Is Licensing Sexy? Asigra Might Think So, And So Might You

We were pleased to welcome Eran Farajun and Asigra back to Tech Field Day with a presentation at the VMworld US 2013 Tech Field Day Roundtables. I’ve also seen them present a differently-focused talk with live demo at Storage Field Day 2 in November 2012.

Disclosure: As a delegate to the Tech Field Day Roundtables at VMworld US 2013, I received support for my attendance at VMworld US. I received no compensation from sponsors of the Roundtables, nor Tech Field Day/Gestalt IT, nor were they promised any coverage in return for my attendance. All comments and opinions are my own thoughts and of my own motivation.

Asigra Who?

Asigra has exclusively developed backup and recovery technology for over 25 years. Let that sink in for a moment. Most of the companies I’ve worked for haven’t been in business for 25 years, and most companies change horses if not streams along the way.

But Asigra continues to grow, and evolve their products, a quarter of a century into the journey. They introduced agentless backup, deduplication (in 1993), FIPS140-2 certification in a cloud backup platform, and a number of other firsts in the market.

One reason you may never have heard of Asigra is that they don’t sell direct to the end user. They work through their service provider and partner network to aggregate access and expertise close to the end user. Of course the company backs their products and their partners, but you get the value add of the partner’s network of support personnel as well. And you might never know it was Asigra under the hood.

So what’s Asigra’s take on licensing?

In 1992, Asigra moved to a capacity-based licensing model, one that many of us are familiar with today. You pay a license fee one way or another based on the amount of data that is pushed to the backup infrastructure. This has been seen in various flavors, sometimes volume-based, sometimes slot-based or device capped. Restores are effectively free, but it’s likely that you rarely use them.

Think in terms of PTO or Vacation days (backup) and Sick Days (recovery). You probably have a certain amount of each, and while PTO may roll over if you don’t use it, those 19 sick days you didn’t use last year went away. Imagine if you could get something for the recovery days you didn’t have to use. Asigra thought about this (although not with the same analogy) and made it happen.

Introducing Recovery License Model

So in 2013, Asigra changed to what they call RLM, or Recovery License Model. You pay part of your licensing for backups, and part for recoveries. There are safety valves on both extremes, so that if you do one backup and have to restore it all shortly thereafter, you’re not screwed (not by licensing, at least–but have a chat with your server/software vendor). And if you have a perfect environment and never need to restore, Asigra and your reseller/partner can still make a living.

Your licensing costs are initially figured on the past 6 months’ deduped restore capacity. (After the first two 6-month periods, you are apportioned based on the past 12 months.) If you restored 25% of your backups, you pay 50 cents per gigabyte per month (list price). If you restored 5% or less of your backups, you’re paying 17 cents per gigabyte per month.

You don’t get fined for failed backups of any sort. Hardware failure, software failure, or some combination–it doesn’t count against you. You also get a waiver for the largest recovery event–so if your storage infrastructure melts into the ground like a big ol’ glowing gopher, you can focus on recovering to new hardware, not appeasing your finance department.

For those of you testing your backup/restore for disaster recovery purposes (that’s all of you, right?), you can schedule a DR drill at 7 cents per gigabyte per month for that recovery’s usage. Once again, it’s deduped capacity, so backing up 1000 VDI desktops doesn’t mean 1000 times 3GB of Windows binaries/DLLs. And your drill’s data expires at the end of the 6 month window, so don’t count on fire drills as permanent backups.

So where do we go from here?

I know a couple of my fellow delegates were disappointed with the focus on Asigra’s licensing innovations, and that there wasn’t more talk of erasure codes and app-centric backups, but they’re probably not the ones writing the checks for software licensing for enterprises. 

Is this the sexiest thing you’ve seen in tech this quarter? Maybe not. I’d point toward Pernix Data and Infinio for that distinction, in all honesty. But Asigra’s RLM is yet another in a series of innovations in what might be the most innovative DR/BC company you’d never heard of before.

Asigra estimates immediate savings of 40%, and long term savings of over 60% by separating backup and recovery costs.

As an aside, Asigra’s latest software version, 12.2 (released earlier in 2013), backs up Google Apps as well as traditional on-site applications and datastores. Support for Office 365 backups is coming soon.


Cisco Live and VMworld: Two first times compared

This was a year of many firsts for me, including four conferences I attended for the first time: Interop Las Vegas, Cisco Live, Nth Symposium, and VMworld. This is a long one, but I wanted to share my comparison and suggestions for future events.

Disclosure: I received support from Tech Field Day, HP Storage, and VMware in attending these events. I was a delegate to roundtables with Tech Field Day at all but Nth, and a HP Tech Day delegate at Nth. None of these sponsors were promised any special consideration in my coverage (or lack thereof) of the events, nor was I compensated for any participation in or around their events.

0. Overview

Both Cisco Live US and VMworld US were huge affairs, effectively a full week with 20k+ attendees, keynotes, breakout sessions, noticeable social media engagement, and all the challenges that come with housing, feeding, entertaining, and educating a large crowd, not to mention navigating that crowd.

Cisco Live was at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Florida. About a dozen official Convention Hotels were within a few blocks of the convention center.

VMworld was at the three buildings of the Moscone Center, and conference facilities in two or three nearby hotels as I recall. Attendees had choices of hotels within a mile of the conference center.

Continue reading

One Size Fits All: Hyper-V on VMware turf, custard trucks, and IT evangelism

At VMworld 2013 in San Francisco, there was a lot of buzz around Hyper-V, oddly enough. A few vendors mentioned multi-hypervisor heterogeneous cloud technologies in hushed tones, more than a few attendees bemoaned the very recent death of Microsoft TechNet Subscription offerings, and guess who showed up with a frozen custard truck?


Yep, Microsoft’s server team showed up, rented out and re-skinned a Frozen Kuhsterd food truck, and handed out free frozen custard for a chance to promote and discuss their own virtualization platform and new publicity initiative, branded Virtualization2.

The frozen custard was pretty tasty. Well worth the 3 block walk from Moscone. It was a pretty effective way to get attention and mindshare as well–several people I spoke with were impressed with the marketing novelty and the reminder that VMware isn’t the only player in the game, even if one friend considered it an utter failure due to the insufficient description of frozen custard.

Almost two years ago when I did my Virtualization Field Day experience, the question I asked (and vendors were usually prepared to answer) was “when will you support Xen in addition to VMware?” This year, it’s more “when will you support Hyper-V?” So a lot of people are taking Microsoft seriously in the visualization market these days.

Insert Foot, Pull Trigger

One nominal advantage Microsoft has had over VMware in the last few years is an affordable way for IT professionals to evaluate their offerings for more than two months at a time. But first, some history.


Once upon a time, VMware had a program called the VMTN (VMware Technology Network) Subscription. For about $300 a year, you got extended use licenses for VMware’s products, for non-production use. No 60-day time bomb, no 6-reinstalls-a-year for the home lab, and you can focus on learning and maybe even mastering the technology.

Well, in February 2007, VMware did away with the VMTN subscription. You can still see the promo/signup page on their site but you’re not going to be able to sign up for it today.

At that point, Microsoft had the advantage in that their TechNet Subscription program gave you a similar option. For about $300/year you could get non-production licenses for most Microsoft products, including servers and virtualization. I would believe that a few people found it easier to test and develop their skills in that environment, rather than in the “oops, it’s an odd month, better reinstall the lab from scratch” environment that VMware provided.

Well, as of today, September 1, the TechNet Subscription is no more. If you signed up or renewed by the end of August 31, you get one more year and then your licenses are no longer valid. If you wanted some fresh lab license love today, you’re out of luck.

Technically, you can get an MSDN subscription for several thousand dollars and have the same level of access. The Operating Systems level is “only” $699 (want other servers? You’re looking at $1199 to $6119). Or if you qualify for the Microsoft Partner Program as an IT solutions provider, you can use the Action Pack Solution Provider to get access to whatever is current in the Microsoft portfolio for about $300/year. But the latter is tricky in that you need to be a solutions provider and jump through hoops, and the former is tricky because you might not have several thousand dollars to send to Redmond every year.

Help me, Obi-Wan vExpert, you’re my only hope

In 2011, Mike Laverick started a campaign to reinstate the VMTN subscription program. The thread on the VMware communities forum is occasionally active even two years later. But after two years of increasing community demand and non-existent corporate support, a light appeared at the end of the tunnel last week at VMworld in San Francisco.

As Chris Wahl reported, Raghu Raghuram, VMware Executive Vice President of Cloud Infrastructure and Management, said the chances of a subscription program returning are “very high.” Chris notes that there’s not much detail beyond this glimmer of hope, but it’s more hope than we’ve had for most of the last 6 years. For those of you who remember Doctor Who between 1989 and 2005, yeah, it’s like that.

Today, your choices for a sustainable lab environment include being chosen as a vExpert (or possibly a Microsoft MVP–not as familiar with that program’s somatic components) with the ensuing NFR/eval licenses; working for a company that can get you non-expiring licenses; unseemly licensing workaround methods we won’t go into; or simply not having a sustainable lab environment.

I added my voice to the VMTN campaign quite a while ago. When nothing came of that campaign, and I found myself more engaged in the community, I applied for (and was chosen for) vExpert status. So the lab fulcrum in my environment definitely tilts toward the folks in Palo Alto, not Redmond.

But I did mention to the nice young lady handing out tee shirts at the Microsoft Custard Truck that I’d be far more likely to develop my Hyper-V skills if something like TechNet subscription came back. She noted this on her feedback notebook, so I feel I’ve done my part. And I did get a very comfy tee shirt from her.

When I got back to my hotel, I found that the XL shirt I’d asked for was actually a L. Had I not been eating lightly and walking way too much, it wouldn’t have come anywhere near fitting, and it probably won’t any more, now that I’m back to normal patterns. But maybe that size swap was an analogy for a bigger story.

One size doesn’t fit all.

If Microsoft and VMware can’t make something happen to help the new crop of IT professionals cut their teeth on those products, they’ll find the new technologists working with other products. KVM is picking up speed in the market, Xenserver is moving faster toward the free market (and now offers a $199 annual license if you want those benefits beyond the free version), and people who aren’t already entrenched in the big two aren’t likely to want to rebuild their lab every two months.

And when you layer Openstack or Cloudstack (yeah it’s still around) on top of the hypervisor, it becomes a commodity. So the benefits of vCenter Server or the like become minimal to non-existent.

So where do we go from here?

Best case, VMware comes up with a subscription program, and Microsoft comes up with something as well. Then you can compare them on even footing and go with what works for you and your career.

Worst case, try to live with the vCenter and related products’ 60 day trial. If your company is a VMware (or Microsoft) virtualization customer, see if your sales team can help, or at least take the feedback that you want to be able to work in a lab setting and spend more time testing than reinstalling. 

And along the way, check out the other virtualization players (and the alternatives to VMware and Microsoft management platforms… even Xtravirt’s vPi for Raspberry Pi). Wouldn’t hurt to get involved in the respective communities, follow some interesting folks on Twitter and Google+, and hope for the best.

Did you say something about Doctor Who up there?

Yeah, and I should share something else with you.

When I saw the mention of the custard truck, my first thought was honestly not frozen concoctions in general. Obviously, it was the first Matt Smith story on Doctor Who, Eleventh Hour, wherein he tries to find some food to eat at Amy Pond’s home after regenerating. He ends up going with fish fingers (fish sticks) and custard (not the frozen kind).

So I made a comment on Twitter, not directed at anyone, saying “I’d have more respect for Microsoft’s Hyper-V Custard if fish fingers were offered on the side.”

And this really happened.


So even if they’re discouraging me and other technologists from effectively labbing their products, I have to give them credit for a sense of humor. Not usually what you expect to come out of Redmond, now is it?

Related Links:

Mr Jones posted an article that really annoyed me until I read his well-reasoned response to the well-reasoned comments. Check out his interpretation of the TechNet subscription and brave the comments for some very sane discussions.

A couple of pieces from the Microsoft team about their marketing activity. Fun read, and the source of the truck photos above. definitions and a BBC video clip from Youtube,to help you understand the Twitter exchange.

Event thoughts and event hygiene pre-VMworld

Tomorrow I’ll be in San Francisco for the pre-event festivities of VMworld 2013.

I have a couple of thoughts/observations my prep for this event, and my adventures to Interop Las Vegas, Cisco Live, and Nth Symposium this “summer.”

I’d welcome your feedback and other suggestions… maybe this will all end up in front of the right eyes.

And maybe people planning other similar events can take this advice and at least think about it over a scotch on the rocks next weekend.

Make Scheduling Easier

I think the Cisco Live and VMworld scheduler sites are the same back-end. However, as I pointed out when I first tuned into Schedule Builder, VMworld’s schedule is far more limited in usefulness.

Admittedly, Cisco Live didn’t give 5 minute granularity for scheduling, which has to be useful for people who want to attend 15 minutes of each presentation. But I can live without that granularity.

What I find more difficult to deal with is the inability to schedule after-hours “personal time” to keep track of social and vendor events. Sure, I can load everything into Google Calendar or Outlook, but then if I change things in the Schedule Builder, it’s a manual resync or I miss something.

As a bonus option, it would be great if vendors could get unlisted codes for their events, so instead of manually adding, say, VMware Customer Event, I could put in 9EVT2039 or something and have the details populate. Password-protect if you want, so people can’t randomly find the events as easily, but it’d be nice to make the scheduling and planning as uneventful (heh) as possible.

Manage Scanner Pouncing, or, I just want free stuff

I try to manage my badge scanning. I know I’m going to get a year or five of random untargeted emails from most companies that scan my badge, and while the free iPad you’re giving away would be a nice late birthday present for my fiancee at home, you’re not going to note on the contact form on your scanner that I’m not really interested in your call management system considering my job is running Hadoop clusters.

I’d love to have two scan codes… one for “yes, I want to hear more about your products,” and one for “no, I’m not interested in your products, but I’d like to be entered in your giveaway so you don’t stalk me everytime I walk by.”

I’d love a third one for “my employer spent 7 figures with you already this year, but thanks for asking” (I’d use that one a few times most likely, even if I’m not wearing my mouse ears) and maybe a fourth one for “I’ve had dinner with your CEO and I suggested that new feature you’re touting between the fourth and fifth scotches” but then the name badges would get really crowded. And Hans would probably only scan that last one all week.

Don’t Be That Idiot, or, control your devices

I have probably tweeted about this during conferences dozens of times already this year… and it would be really great if presenters and organizers would help remind the less considerate/professional in the crowd…

We’re not here to hear your cell phone, pager, IM tone, etc… or to see the presenter/musical guest/keynoter through your iPad.

Before your session begins, set your mobile devices to silent, or vibrate only if they’re not sitting on a table or other noise-amplifying surface.

If you’re expecting a call that you absolutely have to take, sit near the door. And don’t take a call until you have left the room. If we needed to be on the call, they’d have called us too, right?

And as much as you want to share the experience with all your Instagram/Facebook/Vine/blog followers–you don’t need to block the view of people behind you by holding your iPad up pretending you’re a videographer. If your iPad wasn’t in the way, we could still see the speakers/performers, so you’re not doing anyone a favor. . Just don’t do it. Put the iPad away and enjoy the show. 

This is what it ends up looking like, and we don’t want this .

Speaking of hygiene…

I’ve often thought someone like Right Guard or Axe should be a sponsor for job fairs, expo floors, etc. There are always people who don’t bathe/shower/change clothes, and people who thought the TSA 3oz figure was a suggestion for daily cologne/perfume use.

Unless you’re trying to snag a Kardashian, you can go easy on the fragrances. Beyond that, wear a clean shirt, and clean up a bit before going into close quarters with other people who’ve hopefully have done the same.

Like the rest of this, it should go without saying, but there always seems to be at least one or two of what a hairstylist friend of mine used to call “the peanut butter people.” As in warm peanut butter fragrance. Not becoming, I tell you.

So where do we go from here?

If you’re a presenter or organizer, consider finding some slightly more filtered way to encourage people in your events to silence their mobile devices.

If you’re a professional human attending an event, learn how to set your devices (laptops, tablets, phones, pagers, Tamagotchi, etc) to silent mode. Set your devices to silent mode before the presentation, event, concert, or keynote begins. Identify the nearest exit to you in case you have to take a call. Don’t talk on the phone during a session/lecture (there were people doing this at Cisco Live, seriously). Gently encourage your friends, colleagues, and anyone else who might listen to you to do the same.

If you are at this event just to show off how loud and obnoxious your ringtones, IM notifications, email alerts, and iPad videography can be… well… there’s a Justin Bieber concert for you somewhere. And they’ll love your Cheetah Girls ringtone.

What suggestions do you have for fellow event attendees? Feel free to share in the comments.

Oh, and GET OFF MY LAWN. 🙂

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.