The IBM Challenge was a big success. One of the contestants, Ken Jennings, [welcomes our new computer overlords]. Congratulations are in order to the IBM Research team who pulled off this Herculean effort!
Some folks have poked fun at some of the odd responses and wager amounts from the IBM Watson computer during the three-day tournament. Others were surprised as I was that the impressive feat was done with less than 1TB of stored data. Here is what John Webster wrote in CNET yesterday, in hist article [What IBM's Watson says to storage systems developers]:
"All well and good. But here's what I find most interesting as a result of what IBM has done in response to the Grand Challenge that motivated Watson's creators. We know, from Tony Pearson's blog, that the foundation of Watson's data storage system is a modified IBM SONAS cluster with a total of 21.6TB of raw capacity. But Pearson also reveals another very significant, and to me, surprising data point: "When Watson is booted up, the 15TB of total RAM are loaded up, and thereafter the DeepQA processing is all done from memory. According to IBM Research, the actual size of the data (analyzed and indexed text, knowledge bases, etc.) used for candidate answer generation and evidence evaluation is under 1 Terabyte."
To better appreciate how difficult the challenge was, and how a small amount of data can answer a billion different questions, I thought I would cover Business Intelligence, Data Retrieval and Text Mining concepts.
"In this paper, business is a collection of activities carried on for whatever purpose, be it science, technology, commerce, industry, law, government, defense, et cetera. The communication facility serving the conduct of a business (in the broad sense) may be referred to as an intelligence system. The notion of intelligence is also defined here, in a more general sense, as the ability to apprehend the interrelationships of presented facts in such a way as to guide action towards a desired goal."
Ideally, when you need "Business Intelligence" to help you make a better decision, you perform data retrieval from a structured database for the specific information you are looking for. In other cases, you might be looking for insight, patterns or trends. In that case, you go "data mining" against your structured databases.
And that's not including more ethereal questions, such as:
This is just for a small set, two market segments (by gender) and two products (apples and oranges). However, if you have many market segments (perhaps by age group, zip code, etc.) and many products, the number of queries that can be supported is huge. For small sets of data, you can easily do this with a spreadsheet program like IBM Lotus Symphony or Microsoft Excel.
Second, you had to be skilled at SQL to phrase your queries correctly to retrieve the data you are after. What ended up happening was that skilled SQL programmers would develop "canned reports" with fixed SQL parameters, so that less-skilled business decision makers could base their decisions from these reports.
IBM has fully integrated stacks to help process structured data, combining servers, storage, and advanced analytics software into a complete appliance. IBM offers the [Smart Analytics System] for robust, customized deployments, and recently acquired [Netezza] for pre-configured, and more rapid deployments.
However, the bigger problem is that more than 80 percent of information is not structured! Semi-structured data like email provides some searchable fields like From and Subject. The rest of the information is unstructured, such as text files, photographs, video and audio. To look for specific information in unstructured sources can be like looking for a needle in a haystack, and trying to get insight, patterns or trends involves text mining.
IBM is a leader in Business Analytics and has made great progress in dealing with unstructured data. This includes [IBM OmniFind Enterprise Edition], [IBM e-Discovery Manager] and [IBM Cognos Business Intelligence].
This, in effect, is what IBM Watson was able to perform so well this week. Finding the needle in the haystacks of unstructured data from 200 million pages of text stored in its system, combined with the ability to apprehend the interrelationships of meaning and subtle nuance, resulted in an impressive technology demonstration. Certainly, this new technology will be powerful for a variety of use cases across a broad set of industries!
To learn more, read the Arizona Daily Star's article [After 'Jeopardy!' win, IBM program steps out].
A reader of my blog asked me what seemed like a simple enough question:
Whatever happened to Lotus Approach? I loved that personal db. (thoughit's been awhile...)
Of course, researching an answer, I encountered some interesting new information. Interestingly, everyone tries to "read between the lines" and tries to determine what solution is best.
From a colleague from Lotus:
You can still get [Lotus Approach] as part of Smartsuite.
I am familiar with Cloudscape, and I evaluated it as a potential database for IBM TotalStorage Productivity Center, when I was the lead architect defining the version 1 release. It runs entirely on Java, which is both a plus and minus. Plus in that it runs anywhere Java runs, but a minus in that it is not optimized for high performance or large scalability. Because of this, we decided instead on using the full commercial DB2 database instead for Productivity Center.
Not to be undone, my colleagues over at DB2 offered a different alternative, [DB2 Express-C], which runs on a variety of Windows, Linux-x86, and Linux on POWER platforms. It is "free" as in beer, not free as in speech, which means you can download and use it today at no charge, and even ship products with it included, but you are not allowed to modify and distribute altered versions of it, as you can with "free as in speech" open source code, as in the case of Derby above (see [Apache License 2.0"] for details).
(If you have no idea what I am talking about in my distinction between "free speech" and "free beer", see Simon Phipps' artiAs I see it, DB2 Express-C has two key advantages. First, if you like the free version, you can purchase a "support contract" for those that need extra hand-holding, or are using this as part of a commercial business venture. Second,for those who do prefer vendor lock-in, it is easyto upgrade Express-C to the full IBM DB2 database product, so if you are developing a product intended for use with DB2, you can develop it first with DB2 Express-C, and migrate up to full DB2 commercial version when you are ready.
This is perhaps more information than you probably expected for such a simple question. Meanwhile, I am stilltrying to figure out MySQL as part of my [OLPC volunteer project].Read More]
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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:
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:
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.
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:
To summarize the VM Volumes value proposition:
For additional information about VM Volumes, check out [VMware Storage APIs for VM and Application Granular Data Management] blog post by Duncan Epping, a Principal Architect in the Technical Marketing group at VMware!
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.
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Hana Hu from Digitimes has a great summary on [how the Japan earthquake will affect the four major Hard Disk Drive (HDD) manufacturers] that supply IBM and other storage vendors.
A reader from New Zealand expressed concern some corporate bloggers were [using the earthquake for marketing]. He lost someone close to him in Christchurch, and is unable to reach a friend living in Japan, so I am sorry for his loss. I plan to be in Australia and New Zealand to teach a Top Gun class May 15-27, so hopefully I will be able to meet him in person when I am down there.
Several readers sent me Felix Salmon's [Don't Donate Money to Japan] counter-argument. Here is an excerpt:
"Earmarking funds is a really good way of hobbling relief organizations and ensuring that they have to leave large piles of money unspent in one place while facing urgent needs in other places. ... Meanwhile, the smaller and less visible emergencies where NGOs can do the most good are left unfunded.
Another reader mentioned that the last surviving American WW-II vet died the same week. WTF? IBM and Japan have been allies for quite a while now, and there is no reason to bring up past wars except to compare the scope and magnitude of the cleanup effort. (Update: Frank Buckles was the last surviving WW-I vet, but also served in WW-II).
Many readers felt that charity begins at home, and there are plenty of worthy causes right here in the USA to donate to instead. Inspired by last year's movie [Waiting for Superman], my girlfriend started a project called [Centers for My Super Stars] for her first grade class on DonorsChoose.org. For those not familiar with this website, DonorsChoose.org uses the cloud to connect school teachers in need of supplies with rich people to donate funds towards these projects. If you want to contribute to her project, [donate here].
Lastly, readers pointed me to Frank Deford, who said this on [his weekly spot on National Public Radio]:
"And speaking of class, there just happens to be a baseball team in Sendai, Japan. The Golden Eagles. Their stadium was severely damaged from the earthquake. Wouldn't you think some of them lug nuts who run American baseball would bring the Golden Eagles and their opponents over to the United States when the Japanese season starts -- play some games over here and raise money to help the Japanese? Wouldn't you think they could just once stop that national pastime stuff and help the international pastime?"
As you can see, different readers have different opinions on this. We are all on this world together, and both our economy and our ecology are more interconnected than you might think. Let's build a smarter planet.
Here I am, day 11 of a 17-day business trip, on my last leg of the trip this week, in Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. I have been flooded with requests to give my take on EMC's latest re-interpretation of storage virtualization, VPLEX.
I'll leave it to my fellow IBM master inventor Barry Whyte to cover the detailed technical side-by-side comparison. Instead, I will focus on the business side of things, using Simon Sinek's Why-How-What sequence. Here is a [TED video] from Garr Reynold's post [The importance of starting from Why].
Let's start with the problem we are trying to solve.
Problem: migration from old gear to new gear, old technology to new technology, from one vendor to another vendor, is disruptive, time-consuming and painful.
Given that IT storage is typically replaced every 3-5 years, then pretty much every company with an internal IT department has this problem, the exception being those companies that don't last that long, and those that use public cloud solutions. IT storage can be expensive, so companies would like their new purchases to be fully utilized on day 1, and be completely empty on day 1500 when the lease expires. I have spoken to clients who have spent 6-9 months planning for the replacement or removal of a storage array.
A solution to make the data migration non-disruptive would benefit the clients (make it easier for their IT staff to keep their data center modern and current) as well as the vendors (reduce the obstacle of selling and deploying new features and functions). Storage virtualization can be employed to help solve this problem. I define virtualization as "technology that makes one set of resources look and feel like a different set of resources, preferably with more desirable characteristics.". By making different storage resources, old and new, look and feel like a single type of resource, migration can be performed without disrupting applications.
Before VPLEX, here is a breakdown of each solution:
For IBM, the motivation was clear: Protect customers existing investment in older storage arrays and introduce new IBM storage with a solution that allows both to be managed with a single set of interfaces and provide a common set of functionality, improving capacity utilization and availability. IBM SAN Volume Controller eliminated vendor lock-in, providing clients choice in multi-pathing driver, and allowing any-to-any migration and copy services. For example, IBM SVC can be used to help migrate data from an old HDS USP-V to a new HDS USP-V.
With EMC, however, the motivation appeared to protect software revenues from their PowerPath multi-pathing driver, TimeFinder and SRDF copy services. Back in 2005, when EMC Invista was first announced, these three software represented 60 percent of EMC's bottom-line profit. (Ok, I made that last part up, but you get my point! EMC charges a lot for these.)
Back in 2006, fellow blogger Chuck Hollis (EMC) suggested that SVC was just a [bump in the wire] which could not possibly improve performance of existing disk arrays. IBM showed clients that putting cache(SVC) in front of other cache(back end devices) does indeed improve performance, in the same way that multi-core processors successfully use L1/L2/L3 cache. Now, EMC is claiming their cache-based VPLEX improves performance of back-end disk. My how EMC's story has changed!
So now, EMC announces VPLEX, which sports a blend of SVC-like and Invista-like characteristics. Based on blogs, tweets and publicly available materials I found on EMC's website, I have been able to determine the following comparison table. (Of course, VPLEX is not yet generally available, so what is eventually delivered may differ.)
In-band virtualization solutions from IBM and HDS dominate the market. Being able to migrate data from old devices to new ones non-disruptively turned out to be only the [tip of the iceberg] of benefits from storage virtualization. In today's highly virtualized server environment, being able to non-disruptively migrate data comes in handy all the time. SVC is one of the best storage solutions for VMware, Hyper-V, XEN and PowerVM environments. EMC watched and learned in the shadows, taking notes of what people like about the SVC, and decided to follow IBM's time-tested leadership to provide a similar offering.
EMC re-invented the wheel, and it is round. On a scale from Invista (zero) to SVC (ten), I give EMC's new VPLEX a six.