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Normally, when EMC fails, it is worth a giggle. Companies are run by humans, and nobody is perfect. However, their latest one, failing to defend their RSA SecurID two-factor website, is no laughing matter. Breaches like this undermine the trust needed for business and commerce to be done with Information Technology, so it affects the entire IT industry.
(FTC Disclosure: I do not work or have any financial investments in either EMC nor ENC Security Systems. Neither EMC nor ENC Security Systems paid me to mention them on this blog. Their mention in this blog is not an endorsement of either company or their products. Information about EMC was based solely on publicly available information made available by EMC and others. My friends at ENC Security Systems provided me an evaluation license for their latest software release so that I could confirm the use cases posed in this post.)
Of course, EMC did the right thing by making this breach public in an [Open Letter to RSA Customers]. While this may affect their revenues, as clients question whether they should do business with EMC, or affect their stock price, as investors question whether they should invest in EMC, they were very clear and public that the breach occurred. As far as I know, none of the executives of the RSA security division have stepped down. The disclosure of the breach was the right thing to do, and required by law from the [US Securities Exchange Commission]. This law was created to prevent companies from trying to hide breaches that expose external client information.
The breach does not affect RSA public/private key pairs used by IBM and most every other large company. Rather, this breach was targeted to RSA SecurID two-factor authentication. I explained two-factor authentication in my blog post [Day 5 Grid, SOA and Cloud Computing - System x KVM solutions], but basically it is an added level of security, requiring something you know (your password) with something you have (such as a magnetic card or key fob). Both are required to gain access to the system.
Breaches happen. Recently, [Hackers found vulnerabilities in the McAfee.com website]. Last month, fellow blogger Chuck Hollis from EMC had a blog post on [Understanding Advanced Persistent Threats (APT)] in the week leading up to their RSA Conference. It was precisely an APT that hit RSA, so the irony of this breach was not lost on the blogosphere. Perhaps Chuck's blog post gave hackers the idea to do this, like saying "I hope terrorists don't bomb this building that hold all of our chemical weapons..." or "I hope bank robbers don't rob this repository where we keep all the cash..."
(The sinister counter-theory, that EMC staged this breach as a marketing stunt to undermine trust in hybrid or public cloud offerings, such as those offered by IBM, Amazon or Salesforce.com, offers an interesting twist. While computer breaches in general are fodder for [Luddites] to argue we should not use computers at all, this particular breach could be used by EMC salesmen to encourage their customers to choose private cloud over hybrid cloud or public cloud deployments. Given all the extra work that RSA SecurID customers have to now do to harden their environments, that would be in bad taste.)
Over on Mashable, Simon Crosby argues [Why the Cloud Is Actually the Safest Place for Your Data]. I am sure we have not heard the last of the implications of this RSA breach. For now, I have two recommendations for you.
Advanced Persistent Threats, viruses and other malware are no laughing matter. If you are concerned about security, contact IBM to help you assess your current environment and help you plan a robust protection strategy.
In his blog post, [The Lure of Kit-Cars], fellow blogger Chuck Hollis (EMC) uses an excellent analogy delineating the differences between kit-cars you build from parts, versus fully-integrated systems that you can drive off the car dealership showroom lot. The analogy holds relatively well, as IT departments can also build their infrastructure from parts, or you can get fully-integrated systems from a variety of vendors.
Certainly, this debate is not new. In my now infamous 2007 post [Supermarkets and Specialty Shops], I explained that there were clients that preferred to get their infrastructure from a single IT supermarket, like IBM or HP, while others were lured into thinking that buying separate parts from butchers, bakers and candlestick makers and other specialty shops was somehow a better idea.
Chuck correctly explains that in the early years of the automobile industry, before major car manufacturers had mass-production assembly lines, putting a car together from parts was the only way cars were made. Today, only the few most avid enthusiasts build cars this way. The majority get cars from a single seller and drive away. In my post [Resolving the Identity Crisis], I postulated that EMC appeared to be trying to shed itself of the "disk-only specialty shop" image and over to be more like IBM. Not quite a full IT Supermarket, but perhaps more like a [Trader Joe's] premium-priced retailer.
(If you find that EMC's focus on integrated systems appears to be a 180-degree about-face from their historical focus on selling individual best-of-breed products, see my previous discussion of Chuck's contradictions in my blog post: [Is Storage the Next Confusopoly].)
While companies like EMC might be making this transition, there is a lot of resistance and inertia from the customer marketplace. I agree with Chuck, companies should not be building kit-cars or IT infrastructures from parts, certainly not from parts sold from different vendors. In my post [Talking about Solutions not Products], I explained how difficult it was to change behavior. CIOs, IT directors and managers need to think differently about their infrastructure. Let's take a quick look at some choices:
Before he earned his PhD in Mechanical Engineering, my father was a car mechanic. I spent much of my teenage years covered in grease, helping my father assembling cars, lifting engines, and rebuilding carburetors. Certainly this was good father-son time, and I certainly did learn something in the process. Like the automobile industry, the IT industry has matured, and it makes no financial sense to build your own IT infrastructure from parts from different vendors.
For a test drive of the industry's leading integrated IT systems, see your IBM sales rep or IBM Business Partner.
This week, Hitachi Ltd. announced their next generation disk storage virtualization array, the Virtual Storage Platform, following on the success of its USP V line. It didn't take long for fellow blogger Chuck Hollis (EMC) to comment on this in his blog post [Hitachi's New VSP: Separating The Wheat From The Chaff]. Here are some excerpts:
Chuck implies that neither Hewlett-Packard (HP) nor Hitachi Data Systems (HDS) as vendors provide any value-add from the box manufactured by Hitachi Ltd. so combines them into a single category. I suspect the HP and HDS folks might disagree with that opinion.
When I reminded Chuck that IBM was also a major player in the high-end disk space, his response included the following gem:
"Many of us in the storage industry believe that IBM currently does not field a competitive high-end storage platform. IDC market share numbers bear out this assertion, as you probably know."
While Chuck is certainly entitled to his own beliefs and opinions, believing the world is flat does not make it so. Certainly, I doubt IDC or any other market research firm has put out a survey asking "Do you think IBM offers a competitive high-end disk storage platform?" Of course, if Chuck is basing his opinion on anecdotal conversations with existing EMC customers, I can certainly see how he might have formed this misperception. However, IDC market share numbers don't support Chuck's assertion at all.
There is no industry-standard definition of what is a "high-end" or "enterprise-class" disk system. Some define high-end as having the option for mainframe attachment via ESCON and/or FICON protocol. Others might focus on features, functionality, scalability and high 99.999+ percent availability. Others insist high-end requires block-oriented protocols like FC and iSCSI, rather than file-based protocols like NAS and CIFS.
For the most demanding mission-critical mix of random and sequential workloads, IBM offers the [IBM System Storage DS8000 series] high-end disk system which connects to mainframes and distributed servers, via FCP and FICON attachment, and supports a variety of drive types and RAID levels. The features that HP and HDS are touting today for the VSP are already available on the IBM DS8000, including sub-LUN automatic tiering between Solid-State drives and spinning disk, called [Easy Tier], thin provisioning, wide striping, point-in-time copies, and long distance synchronous and asynchronous replication.
There are lots of analysts that track market share for the IT storage industry, but since Chuck mentions [IDC] specifically, I reviewed the most recent IDC data, published a few weeks ago in their "IDC Worldwide Quarter Disk Storage Tracker" for 2Q 2010, representing April 1 to June 30, 2010 sales. Just in case any of the rankings have changed over time, I also looked at the previous four quarters: 2Q 2009, 3Q 2009, 4Q 2009 and 1Q 2010.
(Note: IDC considers its analysis proprietary, out of respect for their business model I will not publish any of the actual facts and figures they have collected. If you would like to get any of the IDC data to form your own opinion, contact them directly.)
In the case of IDC, they divide the disk systems into three storage classes: entry-level, midrange and high-end. Their definition of "high-end" is external RAID-protected disk storage that sells for $250,000 USD or more, representing roughly 25 to 30 percent of the external disk storage market overall. Here are IDC's rankings of the four major players for high-end disk systems:
By either measure of market share, units (disk systems) or revenue (US dollars), IDC reports that IBM high-end disk outsold both HDS and HP combined. This has been true for the past five quarters. If a smaller start-up vendor has single digit percent market share, I could accept it being counted as part of Chuck's "occasional sideshow from other vendors trying to claim relevance", but IBM high-end disk has consistently had 20 to 30 percent market share over the past five quarters!
Not all of these high-end disk systems are connected to mainframes. According to IDC data, only about 15 to 25 percent of these boxes are counted under their "Mainframe" topology.
Chuck further writes:
"It's reasonable to expect IBM to sell a respectable amount of storage with their mainframes using a protocol of their own design -- although IBM's two competitors in this rather proprietary space (notably EMC and Hitachi) sell more together than does IBM."
The IDC data doesn't support that claim either, Chuck. By either measure of market share, units (disk systems) or revenue (US dollars), IDC reports that IBM disk for mainframes outsold all other vendors (including EMC, HDS, and HP) combined. And again, this has been true for the past five quarters. Here is the IDC ranking for mainframe disk storage:
IBM has over 50 percent market share in this case, primarily because IBM System Storage DS8000 is the industry leader in mainframe-related features and functions, and offers synergy with the rest of the z/Architecture stack.
So Chuck, I am not picking a fight with you or asking you to retract or correct your blog post. Your main theme, that the new VSP presents serious competition to EMC's VMAX high-end disk arrays, is certainly something I can agree with. Congratulations to HDS and HP for putting forth what looks like a viable alternative to EMC's VMAX.
They say "Great Minds think alike" and that imitation is "the sincerest form of flattery." Both of these quotes came to mind when I read fellow blogger Chuck Hollis' (EMC) excellent April 7th blog post [The 10 Big Ideas That Are Shaping IT Infrastructure Today]. Not surprisingly, some of his thoughts are similar to those I had presented two weeks ago in my March 22nd post [Cloud Computing for Accountants]. Here are two charts that caught my eye:
Perhaps we are all in just one big ["echo chamber"], as we are all coming up with similar observations, talking to similar customers, and reviewing similar market analyst reports. I am glad, at least this time, that Chuck and I for the most part agree where the marketplace is going. We live in interesting times!
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The technology industry is full of trade-offs. Take for example solar cells that convert sunlight to electricity. Every hour, more energy hits the Earth in the form of sunlight than the entire planet consumes in an entire year. The general trade-off is between energy conversion efficiency versus abundance of materials:
IBM has eliminated this trade-off with a record-setting breakthrough last week, demonstrating 9.6 percent efficiency [thin film solar cells using earth-abundant materials].
A second trade-off is exemplified by EMC's recent GeoProtect announcement. This appears similar to the geographic dispersal method introduced by a company called [CleverSafe]. The trade-off is between the amount of space to store one or more copies of data and the protection of data in the event of disaster. Here's an excerpt from fellow blogger Chuck Hollis (EMC) titled ["Cloud Storage Evolves"]:
Seized by the government? falling into the wrong hands? Is EMC positioning ATMOS as "Storage for Terrorists"? I can certainly appreciate the value of being able to protect 6PB of data with only 9PB of storage capacity, instead of keeping two copies of 6PB each, the trade-off means that you will be accessing the majority of your data across your intranet, which could impact performance. But, if you are in an illicit or illegal business that could have a third of your facilities "seized by the government", then perhaps you shouldn't house your data centers there in the first place. Having two copies of 6PB each, in two "friendly nations", might make more sense.
(In reality, companies often keep way more than just two copies of data. It is not unheard of for companies to keep three to five copies scattered across two or three locations. Facebook keeps SIX copies of photographs you upload to their website.)
ChuckH argues that the governments that seize the three nodes won't have a complete copy of the data. However, merely having pieces of data is enough for governments to capture terrorists. Even if the striping is done at the smallest 512-byte block level, those 512 bytes of data might contain names, phone numbers, email addresses, credit cards or social security numbers. Hackers and computer forensics professionals take advantage of this.
You might ask yourself, "Why not just encrypt the data instead?" That brings me to the third trade-off, protection versus application performance. Over the past 30 years, companies had a choice, they could encrypt and decrypt the data as needed, using server CPU cycles, but this would slow down application processing. Every time you wanted to read or update a database record, more cycles would be consumed. This forced companies to be very selective on what data they encrypted, which columns or fields within a database, which email attachments, and other documents or spreadsheets.
An initial attempt to address this was to introduce an outboard appliance between the server and the storage device. For example, the server would write to the appliance with data in the clear, the appliance would encrypt the data, and pass it along to the tape drive. When retrieving data, the appliance would read the encrypted data from tape, decrypt it, and pass the data in the clear back to the server. However, this had the unintended consequences of using 2x to 3x more tape cartridges. Why? Because the encrypted data does not compress well, so tape drives with built-in compression capabilities would not be able to shrink down the data onto fewer tapes.
(I covered the importance of compressing data before encryption in my previous blog post [Sock Sock Shoe Shoe].)
Like the trade-off between energy efficiency and abundant materials, IBM eliminated the trade-off by offering compression and encryption on the tape drive itself. This is standard 256-bit AES encryption implemented on a chip, able to process the data as it arrives at near line speed. So now, instead of having to choose between protecting your data or running your applications with acceptable performance, you can now do both, encrypt all of your data without having to be selective. This approach has been extended over to disk drives, so that disk systems like the IBM System Storage DS8000 and DS5000 can support full
Certainly, something to think about!
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