Future Proofing Storage Acquisitions Without A Crystal Ball

Dealing with an unknown future without a crystal ball

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Storage Spaces in Windows Server 2012 (R2) is are the first steps of MSFT to really make a difference (or put a dent into) in the storage world. See TechEd 2013 Revelations for Storage Vendors as the Future of Storage lies With Windows 2012 R2 (that was a nice blog by the way to find out what resellers & vendors have no sense of humor & perspective). It’s not just Microsoft who’s doing so. There are many interesting initiatives at smaller companies to to the same. The question is not if these offerings can match the features sets, capabilities and scenario’s of the established storage vendors offerings. The real question is if the established vendors offer enough value for money to maintain themselves in a good enough is good enough world, which in itself is a moving target due to the speed at which technology & business needs evolve. The balance of cost versus value becomes critical for selecting storage. You need it now and you know you’ll run it for 3 to 5 years. Perhaps longer, which is fine if it serves your needs, but you just don’t know. Due to speed of change you can’t invest in a solution that will last you for the long term. You need a good fit now at reasonable cost with some headway for scale up / scale out. The ROI/TCO has to be good within 6 months or a year. If possible get a modular solution. One where you can replace the parts that are the bottle neck without having to to a fork lift upgrade. That allows for smaller, incremental, affordable improvements until you have either morphed into a new system all together over a period of time or have gotten out of the current solution what’s possible and the time has arrived to replace it. Never would I  invest in an expensive, long term, fork lift, ultra scalable solution. Why not. To expensive and as such to high risk. The risk is due to the fact I don’t have one of these:


So storage vendors need to perform a delicate balancing act. It’s about price, value, technology evolution, rapid adoption, diversification, integration, assimilation & licensing models in a good enough is good enough world where the solution needs to deliver from day one.

I for one will be very interested if all storage vendors can deliver enough value to retain the mid market or if they’ll become top feeders only. The push to the cloud, the advancements in data replication & protection in the application and platform layer are shaking up the traditional storage world. Combine that with the fast pace at which SSD & Flash storage are evolving together with Windows Server 2012 that has morphed into a very capable storage platform and the landscape looks very volatile for the years to come. Think about  ever more solutions at the application (Exchange, SQL server) and platform layer (Hyper-V replica) with orchestration on premise and/or in the cloud and the pressure is really on.

So how do you choose a solution in this environment?

Whenever you are buying storage the following will happen. Vendors, resellers & sales people, are going to start pulling at you. Now, some are way better than others at this, some are even down right good at this whole process a proceed very intelligently.

Sometimes it involves FUD, doom & gloom combined with predictions of data loss & corruption by what seem to be prophets of disaster. Good thing is when you buy whatever they are selling that day, they can save you from that. The thing is this changes with the profit margin and kickbacks they are getting. Sometimes you can attribute this to the time limited value of technology, things evolve and todays best is not tomorrows best. But some of them are chasing the proverbial $ so hard they portray themselves as untrustworthy fools.

That’s why I’m not to fond of the real big $ projects. Too much politics & sales. Sure you can have people take care of but you are the only one there to look out for your own interests. To do that all you need to do is your own due diligence and be brave. Look, a lot of SAN resellers have never ever run a SAN, servers, Hyper-V clusters, virtualized SQL Server environments or VDI solutions in your real live production environments for a sustained period of time. You have. You are the one whose needs it’s all about as you will have to live and work with the solution for years to come.  We did this exercise and it was worth while. We got the best value for money looking out for our own interests.

Try this with a reseller or vendor. Ask them about how their hardware VSS providers & snapshot software deals with the intricacies of CSV 2.0 in a Hyper-V cluster. Ask them how it works and tell them you need to references to speak to who are running this in production. Also make sure you find your own references. You can, it’s a big world out there and it’s a fun exercise to watch their reactions Winking smile

As Aidan remarked in his blog on ODX–Not All SANs Are Created Equally

These comparisons reaffirm what you should probably know: don’t trust the whitepapers, brochures, or sales-speak from a manufacturer.  Evidently not all features are created equally.

You really have to do your own due diligence. Some companies can afford the time, expense & personnel to have the shortlisted vendors deliver a system for them to test. Costs & effort rise fast if you need to get a setup that’s comparable to the production environment. You need to device tests that mimic real life scenario’s in storage capacity, IOPS, read/write patterns and make sure you don’t have bottleneck outside of the storage system in the lab.

Even for those that can, this is a hard thing to do. Some vendors also offer labs at their Tech Centers or Solutions Centers where customers or potential customers can try out scenarios. No matter what options you have, you’ll realize that this takes a lot of effort. So what do I do? I always start early. You won’t have all the information, question & answers available with a few hours of browsing the internet & reading some brochures. You’ll also notice that’s there’s always something else to deal with or do, so give your self time, but don’t procrastinate. I did visit the Tech Centers & Solution Centers in Europe of short listed vendors. Next to that I did a lot of reading, asked questions and talked to a lot of people about their view and experiences with storage. Don’t just talk to the vendors or resellers. I talked a lot with people in my network, at conferences and in the community. I even tracked down owners of the shortlisted systems and asked to talk to them. All this was part of my litmus test of the offered storage solutions. While perfection is not of this world there is a significant difference between vendor’s claims and the reality in the field. Our goal was to find the best solution for our needs based on price/value and who’s capabilities & usability & support excellence materialized with the biggest possible majority of customers in the field.

Friendly Advice To Vendors

So while the entire marketing and sales process is important for a vendor I’d like to remind all of them of a simple fact. Delivering what you sell makes for very happy customers who’s simple stories of their experiences with the products will sell it by worth of mouth. Those people can afford to talk about the imperfections & some vNext wishes they have. That’s great as those might be important to you but you’ll be able to see if they are happy with their choice and they’ll tell you why.

Storage Spaces, Hyper-V VM Mobility & 10Gbps are Key Elements

At TechEd 2103 Europe I met some passionate people who’ve been working hard at deploying Storage Spaces on a large scale in their companies (many hundreds of TB). They have replaced their expensive SANs and getting better performance, better data protection leveraging ReFS at way cheaper pricing (licensing is a killer). Their life has also become easier due to the KISS principle and the fact that complex solutions have complex issues.

Storage Spaces are creating a buzz. Lot of interest, interactive discussions & paper napkin designs of concepts were being drawn up. It seems like more and more people are getting the message and don’t consider my talks over the past 18 months on this as weird any more. So you need some “out of the box” thinking to get “Cluster in a Box” as a building block for scale out storage solutions. I’ve already done away with SAN built on proprietary hardware, it’s all commodity gear. But t doesn’t stop there. Once you realize that this hardware gives you all you need the logical step is the software and that’s where Windows and Storage Spaces comes in. Yes sure, this is blasphemy in the storage world, so what? The world used to be flat once Winking smile

There is no singe universal solution. Just good to great ones. Don’t fall for the FUD big storage vendors fling around and don’t be man handled into a solution. The reality is that when you have what works for you, that’s when you’ve got it right. So look into Storage Spaces and all related technologies. Once you wrap your head around the concepts, you start to understand the why an how of it all a lot better.

Whatever the nature and the size of your environments and needs, there are options or even combinations of options out there that can help you. You can buy completely configured building blocks (cluster in a box) or even complete Fast Track solutions based on this concept with Hyper-V and the System Center stack. You can also build the solution your self. Combine this with total VM mobility within the data center in combination with continuous availability. Outside of the data center Hyper–V Replica and application based shared nothing high availability help failover fast with out noticeable or minimal service interruption. All this without the “Kings Ransom” prices you have to pay for proprietary solutions. If you’re not interested yet I bet your business and especially your CFO is! All you got to do is manage risk instead of letting fear rule you.

How crazy am I with in this view? Some people actually asked me that combined with the question if anyone is really considering using this is real life.  Well I met a lot of like minded people who are putting into practice here at TechEd. And knowing my Hyper-V, Clustering, Networking and storage very well, discussing these subjects and Storage Spaces with other attendees I’ve had a job/consulting offer just about every day. Not too bad as far as real life interest in this goes (and I remember being ridiculed in 2008 for being an early adaptor of Hyper-V Nerd smile).

The storage world is in flux sending waves through the way we deliver our services. Surf the waves and enjoy the ride Smile.

DELL PowerEdge VRTX Has Potential Beyond ROBO As a Scale Out File Server Building Block

The PowerEdge VRTX

I went to have a chat with Dell at TechEd 2013 Europe in Madrid. The VRTX was launched during DELL Enterprise Forum early June 2013 this concept packs a punch and I encourage you to go look at the VRTX (pronounced as “Vertex”) in more detail here. It’s a very quite setup which can be hooked up to standard power. Pretty energy efficient when you consider the power of the VRTX. And the entire setup surely packs a lot of punch at an attractive price point.

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It can serve perfectly for Remote Office / Branch Office (ROBO) deployments but has many more use cases as it’s very versatile. In my humble opinion DELL’s latest form factor could be used for some very nice scale out scenarios. It’s near perfect for a Windows Server 2012 Scale Out File Server (SOFS) building block. While smaller ones can be build using 1Gbps the future just needs 10Gbps networking.

10Gbps, RDMA (iWarp, RoCE)

That’s the first thing I missed and the first thing I was told that would arrive very soon. So I’m  very happy with that. With sufficient 10Gbps ports to servers and  iWarp or RoCE RDMA capable NICs (there’s cheap enough compared to ordinary 10Gbps cards not to have to leave that capability out) we have all we need to function as powerful building block for the Scale Out File Server model with Windows Server 2012 (R2) where the CSV network becomes the storage network leveraging redirected IO. For this concept look at this picture from a presentation a year ago. SMB 3.0 Multichannel and RDMA make this possible.


While then I drew the SOFS building blocks out of R720 7 & MD1200  hardware, the VRTX could fit in there perfectly!

Storage Options

Today DELL uses their implementation of Clustered PCI Raid for shared storage which is supported since Windows Server 2012. This is great. For the moment it’s a non redundant setup but a redundant one is in the works I’m told. Nice, but think positive, redirected IO  (block level) over SMB 3.0 would save our storage IO even today. It would be a very wise and great addition to the capabilities of this building block to add the option & support for Storage Spaces. This would make the Scale Out File Server concept shine with the VRTX.

Why? Well I would give us following benefits in the storage layer and the VHDX format in Hyper-V can take benefits :

  • Deduplication
  • Thin Provisioning
  • Management Delegation
  • Write Cache
  • Full benefits of ReFS on storage spaces for data protection
  • Automatic Data Tiering with commodity SSD (ever cheaper & bigger) and SAS disks perhaps even the Near Line ones (less power & cooling, great capacity)
  • Potential for JBOD redundancy

Look at that feature set people, in box, delivered by Windows. Sweet! Combine this with 10Gbps networking and DELL has not only a SOFS building block in their port folio, it also offers significant storage features in this package. I for one would like them to do so and not miss out on this opportunity to offer even more capabilities in an attractive price package. Dell could be the very first OEM to grab this new market opportunity by supporting the scale out approach and out maneuver their competitors

Anything Else?

Combine such a building block as described above with their unmatched logistical force for distribution and support this will be a hit a a prime choice for Windows shops. They already have the 10Gbps networking gear & features (DCB) in the PowerConnect 81XX & Force10 S4810 switches. It could be an unbeatable price / capabilities / feature combo that would sell very well.

If we go for SOFS we might need more storage in a single building block with a 4 node cluster. Extensibility might be nice for this. More not just as in capacity but I need to work out the IOPS the available configurations can give us.

TechEd 2013 Revelations for Storage Vendors as the Future of Storage lies With Windows 2012 R2

Imagine you’re a storage vendor until a few years ago. Racking in the big money with profit margins unseen by any other hardware in the past decade and living it up in dreams along the Las Vegas Boulevard like there is no tomorrow. To describe your days only a continuous “WEEEEEEEEEEEEEE” will suffice.


Trying to make it through the economic recession with less Ferraris has been tough enough. Then in August 2012 Windows Server 2012 RTMs and introduces Storage Spaces, SMB 3.0 and Hyper-V Replica. You dismiss those as toy solutions while the demos of a few 100.000 to > million IOPS on the cheap with a couple of Windows boxes and some alternative storage configurations pop up left and right. Not even a year later Windows Server 2012 R2 is unveiled and guess what? The picture below is what your future dreams as a storage vendor could start to look like more and more every day while an ice cold voice sends shivers down your spine.


“And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him.”

OK, the theatrics above got your attention I hope. If Microsoft keeps up this pace traditional OEM storage vendors will need to improve their value offerings. My advice to all OEMs is to embrace SMB3.0 & Storage Spaces. If you’re not going to help and deliver it to your customers, someone else will. Sure it might eat at the profit margins of some of your current offerings. But perhaps those are too expensive for what they need to deliver, but people buy them as there are no alternatives. Or perhaps they just don’t buy anything as the economics are out of whack. Well alternatives have arrived and more than that. This also paves the path for projects that were previously economically unfeasible. So that’s a whole new market to explore. Will the OEM vendors act & do what’s right? I hope so. They have the distribution & support channels already in place. It’s not a treat it’s an opportunity! Change is upon us.

What do we have in front of us today?

  • Read Cache? We got it, it’s called CSV Cache.
  • Write cache? We got it, shared SSDs in Storage spaces
  • Storage Tiering? We got it in Storage Spaces
  • Extremely great data protection even against bit rot and on the fly repairs of corrupt data without missing a beat. Let me introduce you to ReFS in combination with Storage Spaces now available for clustering & CSVs.
  • Affordable storage both in capacity and performance … again meet storage spaces.
  • UNMAP to the storage level. Storage Spaces has this already in Windows Server 2012
  • Controllers? Are there still SAN vendors not using SAS for storage connectivity between disk bays and controllers?
  • Host connectivity? RDMA baby. iWarp, RoCE, Infiniband. That PCI 3 slot better move on to 4 if it doesn’t want to melt under the IOPS …
  • Storage fabric? Hello 10Gbps (and better) at a fraction of the cost of ridiculously expensive Fiber Channel switches and at amazingly better performance.
  • Easy to provision and manage storage? SMB 3.0 shares.
  • Scale up & scale out? SMB 3.0 SOFS & the CSV network.
  • Protection against disk bay failure? Yes Storage Spaces has this & it’s not space inefficient either Smile. Heck some SAN vendors don’t even offer this.
  • Delegation capabilities of storage administration? Check!
  • Easy in guest clustering? Yes via SMB3.0 but now also shared VHDX! That’s a biggie people!
  • Hyper-V Replication = free, cheap, effective and easy
  • Total VM mobility in the data center so SAN based solutions become less important. We’ve broken out of the storage silo’s

You can’t seriously mean the “Windoze Server” can replace a custom designed SAN?

Let’s say that it’s true and it isn’t as optimized as a dedicated storage appliance. So what, add another 10 commodity SSD units at the cost of one OEM SSD and make your storage fly. Windows Server 2012 can handle the IOPS, the CPU cycles, memory demands in both capacity and speed together with a network performance that scales beyond what most people needs. I’ve talked about this before in Some Thoughts Buying State Of The Art Storage Solutions Anno 2012. The hardware is a commodity today. What if Windows can and does the software part? That will wake a storage vendor up in the morning!

Whilst not perfect yet, all Microsoft has to do is develop Hyper-V replica further. Together with developing snapshotting & replication capabilities in Storage Spaces this would make for a very cost effective and complete solution for backups & disaster recoveries. Cheaper & cheaper 10Gbps makes this feasible.  SAN vendors today have another bonus left, ODX. How long will that last? ASIC you say. Cool gear but at what cost when parallelism & x64 8 core CPUs are the standard and very cheap. My bet is that Microsoft will not stop here but come back to throw some dirt on a part of classic storage world’s coffin in vNext. Listen, I know about the fancy replication mechanisms but in a virtualized data center the mobility of VM over the network is a fact. 10Gbps, 40Gbps, RDMA & Multichannel in SMB 3.0 puts this in our hands. Next to that the application level replication is gaining more and more traction and many apps are providing high availability in a “shared nothing“ fashion (SQL/Exchange with their database availability groups, Hyper-V, R-DFS, …). The need for the storage to provide replication for many scenarios is diminishing. Alternatives are here. Less visible than Microsoft but there are others who know there are better economies to storage http://blog.backblaze.com/2011/07/20/petabytes-on-a-budget-v2-0revealing-more-secrets/ & http://blog.backblaze.com/2011/07/20/petabytes-on-a-budget-v2-0revealing-more-secrets/.

The days when storage vendors offered 85% discounts on hopelessly overpriced storage and still make a killing and a Las Vegas trip are ending. Partners and resellers who just grab 8% of that (and hence benefits from overselling as much a possible) will learn just like with servers and switches they can’t keep milking that cash cow forever. They need to add true and tangible value. I’ve said it before to many VARs have left out the VA for too long now. Hint: the more they state they are not box movers the bigger the risk that they are. True advisors are discussing solutions & designs. We need that money to invest in our dynamic “cloud” like data centers, where the ROI is better. Trust me no one will starve to death because of this, we’ll all still make a living. SANs are not dead. But their role & position is changing. The storage market is in flux right now and I’m very interested in what will happen over the next years.

Am I a consultant trying to sell Windows Server 2012 R2 & System Center? No, I’m a customer. The kind you can’t sell to that easily. It’s my money & livelihood on the line and I demand Windows Server 2012 (R2) solutions to get me the best bang for the buck. Will you deliver them and make money by adding value or do you want to stay in the denial phase? Ladies & Gentleman storage vendors, this is your wake-up call. If you really want to know for whom the bell is tolling, it tolls for thee. There will be a reckoning and either you’ll embrace these new technologies to serve your customers or they’ll get their needs served elsewhere. Banking on customers to be and remain clueless is risky. The interest in Storage Spaces is out there and it’s growing fast. I know several people actively working on solutions & projects.



You like what you see? Sure IOPS are not the end game and a bit of a “simplistic” way to look at storage performance but that goes for all marketing spin from all vendors.


Can anyone ruin this party? Yes Microsoft themselves perhaps, if they focus too much on delivering this technology only to the hosting and cloud providers. If on the other hand they make sure there are feasible, realistic and easy channels to get it into the hands of “on premise” customers all over the globe, it will work. Established OEMs could be that channel but by the looks of it they’re in denial and might cling to the past hoping thing won’t change. That would be a big mistake as embracing this trend will open up new opportunities, not just threaten existing models. The Asia Pacific is just one region that is full of eager businesses with no vested interests in keeping the status quo. Perhaps this is something to consider? And for the record I do buy and use SANs (high-end, mid-market, or simple shared storage). Why? It depends on the needs & the budget. Storage Spaces can help balance those even better.

Is this too risky? No, start small and gain experience with it. It won’t break the bank but might deliver great benefits. And if not .. there are a lot of storage options out there, don’t worry. So go on Winking smile