Friday hike blogging: Highline trail

by Robin Harris on Friday, 19 December, 2014

Hike blogging got interrupted by some schedule conflicts and bad weather. Federal district court jury duty was one interruption. Some needed rain and cold temperatures was another.

To make up for the lapse, here are two pictures from this week’s hike around Cathedral Rock.

Winter is one of my favorite seasons because of the clouds and, sometimes, fog on the rocks. Here’s a shot from early in the hike, looking east to the Mogollon Rim:

[click to enlarge]

[click to enlarge]

As the 4+ hour hike progressed, the weather improved. This view of Cathedral Rock is looking northwest from the Highline trail in the last hour of the hike.

[click to enlarge]

[click to enlarge]

Planning to take Bo and Tess on a walk later today. And if the weather cooperates hoping to hike the spectacular Hangover trail on Tuesday.


WD acquires Skyera: whoa!

by Robin Harris on Thursday, 18 December, 2014

The Skyera acquisition could signal a sea change in the relationship between storage device and system makers. It is overdue.

Traditionally, device makers avoided competing with their customers. This is what it made Seagate’s acquisition of Xiotech (now X-IO years ago so surprising.

StorageMojo was critical of Seagate’s Xiotech acquisition because there were large and profitable intermediate steps that Seagate could’ve taken – which they belatedly have – rather than diving into the array business. Ultimately Xiotech didn’t work out for Seagate.

Are things are different today?
Competing with customers is much less of an issue today because:

  1. There are only 4 3 hard drive vendors.
  2. Most system OEMs are moving to flash and SSDs are fast as they can anyway.
  3. Intel/Micron and Samsung are dominating enterprise SSD sales, so Seagate and WD have little business to lose.

Today, unlike the past, there’s a clear, low-risk path for WD, Seagate, and Toshiba to move into the storage system arena. In fact, given Intel’s and Samsung’s SSD success, there’s a positive reason to move soon if they want to play any role in future enterprise storage.

Every silver lining has a cloud. And in the case of WD and Seagate, the problem is that they are component vendors, not system vendors.

Their executive teams have to wrap their heads around software, service and support to build a viable systems business. It took HP – originally a test equipment company – a couple of decades to develop a strong systems engineering perspective and that came from acquisitions, not internally.

WD and Seagate don’t have decades.

The StorageMojo take
The storage systems business needs new blood. The old enterprise model is dying and the new model will have much lower margins for mainstream storage (see The 30% solution).

WD and Seagate have a tremendous opportunity – Seagate’s Kinetic initiative is quite promising – if they navigate the complex issues required to build a systems business. While it would be difficult I’d like to see them try.

Courteous comments welcome, of course.


The 30% solution

by Robin Harris on Tuesday, 2 December, 2014

The existential battle facing legacy storage vendors is about business models, not technology or features. Market forces – cloud providers and SMBs – are trying to turn a high margin business into a much lower margin business.

We have already seen this happen with the servers. Many large minicomputer companies enjoyed 60 to 70% gross margins for years.

But then the PC – the new minicomputer – came along with much lower gross margins and much higher volumes. As CPUs, networks and software improved, the PC evolved into the server business we have today.

In the process, many technically superior products– such as Decnet and MVS – were pushed aside. Their functions were commoditized, mass-produced and plummeted in price – and gross margin.

Storage is an application
In the last 10 years storage companies have moved most of their functions to software. They’ve made storage an application.

In the 1970s and through the mid-80s several companies built large businesses based on word processing. They packaged software and hardware with support and training and found a ready market in offices worldwide.

Then PC word processing software started catching up with the proprietary word processing systems. Early packages such as Wordstar were hopelessly primitive compared to high-end Wang systems, but they evolved and in a few short years Wang was dead.

The StorageMojo take
Server technology is evolving faster than storage controllers can. The traditional storage engineering model of tightly specified controllers running well-tested firmware is getting less viable each year.

Scratch most storage array controllers today and you’ll find a barely disguised x86 server decorated with low-volume/high-cost redundancy bits. Scale-out storage with many redundant storage servers can be just as reliable and performant as traditional storage.

Fortunately for legacy vendors, most customers don’t know that. Many mid and upper level IT managers are comfortable with the devil they know and resist change.

But as AWS, Google and Azure are showing, large-scale cloud infrastructures can handle most enterprise jobs today. And they keep getting better.

The upshot is that most storage capacity will become a 30% gross margin business in the next 10 years. There will always be specialized applications that require high-margin gear, but that won’t be the bulk of the market.

Look at servers today. That is storage in 10 years.

Courteous comments welcome, of course. Because of the critical nature of storage, software only vendors will have to step up their quality to achieve wide penetration. How do you think they can best do that?


Friday hike blogging: Cockscomb Butte

by Robin Harris on Friday, 21 November, 2014

Thanks to re:Invent and some other issues I haven’t done much hiking in the last 2 weeks. But back on the 8th I took a hike with my friend Gudrun up Cockscomb. There’s no official Forest Service trail so I was glad to have a guide for my first ascent.

We spent about 90 minutes on top. But the sun started going down so we did too. The desert gets dark quickly – and cool too – and it was getting dim by the time we got back to the car.

As usual, the views were wonderful. Here’s one looking north to Bear Mountain from the side of Coxcomb.

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

Yes, that is a real estate development in the foreground. Lots start at about $1m if you’re wondering. Kind of far from town though.

As for me, I’m definitely getting out for a hike this weekend!


Primary Data takes on the enterprise

by Robin Harris on Friday, 21 November, 2014

The economics of massive scale-out storage systems has thrown a harsh light on legacy enterprise storage. Expensive, inflexible, under-utilized data silos are not what data intensive enterprises need or – increasingly – can afford.

That much is obvious to any CFO who can read Amazon Webe Services’ pricing. But how to get from today’s storage islands to tomorrow’s storage ocean?

The CFO’s problem: the investment in the hardware, software and operational changes is all upfront. The payback takes years, and C-level execs are right to be skeptical.

An ideal solution would preserve their existing investment and let them add commodity storage as needed. Which is what Primary Data intends to do.

Primary Data’s idea is to provide a scale-out metadata service that gives centralized control and management, while staying out of the data path. A single enterprise name space with many data paths.

As co-founder and CTO David Flynn said Monday,

Separating the control channel from the data channel – pulling the metadata out from amongst the data – the metadata that describes the files, directories, access control and other things is today commingled with the data objects. Therefore the data object has no identity that is consistent as that data object gets stored on different systems. Move that object and it becomes a different object and you’re stuck managing multiple copies. . . .

Blocks, files and objects, oh my!
The metadata service essentially turns all files into objects – files + traditional file system data – whether they are written as blocks, files or objects. Look up the file you want on the metadata service, get its location, and access it directly.

Thus it doesn’t matter whether that file is stored on block or file or object storage. Once the name is resolved the data can be accessed through any protocol because

Centralizing control makes sense. Rarely used files – most of them – can be moved to cheap storage. I/O intensive data can be moved to SSDs. Critical data can be replicated multiple times and across geographies.

Disaster recovery and backup are simplified because enterprise-wide snapshot policies ensure that data is protected and available. The snapshot layer is not in the data path, so it’s fast and painless.

They’ve made the metadata service infrastructure as bulletproof as possible. The data director runs on a scale-out cluster architecture with SSDs for speed and bandwidth.

If the data director fails the data is still there and accessible by individual servers. You lose the global namespace for a while, but it can be rebuilt by reading object metadata – just as with any object store – without losing access or data.

The StorageMojo take
David Flynn and Rick White – the founders of Fusion-io and Primary Data – are back with another big idea. Primary Data is a much bigger idea than PCI flash cards, and the payback won’t be as quick.

By using existing storage assets though, PD has removed one of the big obstacles to modernizing enterprise storage. Firms can start small, try out the technology, train some people, validate the payback and then extend its use.

The big challenge, which PD is well aware of, is to become a trusted enterprise vendor quickly. A targeted POC campaign with big-name customers is the most likely route to quick – 2-3 years – enterprise acceptance.

The RAID array has had a great 25 year run. But as Google, Amazon and others have shown, the future belongs to scale-out storage. Primary Data may have the key that unlocks it for the enterprise.

Courteous comments welcome, of course.


EMC’s re-intermediation strategy

by Robin Harris on Tuesday, 18 November, 2014

EMC – and other legacy array vendors – are trying to become an intermediary between enterprises and the cloud. Are cloud-washed arrays a viable strategy?

EMC’s Joe Tucci is working to ensure that EMC can survive in a cloud world even if he doesn’t manage to sell the company before he retires. The acquisitions of TwinStrata, CloudScaling, Maginatics and Spanning are proof.

The acquisitions are recent and success remains to be seen. But there’s a larger question about the strategy: can an enterprise re-intermediation strategy be successful?

Intermediation works when transactors work at very different time frames, scales or knowledge levels. Costco, for example, buys by the truckload and sells by the box. Insurance brokers help you navigate complex financial products.

The Internet is the Great Disintermediator. Thousands of smaller businesses have been destroyed by Internet-based large business – think book and video stores – and more are endangered, such as newspapers.

Today, the cloud is likewise disintermediating the business of legacy storage providers. Getting some cloud mojo to buff aging architectures is the goal.

Will it blend?
The acquired vendors have shown that there is a market for cloud-enhanced local storage. The problem is that they haven’t shown it with high-cost legacy vendors.

TwinStrata, for instance, offered a commodity server box with their software for local storage of cloud data. A sensible low-cost solution for the mid-market.

But will enterprise customers want to load up their current storage silos with cloud extensions? And if they do, for how long?

The StorageMojo take
EMC’s acquisitions – and other “cloudifying” efforts – are defensive tactical moves, not long-range strategies. Helping customers use much lower-cost and more flexible cloud storage sold by others is like a bookstore searching Amazon for you.

Vendors will eke out marginal sales and maintenance extensions, but hollowing out the embedded storage component in arrays is asking switch vendors to take over the job of shuttling data off to the cloud. There are better ways to manage metadata than inside storage arrays.

Courteous comments welcome, of course.


AWS re:Invent this week

November 11, 2014

StorageMojo’s legion of analysts are saddling up for the ride to Las Vegas for AWS re:Invent. This is a first time for this event and trust it will be excellent. If you’re there feel free to say hi! Courteous comments welcome, of course. Please comment on anything you’d like to see The StorageMojo take on.

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Pure vs EMC: who’s winning?

November 11, 2014

Forbes contributor and analyst Peter Cohan writes on seemingly conflicting stories coming from Pure and EMC. Let’s unpack the dueling narratives. Does Pure win 70% vs EMC or does EMC win 95% vs Pure? The metrics: Both parties seem to agree that they meet up very often in competitive bidding situations. EMC claims that it […]

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Friday hike blogging: clouds and sun

November 7, 2014

I’ve been hiking regularly, but not posting Fridays due to some schedule conflicts. Last Saturday I took one of my favorite loops, but started from Soldiers Pass rather than Mormon Canyon, and headed counterclockwise. The weather was unsettled, with dark clouds to the north and east and broken clouds to the west. As it was […]

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Mark Lewis on Formation’s enterprise play

November 6, 2014

Formation Data Systems announced a soft launch a few weeks ago with a $24M round – hefty for a software play – and one of the investors is Kumar Malavalli, the smart guy behind Brocade. StorageMojo spoke to FDS CEO Mark Lewis. The what Formation is focused on attacking the cost and expense of enterprise […]

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Adesto resistance RAM shipping now

November 3, 2014

Adesto Technologies is a company you probably haven’t heard of. I’m here to fix that, thanks to a discussion I had today with their CEO, semiconductor veteran Narbeh Derhacobian. Adesto is announcing a whiz-bang new product next week, but you need to know about this company now. Their focus is low-power memory solutions – i.e. […]

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Friday hike blogging: Sterling Pass trail

October 24, 2014

After the Slide Rock fire all the trails in Oak Creek Canyon were closed for about 4 months. They reopened the trails October 1, so I’ve been hiking some of them to see what the fuss was about. The Sterling Pass to Vultee Arch hike is about about 1200 steep feet up, 800 steep feet […]

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Shadow IT industry pt. III: what’s next?

October 24, 2014

What’s next for the shadow IT industry? It should be obvious: after blowing up the storage and server business models, what’s left? Networking Amazon has been working on their own networking software and hardware for several years. While networks aren’t a large part of their cost structure – servers are – it was rapidly growing […]

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Friday hike blogging: West fork, new and improved!

October 17, 2014

Finding that the recent fire and monsoon rains had altered the west fork of Oak Creek made me want to go back further up the creek. Without a paddle. So last Sunday I did. That’s Steve in the corner. Manou is in the crowd up ahead. Spectacular! In case you couldn’t tell. . . .

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Shadow IT pt. 2

October 17, 2014

The first post on shadow IT looked at R&D spend. Now we look at CapEx spend – specifically PP&E – property, plant and equipment. That’s where new datacenters, servers, storage and networks go. Big Spend The FY13 PP&E spend in billions from major players: While R&D expense is a proxy for innovation velocity, PP&E is […]

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