Search Term Tuesday – May 26th Edition

May 27, 2008

This is the second edition of the same post. Evidently, WordPress doesn’t like it when I fat-finger in Firefox 3.0 Beta 5. Grrrrr…..

So, what is “Search Term Tuesday” (or any other day of the week, even)? The principle of it is this: grab some of the focused searches out there that land on this site (i.e Flickerdown) and attempt to respond to them with more data. Deal? Let’s begin, then.

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Why the AX4-5 matters….

April 25, 2008

In my previous post, I discussed the reasons why EMC needed to spent a little more quality time with the SMB market at large. Today, in the course of several back-to-back design calls with various level SMB customers, I was struck by a couple of things.

a.) The Clariion AX4-5, while more of a “baby” Clariion amongst its more “mature” CX3 bretheren, offers something that the other arrays currently don’t: Tiered storage within the same drive tray (i.e. SAS and SATA in the same tray). Why is this important, you say? For one, I can now design tiered storage within the same tray, adding value to a customer who previously had to invest in two discrete trays of disk, one for fibre and one for SATA. Simply put, utilize 750GB/1TB drives for the 3+1 vault R5 group, toss in a good 3+1 R5 based on 10k or 15k SAS for a good baseline performance group, and then mix/match other drives to taste. You’ve got 12 slots (wish it was 15) to play around with and, it just works.
b.) You really have a harder time positioning the CX3-10 and NS-2x series because of it. Yes, the NS-22 offers the most versatility, especially with fibre and IP connectivity in the same box, but, again, with all 3 arrays (AX4-5, CX3-10, NS-22) offering 60 drive max with the same performance and storage capabilities, you need to set the table a little more carefully. Obviously, segmenting the AX4-5 into two product variants (iSCSI and fibre) leads to more “purpose built” environment installations as you only can use one or the other. The CX3-10 offers both fibre and iSCSI in the combo model and the NS-22 takes it up another notch by offering FTP, HTTP, CIFS, NFS, iSCSI, and fibre in the same box.
c.) Everyone should be selling the full version of Navisphere Manager with the AX4-5. Honestly, there’s really no reason not to as it does allow for a bit more feature functionality within the box. As a matter of fact, none of my array designs will leave EMC’s dock without it installed. 😉 You’re not missing much with Navi Express, but, once your business grows and you move to commercial Clariion units (CX3-20 and up), you’ll be able to hit the ground running.
d.) Replication, while not as “complete” as the CX3-10 and NS-22 offerings, still covers a majority of the bases required by customers. Mirrorview, Sancopy (important especially with Replication Manager usage w/SQL, Exchange), and Replistor make a compelling entry level replication solution that most multi-site SMB IT shops should be able to afford. Listen, I’m not the money guy so my anticipation of “affordability” might be scoffed at by the market at large, but seriously…finance it. 😉

All in all, the AX4-5 is a powerful offering for SMB and I look forward to bringing more awareness to it in the days ahead.

cheers,

Dave

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I *heart* SMB

April 24, 2008

I Love SMB
There’s somewhat of a misconception that EMC dislikes the SMB market. While it’s true that we’ve largely ignored it, our partners in the channel (Dell, CDW, to name a few) have successfully brought our Clariion lines to the mid-level companies out there and have solved their storage needs through aggressive cost-cutting, etc. All that was well and good, but, still, there was a general sense that we were ignoring the small guys out there who had explosive growth potential for storage and revenue and who wouldn’t be able to buy in to commercial grade arrays. Enter the Clariion AX4-5 line.

In my current role, I work almost exclusively with customers who are either new to EMC or who have admired from afar our capabilities for the commercial market. They’ve perhaps been exposed to EMC through co-branding and software bundling in external hard drive technologies, smaller ASN partners that are localized by geography, or, through a channel source like CDW. Truthfully, the greatest “capture” of these customers has been through the channel and partners who have spent the time on developing relationships with their customers versus the standard “Hey, buy my product…” One of the greatest challenges then, is for EMC to step in to the ring and actually become more “friendly” or approachable with our product and personnel.

I have been critical of the Iomega acquisition in the past based on what I felt were misappropriated metrics (namely, “buying” our way into the SMB channel using stale products versus innovative new products). The Iomega name, which was once an entity noted for innovation, has diluted to nothing notable in the channel. Companies like Enhance Technology, Buffalo, etc. which continue to innovate in the SMB space have experienced great growth because they’ve continued to innovate and make their technology approachable to the masses. That being said, here’s what I see EMC doing in the SMB space.

Intel or Iomega?
It’s no secret that EMC has a special place in their heart for Intel. Our arrays (with the exception of the Symmetrix) are built around their processors, we are firmly esconced in the Win-Tel alliance with Microsoft and, well, you know the rest. We started our SMB push with rebranding Intel 4200-E units and coupled them with EMC’s Lifeline (or is it Fortress?) software. While the 4200-E is a great box, I personally viewed the “Baxter Creek” 4000-E with a little more favour since it allowed for NFS, CIFS within the same box. The 4200-E has media functions, disk protection, etc. but it is truly the software that makes the box anything special. As I’m no expert regarding the software, I’ll defer to that product team for guidance. In any case, with the Iomega acquisition, Intel will need to be relegated to a smaller portion of the EMC market to allow for Iomega to gain some traction with SMB.

Iomega brings a much needed “middle ground” that the Intel boxes cannot cover. You’re looking at budgetary allocations between $1,000.00 to the top end of around $15,000.00 based on features and pricing. Now, I don’t know exactly what they’ll be changing or re-aligning (and one has to hope they’re going to stop this ridiculous whitebox rebranding stuff they’re doing now….) but chances are we’ll see DAS and NAS offerings that will allow for SMBs to start consolidating their storage. At risk is virtualization support and integration, but honestly, most of the offerings in that market have a buy-in around $6,000.00+ (based on the product, no less), so, it could be considered part of a larger spend for that company. In any case, I’d expect EMC branded software (Lifeline?) to appear in the boxes with some level of larger integration with our Core offerings. *shrug*

Iomega or EMC Core?

In the notes above, I’ve laid out how Iomega and Intel will be at odds with each other within the same market space (very briefly). In this section, I’d like to examine potential intersection points with Iomega and EMC Core products (Clariion, Celerra).

The Clariion AX4-5 units have been positioned as near-line SMB/Commercial storage arrays. By near-line, I’m simply referring to their ability to straddle both SMB and Commercial, not necessarily their data storage/retrieval capabilities (though, to be honest, the AX4-5 is a GREAT box to have). With our partners, you can get ready-made AX4-5 units starting around $9,000.00 (minimum config, to be honest) and scale into full featured SAS/SATA powered SAN storage for (obviously) more than that. A lot of the configs that I’ve worked on have hit the sweet spot for AX4-5 entry (with typical app integration with VMWare and SQL, for example) hitting around $35,000.00 all in. That’s not a bad place to start, especially since you get enterprise grade SAS and SATA drives that we’ve tested the living stuffing out of. 😉 Same applies for the EMC Celerra NS-2x line. I’ve worked with configs that will slap high IOP fibre drives and long term storage SATA drives within the same array for around 15% more than the AX4-5s. Again, this is optimized by the environments that I’m scoping out and, in most cases, this represents the best fit for performance and capacity. How is Iomega going to fair in that world? I’m not sure.

Nothing that Iomega has put forth so far really strikes anyone with any sort of wow-factor or “I must have it NOW.” For example, the high end 450R is simple a 4 drive server that has two GigE ports on the backend. For small shops, this may be worth it, but, again, the Intel “Baxter Creek” 4000-E does the same thing for about $4,000.00 less, fully configured. Now, you can’t really compare it against an AX4-5, to be sure, but, even a single SP AX4-5 is going to start you out around $4,000.00 above the 450R with better management. Put this into a financing or leasing model and….well, you’ll make out like a bandit. Truth be told, I’m assured that new products with new innovation will be coming down the road so, I’ll reserve my final judgment for that period of time, however, the clock is ticking.

Time to innovate…

EMC has the resources and ability to create new and exciting product at a price any SMB can afford. What they cannot afford to do is miss this opportunity. They’re counting on Iomega’s reputation and channel presence more than anything to drive their business home to the millions of SMB customers out there. The problem is, reputation and presence only go so far. There has to be better products brought to the table or else, competition will undercut and drive us out. We can’t rest on our laurels as a storage entity (truth be told, EMC isn’t well known in the SMB space at all…) because SMB doesn’t care. What matters the most is that they feel protected in their growth, from a storage AND business perspective. A misplaced investment on yesterday’s technology can destroy the confidence and ability to grow of ANY business, but is particularly pertinent in SMB.

SMB drives innovation; it breathes it out with every swell of its ranks. It is the cornerstone of tomorrow’s Commercial accounts and if we screw it up with SMB now, we’re going to have a hard time taking that ill taste from their mouths at the commercial level.

cheers,

Dave

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More on Seagate vs. STEC

April 15, 2008

EDIT:  4/15/08 @ 827pm EST

After careful consideration, it has become apparent to me that putting myself in jeopardy of commenting on active litigation that (potentially) involves my employer isn’t a smart thing to do. That being said, I’ve decided to leave this content here, but with the following disclaimer:

The opinions expressed here are my personal opinions. Content published here is not read or approved in advance by EMC and does not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of EMC. The information I’ve presented below is through personal research through publically available news sources (news.google.com and other media outlets) and does not represent anything but a high level overview of the potential consequences of this lawsuit. 

As I was holding my 11 day old daughter last night (about 3am or so), I kept going back to this whole lawsuit issue between Seagate and STEC. There were a few things that were bugging me about the nature of this suit and, I thought I’d pose them here.

a.) Why STEC? In my mind, STEC represents the first successful ENTERPRISE foray for SSD drives in the storage market. BiTMICRO and mTron have done an excellent job of being the performance leaders for consumer drives, but, never quite reached that pinnacle of performance and reliability that is needed in the enterprise storage space. As such, STEC represents the single greatest danger to Seagate and their ability to continue to push FC disk as the performance leader in enterprise (SAS is another great challenger to that concept, but we’ll leave that for another discussion). Additionally, as pricing parity is reached between SSDs and magnetic disk, there becomes an even greater divide between price and performance.

The other aspect of “why STEC” has to do with the who else is in the market. Why didn’t Seagate sue Samsung, Intel, BiTMICRO, mTron, Crucial, et al. in addition? Each of these companies have SSD devices (either of their own design or OEM’d from others) that they’re pushing into the market…

b.) Why sue vs. purchase? Interesting concept, at least to me. Knowing that they were somewhat behind the times on this new technology, why didn’t Seagate investigate the potential benefits of purchasing STEC? It makes sense, really. Companies routinely purchase IP in order to gain advantage within the market. With Western Digital buying Komag (and locking up platter manufacturing), why not go down the route of buying your greatest threat? All in all, Seagate easily could have read the writing on the wall and seen where SSDs were going (especially after the EMC Symmetrix announcement!!!!). If Seagate truly wants to protect their shareholders, etc. it would make sense to get into a market segment that promises to be upwards of 8 billion dollars within the next year.

These are my initial thoughts for this morning. Let me know if you have any other ideas.

EDIT: 4/15/08 @ 12:21pm EST

c.) Is Seagate turning into the next Rambus? Sitting in a meeting this morning, I was again trying to review some of the peculiarities of this case (which have been somewhat validated by the statement issued by STEC below). Seagate’s main contention is that STEC violated the following four baseline patents within 3 discrete categories: error correction, memory-backup systems, and storage interfaces with computers. If we follow this particular logic, then, we must assume the following:

  • Seagate developed, controls, and receives royalty payments for: SAS, SATA, Fibre, SCSI interfaces within a given open system AND the signaling technology. (i.e. both physical and electrical connectivity)
  • Error-correcting algorithms are EXCLUSIVE to Seagate and as such, SMART, sector remapping, etc. are exclusive domains of Seagate’s IP.
  • BBUs (battery back up) devices specific to cache within a storage system are proprietary to Seagate and thus subject to oversite and/or royalties, etc.

What’s not really clear here (and mind you, I don’t have access to the patent #’s in questions and their technological backend), is the role of each of the governance boards in this (Fibre Channel Industry Association, SCSI Trade Association). What I find very fishy is that Seagate, being a part of each of these groups, would be allowed to patent something that is an open format (that I am aware) and a trade standard (i.e. Fibre connectivity). If you recall, Rambus did the EXACT same thing by sitting on the DRAM design boards and then backend patenting the technology that was developed. Not saying that Seagate is ultimately a mini-Rambus, but the sheer ferocity in which Seagate seems to be going after STEC is quite suprising.

oh, and in case you missed it, STEC released their counter-statement this morning:

STEC is one of the first companies to build SSDs, having designed, manufactured and shipped SSDs as early as 1994, long before any of the suggested patents were issued to Seagate. Given the effect SSDs are having on the HDD market, STEC believes that Seagate’s lawsuit is completely without merit and primarily motivated by competitive concerns rather than a desire to protect its intellectual property. STEC believes that Seagate’s action is a desperate move to disrupt how aggressively customers are embracing STEC’s Zeus-IOPS technology and changing the balance of power in enterprise storage. Seagate is sending a clear signal that it recognizes STEC as the leader in the SSD business and is attempting to slow down part of the growth that STEC is gaining through its SSD offering, particularly in the enterprise segment. STEC will aggressively pursue its defense to this infringement action.

In addition, STEC will also closely examine the patents asserted by Seagate as STEC believes it held such technology including prior patents, dating more than a decade prior to any of Seagate’s patents. Although STEC is in the process of analyzing the claims in this lawsuit, STEC believes that Seagate’s asserted patents pertain to technologies where STEC has years of prior experience and/or patents. STEC has significant patents related to SSD which have been developed through the decades of experience STEC has with developing, manufacturing and shipping SSDs. Beyond that long history, STEC also believes that many of Seagate’s claims are not relevant to SSD. For example, STEC was one of the originators of stacking technology with patents dating back to the mid-1990s, while Seagate’s patent on this matter was issued in 2005.

Through this process, STEC will determine if Seagate is misappropriating any of STEC’s core technologies; STEC will take appropriate action to protect its interests, including seeking the invalidation of Seagate’s patents.

(emphasis mine)

cheers,

Dave
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Centera vs. Symmetrix? (and the SAS vs. Fibre challenge)

April 1, 2008
Obviously, I do actively read and/or manage my blog. To that end, one of the nifty little features of WordPress (and undoubtedly other blogging sites) is the ability to “see” what search terms people are using to land on your blog posts. One of the most fascinating searches had to do with the phrase “Centera vs. Symmetrix.” There are other good search metrics that I’ve seen but I thought I’d delve into this for a second.
Centera vs. Symmetrix
As you’ve undoubtably read before, I did a quick drive-by of the Nextra and in it, promoted the concept that Nextra could become a significant competitor to EMC’s Centera. While this may be slighting the Nextra and Centera somewhat, it does point to the fundamentals of near-line archive being a significant battleground in the coming years. So, to flip this on its head a little, let’s look at the Centera vs. the Symmetrix as wholistic entities dedicated to storing YOUR information.The Symmetrix is a purpose-built, multi-tiered storage system with infinite expandability (well, finite, really, but hyperbole works well, right? ;) ) , connectivity, and AT LEAST 3 tiers of discrete information storage (Tier 0 [SSDs], Tier 1 [fibre], Tier 2-5 [SATA]). The Symmetrix will connect to anything from mainframes to lowly Windows 2003 Servers. It has completely redundant pathways to your data and features a high speed internal bus interconnecting the blades.The Centera is a system based on the RAIN (Redundant Array of Independent Nodes) principle. By itself, the Centera is realistically nothing more than a purpose-built 1U server with specialized policy-based software sitting on top of a very stable Linux OS. (The Centera guys will more than likely want to harm me for distilling it down that far). However, moving the Centera “nodes” from standalone to clusters (aka 4-node “base” units) really changes things and highlights the power of the OS and hardware. Connectivity is limited to IP only (GigE, please!) and the nodes communicate with each other over IP (dedicated private LAN) as well. Not quite as flexible as to the front end connectivity and definitely not the champion of speed by any stretch of the imagination (thanks to SATA drives), but very servicable when using the API to communicate directly. Remember, the Centera is geared toward archive, not Tier 0-3 application sets (though, it appears to function quite well at the Tier 2-5 levels depending on the application).

Hopefully, you’re seeing a pattern here that will answer this particular tag search. If not, here’s the last distillation for you:
Symmetrix
: multi-protocol, multi-Tier, high speed storage system
Centera
: single protocol, single-Tier, archive storage systemCapiche? ;)

SAS vs. Fibre Challenge

Again, as I’ve pontificated before, I challenge anyone to point out SAS’s shortcomings as it pertains to reliability and performance vs. fibre drives. I see the market turning to SAS as the replacement for Fibre drives and, well, we’ll see where that goes. To that end, I’ve got an interesting challenge for you readers:

The Challenge:
a.) I need someone with a CX3-10 and someone with an AX4-5 base array, with fibre drives and SAS drives respectively.
b.) I need the fibre and SAS drives in a RAID5 4+1 config with a single LUN bound across it (no contention of spindles
c.) I need you to run either the latest version of IOMeter or OpenSourceMark (the FileCopy Utility) against that LUN and report back the information.
d.) I’ll compile the table of data results and, if I receive valid results from multiple people, I’ll send you an EMC t-shirt for your time (to the first responders).Sound like a deal? GREAT!(I’d do it myself but I have no budget for these things…)

Checking out now…

Dave

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More on the SAS vs. Fibre debate

March 25, 2008

Connectivity Reliability

At some point, I had typed in a bit about the physical interfaces present on both the SAS and Fibre drives. I appears that I ran roughshod over that particular point which, upon thinking about it, is a very important dimension of drive reliability.

As noted previously, SAS drives use an amended SATA data+power connectivity schema. Instead of a notch between the data and power connections as present on SATA drives, SAS drives simply “bridge” that gap with an extra helping of plastic. This not only turns the somewhat flimsy SATA connectors into a more robust solution, it also requires that the host connector support that bridging. Interesting note here is that the SAS host connector supports SATA drives but SATA host connectors will not support SAS. This is somewhat assuaged by various host implementations (i.e. using a SAS connector on a backplane with discrete SATA data connectivity from the backplane to the mainboard) but generally, this is the rule. The SAS drives feature a male connectivity block which is mated to a female SAS connectivity block on the host system. Pretty basic stuff.

Fibre drives, on the other hand, use a SCA (single connector edge) medium that is again male on the drive side and female on the host side. Definitely more simplistic in design and implementation (and is featured within all current EMC arrays) and honestly, when push comes to shove, something I would trust inherently more with protection. The same idea is present with SCA80 Ultra320 SCSI drives as well. The fitment here is definitely more secure with less design stress placed on the physical connector (and thusly the PCB itself) than with the SAS solution.

There are always caveats with distinct designs, however, and I’d like to highlight some below.
a.) The SAS data+power connector is inherently MORE secure than the standard SATA interface. Truth be told, I’ve broken SATA data connectors. It’s really not hard since the data connection is a discrete “tab” from the power interface (which I’ve broken as well). The addition of the plastic “bridge” between data and power connections on SAS drives promotes a stronger bond between the connector (whether that be SFF or backplane based) and the drive itself. It also keeps folks from mistakenly connecting SAS drives to SATA ports. 😉
b.) The SAS interface is still prone to breakage as compared to SCA40/80 connections. There’s a reason why we do a conversion within our drive caddies from SATA to Fibre (outside of the obvious protocol translation and sniffer obligations): it’s more secure. The mating mechanism within the SCA interface provides no single point of stress on the connector as there is a nesting process that takes place. Not so with the SAS interface: you have a significant protrusion into the caddy area that, if improperly aligned, can cause damage. If you misalign the SCA interface, you can’t make the connection and there’s no protrusion difficulties.

Note: The good news in all of this (at least from my perspective @ EMC) is that we’re not going to allow you to screw this connectivity up. 😉 We mount the drives in our carriers, put them in the array and, well, we’ve got you covered. 😉

In any case, this is really for further clarification from yesterday’s post. Hopefully that will give a little more food for thought.

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SAS vs. Fibre, Seagate’s SSD dilemna, and Sun’s “Freakin’ Laser Beams”

March 24, 2008

SAS vs. Fibre

One thing I hear about constantly (within the hallowed halls of EMC and elsewhere), is the general “inferiority” of SAS drives vs. Fibre. This usually comes complete with a somewhat stale argument that because SAS is a natural extension of SATA, it is therefore a “consumer” drive and not “good enough” for the Commercial or Enterprise disk space.

Really?

What most people fail to realize is the following:
a.) The platters, drive motors, heads, etc. are the same. If people actually spent the time looking into these products (vs. cutting at them with a wide swath of generalized foolishness), they’d actually see that the same mechanical “bits” make up both the “enterprise” class fibre and SAS drives. Looking at the Seagate Cheetah 15k.5 drive line, we see that they’re offered in SCA-40 (Fibre), SAS, SCA-80 (u320), and 68pin interfaces. The spec sheet shows that outside of differing transfer rates (and, lower power draws at load/idle than Fibre), both the SCSI and SAS drives are the same.
b.) The primary differentiators are the PCBs, ASICS, Physical Connectors to the “host” system, and Transfer Rates. Flipping the drives over, you’ll obviously note the differences in PCBs, onboard ASICs, and physical connectors. That’s a wash as it has little to nothing to do with reliability. So, what you’re left with is the transfer rate conundrum. Honestly, given how particularly bad customers are at actually filling a 4 gigabit per second pipe with data (esp. in the commercial side of the house), a 1 gigabit per second difference (roughly 100mb/s) is minimal. Oh, for the record, our STEC SSDs will only have a 2gb/s connection to the Symmetrix, last I heard. 😉

I think those two points about cover it. 😉 MTBF, etc. are the exact same, btw, so, don’t expect any differences from hardware longevity.

Seagate and SSDs: WE SUE YOU!

Engadget is one of my favourite reads during the day and consequently, I need to blog about articles located there more often. That being said, I almost fell out of my seat this morning when I read one of the latest postings: “Seagate warns it might sue SSD makers for patent infringement.” Yippee. In my opinion, this is more of the same “sue happy” nitwitery (is that a word?) that happens every single time Apple decides to release a new “product.” Some Rip van Winkle patent hound comes out of years of slumber and states “I patented the EXACT same technology using specious language and vague intimations of what I thought could work” much to the chagrin of everyone around. Now, in the case of Seagate and Western Digital, I believe that they’re just looking to diversify their holdings in the emerging SSD market. Remember, at the price per gigabyte/terabyte mark, spinning disk is still the king and will be for quite some time. However, in terms of power draw and raw IOPs, you can’t beat them. In any case, file this whole article under the “we want in (and the money wouldn’t be a bad thing either)” category. 😉

EDIT: (4/10/08 @ 1103pm EST) New entry added above on the Seagate vs. STEC lawsuit

Sun: We’re going optical (with LASER BEAMS!!!!)

Next on the hitlist is the re-emergence of Optical interconnects between processors as noted by Sun (and it’s recent DARPA grant). Great news for Sun, really, but IBM has already been doing this for some time. Optical interconnects ARE the wave of the future for processor interconnects, etc. especially as quantum computing (and it’s massive data loads) are concerned. Definitely something to pay attention to. Who knows? Maybe EMC will use optical transmission in its Symmetrix line between the blades. 😉 A boy can hope.

That’s all for now.

Peace,

Dave

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