Tuesday Feb 17, 2009

Not the Bandwidth... It's the Latency That Gets You

Being an old server guy a common rule we live by is: "It's not the bandwidth, it's the latency that gets you."  How so appropriate for storage today. Applications put a tremendous demand on accessing data when and where you need it.  Users nor customers are willing to deal with waiting a long time for their data.  With Web 2.0 services spanning a multitude of needs, response time is critical.  For certain real time applications interrupt response time and minimal latency is a must.  A real time data feed comes in an instant and you have to be ready to respond to the telemetry data as that satellite passes over that receiving station.

Data needs to be stored or retrieved for devices that span from the small mp3 player to that large cloud that you provide and/or utilize.  Specific to the storage of your data, performance fundamentally comes down to how you manage your reads and writes.  File and block serving of data needs to be tuned, staged and ultimately not waiting at any stage of the pipeline from disk to client.  Today that requires a lot of intimate knowledge of processor caching, storage controllers, I/O software stacks and much more.  Having knowledge of this information is only part of the solution as the whole application topology is further mystified by unknown bottlenecks, resource hogs and just plain alchemy. 

The unknowns are attempted to be turned into knowns by expensive analyzers, network sniffers and debug tools.  What could one do if a visual dynamic analysis tool was made available to you?  The you being that novice with limited knowledge as well as that you with all the intimate knowledge of hardware, kernel, drivers, application software, cache coherency, round robin scheduling, relational databases, etc.  For the investor world we have Cramer's Mad Money.  I'd like to introduce you to Gregg's Mad Storage.  Brendan Gregg  has a great post on explaining how a hybrid storage pool of solid state disk and cheap SATA disks can significantly outperform traditional storage.  It's not only RAM and disk any longer, rather RAM, SSDs, cheap disks and the ZFS file system.  The heat maps from Analytics of storage latency are just so visual.  Using Analytics (Dtrace) in the Unified Storage Server 7000 Appliance is very intuitive and straight forward.  No clumsy logs files to comb through.  No debug points to capture state.  Only point and clicks of your mouse and loads of visual histograms of data for your eyes. Brendan does an awesome job of breaking down fundamental performance problems using analytics built into this storage appliance.

There even is a Unified Storage Server 7000 emulator available on VMwareCheck it out for yourself and see what commodity hardware, an open sourced operating system, innovation and differentiation can do for your storage needs.  You may also want to bookmark Brendan's blog as his posts on performance for hybrid storage appliances are just as passionate as the technology.  Stay tuned for more on solid state disk technology where we'd rather lead than follow.

Tuesday Feb 03, 2009

Follow the Ships in Singapore...

Flying into Singapore, one of the worlds largest ports, I noticed something odd.  There seemed to be too many ships anchored in the waters.  From the SwissHotel in Singapore you have a beautiful view of the port.  From this view you can also see the Singapore Flyer.  One rotation on this structure takes 30 minutes.  It is B-I-G.  Unfortunately it was closed as mechanical problems caused some people to get stuck at the top for several hours.  Not a pleasant thought if you don't like heights...  This Ferris wheel measures 571 feet (165m) in height!  During my attendance of Sun's TechDays 2009 in Singapore I spoke with a lot of developers and customers among the ~1300 that attended (see below).  During the event reception, on the 70th floor of the hotel, we had the backdrop of the port amongst several conversations (see below). 

I was speaking with folks about Singapore's Port Terminal and why so many ships at port.  I was not surprised to find out that many of the ships are short term moored, since imports and exports have slowed.  One individual told me that ship movements started to slow in October, then some more in November and plummeted in December.  The decrease in port activity is in direct correlation with the economic slow down worldwide.  Another person described the port activity as "crawling."  While activity may be off in Singapore's port, it still processes 1/5 of the worlds export/import containers and serves as an economic barometer in my view.  I noticed a large number of oil tankers in the port as well...  Short term mooring of vessels at Singapore is measured in days and it makes sense to stage vessels there-- especially if you consider the amount of throughput at this port.  One only needs to watch the ship activity at Singapore's port terminal to gauge if the world economy is getting better or worse.  No need to listen to all the analysts, experts, press, news feeds, ect.  Simply watch the ships in Singapore.

Moving up North to Tokyo I met with some customers in the mobile provider business.  I've been able to visibly see evidence that businesses world wide are interested in cost savings.  That does not necessarily mean stop spending, but rather spending to improve efficiencies via consolidation (cloud computing) and commoditized components (storage). 

It's rather scary to see more public companies report disappointing earnings and forecasts.  Benchmark companies such as Microsoft, Nokia, Toyota, LG, Lockhead, Sony, Hyundai, TSMC, GM, BofA, Barclays and HSBC have all slashed their outlook as well as stating reduction of operating costs.  One analyst quoted in the Financial Times has predicted trouble for some British banks who refused help from their government and may be over exposed to emerging market borrowers.  Some are speculating that these worldwide economic problems are accelerating computing away from the PC.  That means margin pressure for the businesses who center around this particular computing platform.  As PC computing moves more toward laptop to netbook to handhelds and thin clients, this will only accelerate the opportunity for those who can differentiate in the computing infrastructure environment.  This in my opinion is why the storage market and now the cloud market (virtulization 2.0) has become so visible.
Open sourced efforts will only gain momentum with a bad economy. The computing industry will become a low barrier to enter and exit among suppliers.  Look at the auto industry.  If you can drive a car your loyalty can move between any supplier.  The only way an auto manufacturer can “lock you in” is via your experience.  That is not so true in the IT industry today.  Apple does a great job today of keeping you as a customer because of the excellent experience with their products.  However look at Sony.  They had that edge previously, but commodity economics has caused Sony to retreat and regroup.  Customers are interested in solving new problems in different ways, especially if there is a savings in cost.  For example SATA disks and Solid State Disks (SSDs) combined can give you better performance than buying more expensive Fibre Channel 15K Disk Drives. If I give some quick thought as to what the IT commoditization order looks like I would list it as:

  1. memory
  2. processor
  3. networking
  4. operating system
  5. storage
  6. database

Items 1,2 and 3 are in advanced stages of being a commodity.  Items 4, 5, and 6 are early or accelerating stages of being commoditized.  In an accelerating economy leaders of new innovation who commoditize technology are usually venture backed private firms.  In a deteriorating economy the leaders of new innovation tend to be publicly traded entities who have the expertise to combine technology into new solutions.  Also it's important to not be squeamish on changing the business model for these new solutions.

In Tokyo a fellow colleague asked me how the economy was in the U.S.  I asked him has he been reading the papers or watching the news to which he said "yes."  He then told me he wanted to hear it first hand from someone in the U.S.  I asked him why and he stated that he still finds it unbelievable that the downturn is world wide.  It's obvious to him in Japan and he's living it, but the other economy woes worldwide are only news to him and difficult to fathom.   Having seen the downturn firsthand around the globe I don't need to ask anyone.

Keep innovating, keep commoditizing... the time is ripe for opportunity.


Monday Nov 10, 2008

A new Networked Appliance is the Appliance Appliance for Storage and IT

Going against the establishment or trying to redefine standards in an industry is always hard.  While believers encourage you the industry critics are happy to knock you down.  For the critics as Dale Carnegie says: "Criticisms are disguised complements."  Today after lots of encouragement, hard work and collaboration Sun is announcing it's first wave of OpenStorage appliance solutions built from some pretty compelling systems and software technologies. 

In a nutshell the Sun Storage 7000 Unified Storage System Family offers data services via:

  • - Storage Analytics
  • - VLAN support
    - ZFS Hybrid Storage Pool
    - RAID-Z (5 and 6), Mirrored and Striping
    - Snapshots
    - Clone and clone promotion
    - Snapshot Restore
    - Storage ISV integration
    - NFSv3, v4 service
    - Kernel based CIFS Server
    - iSCSI Target
    - Remote Replication
    - Data Compression
    - Active-Active Clustering
    - Thin Provisioning
    - Virus scanning
    - NDMP Server (Network Data Management Protocol)
    - System Self-Healing
    - ZFS Data Integrity
    - RAID-6 (DP) and optional RAID-6 Across JBODs
    - LACP (Link Aggregation Control Protocol)
    - IP MultiPathing (IPMP)
    - I/O MultiPathing between the Sun Storage 7410 and JBODs
    - Phone home telemetry
    - Multi Browser Interface support
    - Heterogeneous access
    - Role Base Access Control and more...

As true appliances the Sun Storage 7110, 7210 and 7410 offer you a seamless easy to use captive control interface.  It should not matter what is under the covers. But let's take a quick peek under and look at some of the piece parts.  The same piece parts that allow anyone in the opensolaris community to roll your own storage solution.  A great group of folks at Sun have rolled our own storage appliance for sale ($$$) if that is the right solution for you.  Some community members have money but no time and some community members have no money but timeMeet up with them.  The choice is yours and the cost savings are significant for either choice.  However it is pretty difficult to make something very easy and that's where the technical skills of systems and software expertise at Sun differentiates. 

Next up in our recipe is standard commodity hardware.  Nothing special is needed here to add or tweak the configuration.  Software turns the standard hardware into the appliance.  Stock servers with disks and dumb JBOD expansion if you really want to scale. No magic here other than well designed hardware.  Add in components such as SSD/Flash technology to optimize file serving.  Marry it all with very clever file system technology (you know what it is) so performance gains pop.  Intelligence based on a simple flow of:

if ssd_present

then

       begin {optimize ssd}

else

       begin {optimize normal};

That's right an auto sensing file system (click here to see the actual code) for solid state disks no matter how many you may have in your configuration.  Now let's look at one final component. Technology that combines, contains, configures, consolidates and choreographs all this neat stuff into one seamless appliance of fully integrated software and hardware (FISHworks).  The result is analytics for insight and management.  Integrated RAS, fault management and reporting.  Click and point for configuration, management of data services and user management.  Simply easy.

Congratulations are due to too many folks to name here across the systems, software, services, marketing, ops, etc. organizations at Sun.  The most exciting aspect for me is the almost limitless additional services and horizontal scaling that can be realized through the combination of more innovation among systems and opensolaris software.  No matter what model is right for you, as a community member, you can participate or just watch.  It's totally up to you.

As the graphic shows above we've put all hands in for a job well done.

Enough of the quick peek of what is under the covers, just get it and try it out and let us know what you think.  A select set of community members have been working with us for a while and see the glass both ways.  We have been listening too... that is why we took some extra time.



Thursday Sep 04, 2008

Sun Tech Days 2008-2009 coming to you

Once again we are kicking off our yearly worldwide developer conference for 2008-2009.  We are coming to you, the developers, in 13 countries across 4 continents this year.  Netbeans, OpenSolaris, Java, Solaris, System Administration and best of all: hands-on-labs.  Throughout the world, developers continue to flock to these Tech Days to learn, share, develop and participate in the community of millions.

No matter if it's in South America, Asia, India, etc. it is exciting to meet with professionals, students, professors, consultants, customers, partners and vendors in a community setting where innovation and technology matters most.

If your building out your infrastructure, focusing on web 2.0 or looking to take advantage of high performance technical computing a Tech Day near you is worth experiencing.

See you soon in São Paulo Brasil.

Até lá!

Thursday Jul 24, 2008

It's the business model hombre...

You don't have to look too hard to see examples of businesses that have been impacted as a result of a change in the business model that they served.  One example that is still clear in my mind is the music industry.  There are many empty record store buildings as a result of how the internet has shifted the business model of distribution, sharing and mindset.  The music industry shift continues to this day, but some artists have gotten in front of the change rather than try to resist.  What is the one thing that drives most change?  I'll give you a hint.  It is the most powerful army in the world.  As I learned in business school, military war is plain awful, economic battle is simply brutal.  The perfect storm is when you have a declining economy and a changing business model that implies commodity.  Looking back at change it is easy to understand what happened to the slide rule, floppy disk drives, cathode ray tubes, drive-ins, the home delivery milkman and the home delivery iceman.

There was a lot of discussion about the Amazon S3 outage last Friday.  Some  folks were quick to jump on the cloud computing is dead wagon.  Their probable cause was left to this new storage/compute paradigm is crazy, see what will happen if you buy into this new  IT economy.  Storage has to be expensive.  Come on, it's the only thing expensive left... man.  Of course only start ups and daring enterprises would use such a service.  Well I disagree.  Having been personally involved in outages with previous companies and relying on 27 years of industry experience, it is true that major outages also occur with proprietary server/storage solutions of yesterday. In fact some pretty severe outages and no vendor is excluded.  Cloud computing is not going to go away.  It is only going to get stronger.  Economics will drive it.  New services economically attractive to businesses, individuals, students, etc. will continue to grow it.

As my Dad use to say: "Lead, don't follow."


About

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

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