Continuing this week's theme of doing important things without leaving town, I present our results foran exciting project I started earlier this year.
For seven weeks, my coworker Mark Haye and I voluntarily led a class of students here in Tucson, Arizona in an after-school pilot project to teach the ["C" programming language] using [LEGO® Mindstorms® NXT robots]. The ten students, boys and girls ages 9 to 14 years old, were already part of the FIRST [For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology] program, and participated in FIRST Lego League[FLL] robot competitions.Since the students were already familiar building robots, and programming them with a simple graphical system of connecting blocks that perform actions. However, to compete in the next level of robot competitions, FIRST Tech Challenge [FTC],we need to leave this simple graphical programming behind, and upgrade to more precise "C" programming.
Mark is a software engineer for IBM Tivoli Storage Manager and has participated in FLL competitions over the past nine years. This week, he celebrates his 25th anniversary at IBM, and I celebrate my 23rd. The teacher, Ms. Ackerman, and the students referred to us as "Coach Mark" and "Coach Tony".
This was the first time I had worked with LEGO NXT robots. For those not familiar with these robots, you can purchase a kit at your localtoy store. In addition to regular LEGO bricks, beams, and plates, there are motors, wheels, and sensors. A programmable NXT brick has three outputs (marked A,B, and C) to control three motors, and four inputs (marked 1,2,3,4) to receive values from sensors. Programs are written and compiled on laptops and then downloaded to the NXT programmable brick through an USB cable, or wirelessly via Bluetooth.
|In the picture shown, an image of the Mars planetary surface is divided into a grid with thick black lines.A light sensor between the front two wheels of the robot is over the black line.|
We used the [RobotC programming firmware] and integrated development environment (IDE) from [Carnegie Mellon University].The idea of this pilot was to see how well the students could learn "C". With only a few hours after class on each Wednesday, could we teach young students "C" programming in just seven weeks?
My contribution? I have taught both high school and college classes, and spent over 15 years programming for IBM, so Mark asked me to help.We started with a basic lesson plan:
- A brief history of the "C" language
- Understanding statements and syntax
- Setting motor speed and direction
- Compiling and downloading your first program
- Understanding the "while" loop
- Retrieving input sensor values
- Understanding the "if-then-else" statement
- Defining variables with different data types
- Manipulating string variables
- Writing a program for the robot to track along a black line on a white background.
- Understanding local versus global scope variables
- Writing a program for a robot to count black lines as it crosses them.
- Defining functions
- Perform left turns, right turns, and to cross a specific number of lines on a grid pattern to move the robot to a specific location.
- Mission Impossible: come up with a challenge to make the robot do something that would be difficult to accomplish using the previous NXT visual programming language.
At the completion of these seven weeks, I sat down to interview "Coach Mark"on his thoughts on this pilot project.
This is a practical programming skill. The "C" language is used throughout the world to program everything from embedded systems to operating systems, and even storage software. This would allow the robots to handle more precise movements, more accurate turns, and more complicated missions.
Can kids learn "C" in only seven weeks?
Part of the pilot project was to see how well the students could understand the material. They were already familiar with building the robots, and understood the basics of programming sensors and motors, so we were hoping this was a good foundation to work from. Some kids managed very well, others struggled.
Did everything go according to plan?
The first two weeks went well, turning on motors and having robots move forward and backward were easy enough. We seemed to lose a few students on week 3, and things got worse from there. However, several of the students truly surprised us and managed to implement very complicated missions. We were quite pleased with the results.
What kind of problems did the kids encounter?
Touch sensor required loops waiting for pressing. Motors did not necessarily turn as expected until more advanced methods were used. Making 90 degree left and right turns accurately was more difficult than expected.
Any funny surprises?
Yes, we had a Challenge Map representing the Mars planetary surface from a previous FLL competition that was dark red and divided into squares with thick black lines. An active light sensor returns a value of "0" (complete darkness) to "100" (bright white).However, the Mars surface had craters that were dark enough to be misinterpreted as a black line causing some unusual results. This required some enhanced programming techniques to resolve.
Did robots help or hurt the teaching process?
I think they helped. Rather than writing programs that just display "Hello World!" on a computer screen, the students can actually see robots move, and either do what they expect, or not!
And when the robots didn't do what they were expected to?
The students got into "debug" mode. They were already used to doing this from previous FLL competitions, but with RobotC, you can leave the USB cable connected (or use wireless Bluetooth) and actually gather debugging information while the robot is running, to see the value of sensors and other variables and help determine why things are not working properly.
Any applicability to the real world of storage?
We have robots in the IBM System Storage TS3500 tape library. These robots scan bar code labels, pull tapes out of shelves and mount them into drives.The programming skills are the same needed for storage software, suchas IBM Tivoli Storage Manager or IBM Tivoli Storage Productivity Center.
The world is becoming smarter, instrumented with sensors, interconnected over a common network, and intelligent enough to react and respond correctly. The lessons of reading sensor values and moving motors can be considered the first step in solutions that help to make a smarter planet.
technorati tags: IBM, C programming language, LEGO, Mindstorms, NXT, FLL, FIRST, robot, RobotC, Bluetooth, USB, TSM, Productivity Center, TS3500, smarter planet
This week, the [Global Language Monitor
] announced that "Web 2.0" became the One Millionth word of the English language. The average American only uses about 10,000 word vocabulary.
One way to improve your vocabulary is to read my blook (blog-based book), Inside System Storage: Volume I, which includes a 900-word glossary of storage-related terms. My blook is now available in hardcover or paperback at [Amazon] as well as direct from my publisher[Lulu]:
I have started working on a new book which I hope to have available for purchase later this year.
technorati tags: IBM, blook, Global Language Monitor
Wrapping up my week in Seattle, Washington, I presented at a[Dynamic Infrastructure
] client event. This is the third one in a six-city tour. I will not be at the remaining cities next week, as I will be at the [Forrester IT Forum 2009 Conference
] instead in Las Vegas, Nevada.
|Rather than hold this in IBM's Kirkland facility, we chose to have this instead at the [Chateau Ste. Michelle] winery, which was just a few miles away in Woodinville.|
The weather was a perfect match to pair with the information we presented. Clear sky in the low 70s.
This was a typical roadshow event, serve breakfast, meet everyone, have four main-tent sessions, answer questions, then finish with a nice lunch. Here was the speaker line-up:
- Jerry Mixon presented IBM Global Services to help customers improve service, reduce costs and manage risk.
- Steve Loeschorn presented the latest on IBM System x and BladeCenter offerings. Steve showed how IBM'sSystem x servers were more energy efficient than x86 servers from HP and Dell.
- Michael Middleton presented the latest from IBM POWER® systems. Michael had some interesting statisticsthat showed IBM's AIX operating system to be more reliable than Sun Solaris, HP-UX, andMicrosoft Windows. Based on a study of 400 companies, AIX averaged only 36 minutes of downtime per year.
- Tony Pearson (that's me, in case you forgot already, writing in the third person) presented IBM's [Information Infrastructure strategy], with highlights of [XIV], [TS7650 ProtecTIER], and [N series] storage systems.
Next week, Las Vegas!
technorati tags: IBM, Dynamic Infrastructure, Seattle, Washington, Kirkland, Woodinville, Global Services, System x, BladeCenter, HP, Dell, POWER systems, AIX, Solaris, HP-UX, improve service, reduce costs, manage risk, XIV, TS7650, TS7650G, ProtecTIER, N series
Earlier this week, EMC announced its Symmetrix V-Max, following two trends in the industry:
- Using Roman numerals. The "V" here is for FIVE, as this is the successor to the DMX-3 and DMX-4. EMC might have gotten the idea from IBM's success with the XIV (which does refer to the number 14, specifically the 14th class of a Talpiot program in Israel that the founders of XIV graduated from).
- Adding "-Max", "-Monkey" or "2.0" at the end of things to make them sound more cool and to appeal to a younger, hipper audience. EMC might have gotten this idea from Pepsi-Max (... a taste of storage for the next generation?)
I took a cue from President Obama and waited a few days to collect my thoughts and do my homework before responding.Special thanks to fellow blogger ChuckH in giving me a [handy list of reactions] for me to pick and choose from. It appears that EMC marketing machine feels it is acceptable for their own folks to claim that EMC is doing something first, or that others are catching up to EMC, but when other vendors do likewise, then that is just pathetic or incoherent. Here are a few reactions already from fellow bloggers:
This was a major announcement for EMC, addressing many of the problems, flaws and weaknesses of the earlier DMX-3 and DMX-4 deliverables. Here's my read on this:
- More ports
Now you can have as many FCP ports (128) as an IBM System Storage DS8300, although the maximum number of FICON ports is still short, and no mention of ESCON support. The Ethernet ports appear to be 1Gb, not the new 10GbE you might expect.
- Support for System z mainframe
V-Max adds some new support to catch up with the DS8000, like Extended Address Volumes (EAV). EMC is still not quite there yet. IBM DS8000 continues to be the best, most feature-rich storage option if you have System z mainframe servers.
- Improved Performance
Both the IBM DS8000 and HDS USP-V beat the DMX-4 in performance, and in some cases the DMX-4 even lost to the IBM XIV, so EMC had to do something about it. EMC chooses not to participate in industry-standard performance benchmarks like those from the [Storage Performance Council], which limits them to vague comparisons against older EMC gear. I'll give EMC engineers the benefit of the doubt and say that now V-Max is now "comparably as fast as HDS and IBM offerings".
- Getting "V" in the name
The "V" appears to be for the roman number five, not to be confused with external heterogeneous storage virtualization that HDS USP-V and IBM SVC provide. There is no mention of synergy with EMC's failed "Invista" product, and I see no support for attaching other vendors disk to the back of this thing.
- Switch to Intel processor
Apple switched its computers from PowerPC to Intel-based, and now EMC follows in the same path. There are some custom ASICs still in V-Max, so it is not as pure as IBM's offerings.
- Modular, XIV-like Scale-out Architecture
Actually, the packaging appears to follow the familiar system bays and storage bays of the DMX-4 and DMX-4 950 models, but architecturally offers XIV-like attachment across a common switch network between "engines", EMC's term for interface modules.
- Non-disruptive data migration
IBM's SoFS, DR550 and GMAS have this already, as does as anything connected behind an IBM SAN Volume Controller.
A long time ago, IBM used to have midrange disk storage systems called "FAStT" which stood for Fibre Array Storage Technology, so this might have given EMC the idea for their "Fully Automated Storage Tiering" acronym. The concept appears similar to what IBM introduced back in 2007 for the Scale-Out-File Services [SofS] which not only provides policy-based placement, movement and expiration on different disk tiers, includes tape tiers as well for a complete solution. I don't see anything in the V-Max announcement that it will support tape anytime soon.
And what ever happend to EMC's Atmos? Wasn't that supposed to be EMC's new direction in storage?
- Zero-data loss Three-site replication
IBM already calls this Metro/Global Mirror for its IBM DS8000 series, but EMC chose to call it SRDF/EDP for Extended Distance Protection.
- Ease of Use
The most significant part of the announcement is that EMC is finally focusing on ease-of-use.In addition to reducing the requirement for "Bin File" modifications, this box has a redesigned user interface to focus on usability issues. For past DMX models, EMC customers had to either hire EMC to do tasks for them that were just to difficult otherwise, or buy expensive software like their EMC Control Center to manage. EMC willcontinue to sell DMX-4 boxes for a while, as they are probably supply-constrained on the V-Max side, but I doubt they will retro-fit these new features back to DMX-3 and DMX-4.
When IBM announced its acquisition of XIV over a year ago now, customers were knocking down our doors to get one. This caught two particular groups looking like a [deer in headlights]:
- EMC Symmetrix sales force: Some of the smarter ones left EMC to go sell IBM XIV, leaving EMC short-handed and having to announce they [were hiring during their layoffs]. Obviously, a few of the smart ones stayed behind, to convince their management to build something like the V-Max.
- IBM DS8000 sales force: If clients are not happy with their existing EMC Symmetrix, why don't they just buy an IBM DS8000 instead? What does XIV have that DS8000 doesn't?
Let me contrast this with the situation Microsoft Windows is currently facing.
|I am often asked by friends to help them pick out laptops and personal computers. I use Linux, Windows and MacOS, so have personal experience with all three operating systems.|
Linux is cheaper, offers the power-user the most options for supporting older, less-powerfulequipment, but I wouldn't have my Mom use it. While distributions like Ubuntu are makinggreat strides, it is just too difficult for some people.
MacOS is nice, I like it, it works out of the box with little or no customization and an intuitive interface. However, some of my friends don't make IBM-level salaries, and have to watch their budget.
In their "I'm a PC" campaign, Microsoft is fighting both fronts. Let's examine two commercials:
- In the first commercial, a young eight-year-old puts together a video from pictures oftoy animals and some background music.The message: "Windows is easier to use than Linux!" If they really wanted to send this message, they should have shown senior citizens instead.
- In the second commercial, a young college student is asked to find a laptop with 17 inchscreen, and a variety of other qualifications, for under $1000 US dollars. The only modelat the Apple store below this price had a 13 inch screen, but she finds a Windows-based system that had this size screen and met all the other qualifications. The message: "Windows-based hardware from a variety of competitors are less expensive than hardware from Apple!"
Both Microsoft and Apple charge a premium for ease-of-use.In the storage world, things are completely opposite. Vendors don't charge a premium forease-of-use. In fact, some of the easiest to use are also the least expensive.
- If you just have Windows and Linux, you can get some entry level system likethe IBM DS3000 series, only a few features, and can be set up in six simple steps.
- Next, if you have a more interesting mix of operating systems, Linux, Windows and some flavorsof UNIX like IBM AIX, HP-UX or Sun Solaris, then you might want the features and functionsof more pricier midrange offerings. More options means that configuration and deploymentis more difficult, however.
- Finally, if you are serious Fortune 500 company, running your mission critical applications on System z or System i centralized systems in a big data center, that you might be willing to pay top dollar for the most feature-rich offerings of an Enterprise-class machine.Thankfully you have an army of highly-trained staff to handle the highest levels of complexity.
IBM's DS8000, HDS USP-V and EMC's Symmetrix are the key players in the Enterprise-classspace. They tried to be ["all things to all people"], er.. perhaps all things to allplatforms. All of the features and functions came at a price, not just in dollars, butin complexity and difficulty. You needed highly skilled storage admins using expensive storage management software, or be willing to hirethe storage vendor's premium services to get the job done.
Alan Cooper wrote a book that would change that mindset, titled[The Inmates Are Running the Asylum: Why High-Tech Products Drive Us Crazy and How to Restore the Sanity]. This book showed why the situation had gotten out ofhand, and to demand better ease-of-use from all vendors. It was required reading for anyone working in or with IBM's "User Centered Design" teams.I highly recommend this book.
IBM recognized this trend early. IBM's SVC, N series and now XIV all offer ease-of-use withenterprise-class features and functions, at lower total cost of ownership than traditional enterprise-class systems. IBM is not the only one, of course, as smaller storage start-ups like 3PAR,Pillar Data Systems, Compellent, and to some extent Dell's EqualLogic all recognized thisand developed clever offerings as well.
While IBM's XIV may not have been the first to introduce a modular, scale-out architectureusing commodity parts managed by sophisticated ease-of-use interfaces, its success might have been the kick-in-the-butt EMC needed to follow the rest of the industry in this direction.
technorati tags: IBM, DS8000, XIV, SVC, EMC, Symmetrix, V-Max, DMX-3, DMX-4, Chuck Hollis, HDS, USP-V, FCP, FICON, ESCON, storage+virtualization, FAStT[Read More]
An avid reader of this blog pointed me to a blog post [A Small Tec DIGG on IBM XIV
], byGowri Ananthan, a System Engineer in Singapore.Basically, she covers past
battles, er.. discussions between me and fellow blogger BarryB from EMC, and [blegs] foranswers to three questions.
Gowri, here are your answers:
- Q1. Does IBM offer a Pay-as-you-Go [PAYGO] upgrade path for its IBM XIV disk storage system?
The concern was expressed as:
PAYGO also requires the customer to purchase the remaining capacity within 12 months of installation. So it is More of a 12-month installment plan than pay-as-you-grow.
A1. Actually, IBM offers several methods for your convenience:
- With IBM's Capacity on Demand (CoD) plan, you get the full framewith 15 modules installed on your data center floor, but only pay for the first four modules 21 TB, then pay for 5.3TB module increments as you need them over the next 12 months. This is ideal for companies that don't know how fast they will grow, but do not want to wait for new modules to be delivered and installed when needed.
- With IBM's Partial Rack offering, you can get a system with as little as six modules (27TB),and then over time, add more modules as you need. This does not have to be done within 12 months, you can stay at six modules for as long as you like, and you can take as long asyou want to add more modules. When you are ready for more capacity, the drawer or drawerscan be delivered, and installed non-disruptively.
Neither of these are "payment installment plans", but certainly if you want to spread yourcosts into regularly-scheduled monthlypayments across multiple years, IBM Global Financing can probably work something out.
- Q2. Does IBM consider the XIV as green storage?
The concern was expressed as:
You are powering (8.4KW) and cooling all 180 drives for the whole duration, whether you're using the capacity or not. is it what you called Greener power usage..?A2. Yes. IBM considers the IBM XIV as green storage. The 8.4KW per frame is lessthan the 10-plus KW that a comparable 2-frame EMC DMX-950 system would consume. Theenergy savings in IBM XIV comes from delivering FC-like speeds using slower SATA disks that rotate slower, and therefore take less energy to spin.
In the fully-populated or Capacity on Demand configuration, you would spin all 180disks. However, using the partial rack configuration, the 6-module has only 40 percent ofthe disks, and therefore consumes only 40 percent of the energy. If you don't plan to storeat least 20-30 TB, you might consider the DS3000, DS4000, DS5000, or DS8000 disk system instead.
- Q3. How do you connect more than 24 host ports to an IBM XIV?
The concern was expressed as:
And finally do not forget my question on 24-FC Ports… Up to 24 Fiber Channel ports offering 4 Gbps, 2Gbps or 1 Gbps multi-mode and single-mode support.Stop.. stop.. how you gonna squeeze existing bunch of FC cables in 24 ports?
A3. Best practices suggest that if you have ten or more physical servers, each with two separate FC ports, then you should use a SAN switch or director in between. If you require four ports per server, then you would need a SAN switch beyond six servers to connect to the IBM XIV. If you consider that 24 FC ports, at 4Gbps, represents nearly 10 GB/sec of bandwidth, you will recognize that this is not a performance bottleneck for the system.
Gowri, I hope this answers your questions!
technorati tags: IBM, XIV, Gowri Ananthan, EMC, BarryB, CoD, partial rack, full rack, FC, SATA, DMX-950, green, disk system, multi-mode, single-mode, best practices[Read More]