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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Wrapping up my coverage of the Data Center Conference 2009, the week ends with a celebration. This year we had six "Hospitality Suites" sponsored by various different vendors. Each suite has its own theme, decorations and entertainment. The first suite was VMware's "Cloud 9 Ultra Lounge" which offered blue cotton candy martinis. IBM is the leading reseller of VMware.
When the red martini liquid was poured on top of the blue cotton candy, the result was a nasty muddish brown grey color. The guy on the left chose to get the martini without the blue cotton candy. We joked that this is perhaps a good metaphor for cloud computing in general. It looks good on paper, until you actually put it all together and realize it does not look as blue and puffy as you were expecting. However, it tasted good!
Next suite was sponsored by Cisco, one of IBM's storage networking partners. Cisco also decorated in blue, as the guy Jake in the middle demonstrates.
Next suite was sponsored by Brocade, our supplier for IBM-branded networking gear. They went with a red-and-black color scheme. Sadly, many of my pictures inside involved straight jackets and unicycles, so not appropriate for this blog. However, it was easy to remember that they were talking about their "extraordinary networks". Makes you want to help out Brocade by contacting your nearest IBM storage sales rep and buy yourself a SAN768B or two.
Somewhere along the way, we picked up Hawaiian leis at the "Margaritaville" Hospitality Suite, compliments of sponsor APC by Schneider Electric. We had the best "Filet Mignon" appetizers at "Club Dedupe" by our competitor DataDomain, and some fun with my friends over at Computer Associates' "Top Gun" suite. Pictured at right are Paula Koziol with Christian Barrera from Argentina. A good time was had by all.
"With Cisco Systems, EMC, and VMware teaming up to sell integrated IT stacks, Oracle buying Sun Microsystems to create its own integrated stacks, and IBM having sold integrated legacy system stacks and rolling in profits from them for decades, it was only a matter of time before other big IT players paired off."
Once again we are reminded that IBM, as an IT "supermarket", is able to deliver integrated software/server/storage solutions, and our competitors are scrambling to form their own alliances to be "more like IBM." This week, IBM announced new ordering options for storage software with System x servers, including BladeCenter blade servers and IntelliStation workstations. Here's a quick recap:
IBM Tivoli Storage Manager FastBack v6.1 supports both Windows and Linux! FastBack is a data protection solution for ROBO (Remote Office, Branch Office) locations. It can protect Microsoft Exchange, Lotus Domino, DB2, Oracle applications. FastBack can provide full volume-level recovery, as well as individual file recovery, and in some cases Bare Machine Recovery. FastBack v6.1 can be run stand-alone, or integrated with a full IBM Tivoli Storage Manager (TSM) unified recovery management solution.
FlashCopy Manager v2.1
FlashCopy Manager uses point-in-time copy capabilities, such as SnapShot or FlashCopy, to protect application data using an application-aware approach for Microsoft Exchange, Microsoft SQL server, DB2, Oracle, and SAP. It can be used with IBM SAN Volume Controller (SVC), DS8000 series, DS5000 series, DS4000 series, DS3000 series, and XIV storage systems. When applicable, FlashCopy manager coordinates its work with Microsoft's Volume Shadow Copy Services (VSS) interface. FlashCopy Manager can provide data protection using just point-in-time disk-resident copies, or can be integrated with a full IBM Tivoli Storage Manager (TSM) unified recovery management solution to move backup images to external storage pools, such as low-cost, energy-efficient tape cartridges.
General Parallel File System (GPFS) v3.3 Multiplatform
GPFS can support AIX, Linux, and Windows! Version 3.3 adds support for Windows 2008 Server on 64-bit chipset architectures from AMD and Intel. Now you can have a common GPFS cluster with AIX, Linux and Windows servers all sharing and accessing the same files. A GPFS cluster can have up to 256 file systems. Each of these file systems can be up to 1 billion files, up to 1PB of data, and can have up to 256 snapshots. GPFS can be used stand-alone, or integrated with a full IBM Tivoli Storage Manager (TSM) unified recovery management solution with parallel backup streams.
For full details on these new ordering options, see the IBM [Press Release].
Well, it's Tuesday again, and that means IBM announcements! Today we had a major launch, with so many products, services and offerings
that I can't fit them all into a single post, so I will split them up into several posts to give the attention they deserve. So, in this
post, I will focus on just the networking gear.
IBM Converged Switch B32
The "Converged" part of this switch refers to Converged Enhanced Ethernet (CEE), which is just a lossless Ethernet that meets certain standards to allow Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) that are still being discussed between Brocade and Cisco. Thankfully, IBM demanded both Brocade and Cisco stick to open agreed-upon standards, and the rest of the world gets to benefit from IBM's leadership in keeping everything as open and non-proprietary as possible.
The B32 ("B" because it was made by Brocade) starts with 24 10Gb Converged Enhanced Ethernet (CEE) ports, and then you can add eight Fibre Channel ports, for a total of 32 ports, hence the name B32. These are designed to be Top-of-Rack (TOR) switches. Basically, instead of having expensive optical cables for Ethernet and/or Fibre Channel out of each server, you have cheap twinax copper cables connecting the server's Converged Network Adapters (CNA) to this TOR switch, and then you can have the 10Gb Ethernet go to your regular Ethernet LAN, and your 8Gbps FC traffic go to your regular FC SAN. In other words, the CNA serves both the role of an Ethernet Network Interface Card (NIC) as well as a Fibre Channel Host Bus Adapter (HBA) card.
(You might see 8Gbps Fibre Channel represented as 8/4/2 or 2/4/8, this is just to remind you that these 8Gb FC ports can auto-negotiate down to 2Gbps and 4Gbps legacy hardware, but not 1Gbps. If you are still using 1Gbps FC, you need 4Gpbs SFP transceivers instead, shown often as 1/2/4 or 4/2/1.)
New SSN-16 module for Cisco directors and switches
When I present SAN gear to sales reps, I often get the question, "What is the difference between a switch and a director?" My quick and simple answer is that switches have fixed ports, but directors have slots that you can slide in different blades or expansion modules. The Cisco MDS9500 series are directors with slots, the three models provide a hint to their capacity. The last two digits represent the number of total slots, but the first two slots are already taken. In other words, model 9513 has 11 slots, model 9509 has seven slots, and model 9506 has four slots. You can have a 48-port blade in a slot, so in theory, you can have a maximum of 528 ports on the biggest model 9513.
However, if you want FCIP for disaster recovery, or I/O Acceleration (IOA) for remote e-vaulting tape libraries, you need a special 18/4 blade. This has 18 FC ports, four 1GbE ports and a special service processor that speaks FCIP or IOA. If you wanted two service processors for FCIP and two for IOA, you would need four of these blades, and that takes up slots that could have been used for 48-port blades instead. The solution? The new SSN-16 has sixteen 1GbE ports and four service processors, so with one slot, you can handle the FCIP and IOA processing that you previously used four cards, giving you three slots back to use with higher port-density cards.
Even better, you can put this new SSN-16 in the Cisco 9222i. The model 9222i is a "hybrid" switch with 22 fixed ports (18 FC ports, four fixed 1GbE ports, and a service processor, so basically the fixed port version of the 18/4 blade above), but it also has one slot! That one slot can be used for the SSN-16 to give you added FCIP or IOA capability.
For our mainframe clients, the FICON package includes four 24-port FICON blades and 96 SFP 4Gbps transceivers to fully populate them. Here is the IBM [Press Release].
Cisco Nexus 5000 series for IBM System Storage
The Cisco Nexus 5000 series is Cisco's entry into the Converged Enhanced Ethernet world, although Cisco sometimes refers to this as Data Center Ethernet (DCE), IBM will continue to use CEE when referring to either Brocade and Cisco gear. These are also Top-of-Rack aggregators that support CNA connections over cheaper twinax copper wires. Model 5010 has 10 ports that can be configured for either 1GbE or 10Gb CEE, 10 ports that are 10Gb CEE, and a slot for an expansion module. The Model 5020 has basically twice as much of everything, including two slots instead of one. Since 10Gb Ethernet does not auto-negotiate down to 1GbE, half the ports can be configured to run 1GbE instead. Frankly, that can be seen as wasting your precious Nexus ports with 1GbE connections, so you might find a 1GbE-to-10GbE aggregator that combines a dozen or more 1GbE to a few 10GbE links instead.
Today's announcement is that in addition to 10GbE and 4Gbps FC expansion modules, there is now an expansion module that supports 8Gbps Fibre Channel. Here is the IBM [Press Release].
Whether you choose Brocade or Cisco, nearly all of IBM System Storage disk and tape products can work today with Converged Enhanced Ethernet environments, either directly using iSCSI, NFS or CIFS, or using the FCoE methodology.
As you can see, it took me a whole post just to cover just our networking gear announcements, and I haven't even covered our disk, tape and cloud storage offerings. I'll get to these in later posts.
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:
On page 13 of my deck, I had an old black and white photo of telephone operators, as part of a section on the history of selecting "cloud" as the iconic graphic to represent all networks. Chuck has this same graphic on his chart titled "#1 The Industrialization of IT Infrastructure".
Looks like Chuck and I use the same "stock photo" search facility!
On page 45 on my deck, I had a list of major "arms dealers" that deliver the hardware and software components needed to build Cloud Computing. Chuck has a similar chart, titled "#2 The Consolidation of the IT Industry", but with some interesting differences.
Let's look at some of the key differences:
The left-to-right order is slightly different. I chose a 1-2-4-2-1 symmetrical pattern purely on aesthetic reasons. My presentation was to a bunch of accountants, and so I was trying not to make it sound like an "Infomercial" for IBM products and offerings. My sequence is roughly chronological, in that Oracle announced its intention to acquire Sun, then Cisco, VMware and EMC announced their VCE coalition, followed closely by Cisco, VMware and NetApp announcing they work together well also, followed by [HP extended alliance with Microsoft] on Jan 13, 2010. As the IT marketplace is maturing, more and more customers are looking for an IBM-like one-stop shopping experience, and certainly various "mini-mall" alliances have formed to try to compete in this space.
I had HP and Microsoft in the same column, referring only to the above-mentioned January announcement. HP is all about private cloud hardware infrastructures, but Microsoft is all about "three screens and the public cloud", so not sure how well this alliance will work out from a Cloud Computing perspective. This was not to imply that the other stacks don't work well with Microsoft software. They all do. Perhaps to avoid that controversy, Chuck chose to highlight HP's acquisition of EDS services instead.
I used the vendor logos in their actual colors. Notice that the colors black, blue and red occur most often. These happen to be the three most popular ballpoint pen ink colors found on the very same paper documents these computer companies are trying to eliminate. Paper-less office, anyone? Chuck chose instead to colorize each stack with his own color scheme. While blue for IBM and orange for Sun Microsystems make some sense, it is not clear if he chose green for Cisco/VMware/EMC for any particular reason. Perhaps he was trying to subtly imply that the VCE stack is more energy efficient? Or maybe the green refers to money to indicate that the VCE stack is the most expensive? Either way, I would pit IBM's server/storage/software stack up against anything of comparable price from these other stacks in any energy efficiency bake-off.
What about the Cisco/VMware/NetApp combination? All three got together to assure customers this was a viable combination. IBM is the number one reseller of VMware, and VMware runs great with IBM's N series NAS storage, so I do not dispute Cisco's motivation here. It makes sense for Cisco to two-time EMC in this manner. Why should Cisco limit itself to a single storage supplier? Et tu VMware? Having VMware chose NetApp over its parent company EMC was a bit of a shock. No surprise that Chuck left NetApp out of his chart.
No love for Dell? I give Dell credit for their work with Virtual Desktop Images (VDI), and for embracing Ubuntu Linux for their servers. Dell's acquisitions of EqualLogic iSCSI-based disk systems and Perot Systems for services are also worth noting. Dell used to resell some of EMC's gear, but perhaps that relationship continues to fade away, as I [predicted back in 2007]. Chuck's decision to leave Dell off his chart speaks volumes to where this relationship stands, and where it is going.
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!
It seems everyone is talking about stacks, appliances and clouds.
On StorageBod, fellow blogger Martin Glassborow has a post titled [Pancakes!] He feels that everyone from Hitachi to Oracle is turning into the IT equivalent of the International House of Pancakes [IHOP] offering integrated stacks of software, servers and storage.
Cisco introduced its "Unified Computing System" about a year ago, [reinventing the datacenter with an all-Ethernet approach]. Cisco does not offer its own hypervisor software nor storage, so there are two choices. First, Cisco has entered a joint venture, called Acadia, with VMware and EMC, to form the Virtual Computing Environment (VCE) coalition. The resulting stack was named Vblock, which one blogger had hyphenated as Vb-lock to raise awareness to the proprietary vendor lock-in nature of this stack. Second, Cisco, VMware and NetApp had a similar set of [Barney press releases] to announce a viable storage alternative to those not married to EMC.
"Only when it makes sense. Oracle/Sun has the better argument: when you know exactly what you want from your database, we’ll sell you an integrated appliance that will do exactly that. And it’s fine if you roll your own.
But those are industry-wide issues. There are UCS/VCE specific issue as well:
Cost. All the integration work among 3 different companies costs money. They aren’t replacing existing costs – they are adding costs. Without, in theory, charging more.
Lock-in. UCS/Vblock is, effectively, a mainframe with a network backplane.
Barriers to entry. Are there any? Cisco flagged hypervisor bypass and large memory support as unique value-add – and neither seems any more than a medium-term advantage.
BOT? Build, Operate, Transfer. In theory Vblocks are easier and faster to install and manage. But customers are asking that Acadia BOT their new Vblocks. The customer benefit over current integrator practice? Lower BOT costs? Or?
Price. The 3 most expensive IT vendors banding together?
Longevity. Industry “partnerships” don’t have a good record of long-term success. Each of these companies has its own competitive stresses and financial imperatives, and while the stars may be aligned today, where will they be in 3 years? Unless Cisco is piloting an eventual takeover."
Fellow blogger Bob Sutor (IBM) has an excellent post titled
[Appliances and Linux]. Here is an excerpt:
"In your kitchen you have special appliances that, presumably, do individual things well. Your refrigerator keeps things cold, your oven makes them hot, and your blender purees and liquifies them. There is room in a kitchen for each of these. They work individually but when you are making a meal they each have a role to play in creating the whole.
You could go out and buy the metal, glass, wires, electrical gadgets, and so on that you would need to make each appliance but it is is faster, cheaper, and undoubtably safer to buy them already manufactured. For each device you have a choice of providers and you can pay more for additional features and quality.
In the IT world it is far more common to buy the bits and pieces that make up a final solution. That is, you might separately order the hardware components, the operating system, and the applications, and then have someone put them all together for you. If you have an existing configuration you might add more blades or more storage devices.
You don’t have to do this, however, in every situation. Just from a hardware perspective, you can buy a ready-made machine just waiting for the on switch to be flicked and the software installed. Conversely, you might get a pre-made software image with operating system and applications in place, ready to be provisioned to your choice of hardware. We can get even fancier in that the software image might be deployable onto a virtual machine and so be a ready made solution runnable on a cloud.
Thus in the IT world we can talk about hardware-only appliances, software-only appliances (often called virtual software appliances), and complete hardware and software combinations. The last is most comparable to that refrigerator or oven in your kitchen."
If your company was a restaurant, how many employees would you have on hand to produce your own electricity from gas generators, pump your own water from a well, and assemble your own toasters and blenders from wires and motors? I think this is why companies are re-thinking the way they do their own IT.
Rather than business-as-usual, perhaps a mix of pre-configured appliances, consisting of software, server and storage stacked to meet a specific workload, connected to public cloud utility companies, might be the better approach. By 2013, some analysts feel that as many as 20 percent of companies might not even have a traditional IT datacenter anymore.
“By employing techniques like virtualization, automated management, and utility-billing models, IT managers can evolve the internal datacenter into a ‘private cloud’ that offers many of the performance, scalability, and cost-saving benefits associated with public clouds. Microsoft provides the foundation for private clouds with infrastructure solutions to match a range of customer sizes, needs and geographies.
The public cloud:
“Cloud computing is expanding the traditional web-hosting model to a point where enterprises are able to off-load commodity applications to third-party service providers (hosters) and, in the near future, the Microsoft Azure Services Platform. Using Microsoft infrastructure software and Web-based applications, the public cloud allows companies to move applications between private and public clouds.”
Finally, I saw this from fellow blogger, Barry Burke(EMC), aka the Storage Anarchist, titled [a walk through the clouds] which is really a two-part post.
The first part describes a possible future for EMC customers written by EMC employee David Meiri, envisioning a wonderful world with "No more Metas, Hypers, BIN Files...."
The vision is a pleasant one, and not far from reality. While EMC prefers to use the term "private cloud" to refer to both on-premises and off-premises-but-only-your-employees-can-VPN-to-it-and-your-IT-staff-still-manages-it flavors, the overall vision is available today from a variety of Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS), Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) providers.
A good analogy for "private cloud" might be a corporate "intranet" that is accessible only within the company's firewall. This allowed internal websites where information to be disseminated to employees could be posted, using standard HTML and standard web browsers that are already deployed on most PCs and workstations. Web pages running on an intranet can easily be moved to an external-facing website without too much rework or trouble.
The second part has Barry claiming that EMC has made progress towards a "Virtual Storage Server" that might be announced at next month's EMC World conference.
When people hear "Storage Virtualization" most immediately think of the two market leaders, IBM SAN Volume Controller and Hitachi Data Systems (HDS) Universal Storage Platform (USP) products. Those with a tape bent might throw in IBM's TS7000 virtual tape libraries or Oracle/Sun's Virtual Storage Manager (VSM). And those focused on software-only solutions might recall Symantec's Veritas Volume Manager (VxVM), DataCore's SANsymphony, or FalconStor's IPStor products.
But what about EMC's failed attempt at storage virtualization, the Invista? After five years of failing to deliver value, EMC has so far only publicised ONE customer reference account, and I estimate that perhaps only a few dozen actual customers are still running on this platform. Compare that to IBM selling tens of thousands of SAN Volume Controllers, and HDS selling thousands of their various USP-V and USP-VM products, and you quickly realize that EMC has a lot of catching up to do. EMC's first delivered Invista about 18 months after IBM SAN Volume Controller, similar to their introduction of Atmos being 18 months after our Scale-Out File Services (SoFS) and their latest CLARiiON-based V-Max coming out 18 months after IBM's XIV storage system.
So what will EMC's Invista follow-on "Virtual Storage Server" product look like? No idea. It might be another five years before you actually hear about a customer using it. But why wait for EMC to get their act together?
IBM offers solutions TODAY that can make life as easy as envisioned here. IBM offers integrated systems sold as ready-to-use appliances, customized "stacks" that can be built to handle particular workloads, residing on-premises or hosted at an IBM facility, and public cloud "as-a-service" offerings on the IBM Cloud.
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.
Is this what your data center looks like?
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:
Following Chuck's argument, it makes no sense to build a "kit-car" combining Oracle/Sun servers with EMC storage. Oracle would argue it makes more sense to run on integrated systems, business logic on their "Exalogic" system, and database processing on their "Exadata". Benchmark after benchmark, however, IBM is able to demonstrate that Oracle applications and databases run faster on IBM systems. Customers that want to run Oracle applications can run either on a full Oracle stack, or a full IBM stack, and both do better than a kit-car including EMC parts.
HP has been working hard to keep up with IBM in this area. With their their partnership with Microsoft, and acquisitions of EDS, 3Com and 3PAR, they can certainly make a case for getting a full HP stack rather than a kit-car mixing HP servers with EMC disk storage. The problem is that HP is focused on a converged infrastructure for private cloud computing, but Microsoft is focused on Azure and public cloud computing. It will be interesting when these two big companies sort this out. Definitely watch this space.
If you squint your eyes and focus on the part of the world that only has x86 machines, then Dell can be seen as an IT supermarket. In my post about [Entry-Level iSCSI Offerings], I discuss how Dell's acquisition of EqualLogic was a signal that it was trying to get away from selling EMC specialty shop products, and building up its own set of offerings internally.
Cisco is new on the server scene, but has already made quite a splash. Here, I have to agree with Chuck's logic: the only time it makes sense to buy EMC disk storage at all is when it is part of an integrated "V-block". This is not really an IT supermarket situation, instead you park your car at the "Acadia Mini-Mall" and get what you need from Trader Joe's, Cisco UCS, and VMware stores.
But wait, if what you want is running VMware on Cisco servers, you might be better off with IBM System Storage N series or NetApp storage. In his blog post about [Enhanced Secure Multi-Tenancy], fellow Blogger Val Bercovici (NetApp) provides a convincing argument of why Cisco and VMware run better on an "N-block" rather than a "V-block". IBM N series provides A-SIS deduplication, and IBM Real-time Compression can provide additional capacity and performance improvements. That might be true, but whether you get your storage from EMC, NetApp or IBM, to me, you are still working with three different vendors in any case.
Of course, following Chuck's logic, it makes more sense for people with IBM servers, whether they be mainframes, POWER systems or x86 machines, to integrate these with IBM storage, IBM software and IBM services. IBM is the leading reseller of VMware, but also has a lot of business with Microsoft Hyper-V, Citrix Xen, Linux KVM, PowerVM, PR/SM and z/VM. While IBM has market leading servers, disk and tape systems, to compete for those RFP bids that just ask for one component or another, it prefers to sell fully-integrated systems, which IBM has been doing successfully since the 1950s.
Back in 2007, I mentioned how IBM's fully-integrated InfoSphere Balanced Warehouse [Trounced HP and Sun]. For business analytics, IBM offers the fully-integrated [IBM Smart Analytics Systems]. Today, IBM expanded its line of fully-integrated private cloud service delivery platforms with the announcement of the [IBM CloudBurst for on Power Systems], which does for POWER7 what the IBM CloudBurst for System x, Oracle Exalogic, or Acadia's V-block, do for x86.
IBM estimates that private clouds built on Power systems can be up to 70 percent less expensive than stand alone x86 servers.
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.
Mastering the art of stretching out a week-long event into two weeks' worth of blog posts, I continue my
coverage of the [Data Center 2010 conference], Tuesday afternoon I attended several sessions that focused on technologies for Cloud Computing.
(Note: It appears I need to repeat this. The analyst company that runs this event has kindly asked me not to mention their name on this blog, display any of their logos, mention the names of any of their employees, include photos of any of their analysts, include slides from their presentations, or quote verbatim any of their speech at this conference. This is all done to protect and respect their intellectual property that their members pay for. The pie charts included on this series of posts were rendered by Google Charting tool.)
Converging Storage and Network Fabrics
The analysts presented a set of alternative approaches to consolidating your SAN and LAN fabrics. Here were the choices discussed:
Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) - This requires 10GbE with Data Center Bridging (DCB) standards, what IBM refers to as Converged Enhanced Ethernet (CEE). Converged Network Adapters (CNAs) support FC, iSCSI, NFS and CIFS protocols on a single wire.
Internet SCSI (iSCSI) - This works on any flavor of Ethernet, is fully routable, and was developed in the 1990s by IBM and Cisco. Most 1GbE and all 10GbE Network Interface Cards (NIC) support TCP Offload Engine (TOE) and "boot from SAN" capability. Native suppot for iSCSI is widely available in most hypervisors and operating systems, including VMware and Windows. DCB Ethernet is not required for iSCSI, but can be helpful. Many customers keep their iSCSI traffic in a separate network (often referred to as an IP SAN) from the rest of their traditional LAN traffic.
Network Attached Storage (NAS) - NFS and CIFS have been around for a long time and work with any flavor of Ethernet. Like iSCSI, DCB is not required but can be helpful. NAS went from being for files only, to be used for email and database, and now is viewed as the easiest deployment for VMware. Vmotion is able to move VM guests from one host to another within the same LAN subnet.
Infiniband or PCI extenders - this approach allows many servers to share fewer number of NICs and HBAs. While Infiniband was limited in distance for its copper cables, recent advances now allow fiber optic cables for 150 meter distances.
Interactive poll of the audience offered some insight on plans to switch from FC/FICON to Ethernet-based storage:
Interactive poll of the audience offered some insight on what portion storage is FCP/FICON attached:
Interactive poll of the audience offered some insight on what portion storage is Ethernet-attached:
Interactive poll of the audience offered some insight on what portion of servers are already using some Ethernet-attached storage:
Each vendor has its own style. HP provides homogeneous solutions, having acquired 3COM and broken off relations with Cisco. Cisco offers tight alliances over closed proprietary solutions, publicly partnering with both EMC and NetApp for storage. IBM offers loose alliances, with IBM-branded solutions from Brocade and BNT, as well as reselling arrangements with Cisco and Juniper. Oracle has focused on Infiniband instead for its appliances.
The analysts predict that IBM will be the first to deliver 40 GbE, from their BNT acquisition. They predict by 2014 that Ethernet approaches (NAS, iSCSI, FCoE) will be the core technology for all but the largest SANs, and that iSCSI and NAS will be more widespread than FCoE. As for cabling, the analysts recommend copper within the rack, but fiber optic between racks. Consider SAN management software, such as IBM Tivoli Storage Productivity Center.
The analysts felt that the biggest inhibitor to merging SAN and LANs will be organizational issues. SAN administrators consider LAN administrators like "Cowboys" undisciplined and unwilling to focus on 24x7 operational availability, redundancy or business continuity. LAN administrators consider SAN administrators as "Luddites" afraid or unwilling to accept FCoE, iSCSI or NAS approaches.
Driving Innovation through Innovation
Mr. Shannon Poulin from Intel presented their advancements in Cloud Computing. Let's start with some facts and predictions:
There are over 2.5 billion photos on Facebook, which runs on 30,000 servers
30 billion videos viewed every month
Nearly all Internet-connected devices are either computers or phones
An additional billion people on the Internet
Cars, televisions, and households will also be connected to the Internet
The world will need 8x more network bandwidth, 12x more storage, and 20x more compute power
To avoid confusion between on-premise and off-premise deployments, Intel defines "private cloud" as "single tenant" and "public cloud" as "multi-tenant". Clouds should be
automated, efficient, simple, secure, and interoperable enough to allow federation of resources across providers. He also felt that Clouds should be "client-aware" so that it know what devices it is talking to, and optimizes the results accordingly. For example, if watching video on a small 320x240 smartphone screen, it makes no sense for the Cloud server to push out 1080p. All devices are going through a connected/disconnected dichotomy. They can do some things while disconnected, but other things only while connected to the Internet or Cloud provider.
An internal Intel task force investigated what it would take to beat MIPS and IBM POWER processors and found that their own Intel chips lacked key functionality. Intel plans to address some of their shortcomings with a new chip called "Sandbridge" sometime next year. They also plan a series of specialized chips that support graphics processing (GPU), network processing (NPU) and so on. He also mentioned Intel released "Tukwilla" earlier this year, the latest version of Itanium chip. HP is the last major company to still use Itanium for their servers.
Shannon wrapped up the talk with a discussion of two Cloud Computing initiatives. The first is [Intel® Cloud Builders], a cross-industry effort to build Cloud infrastructures based on the Intel Xeon chipset. The second is the [Open Data Center Alliance], comprised of leading global IT managers who are working together to define and promote data center requirements for the cloud and beyond.
The analysts feel that we need to switch from thinking about "boxes" (servers, storage, networks) to "resources". To this end, they envision a future datacenter where resources are connected to an any-to-any fabric that connects compute, memory, storage, and networking resources as commodities. They feel the current trend towards integrated system stacks is just a marketing ploy by vendors to fatten their wallets. (Ouch!)
A new concept to "disaggregate" caught my attention. When you make cookies, you disaggregate a cup of sugar from the sugar bag, a teaspoon of baking soda from the box, and so on. When you carve a LUN from a disk array, you are disaggregating the storage resources you need for a project. The analysts feel we should be able to do this with servers and network resources as well, so that when you want to deploy a new workload you just disaggregate the bits and pieces in the amounts you actually plan to use and combine them accordingly. IBM calls these combinations "ensembles" of Cloud computing.
Very few workloads require "best-of-breed" technologies. Rather, this new fabric-based infrastructure recognizes the reality that most workloads do not. One thing that IT Data Center operations can learn from Cloud Service Providers is their focus on "good enough" deployment.
This means however that IT professionals will need new skill sets. IT administrators will need to learn a bit of application development, systems integration, and runbook automation. Network adminis need to enter into 12-step programs to stop using Command Line Interfaces (CLI). Server admins need to put down their screwdrivers and focus instead on policy templates.
Whether you deploy private, public or hybrid cloud computing, the benefits are real and worth the changes needed in skill sets and organizational structure.
Continuing my post-week coverage of the [Data Center 2010 conference], Wednesday evening we had six hospitality suites. These are fun informal get-togethers sponsored by various companies. I present them in the order that I attended them.
Intel - The Silver Lining
Intel called their suite "The Silver Lining". Magician Joel Bauer wowed the crowds with amazing tricks.
Intel handed out branded "Snuggies". I had to explain to this guy that he was wearing his backwards.
i/o - Wrestling with your Data Center?
New-comer "i/o" named their suite "Wrestling with your Data Center?" They invited attendees frustrated with their data centers to don inflated Sumo Wrestling suits.
APC by Schneider Electric - Margaritaville
This will be the last year for Margaritaville, a theme that APC has used now for several years at this conference.
Cisco - Fire and Ice
Cisco had "Fire and Ice" with half the room decorated in Red for fire, and White for ice.
This is Ivana, welcoming people to the "Ice" side.
This is Peter, on the "Fire" side. Cisco tried to have opposites on both sides, savory food on one side, sweets on the other.
CA Technologies - Can you Change the Game?
CA Technologies offered various "sports games", with a DJ named "Coach".
Compellent - Get "Refreshed" at the Fluid Data Hospitality Suite
Compellent chose a low-key format, "lights out" approach with a live guitarist. They had hourly raffles for prizes, but it was too dark to read the raffle ticket numbers.
Of the six, my favorite was Intel. The food was awesome, the Snuggies were hilarious, and the magician was incredibly good. I would like to think Intel for providing me super-secret inside access to their Cloud Computing training resources and for the Snuggie!
Wednesday morning at the [Oracle OpenWorld 2011] conference started with another keynote session. This time, Safra Catz, CFO and President of Oracle, introduced John Chambers, CEO of Cisco.
John says Cisco is helping to "empower the customer through market transitions." This includes helping customers decide how to deploy new technology, choosing between integrated stacks and interoperable components, scaling the business with a flat IT budget, and how/when to decide on moving to the cloud.
(FTC Disclosure: IBM resells Cisco switches and directors and are considered a partner in this sense. If you are going to buy Cisco switches and directors, please consider buying them through IBM.)
The information economy is transitioning to a networked one. Access to information is not as important as access to expertise. Process and Procedures are not as important as Communities and Relationships. The old style Command-and-Control management is giving way to Collaboration. He showed a chart that showed the evolution from routed/bridged networks to packet/mobile and video. He also had a chart that showed the evolution from Mainframe/Mini-computers, to Client/Server and Web, to Virtualization in the Cloud. He also indicated that Google's acquisition of Motorola was indicative of the "Death of the PC".
High Tech companies must re-invent themselves to stay relevant. Here were Cisco's five "Foundational Priorities":
Leadership in the Core. This refers to his core business of high-end Ethernet and Fibre Channel directors.
Collaboration. This was the original promise of networking computers together, was to bring people together also. He feels that "Collaboration" will take off in the 2010's.
Data Center/Virtualization/Cloud. Cisco is now in the business of selling computers. They are now #2 in North America for x86 server sales, and #3 globally. In this regard, they are a direct competitor to both IBM and Oracle at this conference. John wants to create "borderless" networks between Private and Public clouds. He claims that they have now 8,228 Ciscu UCS customers over the past 18 months. This was a slam at Oracle, who hasn't sold half that many new systems in the same time period.
Video. John indicated that every product in the Cisco family is video-enabled, from the Cius tablet, to WebEx, to TelePresence, to all of his switches and directors. In theory, the "Flip" video cam that Cisco dropped in their latest round of layoffs would have also been counted in that category. John indicates that he envisions video will take over as the predominant communication mechanism. Back in 2006, at Oracle OpenWorld, John showed a chart that indicated that people will transition from passive TV-watchers to active video producers. Here we are five years later, and while 24 hours' worth of video are uploaded to YouTube every second, most people are still TV-watchers.
Architectures for Business Transformation. He elaborated on this to refer to issues like reliability, security, and products that are designed to work together. Business and Government leaders are focused on their business, not technology.
He gave a demo of Cisco UCS. This is a 4U collection of server blades, with up to 384GB of DRAM using 8GB DIMMs, or 192GB using much-cheaper 4GB DIMMs. There are 2 switches with 8 ports each 10GbE, for a total of 160 Gbps, that can carry both Ethernet and FCoE traffic. The UCS System Manager is similar to IBM's Unified Resource Manager in that it manages the entire box. A "service profile" has 40 to 50 BIOS settings that can be applied to give each x86 blade a specific personality. You can re-provision these by changing their service profile as needed.
The next demo was really cool. They took video that involved people talking, and had it "machine transcribed" so that you can read the words being said in the video. Type in a word like "tolerances" in the search engine, and the video advances exactly to the spot where that word is uttered.
The next demo after that involved a special camera for monitoring High-Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes in traffic. In an example used in London, UK, the camera can see inside the car and confirm there are enough people to justify HOV usage, and if not, scan the license plate and charge the owner of the vehicle a fine. (In a sense, "Big Data" analytics combined with Cisco's vision of ubiquitous video equals [Big Brother])
In another slam against Oracle, John actually backed up his claims with published benchmarks. He wrapped up his talk with: "If I have done my job well, then you will all leave this room a bit uncomfortable." Not surprisingly, John didn't mention either the vBlock relationship with EMC, or the FlexPod relationship with NetApp.
Continuing my coverage of the [IBM System x and System Storage Technical Symposium], I thought I would start with some photos. I took these with cell phone, and without realizing how much it would cost, uploaded them to Flickr at international data roaming rates. Oops!
Here are some of the banners used at the conference. Each break-out session room was outfitted with a "Presentation Briefcase" that had everything a speaker might need, including power plug adapters and dry-erase markers for the whiteboard. What a clever idea!
Here is a recap of the last and final day 3:
Understanding IBM's Storage Encryption Options
Special thanks to Jack Arnold for providing me his deck for this presentation. I presented IBM's leadership in encryption standards, including the [OASIS Key Management Interoperability Protocol] that allows many software and hardware vendors to interoperate. IBM offers the IBM Tivoli Key Lifecycle Manager (TKLM v2) for Windows, Linux, AIX and Solaris operating systems, and the IBM Security Key Lifecycle Manager (v1.1) for z/OS.
Encrypting data at rest can be done several ways, by the application at the host server, in a SAN-based switch, or at the storage system itself. I presented how IBM Tivoli Storage Manager, the IBM SAN32B-E4 SAN switch, and various disk and tape devices accomplish this level of protection.
NAS @ IBM
Rich Swain, IBM Field Technical Sales Specialist for NAS solutions, provided an overview of IBM's NAS strategy and the three products: Scale-Out Network Attached Storage (SONAS), Storwize V7000 Unified, and N series.
IBM System Networking Convergence CEE/DCB/FCoE
Mike Easterly, IBM Global Field Marketing Manager for IBM System Networking, presented on Network convergence. He wants to emphasize that "Convergence is not just FCoE!" rather it is bringing together FCoE with iSCSI, CIFS, NFS and other Ethernet-based protocols. In his view, "All roads lead to Ethernet!"
There are a lot new standards that didn't exist a few years ago, such as PCI-SIG's Single Root I/O Virtualization [SR-IOV], Virtual Ethernet Port Aggregator [VEPA], and [VN-Tag], Data Center Bridging [DCB], Layer-2 Multipath [L2MP], and my favorite: Transparent Interconnect of Lots of Links [TRILL].
Last year, IBM acquired Blade Network Technologies (BNT), which was the company that made IBM BladeCenter's Advanced Management Module (AMM) and BladeCenter Open Fabric Manager (BOFM). BNT also makes Ethernet switches, so it has been merged with IBM's System Storage team, forming the IBM System Storage and Networking team. Most of today's 10GbE is either fiber optic, Direct Attach Copper (DAC) that supports up to 8.5 meter length cables, or 10GBASE-T which provides longer distances of twisted pair. IBM's DS3500 uses 10GBASE-T for its 10GbE iSCSI support.
Last month, IBM announced 40GbE! I missed that one. The IT industry also expects to deliver 100GbE by 2013. For now, these will be used as up-links between other switches, as most servers don't have the capacity to pump this much data through their buses. With 40GbE and 100GbE, it would be hard to ignore Ethernet as the common network standard to drive convergence.
Fibre Channel, such as FCP and FICON, are still the dominant storage networking technology, but this is expected to peak around 2013 and start declining thereafter in favor of iSCSI, NAS and FCoE technologies. Already the enhancements like "Priority-based Flow Control" made to Ethernet to support FCoE have also helped out iSCSI and NAS deployments as well.
The iSCSI protocol is being used with Microsoft Exchange, PXE Boot, Server virtualization hypervisors like VMware and Hyper-V, as well as large Database and OLTP. IBM's SVC, Storwize V7000, XIV, DS5000, DS3500 and N series all support iSCSI.
IBM's [RackSwitch] family of products can help offload traffic at $500 per port, compared to traditional $2000 per port for IBM SAN32B or Cisco Nexus5000 converged top-of-rack switches.
IBM's System Networking strategy has two parts. For Ethernet, offer its own IBM System Networking product line as well as continue its partnership with Juniper Networks. For Fibre Channel and FCoE, continue strategic partnerships with Brocade and Cisco. IBM will lead the industry, help drive open standards to adopt Converged Enhanced Ethernet (CEE), provide flexibility and validate data center networking solutions that work end-to-end.
Continuing my coverage of the 30th annual [Data Center Conference]. here is a recap of Wednesday morning sessions.
A Data Center Perspective on MegaVendors
The morning started with a keynote session. The analyst felt that the eight most strategic or disruptive companies in the past few decades were: IBM, HP, Cisco, SAP, Oracle, Apple and Google. Of these, he focused on the first three, which he termed the "Megavendors", presented in alphabetical order.
Cisco enjoys high-margins and a loyal customer base with Ethernet switch gear. Their new strategy to sell UP and ACROSS the stack moves them into lower-margin business like servers. Their strong agenda with NetApp is not in sync with their partnership with EMC. They recently had senior management turn-over.
HP enjoys a large customer base and is recognized for good design and manufacturing capabilities. Their challenges are mostly organizational, distracted by changes at the top and an untested and ever-changing vision, shifting gears and messages too often. Concerns over the Itanium have not helped them lately.
IBM defies simple description. One can easily recognize Cisco as an "Ethernet Switch" company, HP as a "Printer Company", Oracle as a "Database Company', but you can't say that IBM is an "XYZ" company, as it has re-invented itself successfully over its past 100 years, with a strong focus on client relationships. IBM enjoys high margins, sustainable cost structure, huge resources, a proficient sales team, and is recognized for its innovation with a strong IBM Research division. Their "Smarter Planet" vision has been effective in supporting their individual brands and unlock new opportuties. IBM's focus on growth markets takes advantage of their global reach.
His final advice was to look for "good enough" solutions that are "built for change" rather than "built to last".
Chris works in the Data Center Management and Optimization Services team. IBM owns and/or manages over 425 data centers, representing over 8 million square feet of floorspace. This includes managing 13 million desktops, and 325,000 x86 and UNIX server images, and 1,235 mainframes. IBM is able to pool resources and segment the complexity for flexible resource balancing.
Chris gave an example of a company that selected a Cloud Compute service provided on the East coast a Cloud Storage provider on the West coast, both for offering low rates, but was disappointed in the latency between the two.
Chris asked "How did 5 percent utilization on x86 servers ever become acceptable?" When IBM is brought in to manage a data center, it takes a "No Server Left Behind" approach to reduce risk and allow for a strong focus on end-user transition. Each server is evaluated for its current utilization:
Amazingly, many servers are unused. These are recycled properly.
1 to 19 percent
Workload is virtualized and moved to a new server.
20 to 39 percent
Use IBM's Active Energy Manager to monitor the server.
40 to 59 percent
Add more VMs to this virtualized server.
over 60 percent
Manage the workload balance on this server.
This approach allows IBM to achieve a 60 to 70 percent utilization average on x86 machines, with an ROI payback period of 6 to 18 months, and 2x-3x increase of servers-managed-per-FTE.
Storage is classified using Information Lifecycle Management (ILM) best practices, using automation with pre-defined data placement and movement policies. This allows only 5 percent of data to be on Tier-1, 15 percent on Tier-2, 15 percent on Tier-3, and 65 percent on Tier-4 storage.
Chris recommends adopting IT Service Management, and to shift away from one-off builds, stand-alone apps, and siloed cost management structures, and over to standardization and shared resources.
You may have heard of "Follow-the-sun" but have you heard of "Follow-the-moon"? Global companies often establish "follow-the-sun" for customer service, re-directing phone calls to be handled by people in countries during their respective daytime hours. In the same manner, server and storage virtualization allows workloads to be moved to data centers during night-time hours, following the moon, to take advantage of "free cooling" using outside air instead of computer room air conditioning (CRAC).
Since 2007, IBM has been able to double computer processing capability without increasing energy consumption or carbon gas emissions.
It's Wednesday, Day 3, and I can tell already that the attendees are suffering from "information overload'.
Well, it's Wednesday, and you know what that means... IBM Announcements!
(Actually most IBM announcements are on Tuesdays, but IBM gave me extra time to recover from my trip to Europe!)
Today, IBM announced [IBM PureSystems], a new family of expert-integrated systems that combine storage, servers, networking, and software, based on IBM's decades of experience in the IT industry. You can register for the [Launch Event] today (April 11) at 2pm EDT, and download the companion "Integrated Expertise" event app for Apple, Android or Blackberry smartphones.
(If you are thinking, "Hey, wait a minute, hasn't this been done before?" you are not alone. Yes, IBM introduced the System/360 back in 1964, and the AS/400 back in 1988, so today's announcement is on scheduled for this 24-year cycle. Based on IBM's past success in this area, others have followed, most recently, Oracle, HP and Cisco.)
Initially, there are two offerings:
IBM PureFlex™ System
IBM PureFlex is like IaaS-in-a-box, allowing you to manage the system as a pool of virtual resources. It can be used for private cloud deployments, hybrid cloud deployments, or by service providers to offer public cloud solutions. IBM drinks its own champagne, and will have no problem integrating these into its [IBM SmartCloud] offerings.
To simplify ordering, the IBM PureFlex comes in three tee-shirt sizes: Express, Standard and Enterprise.
IBM PureFlex is based on a 10U-high, 19-inch wide, standard rack-mountable chassis that holds 14 bays, organized in a 7 by 2 matrix. Unlike BladeCenter where blades are inserted vertically, the IBM PureFlex nodes are horizontal. Some of the nodes take up a single bay (half-wide), but a few are full-wide, take up two bays, the full 19-inch width of the chassis. Compute and storage snap in the front, while power supplies, fans, and networking snap in the back. You can fit up to four chassis in a standard 42U rack.
Unlike competitive offerings, IBM does not limit you to x86 architectures. Both x86 and POWER-based compute nodes can be mixed into a single chassis. Out of the box, the IBM PureFlex supports four operating systems (AIX, IBM i, Linux and Windows), four server hypervisors (Hyper-V, Linux KVM, PowerVM, and VMware), and two storage hypervisors (SAN Volume Controller and Storwize V7000).
There are a variety of storage options for this. IBM will offer SSD and HDD inside the compute nodes themselves, direct-attached storage nodes, and an integrated version of the Storwize V7000 disk system. Of course, every IBM System Storage product is supported as external storage. Since Storwize V7000 and SAN Volume Controller support external virtualization, many non-IBM devices will be supported automatically as well.
Networking is also optimized, with options for 10Gb and 40Gb Ethernet/FCoE, 40Gb and 56Gb Infiniband, 8Gbps and 16Gbps Fibre Channel. Much of the networking traffic can be handled within the chassis, to minimize traffic on external switches and directors.
For management, IBM offers the Flex System Manager, that allows you to manage all the resources from a single pane of glass. The goal is to greatly simplify the IT lifecycle experience of procurement, installation, deployment and maintenance.
IBM PureApplication™ System
IBM PureApplication is like PaaS-in-a-box. Based on the IBM PureFlex infrastructure, the IBM PureApplication adds additional software layers focused on transactional web, business logic, and database workloads. Initially, it will offer two platforms: Linux platform based on x86 processors, Linux KVM and Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL); and a UNIX platform based on POWER7 processors, PowerVM and AIX operating system. It will be offered in four tee-shirt sizes (small, medium, large and extra large).
In addition to having IBM's middleware like DB2 and WebSphere optimized for this platform, over 600 companies will announce this week that they will support and participate in the IBM PureSystems ecosystem as well. Already, there are 150 "Patterns of Expertise" ready to deploy from IBM PureSystem Centre, a kind of a "data center app store", borrowing an idea used today with smartphones.
By packaging applications in this manner, workloads can easily shift between private, hybrid and public clouds.
If you are unhappy with the inflexibility of your VCE Vblock, HP Integrity, or Oracle ExaLogic, talk to your local IBM Business Partner or Sales Representative. We might be able to buy your boat anchor off your hands, as part of an IBM PureSystems sale, with an attractive IBM Global Financing plan.
Those that prefer to work with one-stop shopping of an IT Supermarket, with companies like IBM, HP and Dell who offer a complete set of servers, storage, switches, software and services, what we call "The Five S's".
Those that perfer shopping for components at individual specialty shops, like butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers, hoping that this singular focus means the products are best-of-breed in the market. Companies like HDS for disk, Quantum for tape, and Symantec for software come to mind.
My how the IT landscape for vendors has evolved in just the past five years! Cisco starts to sell servers, and enters a "mini-mall" alliance with EMC and VMware to offer vBlock integrated stack of server, storage and switches with VMware as the software hypervisor. For those not familiar with the concept of mini-malls, these are typically rows of specialty shops. A shopper can park their car once, and do all their shopping from the various shops in the mini-mall. Not quite "one-stop" shopping of a supermarket, but tries to address the same need.
("Who do I call when it breaks?" -- The three companies formed a puppet company, the Virtual Computing Environment company, or VCE, to help answer that question!)
Among the many things IBM has learned in its 100+ years of experience, it is that clients want choices. Cisco figured this out also, and partnered with NetApp to offer the aptly-named FlexPod reference architecture. In effect, Cisco has two boyfriends, when she is with EMC, it is called a Vblock, and when she is with NetApp, it is called a FlexPod. I was lucky enough to find this graphic to help explain the three-way love triangle.
Did this move put a strain on the relationship between Cisco and EMC? Last month, EMC announced VSPEX, a FlexPod-like approach that provides a choice of servers, and some leeway for resellers to make choices to fit client needs better. Why limit yourself to Cisco servers, when IBM and HP servers are better? Is this an admission that Vblock has failed, and that VSPEX is the new way of doing things? No, I suspect it is just EMC's way to strike back at both Cisco and NetApp in what many are calling the "Stack Wars". (See [The Stack Wars have Begun!], [What is the Enterprise Stack?], or [The Fight for the Fully Virtualized Data Center] for more on this.)
(FTC Disclosure: I am both an employee and shareholder of IBM, so the U.S. Federal Trade Commission may consider this post a paid, celebrity endorsement of the IBM PureFlex system. IBM has working relationships with Cisco, NetApp, and Quantum. I was not paid to mention, nor have I any financial interest in, any of the other companies mentioned in this blog post. )
Last month, IBM announced its new PureSystems family, ushering in a [new era in computing]. I invite you all to check out the many "Paterns of Expertise" available at the [IBM PureSystems Centre]. This is like an "app store" for the data center, and what I feel truly differentiates IBM's offerings from the rest.
The trend is obvious. Clients who previously purchased from specialty shops are discovering the cost and complexity of building workable systems from piece-parts from separate vendors has proven expensive and challenging. IBM PureFlex™ systems eliminate a lot of the complexity and effort, but still offer plenty of flexibility, choice of server processor types, choice of server and storage hypervisors, and choice of various operating systems.