Tony Pearson is a Master Inventor and Senior IT Architect for the IBM Storage product line at the
IBM Executive Briefing Center in Tucson Arizona, and featured contributor
to IBM's developerWorks. In 2016, Tony celebrates his 30th year anniversary with IBM Storage. He is
author of the Inside System Storage series of books. This blog is for the open exchange of ideas relating to storage and storage networking hardware, software and services.
(Short URL for this blog: ibm.co/Pearson )
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Safe Harbor Statement: The information on IBM products is intended to outline IBM's general product direction and it should not be relied on in making a purchasing decision. The information on the new products is for informational purposes only and may not be incorporated into any contract. The information on IBM products is not a commitment, promise, or legal obligation to deliver any material, code, or functionality. The development, release, and timing of any features or functionality described for IBM products remains at IBM's sole discretion.
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If you store your VMware bits on external SAN or NAS-based disk storage systems, this post is for you. The subject of the post, VM Volumes, is a potential storage management game changer!
Fellow blogger Stephen Foskett mentioned VM Volumes in his [Introducing VMware vSphere Storage Features] presentation at IBM Edge 2012 conference. His session on VMware's storage features included VMware APIs for Array Integration (VAAI), VMware Array Storage Awareness (VASA), vCenter plug-ins, and a new concept he called "vVol", now more formally known as VM Volumes. This post provides a follow-up to this, describing the VM Volumes concepts, architecture, and value proposition.
"VM Volumes" is a future architecture that VMware is developing in collaboration with IBM and other major storage system vendors. So far, very little information about VM Volumes has been released. At VMworld 2012 Barcelona, VMware highlights VM Volumes for the first time and IBM demonstrates VM Volumes with the IBM XIV Storage System (more about this demo below). VM Volumes is worth your attention -- when it becomes generally available, everyone using storage arrays will have to reconsider their storage management practices in a VMware environment -- no exaggeration!
But enough drama. What is this all about?
(Note: for the sake of clarity, this post refers to block storage only. However, the VM Volumes feature applies to NAS systems as well. Special thanks to Yossi Siles and the XIV development team for their help on this post!)
The VM Volumes concept is simple: VM disks are mapped directly to special volumes on a storage array system, as opposed to storing VMDK files on a vSphere datastore.
The following images illustrate the differences between the two storage management paradigms.
You may still be asking yourself: bottom line, how will I benefit from VM Volumes?
Well, take a VM snapshot for example. With VM Volumes, vSphere can simply offload the operation by invoking a hardware snapshot of the hardware volume. This has significant implications:
VM-Granularity: Only the right VMs are copied (with datastores, backing up or cloning individual-VM portions of hardware snapshot of a datastore would require more complex configuration, tools and work)
Hardware Offload: No ESXi server resources are consumed
XIV advantage: With XIV, snapshots consume no space upfront and are completed instantly.
Here's the first takeaway: With VM Volumes, advanced storage services (which cost a lot when you buy a storage array), will become available at an individual VM level. In a cloud world, this means that applications can be provisioned easily with advanced storage services, such as snapshots and mirroring.
Now, let's take a closer look at another relevant scenario where VM Volumes will make a lot of difference - provisioning an application with special mirroring requirements:
VM Volumes case: The application is ordered via the private cloud portal. The requestor checks a box requesting an asynchronous mirror. He changes the default RPO for his needs. When the request is submitted, the process wraps up automatically: Volumes are created on one of the storage arrays, configured with a mirror and RPO exactly as specified. A few minutes later, the requestor receives an automatic mail pointing to the application virtual machine.
Datastores case #1: As may be expected, a datastore that is mirrored with the special RPO does not exist. As a result, the automated workflow sets a pending status on the request, creates an urgent ticket to a VMware administrator and aborts. When the VMware admin handles that ticket, she re-assigns the ticket to the storage administrator, asking for a new volume which is mirrored with the special RPO, and mapped to the right ESXi cluster. The next day, the volume is created; the ticket is re-assigned to the storage admin, with the new LUN being pointed to. The VMware administrator follows and creates the datastore on top of it. Since the automated workflow was aborted, the admin re-assigns the ticket to the cloud administrator, who sometime later completes the application provisioning manually.
Datastores case #2: Luckily for the requestor, a datastore that is mirrored with the special RPO does exist. However, that particular datastore is consuming space from a high performance XIV Gen3 system with SSD caching, while the application does not require that level of performance, so the workflow requires a storage administrator approval. The approval is given to save time, but the storage administrator opens a ticket for himself to create a new volume on another array, as well as a follow-up ticket for the VMware admin to create a new datastore using the new volume and migrate the application to the other datastore. In this case, provisioning was relatively rapid, but required manual follow up, involving the two administrators.
Here's the second takeaway: With VM Volumes, management is simplified, and end-to-end automation is much more applicable. The reason is that there are no datastores. Datastores physically group VMs that may otherwise be totally unrelated, and require close coordination between storage and VMware administrators.
Now, the above mainly focuses on the VMware or cloud administrator perspective. How does VM Volumes impact storage management?
VM's are the new hosts: Today, storage administrators have visibility of physical hosts in their management environment. In a non-virtualized environment, this visibility is very helpful. The storage administrator knows exactly which applications in a data center are storage-provisioned or affected by storage management operations because the applications are running on well-known hosts. However, in virtualized environments the association of an application to a physical host is temporary. To keep at least the same level of visibility as in physical environments, VMs should become part of the storage management environment, like hosts. Hosts are still interesting, for example to manage physical storage mapping, but without VM visibility, storage administrators will know less about their operation than they are used to, or need to. VM Volumes enables such visibility, because volumes are provided to individual VMs. The XIV VM Volumes demonstration at VMworld Barcelona, although experimental, shows a view of VM volumes, in XIV's management GUI.
Here's a screenshot:
That's not all!
Storage Profiles and Storage Containers: A Storage Profile is a vSphere specification of a set of storage services. A storage profile can include properties like thin or thick provisioning, mirroring definition, snapshot policy, minimum IOPS, etc.
Storage administrators define a portfolio of supported storage services, maintained as a set of storage profiles, and published (via VASA integration) to vSphere.
VMware or cloud administrators define the required storage profiles for specific applications
VMware and storage administrators need to coordinate the typical storage requirements and the automatically-available storage services. When a request to provision an application is made, the associated storage profiles are matched against the published set of available storage profiles. The matching published profiles will be used to create volumes, which will be bound to the application VMs. All that will happen automatically.
Note that when a VM is created today, a datastore must be specified. With VM Volumes, a new management entity called Storage Container (also known as Capacity Pool) replaces the use of datastore as a management object. Each Storage Container exposes a subset of the available storage profiles, as appropriate. The storage container also has a capacity quota.
Here are some more takeaways:
New way to interface vSphere and storage management: Storage administrators structure and publish storage services to vSphere via storage profiles and storage containers.
Automated provisioning, out of the box: The provisioning process automatically matches application-required storage profiles against storage profiles available from the specified storage containers. There is no need to build custom scripts and custom processes to automate storage provisioning to applications
The XIV advantage:
XIV services are very simple to define and publish. The typical number of available storage profiles would be low. It would also be easy to define application storage profiles.
XIV provides consistent high performance, up to very high capacity utilization levels, without any maintenance. As a result, automated provisioning (which inherently implies less human attention) will not create an elevated risk of reduced performance.
Note: A storage vendor VASA provider is required to support VM Volumes, storage profiles, storage containers and automated provisioning. The IBM Storage VASA provider runs as a standalone service that needs to be deployed on a server.
To summarize the VM Volumes value proposition:
Streamline cloud operation by providing storage services at VM and application level, enabling end-to-end provisioning automation, and unifying VMware and storage administration around volumes and VMs.
Increase storage array ROI, improve vSphere scalability and response time, and reduce cloud provisioning lag, by offloading VM-level provisioning, failover, backup, storage migration, storage space recycling, monitoring, and more, to the storage array, using advanced storage operations such as mirroring and snapshots.
Simplify the adoption of VM Volumes using XIV, with smaller and simpler sets of storage profiles. Apply XIV's supreme fast cloning to individual VMs, and keep automation risks at bay with XIV's consistent high performance.
Until you can get your hands on a VM Volumes-capable environment, the VMware and IBM developer groups will be collaborating and working hard to realize this game-changing feature. The above information is definitely expected to trigger your questions or comments, and our development teams are eager to learn from them and respond. Enter your comments below, and I will try to answer them, and help shape the next post on this subject. There's much more to be told.
This month, I am pleased to announce the new [IBM STG Executive Briefing Center] website, representing a huge improvement over the previous website we had been using over the past two years. STG refers to IBM's Systems and Technology Group, the division that focuses on servers, storage, switches and the system software that makes them run. This new website is for the dozen STG EBCs that span the globe. The new website reminds me of this famous quote:
"Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away"
-- Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Let's take a quick look at what makes it so much better.
The previous website required registration. At every briefing, those of us who work in the EBCs had to pass around a sign-up sheet for email addresses from each attendee so that we could send them an invitation to register for the site. We would have a hard time reading people's handwriting, resulting in some emails coming back rejected.
Inspired by self-service gas stations, automated teller machines, and the many self-service portals of Cloud Computing, the new website has everything up-front, without registration. IBM Business Partners and sales representatives can easily request a briefing at any of the dozen briefing centers represented!
IBM-managed and IBM-hosted
We had a difficult time explaining to our attendees why our previous website was hosted on a lone machine and maintained by a third party. Think about it, IBM manages the data centers of over 400 clients. IBM has provided web hosting to the most mission critical workloads, with high levels of availability and reliability, and is recognized as one of the "Big 5" Cloud companies. I have done web design myself in my career, and we were terribly disappointed with the third party chosen to create and maintain our previous website, constantly having to point out errors in their HTML and CSS.
For the new website, IBM took back control. Staff from each EBC, myself included, came up with a simple page to bring the essence of each location to life. Special thanks to my colleage Hal Jennings, from the Austin EBC, for bringing this altogether!
Despite two years of manually registering attendees to use the previous website, Google Analytics showed that few people visited, and the few that did spent little time exploring the vast repository of content.
The new website is vastly simpler. The front page points to all twelve EBCs, and a single mouse click gets you to the location you are interested in, with all the details you need to make a decision to book a briefing, and the contact information to make it happen.
Elimination of Wasted and Duplicate Effort
In the previous website, we spent as much as 15 hours just to create, voice over, edit and produce a single 15-minute recorded presentation. Less than six percent of the previous website visitors watched more than five minutes of these videos, making us feel that most of our effort was wasted.
The EBC staff kept wasting their time, month after month, thanks to all-stick, no-carrot tactics that mandated minimums for contributions for more and more content that nobody was ever looking at. Even more disappointing was that much of our work duplicated the formal responsibilities of our IBM Marketing team. They weren't happy about this either, causing confusion between the roles of our two teams.
Finally, we said enough was enough! The new STG EBC website is a marvel in minimalism. If you want to see presentations, videos, expert profiles, or partake in on-going conversations, I welcome you to visit the [IBM Expert Network], the [IBM Storage YouTube Channel], and the [Storage Community] where they belong.
Can Structured Query Language [SQL] be considered a storage protocol?
Several months ago, I was asked to review a book on SQL, titled appropriately enough "The Complete Idiot's Guide to SQL", by Steven Holzner, Ph.D. As a published author myself, I get a lot of these requests, and I agreed in this case, given that SQL was invented by IBM, and is a good fundamental skill to have for Business Analytics and Database Management.
(FTC Disclosure: I work for IBM but was not part of the SQL development team. I was provided a copy of this book for free to review it. I was not paid to mention this book, nor told what to write. I do not know the author personally nor anyone that works for his publicist. All of my opinions of the book in this blog post are my own.)
Despite an agreed-upon standard for SQL, each relational database management system (RDBMS) has decided to customize it for their own purposes. First, SQL can be quite wordy, so some RDBMS have made certain keywords optional. Second, RDBMS offer extra features by adding keywords or programming language extentions, options or parameters above and beyond what the SQL standard calls for. Third, the SQL standard has changed over the years, and some RDBMS have opted to keep some backward compatibility with their prior releases. Fourth, some RDBMS want to discourage people from easily porting code from one RDBMS to another, known in the industry as vendor lock-in.
Throughout my career, I have managed various databases, including Informix, DB2, MySQL, and Microsoft SQL Server, so I am quite familiar with the differences in SQL and the problems and implications that arise.
Most authors who want to write about SQL typically make a choice between (a) stick to the SQL standard, and expect the reader to customize the examples to their particular DBMS; or (b) stick to a single RDBMS implemenation, and offer examples that may not work on other RDBMS.
I found the book "The Complete Idiot's Guide to SQL" covered the basics quite well, but with an odd twist. The basics include creating databases and tables, defining columns, inserting and deleting rows, updating fields, and performing queries or joins. The odd twist is that Steven does not make the typical choice above, but rather shows how the various DBMS are different than standard SQL syntax, with actual working examples for different RDBMS.
You might be thinking to yourself that only an idiot would work in a place that had to require knowledge of multiple RDBMS. The sad truth is that most of the medium and large companies I speak to have two or more in production. This is either through acquisitions, or in some cases, individual business units or departments implementing their own via the [Shadow IT].
(For those who want to learn SQL and try out the examples in this book, IBM offers a free version of DB2 called [DB2-C Express] that runs on Windows, Linux, Mac OS, and Solaris.)
Last week, while I was in Russia for the [Edge Comes to You] event, I was interviewed by a journalist from [Storage News] on various topics. One question stuck me as strange. He asked why I did not mention IBM's acquisition of Netezza in my keynote session about storage. I had to explain that Netezza was not in the IBM System Storage product line, it is in a different group, under Business Analytics, where it belongs.
While it is true that Netezza can store data, because it has storage components inside, the same could also be said about nearly every other piece of IT equipment, from servers with internal disk, to digital cameras, smart phones and portable music players. They can all be considered storage devices, but doing so would undermine what differentiates them from one another.
Which brings me back to my original question: Should we consider SQL to be a storage protocol? For the longest time, IT folks only considered block-based interfaces as storage protocols, then we added file-based interfaces like CIFS and NFS, and we also have object-based interfaces, such as IBM's Object Access Method (OAM) and the System Storage Archive Manager (SSAM) API. Could SQL interfaces be the next storage protocol?
Let me know what you think on this. Leave a comment below.
This week, I am in beautiful Sao Paulo, Brazil, teaching Top Gun class to IBM Business Partners and sales reps. Traditionally, we have "Tape Thursday" where we focus on our tape systems, from tape drives, to physical and virtual tape libraries. IBM is the number #1 tape vendor, and has been for the past eight years.
(The alliteration doesn't translate well here in Brazil. The Portuguese word for tape is "fita", and Thursday here is "quinta-feira", but "fita-quinta-feira" just doesn't have the same ring to it.)
In the class, we discussed how to handle common misperceptions and myths about tape. Here are a few examples:
Myth 1: Tape processing is manually intensive
In my July 2007 blog post [Times a Million], I coined the phrase "Laptop Mentality" to describe the problem most people have dealing with data center decisions. Many folks extend linearly their experiences using their PCs, workstations or laptops to apply to the data center, unable to comprehend large numbers or solutions that take advantage of the economies of scale.
For many, the only experience dealing with tape was manual. In the 1980s, we made "mix tapes" on little cassettes, and in the 1990s we recorded our favorite television shows on VHS tapes in the VCR. Today, we have playlists on flash or disk-based music players, and record TV shows on disk-based video recorders like Tivo. The conclusion is that tapes are manual, and disk are not.
Manual processing of tapes ended in 1987, with the introduction of a silo-like tape library from StorageTek. IBM quickly responded with its own IBM 3495 Tape Library Data Server in 1992. Today, clients have many tape automation choices, from the smallest IBM TS2900 Tape Autoloader that has one drive and nine cartridges, all the way to the largest IBM TS3500 multiple-library shuttle complex that can hold exabytes of data. These tape automation systems eliminate most of the manual handling of cartridges in day-to-day operations.
Myth 2: Tape media is less reliable than disk media
For any storage media to be unreliable is to return the wrong information that is different than what was originally stored. There are only two ways for this to happen: if you write a "zero" but read back a "one", or write a "one" and read a "zero". This is called a bit error. Every storage media has a "bit error rate" that is the average likelihood for some large amount of data written.
According to the latest [LTO Bit Error rates, 2012 March], today's tape expects only 1 bit error per 10E17 bits written (about 100 Petabytes). This is 10 times more reliable than Enterprise SAS disk (1 bit per 10E16), and 100 times more reliable than Enterprise-class SATA disk (1 bit per 10E15).
Tape is the media used in "black boxes" for airplanes. When an airplane crashes, the black box is retrieved and used to investigate the causes of the crash. In 1986, the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded 73 seconds after take-off. The tapes in the black box sat on the ocean floor for six weeks before being recovered. Amazingly, IBM was able to successfully restore [90 percent of the block data, and 100 percent of voice data].
Analysts are quite upset when they are quoted out of context, but in this case, Gartner never said anything closely similar to this. Nor did the other analysts that Curtis investigated for similar claims. What Garnter did say was that disk provides an attractive alternative storage media for backup which can increase the performance of the recovery process.
Back in the 1990s, Savur Rao and I developed a patent to help backup DB2 for z/OS by using the FlashCopy feature of IBM's high-end disk system. The software method to coordinate the FlashCopy snapshots with the database application and maintain multiple versions was implemented in the DFSMShsm component of DFSMS. A few years later, this was part of a set of patents IBM cross-licensed to Microsoft for them to implement a similar software for Windows called Data Protection Manager (DPM). IBM has since introduced its own version for distributed systems called IBM Tivoli FlashCopy Manager that runs not just on Windows, but also AIX, Linux, HP-UX and Solaris operating systems.
Curtis suspects the "71 percent" citation may have been propogated by an ambitious product manager of Microsoft's Data Protection Manager, back in 2006, perhaps to help drive up business to their new disk-based backup product. Certainly, Microsoft was not the only vendor to disparage tape in this manner.
A few years ago, an [EMC failure brought down the State of Virginia] due to not just a component failure it its production disk system, but then made it worse by failing to recover from the disk-based remote mirror copy. Fortunately, the data was able to be restored from tape over the next four days. If you wonder why nobody at EMC says "Tape is Dead" anymore, perhaps it is because tape saved their butts that week.
(FTC Disclosure: I work for IBM and this post can be considered a paid, celebrity endorsement for all of the IBM tape and software products mentioned on this post. I own shares of stock in both IBM and Google, and use Google's Gmail for my personal email, as well as many other Google services. While IBM, Google and Microsoft can be considered competitors to each other in some areas, IBM has working relationships with both companies on various projects. References in this post to other companies like EMC are merely to provide illustrative examples only, based on publicly available information. IBM is part of the Linear Tape Open (LTO) consortium.)
Myth 4: Vendors and Manufacturers are no longer investing in tape technology
IBM and others are still investing Research and Development (R&D) dollars to improve tape technology. What people don't realize is that much of the R&D spent on magnetic media can be applied across both disk and tape, such as IBM's development of the Giant Magnetoresistance read/write head, or [GMR] for short.
Most recently, IBM made another major advancement with tape with the introduction of the Linear Tape File Systems (LTFS). This allows greater portability to share data between users, and between companies, but treating tape cartridges much like USB memory sticks or pen drives. You can read more in my post [IBM and Fox win an Emmy for LTFS technology]!
Next month, IBM celebrates the 60th anniversary for tape. It is good to see that tape continues to be a vibrant part of the IT industry, and to IBM's storage business!
Well, it's Tuesday again, and you know what that means!
This Thursday is the Thanksgiving holiday here in the United States, so instead of announcing IBM products, I wanted to announce the general availability of my latest book, [Inside System Storage: Volume III].
This book includes blog posts from May 2008 to March 2009, along with the ever popular behind-the-scenes commentary on what was going on during IBM's launch of the Information Infrastructure initiative.
Do you know someone who celebrates Chanukah, Christmas, Kwanza, or the Winter Solstice, and have a hard time finding the right gift?
Do you know a client or IBM Business Partner that would appreciate a nominally-priced gift to thank them for their business?
Do you know someone newly hired into IBM or another IT company that could benefit from behind-the-scenes insight and commentary?
As with the other two volumes, Inside System Storage: Volume III is available in your choice of paperback, hardcover, and eBook (Adobe PDF) format.
In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I would like to thank my editor, Susan Pollard, who put in the extra effort, working evenings and weekends, to get this book done in time for the upcoming holiday season. For those outside the United States, there is an American tradition to shop in brick-and-mortar stores on Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving) and to shop on-line for books like mine on Cyber Monday (the Monday after Thanksgiving).
I would also like to thank my publisher, Lulu.com, for upgrading me to "Spotlight" level, so now I have a spotlight page titled [Books Written by Tony Pearson], making it easy for you to order any of my books in various formats.
And last, but not least, I would like to thank all my friends and family that were supportive these past few difficult months while I was putting this book together.
Next month, I will be in Las Vegas, Dec 4-8, speaking at Gartner's [Data Center Conference]. If you order a book today, and bring it with you to the IBM booth at the Solution Expo, I can sign it for you!