Storage and Data Management


I’m a big believer in the value of in-the-field observation. What people do is more important than what people say. What some investors, analysts and IT professionals have been saying recently is, “Nobody wants on-premise IT. Everything is moving to the cloud.” The first part might be true, but the second part is utter nonsense, and ignores what is easily observable. Let me describe a recent purchase to illustrate.

We’ve had a cold winter in New England with plenty of snow. Almost 2 feet of snow had accumulated on the northern side of my roof. I have experience with ice dams and knew that if I didn’t get the snow off the roof, I would be facing water damage, as the ice made its way into the attic, melted, and dripped onto the ceiling. The tool of choice is a roof rake, of which I had none. I called the local Home Depot, which is about 6 miles from my house, but found that roof rakes were out of stock. No big surprise. I then went online to HomeDepot.com, and found that there were about 50 at a store only 20 minutes away. I quickly placed an on-line order and requested in-store pickup. I also selected the option that directed the store to text me when my order was ready for pickup, since I didn’t want to drive the round trip unless the order was ready. My order was confirmed, and a few minutes later, I received a text saying my roof rake was available for pickup at the service desk. An hour later, I was pulling mountains of snow off my roof and onto my head, and after a couple of hours chilling work, I successfully avoided thousands of dollars in potential water damage. For me, it was another happy Home Depot buying experience.

Now, imagine for a moment if all of Home Depot’s IT was centralized to the cloud. If “the cloud” went down, would I have been able to order anything online? If the communications link between the store and “the cloud” failed, would I have been able to know the actual inventory in the store? If I placed the order on line, but the link to  the store then went down, would the store have been able to fulfill my order? Would they have been able to notify me that the order was ready for pickup? Would they have been able to avoid a scenario where I ordered on line, but the store sold it to someone else?

Retailers are increasingly combining on-line retail with in-store shopping. This extends to everything from order entry, fulfillment, and payment processing, to returns processing and customer  loyalty programs. Some functions can and should reside in the cloud (or core data center). But for an optimal customer experience, some IT functions will need to remain in the store. And at the edge, retailers need an infrastructure that is both highly available and affordable.

In the interest of disclosure, I am a board member of StorMagic, an enabler of affordable, high-availability infrastructure at the enterprise edge.

 

Last summer I spent an enormous amount of money when I purchased the Torque game engine, so that my oldest son could try his hand at game development. In order to maximize my son’s success and seeing that there were many in-depth books available to learn how to use Torque, I offered to buy him a book as well.  But my son assured me that it was unnecessary, since he already knew how to program in Torque. That seemed odd to me, given that he had never had the software before, but turns out, he learned how to program in Torque by reading websites and watching videos on line. Increasingly, that’s how the latest generation learns. And thanks to a growing library of videos stored at sites such as YouTube, and contributors such as Khan Academy, you can learn how to do almost anything, including most of the math you will need to graduate high school and pass the first year of college.

Videos are also becoming an important medium for companies to get the word out, to explain, and clarify. So as an example, after a 2-day planning meeting with one of my clients, StorMagic, where I serve as a member of the board, I asked my son to record five short videos of StorMagic’s CEO, Hans O’Sullivan, answering simple, direct questions. Each video is less than a minute long and answers one or two questions on topics such as the background of the management team, the strategic focus of the company, the impact of recent announcements, and the company’s relationship with one of its partners.

Videos seem to be all the rage.  I don’t know what will come after videos, but it seems to me that for the next few years, at least, video will be of strategic importance in getting the word out about your company.

Hope you enjoy these.

StorMagic’s CEO Discusses Multi-Site Installations of SvSAN for VMware

StorMagic CEO Discusses the StorMagic Team and Recent Growth

More videos regarding StorMagic can be found on YouTube by searching StorMagic. You can even learn how to install and manage an SvSAN just by watching a video.

One of the sessions I attended at the New England Area VMware User Group meeting in Newport, Rhode Island last week included a discussion on how to take the internal storage of a VMware ESX host and turn it into a virtualized iSCSI storage appliance.  I happen to believe that the approach has great merit for many smaller IT shops and for remote office environments.  The internal storage of an ESX server, if totally useable and accessible to the ESX host and other ESX servers on the network, is probably the cheapest storage you will ever buy.  What I found particularly interesting about this session, however, was the fact that the presenter downplayed the approach as good enough to experiment with the storage virtualization software, but not good enough to run production applications.  In order to encourage companies to try the software, the developer offers a free 30-day trial, the expiration of which then renders the server unuseable, unless you purchase a permanent license.  While I believe the company has good software, I don’t understand the approach to the market. (more…)

I attended the New England Area VMware User Group meeting in Newport, Rhode Island last week.  It was a great opportunity to see what challenges IT managers are facing, what solutions they are adopting, and what problems remain to be solved.  It was also a good opportunity for me to revisit what I learned many years ago in studying the research of  Clayton Christensen and his concept of Disruptive Innovation.  Two of my clients have what I consider disruptive technologies.  I’ll write about Tek-Tools in this post, and then cover  StorMagic in a subsequent post. 

Tek-Tools offers the Profiler Suite of monitoring, reporting, and forecasting tools for servers, storage, applications, files, and, yes, VMware.  Why is it disruptive? Tek-Tools’ Profiler is easy to install, easy to afford, and easy to use, and it’s “good enough” for the bulk of today’s customers.  It does not overshoot current market requirements.  It gives quick answers to important questions like: How much storage do I have installed? How fast is it growing?  How much is allocated? How much is used? When will I need more storage? Where is my performance bottleneck? How old is my data? Who is violating data retention policies? Which virtual machines are using which storage? Which virtual machines are no longer in use? Which physical machines could I consolidate onto a  VMware ESX host, without encountering performance issues? Where is my orphaned storage? (That’s a technical term that means I deleted the virtual machine, but forgot to return the allocated storage to the storage pool.)  

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One of the things we used to discuss, when I was running the storage research practice at IDC, was “When will a market disappear and just become a feature of some larger market?”  Examples are numerous.  Remember when there was a market for browser software? And, while NetApp is going strong, both Microsoft and Sun Microsystems are trying to make NAS a feature of the operating system.

One of the reasons I joined the board of StorMagic was that I saw the potential for the company to be a market disruptor.  Today, StorMagic announced SvSAN software, which, when installed on a VMware ESX server, converts the internal storage of the ESX server into an iSCSI SAN.  VMware leverages the fact that most single applications don’t need all the computing power of today’s servers.  SvSAN leverages that same fact to provide the storage management function within the ESX server, and also takes advantage of the fact that the internal storage capacity of an ESX server, perhaps the least expensive storage you will ever purchase, is more than enough capacity for a large number of VMware ESX server-hosted applications.  (more…)

I’ve memorized most of the screenplay for Rob Reiner’s 1987 film, The Princess Bride.  Why? Because it’s funny?  Yes.  But more importantly, because at least once a day, there’s a line from the screenplay that fits perfectly with the situation I’m confronting.  Here’s a line I always recall when facing the seemingly insurmountable challenge:

My brains, his steel, and your strength against sixty men, and you think a little head jiggle is supposed to make me happy? I mean, if we only had a wheelbarrow, that would be something.

Today, I updated my suggested reading list to include Dave Hitz’ recent book, How to Castrate a Bull.  In the book, Dave chronicles his life and the life of NetApp, the company he co-founded And just like The Princess Bride, I find myself quoting from the book frequently. 

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I was describing to my rather-precocious, thirteen-year-old son the problem that companies have of getting the word out.  As part of “Career Week” at his school (five different jobs for five days at the end of the school year), my son decided he would make a stop-motion Lego video for Tek-Tools, one of my clients, to promote the company.   I told him that, if it was good enough, I would show it to the CEO, and maybe he would use it.  Little did I know that my son was going to, upon completion, post the video on YouTube.  But he did.  Without permission.  And my wife asked me, once again, “Why don’t we have more controls on his computer?” 

Ken Barth, the CEO of Tek-Tools,  was our first client at Walden Technology Partners.  A lot of people in the computer storage industry know him, and beyond the fact that he has been successful in everything that he has done, everyone who meets him says the same thing: “He’s a great guy.”  Ken’s company provides a superb solution for reporting, monitoring, forecasting, and profiling IT infrastructure.  It’s easy to install, easy to use, and provides immediate value.  What could be better?   (more…)

It’s only 7 a.m., and I’ve learned something new.  I woke up early (too early) and was catching up on some blog reading, including this one from Jon Toigo.  There, I stumbled on his use of the word bleg, which is a term I did not know.  As is my custom, I then went on a random internet walk (using the Google search term define: bleg) to find out what else I didn’t know.  That led me to a blogosphere glossary from Blogossary.  Have fun scrolling the list, and watch out for blogfat.

I recently had the pleasure of reading a draft of Dave Hitz’ new book (title intentionally withheld, so as not to play the spoiler).  Dave is one of the co-founders of NetApp (nee’ Network Appliance), and he wrote the book, at least in part, to give current NetApp employees a view into the early days of the company.  At recent growth rates, I suspect that substantially more than half of the employees have been with the company fewer than five years and missed not only the startup days, but the turnaround days, post-2001. (more…)

I recently visited the Massachusetts Office of International Trade and Investment (MOITI) with a friend, Bob Winter, who founded Robert-Louis Advisors.  At MOITI, we met with Patrick (Pat) Bench, who is Director of Business Development.  Patrick’s job is to get companies to open offices in Massachusetts, or rather, that’s how his success is measured.  What his job appears to be is to do everything possible to make it easy for non-U.S. companies to set up shop in Massachusetts.  (more…)

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