What planet are we on? (The Third) — the RSTS11 Interop preview

Greetings from Fabulous Las Vegas, Nevada. For the third year, with apologies to Men Without Hats, I’m back in the Mandalay Bay Convention Center for Interop. 

This week, I’m actually a man without hats as well. My Big Data Safari hat is in my home office, and my virtual Cisco ears are back at home as well, next to the VPN router that was powered down before I headed for the airport. (Alas, after moving from Disney to Cisco, I lost the theme park discounts and the epic mascot reference.)

What are you up to at Interop this year, Robert?

So why am I back at Interop, when a dozen conference calls a day could have been in the cards for me this week? 

My readers, my fans, and my groupie all know that I’ve been a fan of the Psycho Overkill Home Office (POHO) for quite a while, going back to when I had a 19-server, 5-architecture environment with a 3-vendor network in my spare bedroom. Today it’s about 12 servers, all x64 (Shuttle, Intel, Cisco, Supermicro, Dell, and maybe another secret brand or two), and technically a 5-vendor network, but the idea is similar enough.

And having built a couple of startups up from the under-the-desk model to a scalable, sustainable production-grade infrastructure, the overkill in my home office and labs has led to efficient and effective environments in my workplaces. 

This week I’m taking a break from my usual big data evangelism and the identity aspects of working for a huge multinational juggernaut. It’s a bit of a relief, to be honest; earlier this month I attended my first event in 10 months as a non-booth-babe, and now I’m getting to focus on my more traditional interests. 

What’s on the agenda this week?

I’m looking forward to return visits to the folks at Sandisk, Opengear, and Cradlepoint. Cradlepoint was the first interview I did two years ago at Interop 2013, and I’ve been a customer on my own for many years; Opengear was a presenter at Tech Field Day Extra at Cisco Live 2013; and I last talked with Sandisk at Storage Field Day 5 about a year ago, as well as having been a Fusion-io customer at a previous job. 

I have a couple of other meeting requests out, so we may hear from a couple of other POHO/SOHO/ROBO/lab staples, and I’ll at least be dropping by their booths in the Interop Expo to see what’s new. 

While I’m only recording this week for notetaking convenience, I am starting to ponder what to do about the podcast I’ve been thinking about for a couple of years. So maybe I can pull in some interesting people from time to time… last night’s conversation over Burger Bar shakes with Chris Wahl and Howard Marks probably would have been fodder for several podcasts alone (and I don’t think any of us even had any alcohol!).

And seeing as a number of my friends are presenting this year, including Chris and Howard, I’ll be trying to make my way to their sessions (although there’s a LOT of overlap, and triple-booking isn’t uncommon… there’s a lot more than the Expo floor to experience at Interop, as always).

So where do we go from here?

If you’re at Interop, who are you looking forward to seeing/hearing/heckling/buying drinks for? (And if you’d like to meet up, catch me on Twitter at @gallifreyan.) If not, check out the exhibitor list at interop.com/lasvegas and let me know who you are curious about on that list. 

The Endpoint Justifies The Veeam: New free “personal” backup product coming soon

Apologies to Sondheim and Lapine for the updated title on this article.

Veeam announced their “Endpoint Backup FREE” product in the wee hours of the morning Wednesday, as about a thousand attendeees of the first-ever VeeamON user conference were still recovering from the event party at LIGHT nightclub in Las Vegas. More on VeeamON in another post later… but let’s get back to the new product for now.

Nope, this isn’t a hangover. Veeam, a leader in virtual machine backup/recovery and disaster recovery technology, is stepping out of the virtual world to allow you to back up bare metal systems. From early comments, this has been a long-awaited feature.

Veeam Endpoint Backup FREE

Endpoint Backup FREE is a standalone software package targeted at IT professionals and technophiles for use on standalone systems with local or networked storage. It should fit into anyone’s budget, and with flash drives and external USB drives coming down in price, none of us should have an excuse not to back up our personal laptops and desktops anymore (I’m talking to me here).

eblog5_thumb advanced recovery disk

Veeam offers an “Advanced Recovery Disk” that enables you to do a bare metal restore to a point in time. With some products you can restore from a backup image to a new disk or replacement computer, but you have to install and patch your OS from scratch first. Other products may limit you to local storage, or require driver alchemy, but with the Endpoint Backup recovery disk, you can boot from it (i.e. USB flash drive or optical media) and restore your full system image from a network share on your LAN.

Hey, can I back up a million Windows Servers with this product?

grumpy-cat

No, you can’t, and you shouldn’t.

Veeam are using a specific term in the product name–endpoint–to distinguish this offering from a bare metal server backup product. While it runs on Windows Server 2008 and later (as well as Windows 7 and later on the desktop side), it is being developed as a client OS backup solution. It does not have any central control or client management functionality, as it is a standalone program. This model doesn’t really scale for a large number of systems.

However, if you’ve virtualized all but two or three servers in your environment, or if you run a small number of physical servers in a home lab, this can cover that gap without having to license an additional enterprise product for a small number of legacy servers. You can even use a Veeam infrastructure as your backup target, whether backing up Windows Server or the standard desktop offerings.

Also, at this time Veeam does not support mobile devices (iOS, Android, Windows Phone, Sybian, Tizen, etc) so it is not a universal endpoint solution. You’ll want to either use your platform’s cloud option or something like Lookout or a carrier-specific app to back up your tablets and phones.

What are the downsides to this new product?

Well, the main thing for me personally is this (courtesy of Rick Vanover’s vBrownBag talk this morning):

Veeam Not Yet

It’s not available yet. Veeam employees are doing an alpha test now. A public beta is expected in November, with general availability (GA) offering in early 2015. However, for me it’s not that bad as it will take me a couple more weeks to have any free time, so for once I can probably wait patiently.

Another thing, which will probably affect a few of my readers:

no macs

That’s right, no Macs. At launch, and for the foreseeable future, Endpoint Backup FREE will only support Windows systems. Today there is no Linux or Mac OS X support. You can of course back up the Windows VM on your Mac with this product, but you’d have to use one of the server products to back up Linux, and if customers request Mac OS X support enough, they will likely consider it down the road.

And a fifth thing, that builds on the previous item:

Windows_me_logo

For reasons that should be obvious, Veeam has chosen to support only current Windows OS revisions. Windows 7 and later and Windows Server 2008 and later will be supported.

XP is out of service, and Vista is, well, Vista. Windows Server 2003 goes out of service next year. So for most users this will not be a major hindrance, but if your home lab has a lot of old Windows OSes, the Endpoint Backup FREE product will probably not fit your needs. And you should use this as an excuse to start upgrading (as if you needed any more reasons).

So where do we go from here?

It’s going to be an interesting year coming up, in the PC backup world. Veeam has a long history of free products, going back to their first product, FastSCP from 2006. Many technologically savvy end users will probably try out the new offering and then be tempted to check out Veeam’s other products if they haven’t already.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see this functionality integrated and expanded into a paid/enterprise grade offering in Veeam’s future, incorporating feedback from the beta and first production release of Endpoint Backup FREE. There’s some logic in expanding from there to supporting bare metal servers in a scalable way as well. If Veeam follows this path, the other big backup players may end up with a bit of heartburn.

You can sign up for the beta at go.veeam.com/endpoint and get notified when it’s available for download.

Disclosure: Veeam provided me with a complimentary media pass to attend VeeamON 2014. No other consideration was offered, and there was no requirement or request that I write about anything at the event. As always, any coverage you read here at rsts11 is because I found it interesting on its merits.

How do you solve a problem like Invicta? PernixData and external high performance cache

PernixData and unconventional flash caching

We spent a captivating two hours at PernixData in San Jose Wednesday. For more general and detailed info on the conversations and related announcements, check out this post by PernixData’s Frank Dennenman on their official blog, and also check out Duncan Epping’s post on YellowBricks.

At a very high and imprecise level, PernixData’s FVP came out last year to provide a caching layer (using flash storage, whether PCI-E or SSD) injected at the vmkernel level on VMware hypervisors. One big development this week was the option to use RAM in place of (or in addition to) flash as a caching layer, but this is unrelated to my thoughts below.

One odd question arose during our conversation with Satyam Vaghani, CTO and co-founder of PernixData. Justin Warren, another delegate, asked the seemingly simple question of whether you could use external flash as cache for a cluster (or clusters) using PernixData’s FVP. Satyam’s answer was a somewhat surprising “yes.”

I thought (once Justin mentioned it) that this was an obvious idea, albeit somewhat niche, and having worked to get scheduled downtime for a hundred servers on several instances in the past year, I could imagine why I might not want to (or be able to) shut down 100 hypervisor blades to install flash into them. If I could put a pile of flash into one or more centrally accessible, high speed/relatively low latency (compared to spinning disk) hosts, or perhaps bring in something like Fusion-io’s Ion Accelerator platform.

I took a bit of ribbing from a couple of other delegates, who didn’t see any situation where this would be useful. You always have plenty of extra spare hypervisor capacity, and flash that can go into those servers, and time and human resources to handle the upgrades, right? If so, I mildly envy you.

So what’s this about Invicta?

Cisco’s UCS Invicta platform (the evolution of WHIPTAIL) is a flash block storage platform based on a Cisco UCS C240-M3S rackmount server with 24 consumer-grade MLC SSD drives. Today its official placement is as a standalone device, managed by Cisco UCS Director, serving FC to UCS servers. The party line is that using it with any other platform or infrastructure is off-label.

I’ve watched a couple of presentations on the Invicta play. It hasn’t yet been clear how Cisco sees it playing against similar products in the market (i.e. Fusion-io Ion Accelerator). When I asked on a couple of occasions on public presentations, the comparison was reduced to Fusion-io ioScale/ioDrive PCIe cards, which is neither a fair, nor an applicable, comparison. You wouldn’t compare Coho Data arrays to single SSD enclosures. So for a month or so I’ve been stuck with the logical progression:

  1. Flash is fast
  2. ???
  3. Buy UCS and Invicta

Last month, word came out that Cisco was selling Invicta arrays against Pure Storage and EMC XtremIO, for heterogeneous environments, which also seems similar to the market for Ion Accelerator. Maybe I called it in the air. Who knows? The platform finally made sense in the present though.

Two great tastes that taste great together?

Wednesday afternoon I started putting the pieces together. Today you can serve up an Invicta appliance as block storage, and probably (I haven’t validated this) access it from a host or hosts running PernixData’s FVP. You’re either dealing with FC or possibly iSCSI. It will serve as well as the competing flash appliances.

But when Cisco gets Invicta integrated into the UCS infrastructure, hopefully with native support for iSCSI and FCoE traffic, you’ll be talking about 10 gigabit connections within the Fabric Interconnect for cache access. You’ll be benefiting from the built-in redundancy, virtual interface mapping and pinning, and control from UCS Manager/UCS Central. You’re keeping your cache within a rack or pod. And if you need to expand the cache you won’t need to open up any of your servers or take them down. You’d be able to put another Invicta system in, map it in, and use it just as the first one is being used.

If you’re not in a Cisco UCS environment, it looks like you could still use Invicta arrays, or Fusion-io, or other pure flash players (even something like a whitebox or channel partner Nexenta array, at least for proof-of-concept).

So where do we go from here?

The pure UCS integration for Invicta is obviously on the long-term roadmap, and hopefully the business units involved see the benefits of true integration at the FI level and move that forward soon.

I’m hoping to get my hands on a trial of FVP, one way or another, and possibly build a small flash appliance in my lab as well as putting some SSDs in my C6100 hypervisor boxes.

It would be interesting to compare the benefits of the internal vs external flash integration, with a conventional 10GBE (non-converged) network. This could provide some insight into a mid-market bolt-on solution, and give some further enlightenment on when and why you might take this option over internal flash. I know that I won’t be able to put a PCIe flash card into my C6100s, unless I give up 10GBE (one PCIe slot per server, darn). Although with FVP’s newly-announced network compression, that might be viable.

What are your thoughts on external server-side cache? Do you think something like this would be useful in an environment you’ve worked with? Feel free to chime in on the comments section below.

This is a post related to Storage Field Day 5, the independent influencer event being held in Silicon Valley April 23-25, 2014. As a delegate to SFD5, I am chosen by the Tech Field Day community and my travel and expenses are covered by Gestalt IT. I am not required to write about any sponsoring vendor, nor is my content reviewed. No compensation has been or will be received for this or other Tech Field Day post. I am a Cisco Champion but all Cisco information below is public knowledge and was received in public channels.

FirmwareGate and FCoEgate two months later

I was surprised last week at Interop to hear people still talking about both FCoEgate and HP FirmwareGate. It seems that in the absence of any clarity or resolution, both still bother many in the industry.

For those of you who missed the early February drama (and my relevant blog post):

FCoE-gate

FCoEgate: An analyst group called The Evaluator Group released a “seriously flawed” competitive comparison between an HP/Brocade/FC environment and a Cisco/FCoE environment. Several technical inquiries were answered with confusing evidence that the testers didn’t really know what they were doing.

Several people I talked to at Interop mentioned that this was a perfectly understandable mistake for a newbie analyst, but experienced analysts should have known better. Brocade should have known better as well, but I believe they still stand by the story.

The take-home from this effort is that if you don’t know how to configure a product or technology, and you don’t know how it works, it may not perform optimally in comparison to the one you’re being paid to show off.

This one doesn’t affect me as much personally, but I’ll note that there doesn’t seem to have been a clear resolution of the flaws in this report. Brocade has no reason to pay Evaluator Group to redo a valid comparison, and technologists worth their salt would see through it anyway (as many have). So we have to count on that latter part.

FirmwareGate

FirmwareGate: HP’s server division announced that, for the good of their “Customers For Life,” they would stop making server firmware available unless it was “safety and security” updates. How can you tell if it’s “safety and security?” Try to download it.

HP claimed repeatedly that this brings them in line with “industry best practices,” thus defining their “industry” as consisting exclusively of HP and Oracle. I don’t know any working technologists who would go along with that definition.

HP promised clarification on this, and defended their policy change by declaring industry standard x86/x64 servers as equivalent to commercial operating system releases and Cisco routers.

They even had a conversation with my friend John Obeto, wherein they convinced him that nothing had changed. Ah, if only this were true. (It isn’t.)

But I had fleeting faith that maybe they’d fixed the problem. So I went to get the firmware update for a nearly 2-year-old Microserver N40L, which had a critical firmware bug keeping it from installing a couple of current OSes. Turns out it’s not a “safety and security” fix, and my system apparently came with a one year warranty.

So if I wanted to run a current Windows OS, I either have to spend more on the support contract than I did on the server (if I can find the support contract anymore), or go with an aftermarket third party reverse-engineered firmware (which, unlike HP’s offerings actually enhances functionality and adds value).

Or I can go with the option that I suspect I and many other hobbyists, home lab users, influencers, and recommenders will — simply purchase servers by companies that respect their customers.

What should HP be doing instead?

The “industry best practices” HP should be subscribing to include open access to industry standard server firmware that fixes bugs they delivered, not just vaguely declared “safety and security” upgrades, much as every other industry standard server vendor except Oracle does. That includes Dell, Cisco, Supermicro, Fujitsu, NEC, Lenovo/IBM, and probably a number of other smaller players.

As my friend Howard Marks noted, some of us would be satisfied with a software-only or firmware-only support contract. On-site hardware maintenance isn’t necessary or even affordable for many of us. Many of us who buy used servers would be better off buying an extra server for parts, and most of us buying used servers know how to replace a part or swap out a server. Some of us even better than the vendor’s field engineers.

HP has been silent on this matter for over a month now, as far as I can tell. The “Master Technologists” from HP who won’t distinguish an MDS router from an x86 server have gone silent. And I’m sure many of the “customers for life” that the 30-year HP veteran graciously invites to keep buying support contracts will start looking around if there’s not a critical feature in HP servers that they need.

So where do we go from here?

I can no longer advocate HP servers for people with budgets containing fewer than 2 commas, and even for those I’d suggest thinking about what’s next. There are analogous or better options out there from Dell, Cisco, Supermicro, Fujitsu, NEC, Lenovo, and for the smaller lab form factors, Intel, Gigabyte, Shuttle, and others. (It’s also worth noting that most of those also provide fully functional remote management without an extra license cost as well.)

If you do want to go with HP, or if you can’t replace your current homelab investment, there are ways to find firmware out there (as there has been in the past for Sun^wOracle Solaris). It took me about 15 minutes to find the newly-locked-down Microserver firmware, for example. It didn’t even require a torrent. I can’t advocate that path, as there may be legal, ethical, and safety concerns, but it might be better than going without, at least until you can replace your servers.

And I’ve replaced most of my HP servers in the lab with Dell servers. One more to go. If anyone wants to buy a couple of orphaned DL servers in Silicon Valley (maybe for parts), contact me.

If anyone else has seen any clarity or correction in the state of FCoEgate or FirmwareGate in the last month or so, let me know in the comments. I’d love to be wrong.

Taking POHO to Interop 2014 – Three Roads To Take

I’m looking forward to returning to Interop Las Vegas in under two weeks. Where has the winter gone? I know, I’m in Northern California, I can’t complain much about the weather.

interop-2014-banner

Click above for conference details, or visit this link for a free expo and keynote pass.

There are three aspects of Interop that I’m looking forward to.

First, I’m looking forward to meeting some Twitterverse friends, and maybe a Twitter-averse friend or two, as well as contacts I’ve made at my conferences last year. I will be dropping in on the Interop HQ and Social Media Command Center to see how the UBM team handles social media on-site. As my friends at @CiscoLive and VMworld know, I find the social media aspect of a conference to be as important as the formal content. Networking and getting advice and answers as you go makes the event more efficient and useful, and it’s always good to say hi to the folks who make it happen. I also hear there are collectible pins, and those of you who know where I work know we’re known for our pins, among other things.

Watch the hashtags #Interop and #CloudConnect and follow @interop for the latest news from the events.

cloud-connect-summit-logoSecond, I’ll be trying to take a bootcamp or two at the Cloud Connect Summit  and come up to speed on some technologies that are newish to me. There’s an AWS Boot Camp presented by Bernard Golden (alas, it’s not hands-on, so I’m not sure I’d call it a boot camp), and an OpenStack Boot Camp that looks promising as well. These may end up just being focus opportunities, or I may change my plans, but they look interesting. And as a guy who’s mostly running bare metal big data on a daily basis, it’ll be good to get some exposure to the virtual side of things outside of VMware.

Third, while I’m attending with my press hat and not my mouse ears, I do work in a sizable technology environment, so I’ll be checking out some larger technology options that may not find their way into my lab but may find their way into my day job.

Highlights in the enterprise space for me (alphabetically): Arista Networks, Cisco, Juniper Networks.

tfd-generalFourth, I’ll be joining the Tech Field Day Roundtables again this year. HP Networking will be presenting at this event, and they tie in with POHO below as well. Also presentingwill be a company rather dear to my heart in a strange way, Avaya. At the turn of the century, I worked for the Ethernet Products Group (or whatever we were called that quarter) at Nortel Networks, and my team’s flagship product was the Nortel Passport 8600 routing switch. Imagine my surprise when I ran across a slightly different color of 8600 (with much newer line cards) at the Interop network last year, now known as the Avaya Ethernet Routing Switch 8600. A couple of my Rapid City/Bay Networks/Nortel Networks coworkers are still at Avaya, or were until fairly recently… so it’s sort of a family thing for me.

If you can’t make it to the roundtables, we usually live-stream the presentations, or have them posted afterward, at TechFieldDay.com. Check it out and track #RILV14 and #TechFieldDay on Twitter for the latest news.

And last, but not least… there’s POHO. The Psycho Overkill Home Office, a gateway to big business functionality on a small business budget, is a topic near and dear to my blog, my budget, and my two home labs. I will be stopping by to speak with several vendors at Interop whose products intersect with the burgeoning (and occasionally bludgeoning) home lab market and the smaller side of the SMB world (I’m taking to calling it the one-comma-budget side of SMB).

Some of the POHO highlights that I’m seeing so far (in alphabetic order) include Chenbro Micom, Cradlepoint, Linksys (now part of Belkin), Memphis Electronic (think 16GB SODIMMs), Monoprice, Opengear, Shuttle Computer Group, Synology, and Xi3.

There are a lot of other names on the exhibitor list who will appeal to anyone, and if you’re going to be there with an exhibitor who you think would be of interest to my POHO audience, feel free to get in touch (I’m on the media list, or contact me through this blog).

And if you noticed that I went down five roads instead of three, give yourself a pat on the back. I should’ve seen that coming.