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Gestalt IT Tech Field Day Seattle – NEC HYDRAstor

July 16th, 2010

Following my return from my first Tech Field Day I have been reading through my notes and reflecting on the vendors I saw when I was in Seattle.  Of the vendors I saw the one that surprised me most was NEC, everyone has heard of them but not everyone actually knows what they do or what products they make.  As we found out during our visit, NEC have a broad technology portfolio and have quite an interesting offering in the storage space.

Here are some basic facts about NEC that you may / may not know

- Founded in 1899
- Fortune 200 company with over 143,000 staff
- Revenues of $43 Billion in 2009
- $3 Billion spent in R&D each year across 12 R&D global labs
- 48,000 patents worldwide.
- Have been in storage since 1950 

So with that little history lesson over, the main focus of our visit was NEC’s HYDRAstor. This is their modular grid storage offering for customers with backup and archive storage in mind. It’s marketed as “Grid storage for the next 100 years” which may sounds a little far fetched, but data growth and data retention periods are ever increasing.   From what I saw and heard the HYDRAstor could very well live up to this bold claim.

There was a lot of content delivered on the day and the session went on for 4 hours, so I’ve tried to wrap up some of the key features below. I have expanded on the key elements of the HYDRAstor that really caught my attention as I think they are worth exploring in more detail.

Key Features

- 2 tier architecture based entirely on best of breed Intel Xeon 5500 based servers

- 2 tier architecture consists of front end accelerator nodes and back end storage nodes

- Shipped as a turnkey solution, though entry level can be bought for self racking.

- Supports a Maximum of 165 Nodes, 55 accelerator nodes and 110 storage nodes

- All interconnects based on 1GB Ethernet Networking (NEC Network switches included)

- Supports old and new node modules in the same Grid for easy node upgrade and retirement.

- Supports volume presentation with NFS and CIFS (SMB Version 1)

- Non-disruptive auto reallocation of data across any additional grid capacity – DynamicStor

- higher levels of resilience than RAID with a reduced capacity overhead (See DRD below)

- WAN optimised grid to grid replication minimises network bandwidth requirements – RepliGrid

- WORM Support for secure retention / compliance governance – HYDRAlock

- Efficient drive rebuilds, only rebuild the actual data not the whole drive.

- Global inline de-duplication across the entire grid – DataRedux™

- Tight backup vendor integration – strips out backup metadata to improve de-dupe ratios

- Mini HYDRAstor appliance available for remote offices or offsite DR replication.

Data Protection – Distributed Resilient Data™ (DRD)  

The resilience provided by HYDRAstor really caught my eye, primarily because it was so different from anything I had ever seen before.  Distributed Resilient Data (DRD) uses something known as erasure coding to provide extremely high levels of resilience. Now you may think that this would come with a considerable storage and performance overhead, but you’d be wrong.

The HYDRAstor provides 6 levels of protection (1 – 6) all with differing levels of protection and capacity overhead. With the default level 3 selected NEC’s implementation of erasure coding splits the data chunks into 12 parts, 9 data and 3 parity. The use of erasure coding means that it only ever needs 9 parts to make up a complete data chunk. So if that data chunk is spread over 12 disks in a single storage node, it can withstand 3 disk failures. if those 12 chunks are spread over 12 storage nodes then you can withstand 3 complete node failures.

This default level 3 protection requires a 25% capacity overhead, much like RAID 5.  However by providing for 3 disk failures it provides 300% more protection than RAID5 and 150% more protection than RAID 6.  If you want to go to the highest level of protection (level 6) then there is a 50% capacity overhead as with RAID 1, however you can withstand the failure of 6 disks or 6 nodes.

The following video describes Distributed Resilient Data™ (DRD) at the default level 3

 

High Performing

The demonstration NEC gave us was based on their lab setup of 20 accelerator nodes and 40 storage nodes.  This was a 4 rack setup, which as you can see from the photo below is not a small setup. What it is though, is a very high performing storage solution.

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NEC demonstrated a data copy that utilised a full 10GB per second throughput, which worked out at about 540MB throughput per front end accelerator node.  The screenshot from the management GUI below shows the  total throughput achieved.

The maximum HYDRAstor configuration consists of 11 racks and is capable of 25GB per second or 90TB per hour. This works out at roughly 2 PB’s in a 24 hour period, that is an astounding amount of data throughput.  Surely a level of throughput to deal with even the most demanding backup or archiving use case.
 

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There were a few negative aspects that I picked up on during our visit, thankfully all ones I feel can be addressed by NEC over time.

User Interface

I felt the user interface was a little dated (see screenshot above), it served it’s basic purpose but wasn’t going to win any awards. It was a stark contrast when compared with the very nice and easy to use GUIs we saw from Nimble storage and Compellent.  That said if the HYDRAstor is only being used as a backup and archive storage and not primary storage, does it actually need to have the worlds best GUI, possibly not.

Solution Size

The HYDRAstor came across as a large solution, though I’m not sure why. When I think about it any storage solution that provides 10GB/sec throughput and 480TB of raw storage is likely to take up 4 racks, in some instances probably a lot more.  Maybe it was the sheer number of network interconnects, perhaps some consolidation with 10GB Ethernet could assist in making the solution appear smaller.  NEC could also look at shrinking down the servers sizes, probably only possible with the accelerator node servers as the storage nodes need 12 x 1TB disk so not a lot of scope for size reduction there.

Marketing

A general consensus among delegates was why have NEC marketing not been pushing this harder,  why had so many of us in the room not heard about it? I suppose that was one of the reasons we were there, to hear about it, discuss it and ultimately blog about it as I’m doing now. There are some specific target markets that NEC maybe need to look at for this product, possibly looking at world wide data retention regulations as a means of identifying potential markets and clients.  More noise needs to be made by NEC about there efficient de-dupe integration with enterprise backup products such as CommVault Simpana, Symantec NetBackup, TSM and EMC Networker.  More comments such as the one below wouldn’t hurt.

with the application aware de-duplication for CommVault we’ve optimized storage efficiency with a four times improvement in space reduction.
Pete Chiccino, Chief Information Officer, Bancorp Bank

EMEA availability

NEC told us that this product is not being actively pushed in the EMEA region.  Currently the product is only available for purchase in North America and Japan.  One of the points I made to NEC was that the HYDRAstor appeared to me to be a product that would have a lot of applications in the European market place, possibly more so in the UK.  I made specific reference to FSA regulation changes where Financial companies are now required to keep all electronic communications for up to 7 years.  NEC’s HYDRAstor with it’s high tolerance for failure, global de-duplication across all nodes and grid like extensibility is perfect for storing this kind key critical complaince data.  That is a very specific example, another is insurance companies who have longer retention requirements and museums digitising historical documents / books which have a “keep forever” retention requirement.

NEC contacted me via twitter after the event to say that although not on sale in EMEA if a company has a presence in the US they will be able to explore purchasing the HYDRAstor through NEC America.

Summary

I had no idea what to expect when we arrived at NEC’s offices, sure I knew who they were but I had no idea what they were doing in the storage space. Gideon Senderov at NEC certainly saw to it that we had all the information needed to form an opinion, his knowledge of his product was simply outstanding.

NEC HYDRAstor is a product that is quite unique. It’s easy to scale up and scale out, has high levels of redundancy without the normal capacity penalty and of course exceptional levels of performance. It strikes me as a product that any IT professionals responsible for backup, archiving and long term data retention would be very, very interested in

Note : Tech Field Day is a sponsored event. I receive no direct compensation and take personal leave to attend, however all event expenses are paid by the sponsors via Gestalt IT Media LLC. The views and content expressed here are my own and is in no way influenced by the sponsors of this event.

Events, Gestalt-IT, Storage , ,

Gestalt IT Seattle Tech Field Day – Day 2 Summary

July 16th, 2010

It’s now been a couple of days since the second day of the Gestalt IT Tech Field Day, I’m actually taking the opportunity to write this on the plane on the way back from Seattle. So once again I thought I would do a summary post until I get the chance to write up a detailed post on each vendor.

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Compellent were one of the main sponsors for the Seattle Tech Field Day and were responsible for us getting access to the Microsoft Campus. So a big thank you to Compellent for their support of Tech Field Day.

Compellent are a company I have had dealings with before, I looked at buying one of their storage devices back in 2008 and was very impressed by the product they had on offer at the time.  This was a great chance for me to revisit Compellent two years on and see how things had changed.

Compellent in general still appears to be much the same product that I liked so much back in 2008.  Their pooled storage model, software controlled RAID write down, space efficient snapshots and WAN optimised thin replication are all superb  features. There main differentiator back in 2008 was their ability to do automated storage tiering (Data Progression™), something that others in the industry are starting to catch up to (EMC FAST). Compellent’s Data Progression technology is one that many customers actively use with good results, I was slightly disappointed though to learn that their data movement engine only executes once every 24 hours and cannot be made more frequent.  I’m not sure how that compares to EMC FAST but is something I’ll include in a more expansive post.

A feature I had heard of but didn’t quite understand previously was Compellent’s Live Volume.  It’s another unique feature for Compellent and one of my fellow delegates even described it as “EMC vPlex that you could actually afford”. Compellent implement the Live Volume feature at software level as opposed to a hardware based implementation like EMC vPlex. Compellent are able to present the same volume, with the same identity in two different locations, they do this using the underlying WAN optimised asynchronous replication. One point of note was that this is not an active / active DR like setup,  this is a setup for use in a controlled maintenance scenario, such as SAN fabric maintenance or a DC Power down test.

Compellent also took the opportunity to share some roadmap information. Highlights included the release of the 64 bit, Series 40 Controller base on the Intel Nehalem, encrypted USB device for seeding replication, a move to smaller 2.5” drives and 256 bit full disk encryption among others.

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Although we were situated on Microsoft’s Campus for a large part of Tech Field day we were never presented to by Microsoft, which was a shame.  We did however get the chance to visit the Microsoft store which is for employees only.  It gave us all a chance to buy some discounted Microsoft Software and souvenirs of our visit to Redmond which we all took advantage of.

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Tech Field Day delegates Kevin Houston, Stephen Foskett and Jason Boche using their iPhones and iPads in the heart of the Microsoft campus. Note Jason Boche using an iPad and wearing his VMware VCDX shirt, brilliant!

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Our afternoon session was spent a short bus ride away from Microsoft at NEC America’s Seattle office.  We were here to hear about NEC’s storage offering (I had no idea they even did storage) and more specifically the NEC HYDRAstor range. We had a very in depth session on this fascinating product with Gideon Senderov, Director of Product Management for the HYDRAstor range.

NEC have taken an innovative approach with this product, one I was not expecting. They utilise full blown NEC servers to provide a two tier architecture made up of front end accelerator nodes and back end storage nodes.  On top of this they don’t use the traditional RAID model, instead using something known as erasure coding to provide improved data protection. I will deep-dive this particular data protection method in another article but it was a very interesting and different approach to what I’m used to.

The HYDRAstor grid is marketed as “Storage for the next 100 years” and with it’s grid architecture it’s reasonably easy to see how that statement could be realised.  You can add additional nodes into the grid and it will automatically redistribute itself to take advantage of the capacity.  You can also mark nodes for removal,  the system evacuating the data to enable nodes to be removed from the grid.  This combined with the ability to co-exist old and new HYDRAstor nodes shows why it’s a good storage location for data with a very long term retention requirement.

It appeared to me that HYDRAstor was designed specifically as a location for the output of archive or backup data and not a primary data storage solution. The reason I say this is that when we discussed in-line de-duplication the product was already integrated with major backup vendors (Symantec NetBackup, CommVault Simpana, Tivoli Storage Manager and EMC Networker). NEC were getting very clever by stripping out metadata from these backup vendors to improve the level of de-dedupe that could be achieved with the product when storing backup data.

I will revisit the HYDRAstor, once I have had a chance to go over my notes I fully intend to dedicate a full article to it as I was very impressed.

image           Capture

Rodney Haywood and Gideon Senderov white boarding the configuration of the NEC HYDRAstor

Note : Tech Field Day is a sponsored event. I receive no direct compensation and take personal leave to attend, however all event expenses are paid by the sponsors via Gestalt IT Media LLC. The views and content expressed here are my own and is in no way influenced by the sponsors of this event.

Events, Gestalt-IT, Storage

Gestalt IT Seattle Tech Field Day – Day 1 Summary

July 15th, 2010

So that is Day 1 of the Seattle Tech Field Day out of the way and what a day it has been.  We’ve been out to Microsoft Redmond HQ, or “the temple” as John Obeto calls it.  We saw some new products from Veeam and were privileged enough to be the first port of call for a new and very exciting storage start-up, Nimble Storage.

There has been a lot of information flowing about today, an awful lot. My plan is to spend some time assimilating all the information and doing more detailed posts on everyone we’ve seen, so for now I think a summary will suffice.

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Veeam are a company that needs very little introduction.  They’ve not been around long (3 years to be exact) but they are a well known and well respected brand in the virtualisation space.  Today Veeam were announcing a new product / concept that they have at the development stage, one that got delegates quite excited.

Veeam were introducing vPower a new product made up of 3 products, SureBackup, Instant Restore and CDP (a much debated point).  What stood out most for Tech Field Day delegates was the some of the Instant Restore functionality, the ability to run your VM direct from backup image was well received.  My personal thought at the time was who wouldn’t want to have a mechanism available to test your backups actually work.  The added bonus was that Veeam also provide network isolation and an almost Lab Manager ability to create groups of machines that should be recovered together. The idea of verifying your backups by running them from the back up storage was one thing,  Veeam had however written their own NFS in order do this.  This means that technically in the event of an outage you can run your machine directly from the Veeam backup server NFS datastore.  It’ isn’t going to be fast but it’s running which is the main thing you should be concerned about.  It was all good stuff and general consensus was that it was a step in the right direction and quite a shift in the VM backup space.

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Our surprise for the day was a new Tech start-up who were launching themselves and their product for the very first time.  Nimble Storage is a new start company who consist of a number of high pedigree employees with a proven track record at companies such as NetApp and DataDomain.  This is further backed up with an experienced board of directors and top venture capital investment and last but not least, a pretty good product at a good price point.

Without going into to much detail Nimble storage have produced a new array that probably reshapes the way people think about primary and backup storage as well as the use of flash storage within an array. Right at the outset they stated that their aim was to introduce flash storage to the mid size enterprise while also utilising a lot of the features being pioneered by other vendors.  Nimble’s approach is different in that it provides a converged appliance, one that does primary and secondary storage within the same device while also introducing flash caching to provide high performance.  Through the use of inline compression, flash cache, sequential write down to disk, efficient snapshots and replication as well as zero space cloning, Nimble is packing a lot into their product. At the top end you are paying a list price of  $99,000 + $6,000 annual maintenance.  For this you are looking at 18TB of primary storage (not including flash cache) + 15,000 IOPS from a SATA / Flash Mix. They were also looking at 216TB of backup capacity within that same device, driven primarily by their use of space efficient snapshots.  I have a lot of notes on this particular presentation and will be expanding upon this in the coming weeks.

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Now F5 was a company I was really interested to see, primarily because I wasn’t entirely sure what they offered.  Sure I knew they were into networking but even then what did they do in the networking space, I had no idea.  We were treated to 4 different presentations that covered the following.

  • WAN optimised geographical vMotion
  • Coding of IRules and IControls for the BIG-IP appliances
  • Intelligent client VPN connectivity via BIG-IP’s Edge gateway module.
  • Data Management and Routing using F5’s ARX appliance, file system virtualisation.

 

All were very impressive and I will definitely be looking to dig a little deeper and examine in full some of the technology presented and discussed.  I was particularly impressed with F5’s vision for data management / file level virtualisation, as they seem to be one of the only companies in this space that I am aware of.  This vision was demonstrated to us as a mix of onsite primary tier 1 storage and off site cloud storage.  The ARX appliance would sit as a director presenting a unified view of the storage to the end user, while internally keeping a routing table of up to a billion files.  This will allow IT departments to place files across multiple types of storage, whether that be differing internal storage devices or storage in the cloud. The concept sits well with the current cloud strategies being developed by most major IT companies, what’s surprising is that nobody else is doing it.  There is a lot more to be said about F5,  I plan to delve a little deeper and write some more,

Summary

It’s been a very busy day,  one however that has been exceptionally rewarding. Tech Field Day has been everything I expected it to be so far,  there has been a wealth of information shared and a lot of feedback given. The biggest win for me though is getting the time to learn more about vendors and their product offerings, that and hearing the comments of my fellow delegates.  There is a good mix of intelligent people from varied backgrounds and that has only added to the experience so far.

We ended the night with a tour of the Boeing museum of flight and a couple of drinks with dinner.  It’s now midnight and after just 6 hours sleep last night and a busy schedule ahead for tomorrow,  I am going to call it a night there.

Note : Tech Field Day is a sponsored event. I receive no direct compensation and take personal leave to attend, however all event expenses are paid by the sponsors via Gestalt IT Media LLC. The views and content expressed here are my own and is in no way influenced by the sponsors of this event.

Events, General, Gestalt-IT, Tech Field Day , , ,

Tech Field Day – Seattle July 2010

June 13th, 2010

TechFieldDayTowards the end of last week I finally got confirmation that I was going to be attending the latest GestaltIT tech field day event. The event is scheduled to take place from July 14th through to July 17th in Seattle and will bring together a number of tech companies and independent bloggers.   For those that aren’t familiar with the Tech Field day event format, let me elaborate a little.

Tech Field day is a unique event bringing together IT Product vendors and Independent technology professionals.  The companies involved do so knowing that whatever they share is going to be put out there for public consumption.  We, the independent bloggers get to hear about the latest tech and can write about it without being restricted by the usual non-disclosure agreements.  It’s a coming together of parties for mutual benefit, we learn, they learn, we blog, we tweet, they get publicity.

So, which vendors are attending? well that’s not been fully confirmed yet and as a result I wouldn’t like to say just yet.  Rest assured though, those that are rumoured to be taking part are interesting, some I know a good deal about (I’m a shareholder in one!) some I know a little about and some I know nothing about at all.  Within the current vendor list there is some great scope for me to expand my knowledge, which after all is one of the main reasons I do this in my free time.

I’m also looking forward to meeting up with some like minded individuals.  The Tech Field day attendees tend to be from diverse backgrounds,  this in itself helps to stimulate the discussion whether that be about technology in general or the vendors presenting.  Keep your eye on the Tech Field Day Seattle 2010 page for a full list of attendees and vendors.

Disclosure: It is important that I inform anyone reading this that this is a paid event.  No I’m not getting paid to take part, I should be so lucky! I am however having my expenses paid (travel, accommodation, etc).  In exchange I am expected to and full intend to be actively blogging about everything that I see and hear at the event. I will also be keeping any followers up to date on twitter, so if you aren’t following me on twitter you have plenty of time to rectify that. If your not using twitter, check it out!! I’m finding it to be exceptionally good for both networking and keeping up to date, without twitter I wouldn’t even be going to Tech Field Day. I look forward to getting stuck in and reporting back with some interesting articles for you all!

Events ,

IT Vendor engagement of the customer community

November 22nd, 2009

Over the last month or so I’ve had two invites to participate in vendor events abroad.  The first was an invite to the Gestalt IT tech day in San Francisco, the second was an invite to the EMC EMEA Customer Council event in Prague.  Now as much as I would love to go to everything I get invited to, I have a day job which pays the bills so in this instance I had to chose the one most relevant to my employer and that was the EMC EMEA Customer Council.

Having never been invited to an EMC Customer Council event before I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. The basic structure of the event involved EMC sharing product roadmap and strategy, deep diving a few key technologies / strategies and then listening to customer feedback.  The sessions I attended were very interactive round table discussions, with a lot of enterprise customers who were not backward in coming forward with their feelings and opinions. As the sessions went on I started to see why EMC run these events. It would be hard to gain this kind of candid and honest feedback through any other medium, this kind of information is invaluable to a vendor. From my perspective as a customer I got a lot of good insight into roadmap, allowing me to more accurately propose a long term EMC storage strategy for my employer.  I also got to meet and chat to a lot of interesting people and best of all, I got to hear about the experiences of other customers. It was re-assuring to hear that whether you are an SMB IT operation or an enterprise level one, you tend to have very similar issues. The only difference sometimes being the scale of the infrastructure involved.

Now unfortunately unlike the Gestalt IT Tech Field day, the EMC Customer Council is governed by a non-disclosure agreement which means I cannot blog about any of the content discussed. However it’s a small price to pay when you get invited to an extremely well organised, well attended event where all parties involved get something out of it.

It’s easy to see why companies are starting to catch on to the benefits of engaging the customer community directly. In some instances the community becomes a self help group of sorts as well as an alternative marketing channel for a vendor. I often see “a community” leading the way with product information awareness, problem resolution, best practice and procurement advice. The VMware community stands as  one of the best examples of this,  there is a wealth of information out there and it’s not hard to find if you ever need to go looking. In fact if you use twitter or subscribe to an RSS feed like PlanetV12n more often than not the information lands in your lap without you needing to ever look for it.

I wanted to briefly cover off the Gestalt IT tech day. Stephen Foskett the organiser and chief recently set out on a mission to organise a technical field day that vendors would sponsor without the usual NDA’s being in place. Thus allowing the attending bloggers to write about what they saw until they couldn’t possibly write anymore.  He did an exceptional job and I believe the experience didn’t put him off, he’s already looking at organising Gestalt IT Tech Day 2.

Well the attending bloggers wrote post after post and there was lots of good stuff coming out from the vendor visits they participated in. This event is another good example of vendors engaging successfully with the community and everyone getting something out of it. The vendors get a chance to spread the word about their products and services and the bloggers get lots of technical content to put out there for their readers.  Everyone is a winner and that is exactly what a vendor event should be all about.

To read more about the Gestalt IT Tech day and sample some of the many articles written, click the link. What a Tech Field Day!

General, Gestalt-IT, Storage ,