your applications.

Sounds too good to be true right? Maybe not…

This week, EMC announced a completely new product called VPLEX.  VPLEX has the ability to take your existing storage arrays and pool them into a cooperative pool of storage for hosts and applications.  It then allows you to move application data within and across those arrays as needed without disrupting the application or users.  If you are familiar with EMC’s Invista, IBM’s SVC, or Hitachi’s USP-V products you may be thinking that VPLEX is just another storage virtualization product.  But I assure you it’s different.  VPLEX virtualizes storage within the datacenter similar to how the above products can, but VPLEX can ALSO combine storage across multiple datacenters and allow an application to run from any of them or all of them, simultaneously, through the power of Federation.

Active/Active Datacenters

With VPLEX Federation, you can move a virtual machine and all of its data from datacenter A to datacenter B in a matter of minutes without user disruption; or hundreds of VMs, or thousands of VMs.  You can run the same application in both locations, sharing a single dataset.  Armed with EMC VPLEX and VMWare vSphere, you can upgrade, replace, and reconfigure any part of your infrastructure (storage, servers, network, power distribution, etc) without ever having to take your applications offline.  How’s that for availability?

The ability to create a virtual infrastructure from the storage layer through to the server layer and host any application on that infrastructure is the key to creating providing Infrastructure-as-a-Service, building the Private Cloud, and provisioning IT-as-a-Service within your organization.  Imagine running the IT department as a business within the business and actually showing financial value to the business.

There is a lot more to this concept but I wanted to at least bring some context around “cloud” as well as EMC’s new VPLEX product.  There will be more to come on this topic.

Chuck Hollis wrote about VPLEX as a new Storage Platform today, and VirtualGeek called it a Virtual Machine teleporter in his quite detailed write up of this new technology.  The key is to step back with an open mind and think about how application design and disaster recovery planning could be approached in entirely new ways when the data is no longer confined to a particular physical location.

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The 8:50am Alaska Air flight from Seattle to Boston today may as well have been an EMC chartered flight. Full of my current EMC peers, previous coworkers from my past 12 years in IT, as well as other EMC customers; all of us making the pilgrimage to Boston for EMC World 2010. The five and a half hour flight was both a networking opportunity and a reunion at the same time.

Despite the time away from home while my wife and I prepared for some big life changes, I’m excited to attend my 4th EMC World in 5 years, my first as an employee of EMC. This year promises to be extremely exciting as we make a number of huge announcements during the week, some of which have the potential to change the landscape of information storage and management. As an IT professional for over a decade, I’m a techie at heart and this is really exciting stuff. As a new EMC employee, the position and direction of the company validates many of the reasons I chose to take on this new career path, and with this company.

I plan to provide some commentary on the announcements we make during the week, particularly around virtual storage and the concept of “cloud computing”. I’m not a fan of industry buzzwords and “cloud” is one of the worst offenders but I think it’s important for IT professionals to understand what the vendors really mean when they talk about cloud, and how it affects every day life in IT.

If you are attending EMC World this year, I hope you feel the excitement, and I hope you start to see the bright future we are all headed for.

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