Some upcoming events worth a look

I haven’t been to my datacenter in over six months. I have a feeling the front desk folks at the Westin Casuarina are missing me by now. But I’m still on the move. Hopefully I’ll see some of you at one of the following events in the near future. 

VMworld US 2013

& Tech Field Day Roundtables at VMworld

This year’s VMworld is in San Francisco, just a 90-180 minute commute (each way) from where I live in Silicon Valley. Thanks to the gracious support of Gestalt IT’s Tech Field Day and the Tech Field Day Roundtable at VMworld sponsors, I’ll be camping in San Francisco and making the most of the opportunities during the week. 

Along with a dozen and a half other Tech Field Day delegates, I’ll be meeting with our friends from Asigra, Commvault, Infinio, and Simplivity. I’ve been to TFD sessions with all but Simplivity, but I’ve met Gabriel Chapman (@bacon_is_king) at the SV VMUG so they’re not strangers to me either (even if their “cube” is actually not cubical). 

In addition to the vExpert and VMware customer events, I’ll also be visiting friends from past Tech Field Day meetings, including Scale Computing, Nutanix, Zerto, Pure Storage, and Tintri. If I’ve missed anyone, feel free to touch base. 

Software Defined Data Center Symposium

Gestalt IT is hosting a full day SDDC symposium at Techmart in Santa Clara, a mere 10-15 minute commute for me. There’s still room to join us on Tuesday, September 10th, for a day of discussions about SDDC topics, featuring Greg Ferro, Jim Duffy, Ivan Peplnjak, and several leading vendors in the field. The event will set you back a mere $25 and that includes lunch. 

The Cloudera Sessions

This one actually has nothing to do with Gestalt IT, but if you’re deep into Hadoop, and Cloudera’s particular flavor of it, it’s definitely worth a visit. Cloudera hosts The Cloudera Sessions in cities around the United States, and I’ll be attending the San Francisco event on September 11th.

Several Cloudera technologists, from the system engineering manager to the co-founder/CTO will be talking about where the company is going and where Hadoop is going in the foreseeable future. This event will set you back $149, but if you are a current Cloudera customer, check with your account manager to see if you can get a discount. 

BayLISA At Joyent

The October 17 meeting of BayLISA, Silicon Valley and the San Francisco Bay Area’s oldest system administration group will be held in San Francisco at the headquarters of one of the most prominent Solaris technology companies, Joyent. We’re looking forward to hearing from Brendan Gregg about his new book, Systems Performance: Enterprise and the Cloud, as well as getting an update on Joyent’s Manta storage service.

Attendance is free, but space is limited. RSVP at the BayLISA Meetup site if you’re interested. 

IEEE Computer Society’s Rock Stars Of Big Data

As much as I hate the use of the term “rock stars” (since that’s not necessarily a compliment or a good thing), this event looks interesting. I’m not sure how useful it will be for technologists, but it’s worth a look. IEEE Computer Society is hosting their Rock Stars Of Big Data event at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View on October 29th. It will set you back $239 as an IEEECS member, or $299 without membership. Group discounts are available for registration of 3 or more people on one ticket. 

Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party

Everyone deserves a bit of a break, and big data can wear a technologist out…. If you’re planning to be at the Magic Kingdom between September 10 and November 1, you should check out the Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party. I went two years ago and it was pretty enjoyable. I do work for the Mouse, but I don’t get any benefit if you go. So I highly recommend it. 

 

 

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How do you download storage performance? A look at Infinio Accelerator

Many of you joined us (virtually) at Tech Field Day 9 back in June for the world premiere presentation of Infinio and their “downloadable storage performance” for VMware environments.

In the month and a half since we met Infinio, I’ve been planning to write about their presentation and their product. It’s an interesting technology, and something I can see being useful in small and large environments, but I hadn’t gotten around to piling the thoughts into the blog.

I did find that I was bringing them up in conversation more often than I do most Tech Field Day presenters (with the possible exception of Xangati). Whether I was talking to the CEO of a network optimization startup here in Silly Valley, or a sales VP for a well-established storage virtualization player at the Nth Symposium, or a couple of others, I found myself saying the same things. “Have you heard of Infinio? They just made a splash onto the scene at Tech Field Day 9. You should check them out.”

What is an Infinio?

201306 TFD9 Infinio 01 Peter Smith Model

Peter Smith, Director of Product for Infinio, introducing the “Infinio Way” of deploying the Accelerator

Infinio is a two year old, 30ish-person startup whose Accelerator product is designed to be an easy drop-in to your VMware environment. They’re focusing on making the product easy to try (including substantial engineering focus on the installation process), simple and affordable to buy, and visibly useful to your environment as soon as possible.

CEO Arun Agarwal talked up the focus on the installation process, but even more interesting was his focus on the trial and sales model. This seemed important at the time, but as time passed, I really appreciated the idea more.

Just this past week, I downloaded a “free” VM from a much larger company, only to be told in a pushy followup email that I need to provide a phone number and mailing address and get trial licenses and talk to a sales guy on the phone to do anything with the “free” VM. It was annoying enough to get to this point, and I’m disinclined to actually buy and use that product.

I want a company to provide (1) enough information on their website for me to understand the product, (2) a hands-off model for acquiring and trying out the product (even if it’s at 2am on a Saturday because I can’t sleep and I’ve got a hundred servers sitting idle in a datacenter to play with), (3) smart and non-pushy people to help me with understanding, evaluating, and maybe buying the product if I do decide to move forward–when and if I need them, and not the other way around, and (4) a product that really solves the problem.

Infinio plans to provide all these things. You can download the trial without giving a lot of information (or any, as I recall), and you can buy your licenses with a credit card on the site. This would be a refreshing model, and I’m optimistic about their being able to do it.

So what are they doing?

I was wondering that too… and seeing the phrase “downloadable storage performance” a week or so before the visit, I was dubious.

201306 TFD9 Infinio 02 Peter Smith DashboardThe Infinio Accelerator is a virtual NAS (NFS v3) accelerator for VMware. It sits between the vmkernel interface and the storage server on each host, providing a shared, deduplicated caching layer to improve performance across your systems. It also works transparently to both storage and server, so you don’t change your storage settings or ACLs (great for those of us who have siloed storage, networking, and virtualization management teams, and all the efficiencies they provide).

And possibly most impressive of all, you don’t have to reboot anything to install or remove the product.

The management console allows you to toggle acceleration on each datastore, and more importantly, monitor the performance and benefit you’re getting from the accelerator. They call out improvements in response time, request offload, and saved bandwidth to storage.

Let’s make this happen

201306 TFD9 Infinio 03 Peter Smith Improvement

It does make a difference.

Peter Smith demonstrated the Infinio Accelerator for us live, from downloading the installer from the Infinio home page (coming soon) to seeing it make a difference. The process, with questions and distractions included, came in around half an hour.

You download a ~28MB installer, and the installer will pull down about a CD’s worth of VM templates (the Accelerator and the management VM) while you go through the configuration process. (You can apparently work around this download if you need to for network/security reasons–this would be a good opportunity to enlist those smart and non-pushy people mentioned above.)

After the relatively brief installation (faster than checking for updates on a fresh Windows 7 installation, not including downloading and installing all 150 of them, mind you), Peter brought up a workload test with several parallel Linux kernel builds in 8 VMs, demonstrating a 4x speedup with the Accelerator in place even with the memory per VM halved to make room for the Accelerator.

201306 TFD9 Infinio 04 Peter Smith vTARDIS

vTARDIS, MacPro flavor

An aside about making room for Infinio: The accelerator will eat 8GB of RAM, 2 vCPUs, and 15GB of local disk space on each hypervisor host you’re accelerating. It will also use 4GB RAM, 2 vCPUs, and 20GB of storage for the management VM, on one of your hosts. So if your virtualization lab is running on your 8GB laptop, you’re gonna have a bad time, but a quad-core lab system with 32GB of RAM should be practical for testing. A typical production hypervisor host (128GB or more) will probably not notice the loss.

And a further aside about the demo system. As a big fan of Simon Gallagher’s vTARDIS concept of nesting hypervisors, I was pleased to see that the Mac Pro the Infinio folks rolled in for the demo was effectively a vTARDIS in itself. This is a pretty cool way to protect your live demo from the randomness of Internet and VPN connectivities and the very real risk that someone will turn your lab back at the home office into a demo for someone else, if your product lends itself to being demonstrated this way.

Some future-proofing considerations

The team at Infinio were very open to the suggestions that came up during the talk.

They have a “brag bar” that offers the chance to tweet your resource savings, but they understood why some companies might not want that option to be there. Some of us work (or have worked) in environments where releasing infrastructure and performance info without running the gauntlet of PR and legal teams could get us punished and/or fired.

They took suggestions of external integration and external access to the product’s information too, from being able to monitor and report on the Accelerator’s performance in another dashboard, to being able to work with the Accelerator from vCops. And they’re working on multi-hypervisor (read: Hyper-V) support and acceleration of block storage. Just takes enough beer and prioritization, we were told. 

So where do we go from here?

Infinio is releasing a more public beta of the Accelerator at VMworld in San Francisco in just a couple of weeks. Stop by and see them if you’re at VMworld, or watch their website for more details about the easy-to-use trial. You can sign up to be notified about the beta release, or just watch for more details near the end of August.

The pricing will be per-socket, with 1 year of support included[1], and hopefully it will be practical for smaller environments as well as large ones. We will see pricing when the product goes to GA later this year.

I’m planning to get the beta to try out in my new lab environment, so stay tuned for news on that when it happens.

And if you’re one of the lucky ones to get a ticket for #CXIParty, you can thank the folks from Infinio there for sponsoring this event as well. And I may see you there.

Disclosure: Infinio were among the presenters/sponsors of Tech Field Day 9, to which I was a delegate in June 2013. While they and other sponsors provided for my travel and other expenses to attend TFD9, there was no assumption or requirement that I write about them, nor was any compensation offered or received in return for this or any other coverage of TFD9 sponsors/presenters.

Some other write-ups from TFD9 Delegates (if I missed yours, let me know and I’ll be happy to add it):

[1] Update: When we talked with Infinio in June, they planned to include 3 years of support with the initial purchase. They are now planning to include 1 year with renewals beyond that being a separate item. This should make the initial purchase more economical, and make budgeting easier as well.

rsts11: #VFD2 Day 1 part 1 ft. 7am and Symantec

Today was the first full day of Virtualization Field Day 2, with presentations by Symantec’s backup divisions (Netbackup and Backup Exec), and some of the higher-up tech minds from Zerto and Xangati. Bacon Bar

You probably know the disclaimer bits… these folks and our presenters tomorrow (Pure Storage, TrueBit.tv, and Pivot3) are sponsoring my presence (and the other dozen delegates’ presence as well) at Tech Field Day, providing for our lodging, transportation, feeding, entertainment, and the occasional trinket or sample software. While they do this out of the goodness of their hearts and their marketing departments, we are independent in our responses to the presenters, presentations, technologies, and trinkets. What you’re reading here is actually my take on things, what I want you to hear, and not necessarily what the presenters want me to tell you. We are grateful for their involvement, but we’re not required to blog or fluff or fold for them.

Seven O’WTF?

I don’t believe in 7am most of the time. When I went to grad school, my earliest class all year was at 3:30pm. Not a morning person. However, we all showed up at the lobby Starbucks and caffeinated ourselves at 7:15am before heading for the vehicle to take us over to our first session. We’ll be up and caffeinating again tomorrow at 7:15am, but I have to say I’m looking forward to normal hours after that.

Backup, Wait A Minute

Many of you know Symantec for their Peter Norton legacy, and the Norton Antivirus/Internet Security/Constant Guard/360 family of home data protection software. Those of us in the IT business know them as the more often mentioned backup solution for small and large enterprises. EMC still has Legato Networker, and that was my backup software of choice for most of my Solaris career (and aside from Rational ClearCase, my only actual formal certification–LCA1), but you don’t run across it as much, and I didn’t have much luck getting EMC to pitch it productively to me a couple of jobs ago when I needed something better than Windows Server 2003’s built-in backup package. So one way or another, Either Netbackup (NBU) or Backup Exec (formerly BENT) tend to be the front runner.

Honestly, backup software is no longer my bailiwick, as most places I’ve worked in the last few years use alternatives to commercial backup systems. Configuration, code, and tools in version control/source control systems, as little local unreconstitutable data, and databases backed up via replication, master/slave, hotcopy, rsync, or some combination of the bunch. Generally these standards have applied to bare metal and VM data protection/busines continuance, so while I did try to get some backups going for the Windows environment at a green-logoed real estate search site in San Francisco back in the day, it’s been outside my focus for a while.

Netbackup

We landed at Symantec’s World Headquarters/Executive Briefing Center and started in on NBU with George Winter, Technical Product Manager for that product line. To be honest, I didn’t get a lot from the presentation, which spanned about 3 1/2 hours and sixty Powerpoint slides, and some heated discussions with a couple of our VMware experts.

I did see and like the NBU Accelerator, which does changed block tracking to improve non-initial-backup performance especially over a WAN. It chopped the time for a backup from multiple hours to multiple minutes.

I didn’t really care for being lumped in with another delegate as “nobody” in reference to who has relatively low utilization on their virtualization systems. You can’t always run  your VMware or Citrix servers at 80%+ even if your power supplies are rated for 80+… and if 20% of your relatively-small audience responds to a question, it would be polite to notice it, even if you don’t take it into consideration in your interpretation of the Powerpoint deck.

I did feel that a Powerpoint Accelerator would have made a better impact on the delegates, as we probably could have gotten through the material in ten slides and an hour or so. Some of this deceleration came from the presentation, and some came from eager interruptions from some of the delegates… I’d put the weight more on the former but they definitely had help in slowing down.

Backup Exec

Next up were Kelly Smith and Gareth Fraser-King for the Backup Exec team, who got nearly half an hour if you include the time we had to grab lunch and take a bio break. I think they were short-changed, and hope to learn more about their line in the future.

The two products, which aim at the high end (NBU) and lower end (BE) business scales, still have distinct teams, product roadmaps, development, and usually feature sets. So you may find a feature you want in the other product, and it may make it into your own product eventually. But they haven’t been combined, integrated, streamlined, or merged yet.

The admin interface for Backup Exec certainly looked slicker than I remember from my chats with Symantec in 2008 or so. I found myself longing for a command line interface… but I think most virtualization people have been bullied into accepting a Windows system for management (Citrix, VMware, of course Hyper-V) so it didn’t seem worth mentioning at the time.

As I mentioned, backup systems aren’t in my core focus these days, so while it would be nice to get more up to speed on the options and benefits, I couldn’t really come out of the presentation seriously yearning to try these products out in my labs.

The Morning’s Lesson: Know Thy Audience

It’s important to know and play to your audience, whether it’s five thousand people checking their phones and playing Angry Birds in a convention, or a dozen seasoned professionals in a room wanting to be impressed and informed and maybe even confused once in a while. I hope that the folks behind the presentations from Symantec will work on their focus, and target future presentations to the present audience. When you have a majority of the room who are experts in the field they’ve come to hear you speak about, and multiple published authors and/or instructors on the topic in the room, you can probably assume that at least some of them know the basics already, and want to hear what makes your solution noteworthy and businessworthy. Working from that assumption makes it more likely that your audience will think that you “get” virtualization, or whatever the focus of the event happens to be.

There’s a great page on the Tech Field Day web page about presenting to engineers that would be excellent preliminary reading for people wanting to talk to folks like us. Think about how you want to be remembered a month or six from now when we’re advising on (or making) an enterprise purchase, or even a day or six from now when we’re writing about our impressions.

Some Other Thoughts

You can read some of my fellow delegates’ thoughts on this presentation here:

Rodney Haywood’s post: http://rodos.haywood.org/2012/02/vfd2-symantec.html

Other posts related to VFD2 can be found at http://techfieldday.com/2012/vfd2-links/

Coming Soon

I’ll write about the afternoon’s presentations from Zerto and Xangati a bit later… these were moving more into the areas I have both an interest and a potential business need for. I’ll also explain the bacon bar pictured above. But for now, I have another cup of coffee and a pile of pillows in my near future. Thanks for visiting and reading.

rsts11: #VFD2 Day 0 rollup

Greetings from the Silicon Valley representative/delegate to Virtualization Field Day 2 by Gestalt IT. In about 9 hours we’ll be on a bus/limo to the first presentations of #VFD2 (watch our updates throughout the rest of the week on Twitter!).

Let’s Get It Started In Here

We had our opening ceremonies/hometown gift exchange/thorough discussion of kangaroo scrotums (hope there wasn’t an embargo on those) and great dinner at Zeytoun across the road from our home base at the Doubletree. I won’t write much about the meal (although I will probably Yelp it later).  It was fun getting to know and chat with the other eleven delegates and our fearless leader Matt Simmons (@standaloneSA). We’re missing Steve Foskett, but he had family priorities that meant it was right for him to miss his first of 14 TFD events.

I have to admit it’s weird being the only one from Silicon Valley here. It’s easy to live in the Valley and feel like technology only exists here, or only thrives here. But we’ve got folks who make their living and livelihood at virtualization from across the country, across the pond, and somewhere that has a famous opera house on the other side of the world. So it can give a sense of proportion, although I am happy to have Fry’s, Central Computer, Action Surplus, Weird Stuff, and Halted within a couple miles of home, and most of the big names in technology nearby as well.

wolfgang puck single serve

In-room coffee done right

Welcome To The Hotel (in) California

I’m back in my room, and I think many of the delegates took the opportunity to get wound down for bed in their respective rooms across the hotel (we’re not the only geeks in the house — Ethernet Summit is winding down tomorrow it seems — but we’re not wearing name tags).  I have to make some comments on the hotel experience, having spent some time in hotels in Las Vegas, Seattle, and Los Angeles in the last six months.

The in-room coffee is, in fact, the best I’ve found yet. W Seattle and Hard Rock Hotel did not have in-room coffee, and LAX Marriott has weird disposable-brew-basket coffee that, while it tastes good, is really enough for one cup but they only give you one unless you ask. Doubletree is putting out a two-bay Wolfgang Puck branded pod-based coffeemaker that uses Senseo-style pods (Puck’s line is provided though, individually wrapped). There are two cups, two sleeves, two lids, and enough coffee and treatments for 2-4 cups. It’s probably not as good as I would have made with my Clever Dripper and some fresh-ground coffee, as I went for on my LA trip last weekend, but it’s pretty good, convenient, and drinkable even after Starbucks closes.

Also, the service is excellent so far. I called their “careline” to get help with the wifi, figuring out how to get my free service provided as part of the reservation. It was explained promptly and courteously, and I even had time to add my Hilton number to the reservation before I got overly annoyed with the phone itself. 🙂 The people are great, greet you by name, and provide all the information you need (and a warm chocolate cookie at check-in too).

I have to say the room and the experience almost rise to the level of a Disney deluxe resort at WDW. Cell/wifi is better here than at Wilderness Lodge, but it’s much closer in experience quality than any of the other hotels I’ve been in over the last few months. (When I last stayed at Wilderness Lodge, I was not a cast member, so I didn’t get special rates or treatment… my last visit to WDW was as a cast member but at a moderate resort.)

I’ve already discovered a thing or two I’ve forgotten, and while I could drive home to pick up a few things, it wouldn’t be in the spirit of the event, so I’ll just rush to the lobby store in the morning… and be grateful I had a spare mini/micro USB adapter still packed from the weekend to charge my phone up.

Tomorrow, Tomorrow

Tomorrow we’re off to see Symantec in the morning (did they really say we’re leaving the hotel at 7:30am? AIEEE), and then Zerto and Xangati will come see us in the afternoon. I’ve worked with Symantec in the enterprise antivirus/endpoint protection arena as a customer before, and have long used their Norton end user security products at home. Never got around to deploying their backup solutions (one of my two certifications ever was Legato Networker about a decade ago).

Zerto is new to me, other than an amusing Twitter exchange last week… I met Xangati at Tech Field Day 5 over a year ago now as a fly-on-the-wall sort of guest, and am looking forward to seeing where they’ve come with their offerings.

Disclaimer

As you’ll see me mention a few times this week… the presenters/sponsors for VFD2 are providing for my lodging, meals, and entertainment over the next 48 hours, and may also provide gifts or promotional items. We definitely appreciate their support for this event. However, as Tech Field Day delegates, we’re not beholden to the presenters as far as content and perspective (or even reporting/blogging at all)  by virtue of their generous support of the event. If something is interesting, noteworthy, yawnworthy, or downright unfathomable, you’ll hear it from me because it’s what I think, not because the provider of said something supported the event. If it’s just bleh, you may not hear about it at all, but hopefully that won’t happen. Same goes for the other delegates as well; we’re here as independent thought leaders, not cheerleaders (I’ll be the first to say I shouldn’t be wearing a skirt anyway).

More tomorrow… watch Twitter for live treatment of the presentations, and check back on rsts11 for more detailed coverage as time permits and interest warrants.