I didn’t think I’d be able to say this so soon… (He’s baaack at Tech Field Day!)

As many of my readers know by now, my time at Cisco came to an end last month. When I decided to leave Disney and come to Cisco 6 1/2 years ago, there were two main things I knew I would miss about being in the “real world” — Disney cast member discounts, and being a Tech Field Day delegate.

Well, there’s no change on the Disney discount front, but this week I’ll be back as a TFD delegate for Tech Field Day 22 the latter half of this week.

Riding in the limo at SFD5 in 2014 – four of the five people pictured will be at TFD22 this week with me

How did you get to this point?

In May 2014, I posted a two part post on storage vendors (“These 3 hot new trends” part 1 and part 2) from Storage Field Day 5, my last full event as a delegate. A month later, I moved to San Francisco for most of a week thanks to TFD sponsors, to participate in my second Cisco Live event and to interview for a position with Cisco.

I was offered the job the day I got home from the event, and a little under a month later I got badged at Building 9 and began the 6+ year adventure in mega-vendor sales engineering. But as a vendor, I wasn’t terribly welcome among the Tech Field Day delegations, although I was still invited to the parties, and managed to qualify for the roundtable at SNIA’s Storage Developer Conference in 2017. I did continue my participation with Interop over the years, leaving my Cisco ears (instead of my Disney ears) at home, and even attending a Cisco briefing during one of the events, in the former Playboy Club at the Palms in Las Vegas.

What is Tech Field Day? Do I need a ham radio?

If you’re new to Tech Field Day, the idea is pretty much the same as it’s been for over ten years, even if the participation venue has moved from conference rooms to Zoom. Stephen Foskett, founder of Tech Field Day and Gestalt IT, brings together independent analysts, practitioners, geeks, and javelin catchers to meet with companies producing something in the tech sphere.

From the huge established names (like Dell, HPE, Cisco) to companies just coming out of stealth and talking to the public for the first time, you get to see companies facing unstaged questions in realtime, discussing the product or service, the decisions behind them, and how people who might actually use the product or service see it rather than how the company’s marketing and PR team want it to be seen.

And unlike most press conferences and analyst events, anyone on the planet (pretty much) can tune in, watch and learn, and pose their own questions through social media to be answered. There’s no registration required, no event fees, and if you missed a company you can go back and watch within a couple of days.

Pro-tip: If, like me, you’re on the tech job market, Tech Field Day’s archives can be a great resource for learning about companies you might be interested in working for. Just go to the main page and search for a company name. Not everyone is in there, but you can get a good feel for the companies that are, from what they do and how they’ve evolved over the years to how well they understand their product and the market they’re competing in.

So what’s different for you this time?

Tech Field Day 9 in Austin, Texas (June 2013)

After five full delegate events in person, and seven roundtable/TFD Extra events (details), I’ll be back as a different kind of delegate, for obvious reasons. TFD22 looks to be the largest event yet, with twenty-five delegates. No, really, 25 delegates. The nine presenting companies will be split up into early and late shfits to accommodate delegates from around the world, and since none of us are traveling to an in-person location, we can focus on presentations in our own time zones… and some of us will be hopping onto the other shift’s events as well.

The early shift, for my European and Eastern colleagues, will feature Commvault, Veeam, VMware, Quantum, and Red Hat. Their sessions run from 5-10am Pacific, and while I’d love to see them live, I’m not sure 5am is a time I believe in just yet.

You’ll find me in the late shift (11am-3pm Pacific), meeting with MemVerge, Riverbed (who I last visited here in Sunnyvale for SFD2), Illumio, and oddly enough, Cisco. I only see three names among the other 24 who I’ve shared TFD events with, but about half of them are in my online circles and I’m looking forward to meeting the others.

If you’d like to watch along with us, check out the TFD page for livestreams on several platforms starting Wednesday morning, December 9th. You can click on this garishly-large TFD logo to get there if you like. And if you miss the sessions you wanted to watch, they’ll be posted on the same link within a couple of days for you to watch at no cost.

Feel free to follow along on Twitter and ask your questions – tag with the hashtag #TFD22 and the delegates will try to relay your questions to the presenters.

These 3 hot new trends in storage will blow your mind! Okay, maybe not quite. (2/2)

I’ve attended a couple of Tech Field Day events, and watched/participated remotely (in both senses of the word) in a few more, and each event seems to embody themes and trends in the field covered. Storage Field Day 5 was no exception.

I found a couple of undercurrents in this event’s presentations, and three of these are worth calling out, both to thank those who are following them, and give a hint to the next generation of new product startups to keep them in mind.

This post is the second of a series of two, for your manageable reading pleasure. The first post is here.

Be sure to check out the full event page, with links to presenters and videos of their presentations, at http://techfieldday.com/event/sfd5/

3. The Progressive Effect: Naming Names Is Great, Calling Names Not So Much

Back at the turn of the century, it was common for vendors to focus on their competition in an unhealthy way. As an example, Auspex (remember them) told me that their competitor’s offering of Gigabit Ethernet was superfluous, and that competitor was going out of business within months. I’ll go out on a limb and say this was a stupid thing to say to a company whose product was a wire-speed Gigabit Ethernet routing switch, and, well, you see how quickly Netapp went out of business, right?

At Storage Field Day 5, a couple of vendors presented competitive/comparative analysis of their market segment. This showed a strong awareness of the technology they were touting, understanding of what choices and tradeoffs have to be made, and why each vendor may have made the choices they did.

Beyond that, it can acknowledge the best use for each product, even if it’s the competition’s product. I’ll call this the Progressive Effect, after the insurance company who shows you the competitor’s pricing even if it’s a better deal. If you think your product is perfect for every customer use case, you don’t know your product or the customer very well.

Once again, Diablo Technologies did a comparison specifically naming the obvious competitor (Fusion-io), and it was clear that this was a forward-looking comparison, as you can order a hundred Fusion-io cards and put them into current industry standard servers. That won’t work with most of the servers in your datacenter with the ULLtraDIMMs just yet. But these are products that are likely to be compared in the foreseeable future, so it was useful context and use cases for both platforms were called out.

Solidfire’s CEO Dave Wright really rocked this topic though, tearing apart (in more of an iFixit manner than an Auspex manner) three hyperconverged solutions including his own, showing the details and decisions and where each one makes sense. I suspect most storage company CEOs wouldn’t get into that deep of a dive on their own product, much less the competition, so it was an impressive experience worth checking out if you haven’t already.

There were some rumblings in the Twittersphere about how knowing your competitor and not hiding them behind “Competitor A” or the like was invoking fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD). And while it is a conservative, and acceptable, option not to name a competitor if you have a lot of them–Veeam chose this path in their comparisons, for example–that doesn’t mean that it’s automatically deceptive to give a fair and informed comparison within your competitive market.

If Dave Wright had gone in front of the delegates and told us how bad all the competitors were and why they couldn’t do anything right, we probably would’ve caught up on our email backlogs faster, or asked him to change horses even in mid-stream. If he had dodged or danced around questions about his own company’s platform, some (most?) of us would have been disappointed. Luckily, neither of those happened.

But as it stands, he dug into the tech in an even-handed way, definitely adding value to the presentation and giving some insights that not all of us would have had beforehand. In fact, more than one delegate felt that Solidfire’s comparison gave us the best available information on one particular competitor’s product in that space.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

These 3 hot new trends in storage will blow your mind! Okay, maybe not quite. (1/2)

I’ve attended a couple of Tech Field Day events, and watched/participated remotely (in both senses of the word) in a few more, and each event seems to embody themes and trends in the field covered. Storage Field Day 5 was no exception.

I found a couple of undercurrents in this event’s presentations, and three of these are worth calling out, both to thank those who are following them, and give a hint to the next generation of new product startups to keep them in mind.

This post is one of a series of two, for your manageable reading pleasure. Part two is now available here.

Be sure to check out the full event page, with links to presenters and videos of their presentations, at http://techfieldday.com/event/sfd5/

1. Predictability and Sustainability Are The Right Metrics

There are three kinds of falsehoods in tech marketing: lies, damned lies, and benchmarks. Many (most?) vendors will pitch their best case, perfect environment, most advantageous results as a reason to choose them. But as with Teavana’s in-store tasting controversy, when you get the stuff home and try to reproduce the advertised effects, you end up with weak tea. My friend Howard Marks wrote about this in relation to VMware’s 2-million IOP VSAN benchmark recently.

At SFD5, we had a couple of presenters not stress best case/least real results, but predictable and reproducible results. Most applications aren’t going to benefit a lot from a high burst rate and tepid average performance whether it’s on the server hardware, storage back-end, or network. But consistent quality of service (QoS) and a reliable set of expectations that can be met (and maybe exceeded) will lead to satisfied customers and successful implementation.

One example of this was with Diablo Technologies, the folks behind Memory Channel Storage implemented by Sandisk as ULLtraDIMM. In comparing the performance of the MCS flash implementation against a PCIe storage option (Fusion-io’s product, to be precise), they showed performance and I/O results across a range of measurements, and rather than pitching the best results, they touted the sustainable results that you’d expect to see regularly with the product.

Sandisk themselves referred to some configuration options under the hood, not generally available to end users, to trade some lifespan for daily duty cycles. Since these products are not yet mass market on the level of a consumer grade 2.5″ SSD, it makes sense to make that a support/integration option rather than just having users open up a Magician-like product to tweak ULLtraDIMMs themselves.

Another example was Solidfire, who also advocated setting expectations to what would be sustainable. They refer to “guaranteed performance,” which comes down to QoS and sane configuration. Linear scalability

2. Your Three Control Channels Should Be Equivalent

There are generally three ways to control a product, whether it’s a software appliance, a hardware platform, or more. You have a command-line interface (CLI), a graphical user interface (GUI) of some sort–often either a web front-end or an applet/installed application, and an API for automated access (XML, REST, SOAP, sendmail.cf).

I will assert that a good product will have all three of these: CLI, GUI, API. A truly mature product will have full feature equity between the three. Any operation you can execute against the product from one of them can be done with identical effectiveness from the other two.

This seems to be a stronger trend than it was a couple of years ago. At my first Tech Field Day events, as I recall, there were still people who felt a CLI was an afterthought, and an API could be limited. When you’re trying to get your product out the door, before your competitor locks you out of the market, it could be defensible, much as putting off documentation until your product shipped was once defended.

But today, nobody should consider a product ready to ship until it has full management channel equality. And as I recall, most of the vendors we met with who have a manageable product (I’m giving Sandisk and Diablo Tech a pass on this one for obvious reasons) were closer to the “of course we have that” stance than the “why would we need that” that used to be de rigueur in the industry.

Once again, this is part one of two on trends observed at Storage Field Day 5. Part 2 is now available at this link.

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 any other Tech Field Day post. 

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.

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.