Thursday Nov 08, 2007

OpenSolaris Train Keeps a Rolling...

There I was standing at the railway station in the city of Odawara, Japan waiting for the express train back to Tokyo.  Out of nowhere a N700 bullet train sped by without stopping.  I'm estimating it was clocking ~90mph (~145kph) right through the station!!!  The N700 bullet train is an engineering marvel.  In fact the bullet train system in Japan is a wonderful experience.  The service is superb and in my opinion the most efficient means for transportation in and out of Tokyo.  Instead of dealing with stop and go traffic in any congested major city of the world, you ride on what feels like a cushion of air.  You also see the electric poles on the side of the track flash by you quickly...  You know you are going fast.  The N700 will top out at ~320kph (~200mph) which is equivilent to the French TGV  bullet trains.  Previously the N700 was bidding to top out at ~360kph (~224mph) but the East Japan Railway Company decided to scale back due to vibration and environmental concerns.  I wanted to take a picture of the train in motion.  The pure speed not only startled me but had me in awe of this beautiful machine.  The nose of the train is very aerodynamic in appearance.  The number of passenger cars attached, fully occupied with passengers, must of numbered ~20.  Despite the number of fully loaded cars the N700 appeared to effortlessly move  due to momentum and kinetic energy.

The N700 reminds me of the OpenSolaris train that has gathered a lot of speed and momentum during the past 18 months.  This train  is carrying more passengers (community members) and the acceleration is noticeable.  With the OpenSolaris release of the Developer Preview, MMS, Kernel based CIFS Server and yes infamous ephemeral UIDs the validation of open source software keeps building momentum.  Furthermore even more technology is yet to come.  While a picture may be worth a 1000 words-- I encourage you to look, touch and participate in the millions of lines of source code available to everyone.  So you can create your own picture.


Friday Oct 26, 2007

FISH -n- CIFS

There is motivation when skeptics like to preach that there is no way <substitute here> is going to happen.  Examples include come from behind victories in sports, new discoveries in science and cures for disease.  Good intentions are one thing, but following through on those intentions is a bit more difficult. 

The storage community at opensolaris.org has been busy this past year with community members that include partners, industry standard bodies and numerous code contributions.  The community has been on a journey to continue to enhance, integrate, develop, share and invent technologies applicable to traditional storage and more importantly hybrid storage solutions of today and tomorrow.  The Storage Platform for OpenSolaris Distributions has just had some recent contributions.  Keep in mind these contributions to the community are free, open and not proprietary.  Code is not read only, but available for modification, improvement and bi-directional sharing according to the opensolaris licensing terms.

Recent additions of code and new opensolaris projects include:

  • Kernel based CIFS server (Build 77).  That's right-- designed in as a first class citizen of the os with a kernel based protocol, tightly coupled with NFSv4, VFS, ZFS and Active Directory.  Windows Interoperability.  Another complimentary open sourced solution along side our friends from the SAMBA community.  This service leverages the os and its capabilities.  Need infinite snapshots of your CIFS files?  Want file compression?  Strive for encryption of your data?  Not a problem.  ZFS provides these data services IN the file system.  The kernel based CIFS server source code will post here today.  Need help with source code management tools click here.

  • NDMP service.  Table stakes for backup applications.  The code will be binaries only until the SNIA working group members complete their efforts.

  • Virus Scan service.  Another service that is tightly integrated with the kernel CIFS server and the ZFS file system.  This service provides ICAP protocol support for off-board virus scan engines.

  • NFSv4 Mirror Mounts.  NFSv4 Clients can now automatically mount shared file systems on a NFSv4 Server.

The above new Opensolaris project pages will be posting in the next few weeks so stay tuned.

Adding more and more content to the storage stack of opensolaris may raise some questions of what can be done with this stack.  Well first off it enables better integrated hybrid storage solutions.  The x4500 "Thumper"with Solaris has enabled new thinking storage solutions by leveraging the hardware and software unique capabilities.  One can continue on this journey and enhance the unique hardware and software capabilities.  In fact think of it as Fully Integrated Software and Hardware on a repetitive basis.  The tighter you integrate the incremental features, the more compelling solutions with commodity components using an enterprise open sourced os one can build.  I would think that if you could provide a software heath kit of an open sourced software stack to appeal to the masses you may have something worth investigating.

Come and participate.  Opensolaris is transforming itself from open storage solutions, xVM to Solaris install revisited also known as "Indiana." 

How can you pass up FISH -n- CIFS well prepared? Help spread the word.

Thursday Oct 18, 2007

Technology, Telecom, Transportation and Tandoori

I recently visited India and personally got to experience a beautiful country transforming itself.  The climate, cuisine and currency (economy) are experienced in various flavors of hot.  For cuisine my favorite is chicken tandoori, a relatively mild dish.  The Bombay SENSEX is boiling like a hot pickled chili.  The BSE has surpassed 19000 and yes it has pulled back some.  In the year 2004 the index was at the 5000 range!  If you take a look at the 30 companies that form the index you will notice that IT, Telecom and Transportation are well represented.  These 3 sectors basically feed each other.  Foreign investments are pouring into India.  Capital is everywhere.  What is driving this surge?  India is transforming itself into an economic pillar.  There is a youthquake (affluent consumers under the age of 25) happening in India.  Job growth is expected to be over 45% this year.  The trend for India college grads is not to go abroad but take a job within India.  Gone are the days of India being only a place to outsource.  The action IS India.  India is quickly addressing the lack of infrastructure that has prevented growth in the past.  Major 8 lane highways, new airports, etc. are being developed as we speak.  Mobile phone service is already throughout India... and pretty cheap as well.  In fact the state government decided to ban mobile phones from school and pre-university college campuses effective Oct 5.  Is technology in the middle of this rapid, massive expansion?  Of course.  Is the term "Going Bollywood" more appropriate now?  Absolutely since "Going Hollywood" is yesterday in some sense.  The government in India has figured out that lowering the VAT actually helps stimulate growth.  Previously the VAT in India was very high... in the double digits.  What did this do?  It actually inhibited tax revenue as most wise people would conduct transactions with dead icons printed on paper (CASH).  Lowering the VAT was a smart move in India as the cash transaction overhead becomes insignificant. Tax revenues actually increase in a growing economy.  Capitalism being embraced for sure.

India is a growth country that does not have to deal with much legacy infrastructure.  This includes legacy technology.  Interoperability issues?  No.  Put in a solution that is a weapon not a burden.  Who are your IT vendors?  Who are your IT partners?  Who is going to help you prevent from getting "locked in" to a vendor? The cost effective approach is to install the latest technology.  Use the technology to help surge the growth.  Don't say your business is relying on India unless you are "IN" India.

There is action in Las Vegas, but it is also in Bangalore too.  What is an indicator?  Technology, Telecom and Transportation are helping fuel a mall-building boom in India.  The retail environment of yesterday is going upscale.  I read in Time that the number one shopping splurge in India is dresses and the American brand coveted to own is Calvin Klein.  Yes India has its challenges as do other developing economies.  Will the infrastructure build out be done properly?  Will the economy eventually level off and when?

It is a world economy today.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday Oct 05, 2007

Look but don't touch...

Where is the value if you can only look at that chocolate cake behind the glass rather than share and taste it?  Same should apply for all software.


Wednesday Sep 26, 2007

If you are painted as irrelevant are you a threat?

What is a better position to be painted as?  Company A: that alternative mouse trap or Company B: that former high flyer but "irrelevant" entity.  It doesn't matter what industry: automobiles, home appliances, beer industry, retail, etc. We have all heard the competition paint their competitors.  Sports teams like to use the "no respect" card to motivate the team.  Satisfaction is gained when the "team" shows the pundits and the odds makers differently.  In fact some like to be the underdog so they can fly under the radar and be taken for granted.  It is a great position for professional sports as any team can be beat on a given night when you are playing the best.  Roger Clemems was supposedly washed up 11 years ago when he was traded by the Boston Red Sox to the Toronto Blue Jays.  How many Cy Young awards did he win after the trade?  Four of them. How many Cy Young awards has he won in total?  Seven of them.  Being painted as all washed up and irrelevant was a motivator.  "He is too old", "Doesn't have the edge anymore", "Lost his spark", "Has too much money", etc. He saw it differently than his pundits and competition.

If you are a company and get painted the same way:  former high flyer, lost its vision, could not adapt after the .BOMB, financially unsound, etc. Those are certainly motivators.  If a company was in the software and hardware business what would they have to do show that irrelevance is determined by the customer not the competition at the end of the day. 

The company would build hardware that is optimized for virtualization on multiple fronts.  Virtulization is not a one recipe fits all problem.  Have your hardware be hyper visor aware.  Make sure your hardware can run the dominate industry operating systems even if one of them happens to be proprietary. Memory density and I/O connectivity should be features that differentiate.    Common industry standard components and subsystems that span across multiple microprocessor architectures is attractive.  If different microprocessor-based blades can share a common backplane all the better.  The company should then make sure that their software is virtual machine aware to be a great dom0 as well as run as a VM in someone else's dom0 even if it is proprietary.  This software would also allow different flavors of VM capability.  For example virtualize and entire OS 'on' your environment or virtualize particular applications 'in' your environment with zoning.  Lastly make sure your software environment runs on competitor's hardware. So far the company would have multiple hardware capability teamed with multiple software capability.  This sounds like motivation. 

Next the company would be able to put the two above items together and build compelling solutions for customers.  Imagine the products that one could build. For example build a server that can eat and serve storage easily because the architecture is closely coupled and the os is optimized.  Or a server that can horizontally consolidate multiple instances of linux by taking advantage of high cpu thread counts and the VM aware os.  How about taking it one step further.  The above 2 examples are based off of general computing.  So now let's extend the solution with embedded capability.  Create dedicated products with the same hardware and software from above-- but leverage their ability to virtulize...  That is both compelling and scary especially if the software licensing terms allow anyone to have access to all the code. 

Cy Young like stuff...

Sunday Sep 16, 2007

The Financial industry IS High Tech

The financial industry has become quite high technology. The old days of banking are long gone.  Does anyone remember the 3-6-3 rule of banking?  Pay your depositors 3% interest, charge 6% for loans and be on the golf course by 3 pm.  The financial industry is a hungry consumer of high technology in order to manage their business.

Number crunching of massive amounts of data is a requirement in the financial industry today.  Complex formulas and modeling on large scale computing engines are no longer foreign to people managing capital.  Complex equations and modeling are not unique to the scientific community.  High performance technical computing (HPC) is being used for financial management. 

A financial institution will crunch lots of numbers to determine their opening position when trading begins each day.  When the market closes trading for the day, those massive computes begin again and crunch numbers throughout the night looking for the advantage via trend, averages, models, derivatives, etc.  The financial industry has leveraged technology to the point that this industry is effectively competing and hiring technology college graduates.

Simple financial management has been replace by everything from sub-prime mortgages, day trading, hedge funds, disaster bonds to mortality bonds.  Mortality bonds are a perfect example of how the industry constantly looks for creative ways to provide a return on an investment.  The finance industry has taken a page from every insurance company actuary.  Disaster bonds are hedging against having to payout for natural disasters.

High Performance Technical computing has become a competitive weapon for the financial industry.

Thursday Sep 13, 2007

10 year old twins programming?

This past summer I had the dreaded conversation that software developer parents have with their 13 year old children.  No not about the birds and the beesIt was the programmer conversation...  My 13 year old is a runescape gamer-- part of a community that is 5 million users strong for a single on-line game!  It bothers me that he spends time on a game when he could be playing outside.  Granted he is active in sports, the combination of Web, Playstation and media content dejour causes me to constantly say things \*are\* different today.  The discussion started with me telling him that runescape is a Java app. "What's that?" he replied.  So I downloaded NetBeans onto his computer.  Then I showed him how to build a simple Java app and then run it in the JVM on his PC.  His first exposure to programming at 13... I was 18 when I was exposed to FORTRAN IV on punch cards.

I'm waiting to see if my son picks up from being "on" the code as a user and embraces being "in" the code as developer. He is pretty savvy already.  He has taken full advantage of Google Pack (always free - no trail versions or spyware). I asked him what tools in Google Pack are most applicable to his school work.  Hands down he uses the office productivity suite called StarOffice the most.  My son is getting along nicely with his PC and the free software he uses on a daily basis.  I'm waiting to have the virtulization discussion with him next, but let's wait and see if he wants to be "in" rather than "on."

Not to be left out my twin 10 year old daughters wanted to be "in" on something that they do not understand.  There is a great research project called SCRATCH being driven out of MIT that enables elementary school children to create games, interactive media and animated stories via drag and drop programming. With a little investigation I discovered the engine behind this tool is an open sourced LAMP stack.  My twins are now programming away using this fabulous tool to expose young children to programming.  I suggested my son experiment with SCRATCH as a precursor to NetBeans.

So in a weekend I was able to expose all 3 of my children to programming via free and open source software.  That made me think why wouldn't the same apply to novice adults and businesses. Free and open source software enables one to experiment with no entry barriers other than a person's time.  A computer is a barrier but pubic access to  computers at libraries and university locations is widespread. I did a search on the web to see what free and open source stack  I could find related to storage.  I was able to find a product called FreeNAS. Granted this product has some limitations, but I'm sure someone will enable a commercial viable product around an open sourced os using commodity hardware.  In fact, FreeNAS won an Info World Bossie Award along with some other recipients...

My son teaches me every day that things are different than when I was a youth.  Land line phones no, Wireless Web-based devices yes.

He is right... things are changing.


 



Thursday Aug 09, 2007

Storage as a commodity is accelerating

As company earnings continue to be announced in the 2nd half of 2007 more evidence is becoming available which points to a softening of storage demand, especially in the U.S.A.  Opinions range from the credit crunch of rising interest rates, product mix issues and full channel inventories that need to be drawn down.  While all of the above reasons may be a factor, I’d like to propose one of my own observations.

The storage industry is approaching an inflection point.  Multiple public companies are all speaking about IT consolidation and virtualization.  For newly formed companies and businesses their criteria requires designing around scalability, minimum solution costs and most importantly no vendor dependence.

I believe that companies that enjoy margins north of 50 points for storage solutions will be forced to be more competitive with storage solutions that go the way of commodity.

Let’s take as an example: block and file storage.  Solutions are provided today via a variety of proprietary embedded methods that range from traditional server/storage configurations to specialized appliances.  Storage services for all solutions typically provide support for industry standard protocols (iSCSI, NFS, CIFS, NDMP) and data services (snapshots, replication, RAID, compression, compliance, … etc.).  Storage solutions today charge you licensing fees or RTUs (Right To Use) for each protocol and data service you need.  This is a healthy revenue stream for certain storage vendors.

RAID performed by intelligent hardware controllers is a solid solution today.  However businesses are moving toward solutions based on software RAID because of enhanced protection provided by the software RAID/file system combination.  The design of the application is a factor too when multiple hardware failures can be tolerated because data copies are distributed and recoverable.  A good example of using cheap, non redundant hardware with software capable of handling multiple hardware failures is the Google File System (GFS).

Another factor at work here is a trend that can almost be defined as a default standard today—that of basing your IT solutions off of a Linux distribution.  There are multiple offerings of Linux today.  One distribution that is gaining adoption is CentOS.  Both public and private companies are deploying CentOS as an alternative to a popular Linux vendor distribution.
CentOS is built from publicly available open source SRPMS provided by a prominent North American Enterprise Linux vendor. CentOS conforms fully with the upstream vendors redistribution policies and aims to be 100% binary compatible. (CentOS mainly changes packages to remove upstream vendor branding and artwork). All perfectly legal under the terms and conditions of open source licensing.

How would the competitive landscape change if storage protocol support and data services could be added to a unix distribution? In other words take a proven enterprise unix os that is open sourced and build in additional features specific to storage.  In fact why not add other features that are becoming expected standards.  A good example here is virtulization.  If this could be done it would be an enabler for creating storage product offerings out of non proprietary software using commodity servers and storage.  This would change the current landscape especially if cost savings and prevention of vendor lock in is achievable.

There is a growing customer base that is building their IT infrastructure from hybrid storage solutions.  They don't quite fit nicely into the standard file, block or even object industry segments today.  In some ways these customers want to slightly tweak the storage, servers and software to create the hybrid.  This hybrid also turns out to be their competitive weapon.

Helping customers achieve their own individual hybrid is certainly an opportunity worth pursuing.



About

The blog of Bob Porras - Vice President, Data, Availability, Scalability & HPC for Sun Microsystems, Inc.

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