Thursday, 30 August 2007

Holiday is over...

I'm back from my annual summer break (hence the lack of posts for a couple of weeks). I managed to resist the temptation to go online while away (partly because I only had access to the 'net via a 32K modem and mostly because of the hard stares from my wife every time I went near the computer)....

I addition, I trashed my PDA by dropping it onto a concrete car park floor so I had no wireless access either. Loss of my PDA was annoying (if not just for the cost of replacement) but for the potential loss of access to data. Fortunately being a good storage guy, I write all my data to an SD card so didn't lose any access.

Any-hoo, before I went away, I solved my Cisco problem. Turns out it was a bug; upgrading to OS 3.1(1) and above then caused routing issues with FCIP links created after the upgrade. A supervisor swap sorted the problem. The resolution was quite simple but the effort to get there was significant, despite the huge amount of diagnostics built into Cisco equipment. Still, I learned a lot and as usual it showed me that however hard I work, I'll never know everything (or probably even 10% of the storage world).

Right, back to catching up with my RSS backlog. These days its almost impossible to keep up with the daily posts!

Thursday, 16 August 2007

Using that 8Gbps

Symantec/Veritas announced this week the release of Netbackup 6.5. It seems to me like the company has been talking about this version of the product forever and as is mentioned on other blogs, there are lots of new features to play with.

The ones I've been looking forward to are called SAN Media Server and SAN Client. These allow the SAN to be used (via FC/SCSI) as the transport method for backup data between the client and the media server.

For Symantec, implementing this feature is more difficult than it sounds; A standard HBA operates as an initiator with a storage device (disk or tape) acting as the target. I/O operations are instigated by the initiator to the target which then replies with the results. With the SAN Media Server, Symantec have had to re-write the firmware on the HBAs in the media server to act as a SCSI target. This allows it to receive backup data from the client, from when it is then handled as normal by the media server.

This option has a huge number of potential benefits; If you have already provided a SAN connection to a host (and possibly a production IP connection), there's no need now to provide a backup LAN connection too; just use the SAN. On new installations, this could save a fortune in network ports and would use a lot of potentially wasted fibre channel bandwidth. Throughput could be vastly improved; most fabrics run at 2Gbps today compared to host 1Gbps (OK, the data has to be read from the disk too, but most hosts have two HBA cards, so 4Gbps of aggregate bandwidth). Fabrics tend to be more well structured and therefore suffer less with bottleneck issues.

The only downside I can see is the need to provide one honkin' great media server to suck up all that backup data!

Monday, 13 August 2007

8-gig fibre channel

The Register reported last week that Emulex and Qlogic have announced the imminent availability of 8Gbps fibre channel products.

I have to ask the question...Is there any point?

Firstly, according to the article, the vendors of switch products aren't clarifying their position (both have 10Gb/s technology already). In addition, if a host can push data out at 8Gb/s levels, it will quickly overrun most storage arrays.

How many people out there are using 10Gb/s for anything other than ISLs? (In fact, I think 10Gb/s HBAs don't exist, please prove me wrong :-) ). How many people are even using them for ISLs? If you look at Cisco's technology you can see that you will still be limited to the speed of the line card (about 48Gb/s) even with 10Gb/s, so other than a few less ISL lines, what has it actually bought you?

I still think at this stage we need to focus on using the bandwidth we have; sensible layout and design and optimise fabric capacity.

One final point, presumably 8Gb/s devices will run hotter than existing 4Gb/s - even if we can't/don't use that extra capacity??

Wednesday, 8 August 2007

Patent Everything

Slightly off-post....

About 6 years' ago on a previous life, I used to sell music online. That project failed, however one of the spin-offs I looked into was the concept of virtual jukeboxes. I guess the data issues were slightly storage related. A virtual jukebox would get its music tracks from a broadband connection and locally cache popular tracks.

Anyway, one idea I had was to use SMS messaging to allow customers to select tracks in a bar/pub/etc. I didn't pursue the idea, although I had been messing with SMS services. It now transpires that this idea has been implemented, some 6 years after I thought of it.

Perhaps someone had thought of it some time ago, but I'd like to think I was first. Shame I didn't have the courage of my convictions to see how patentable the idea was.

Hopefully I'll get a second chance with another idea in the future!

Monday, 6 August 2007

No Datacentres in Leicester?

I read something today that quoted BroadGroup's 2006 Power and Cooling Survey. It states that the average UK datacentre uses more power in one year than the city of Leicester.

Now, surely that means there can't even be one average size datacentre in Leicester, or no-one else in the City uses electricity....

Recyclable Storage

I've just had the details through of our new recycling "rules" at home. I now have *four* bins; one for bottles, one for green/garden waste, one for recyclables (plastic bottles, paper, etc) and one for remaining rubbish. Theoretically you'd think that there would be almost nothing in the main bin, but surprisingly, lots of plastic items aren't recyclable, like yogurt pots and food trays. I don't know a great deal about plastics, but you would think that we would be using recyclable plastics wherever possible, especially for disposable items.

That got me thinking about recyclable storage. There's been a lot of discussion about green storage from a power/cooling perspective but how about the recycling of equipment when it reaches the end of "useful" life?

Now, I know that most vendors will recycle components, especially in order to keep older systems running where customers choose not to replace or upgrade, but for some vendors (Netapp seems to be one), there's an aim to keep older hardware off the market (check out ZeroWait for example). What happens to that kit? Is it reused? What happens to old hard drives? Do they get recycled? It would be useful to see how vendors are reducing the amount of natural resources they consume when manufacturing products.

By the way, the WEEE directive in the EU is worth looking into. Is something like this happening in the US?

Sunday, 5 August 2007


I've been a little quiet on the blog front over the last week, mainly because I've been away on business and I didn't take my laptop ( :-( ). I travelled "lite", which I'm not normally used to doing and that meant taking only the essentials. In fact, as I didn't have any checked baggage, I forgot about a corkscrew in my washbag, which was summarily extracted from me at the security checks at Heathrow.

Anyway enough of that, I've also had another issue to resolve attempting to link two Cisco fabrics via FCIP. It's a frustrating problem which has taken up more of my time than I would like and I still haven't managed to resolve it. Both fabrics already successfully move data via FCIP links, will connect to each other (and the end devices are visible and logged in) but the initiator HBA can't see any targets in the same zone.

These sorts of problems become annoying to resolve as most vendors take you through the level 1 process of problem determination (which translates to "you are an idiot and have configured it wrong") then level 2 ("Oh, perhaps there is a problem, send is 300GB of diagnostics, traces, configurations, date of birth, number of previous girlfriends etc") who get you to "try this command" - usually things you've already tried to no avail, because you actually know what you are talking about.

I'm almost at level 3 ("we've no idea what's causing the problem, we will have to pass to the manufacturer"). Hopefully at this stage I will start to get some results. Does anyone out there have a way to bypass all this first level diagnostics nonsense?

The other thing that caught my eye this week was the comment on Netapp and their targets miss. There is lots of speculation on what has occurred; here's my (two penn'orth/two cents).

Netapp had a great product for the NAS space, there's no doubting that. They made a great play of expanding into the Enterprise space when NAS-based storage became widely accepted. Some features are great - even something as simple as snapshots, replication and flexclones. However I think they now have some fundamental issues.

  1. The Netapp base product is not an Enterprise storage array for NAS/FC/iSCSI. It doesn't scale to the levels of DMX-4 and USP. I think it is a mistake to continue to sell the Netapp appliance against high end arrays. Those of us who deploy USP/DMX technology regularly know what I mean.
  2. The original Netapp technology is hitting a ceiling in terms of its useful life. The latest features customers demand, such as multi-node clustering can't be achieved with the base technology (hence the Spinnaker acquisition).
  3. The product feature set is too complicated. There are dozens of product features which overlap each other and make it very difficult to determine when developing a solution, which is the right to choose (some have fundamental restrictions in the way they work that I found even Netapp weren't clear about).
  4. Netapp developed a culture of the old IBM - that is to say expecting their customers to purchase their products and deriding them if they didn't choose them, attempting to resurrect the old addage "No-one Ever Got Fired for Buying IBM" to "No-one should get fired for buying Netapp".
I think I found point 4 most difficult to deal with; Netapp seemed to think they had a right to be No. 1 selection, almost forcing technical people to have to justify why *not* to buy Netapp.

Perhaps a little humility is long overdue.