Data Storage for ECM – Part 1 – Unified Storage
The last few months have been interesting for me, as my new job role involves a lot of work with alliance partners, many of whom either didn’t know anything about NetApp, or where they did know something it was along the lines of “Oh yeah, the NAS company”. In many respects, it’s a lot easier to explain what we do when someone has an open mind, as pre-conceived notions are often hard to budge, and telling someone they’re wrong is rarely a good way to start a trusted relationship. Even though I report up through our local director of marketing, my soul is still that of an engineer, so when it comes to describing what NetApp does, and why that’s important I tend to go straight to “Well, we still sell NAS, and that’s a big part of what we do, but we really sell is Unified Storage” at which point I expect to see the “and I should care about this because …” look
I’ve been seeing this look quite a bit recently, mostly because many of the people I speak to also get briefs from other storage vendors, and they too have suddenly started talking about “Unified Storage” without really understanding it or explaining its relevance to datacenter transformation. A good case in point was the opportunity I had to speak at the local VMware seminar series where I shared a stage with VMware, Cisco, and EMC. All of us got our 7.5 minutes to explain how we helped accelerate our customers journey to the cloud. VMware went first, followed by EMC, then Cisco and then me..
I’d prepared two slides for my 7 minutes focussing on our key differentiators, Unified storage, tight VMware integration with advanced storage features, deduplication and storage efficiency, Secure Multi-Tenancy, Cisco validated designs, Backup and recovery, and waited happily to see if EMC would come out with their usual pitch.
Boy, was I surprised … EMC’s pitch was Unified storage, deduplication, tight VMware integration with advanced storage features, deduplication and storage efficiency, security and Cisco validated designs … what the ????, had I suddenly slipped into a parallel universe ? Had EMC, a company fairly well known for pushing seven different kinds of storage with forklift upgrades suddenly capitulated and acknowledged that the approach NetApp had been pushing for so many years was actually right ? Was Chuck Hollis about to come on stage and apologise for blatant manipulation of social media and comment filtering ?
Now while I could have picked holes in their story by pointing out that at least from a VMware perspective they don’t have deduplication, that their advanced integration with VAAI hadn’t been released, there was no Cisco Validated Design for vBlock, and that the RSA stuff had no integration at the storage layer, nobody is really interested in hearing vendors denigrate each other, and I only had 7 minutes to figure out how to show our unique ability to help customers in the face of the most shameless “me too” campaign I’ve ever seen. During that 7 minutes there was one thing that really struck me. EMC has no real concept of why unified storage is important. Their concept of unified storage was something that allowed connection by Fibre Channel, iSCSI, CIFS and NFS and had a nice GUI. Having worked at NetApp for a number of years, I was surprised at how they’d missed the point completely. Almost everyone at NetApp knows that these are good features to have (we’ve had them for over 10 years now), but we also know that by themselves, they have only limited benefits. I’ve had a little while now to think about this, and it’s become clear to me that for other vendors, Unified storage is not a strategic direction, but a tactical response to NetApp’s continued success in gaining market share. This becomes even more obvious by taking a look at their storage portfolios
|Entry Level NAS / NAS Gateway||FAS||Iomega||Windows Storage Server||Windows Storage Server||N-Series (OEM)||Windows Storage Server|
|Entry Level SAN / iSCSI||FAS||Celerra NX||Equallogic||MSA
|MidRange NAS||FAS||Celerra NS||Celerra (OEM)||Polyserve ?||N-Series (OEM)||BlueArc(OEM)|
|Archive & Compliance||FAS||Centera||Centera (OEM)||HP RISS||FAS||HCP|
|Backup to disk platform||FAS||DataDomain
HP Sepaton (OEM)
|Diligent VTL||Dilligent (OEM)|
|Storage Virtualisation Gateway||FAS (V-Series)||Invista
N-Series Gateway (OEM)
|Object Repository||StorageGRID||Atmos||StorageGRID (OEM)||StorageGRID (OEM)||HCP|
|High End / Scale Out||FAS / FAS (C-Mode)||V-Max||V-Max (OEM)||USP-V (OEM)||DS6xxx/8xxx
|Mainframe||N/A||V-Max||V-Max (OEM)||USP-V (OEM)||DS8xxx
Now, if you match one of those arrays against the workload they were designed for, you’ll probably get a pretty good result. In a static, reasonably predictable environment without much change, you could make a reasonable argument that this was the best approach to take. You built a silo around an application or function, and purchased the equipment that matched that function. I’ve seen more than one customer that had every product in a vendors portfolio, and seem to be fairly happy, or at least have been until fairly recently.
The problem with these narrow silo’ed approaches is that each silo creates new inefficiencies and dedicated areas of whitespace in both capacity, performance. For example, there is no way of taking excess capacity allocated to a backup to disk appliance and start using it for CIFS home directories, nor is there a way of taking the excess IOPS capability of temporarily idle disk archive and allocate those IOPS to another application undergoing an unusual workload spike such as a VDI bootstorm.
But for me, the biggest area of waste is that of management. Each of these silo’s tends to get its own set of administrators and workflows, each of which may, or may not work in harmony with the other. Most of us have experienced the bitterness and waste of IT turf wars, and the traditional vendors not only encourage, but depend on and help maintainin these functionality silos, as it allows a divide and conquer sales model that benefits the vendor far more than the customer. If there was a book entitled “How to build an inflexible and wasteful IT infrastructure”, I imagine that encouraging and spreading “IT functionality silos” would fill up the first few chapters. Even though there are a bunch of people who have been quite happy with this status quo, and the business processes from budgeting and product selection all the way through to procurement and training that entrenches this model, things are changing, and they’re changing a lot faster than I thought they would.
A lot of credit for this change has to go to vendors like Microsoft, Cisco and VMware whose products have blurred the lines of these traditional silos. Virtualisation at both the compute and network layers have driven the kinds of cross functional change CIO’s have been crying out for, and in the wake of this, Unified storage finds its natural fit ; not because of its support multiple protocols, but because these environments require the kind of workload agility and managment simplicity that only a truly Unified storage offering can fully satisfy.
But it’s not just server and desktop virtualisation and other forms of shared infrastructure where unified storage is a natural fit. Almost any “multi-part” or landscape style application can benefit too, not just because of the flexibility and efficiency, but more importantly because of the fact that these environments are really hard to protect effectively. A really good example of this is Enterprise Content Management Applications such as FileNet and SharePoint
Typically these applications have
- Content Servers
- Business Process Workflow Engines / Servers
- Database servers
- Index Servers
- Content Servers
In a large installation, there will be many of these servers and multiple databases, indexes and content repositories to cater for scalability and in some cases, the tyranny of distance (latency is forever).
In a “traditional” silo’d model this data would be stored on two or possibly three different kinds of storage arrays, each with its own method of backup and replication, most of which depend on some form of “bulk copy” backup method as the primary form of logical data protection. The effect of this is that backing up these ECM systems on traditional storage architectures is almost impossible. While I’ve been talking to customers about this for a few years, recently there seems to have been a big increase in customers seeing these problems. In one case a design review for a Petabyte scale SharePoint implementation identified that if a critical index was lost the entire infrastructure would be effectively unrecoverable, and that there was no effective backup capability. In another discussion I had today around redesigning data protection, a brief mention on ECM created more interest than almost anything else simply because of the difficulty of backing their Documentum system.
Truly unified storage not only allows data to be stored using multiple protocols, and provides rich functionality like deduplication and compliant WORM storage which makes it a logical choice for ECM solutions, but more importantly it also provides a single integrated method for protecting that data in a way that is application-consistent without the need for a “cold” backup. And, you guessed it, NetApp can do that with ease, whereas other vendors’ versions of what they are calling unified storage would find that challenging (to be kind).
In the next few posts, I’ll take a deeper dive into exactly what NetApp does for Enterprise Content Management, with a focus on why Unified Storage is such a good match, and what we do to protect a company’s most important data assets.