Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Online Backup Services - What's Next?

Earlier this month, Jeremiah and I were having debate about prospects of online data storage. At that time, I invited people who may be involved in online data storage services to contact me. I am continuing to receive responses from various industry professionals on this topic.

One of the person responded was Damien Stevens, CEO of Servosity, an On Demand Backup company. Using emails and phone call, we are having a great conversation around online backup services, where it is today and where it needs to be. In my usual direct manner, I started with a very specific question in an email.
AG: How is your approach unique compare to other online backup companies?

DS: Right now we're winning customers over the competition because we've made it easier to understand, we don't charge for backup agents or extra computers, and we are not overpriced like some of the higher end competition (redacted name of competitors).
In last four years, I have heard the same pitch combining ease of use and cost too many times from online backup providers and, I have seen dozens of them come and go in the same time frame. So I wasn't very excited.

Then, he piqued my interest wanting to discuss the technologies that may enhance the value of online backup services. The demand for these technologies is not something that can be delivered on overnight. Customers are not asking the benefits of these technologies right away either. But if customers were to ask for them in 12 - 24 months, it needs to go on the service/product development roadmap soon.

Since then, our conversation has been very lively and wide-ranging. The discussions revolved around potential customer requirements of versioning, lowering network bandwidth utilization, making restores easier, and better backup/restore job management. We also discussed wide variety of technologies like CDP, data de-duplication, snapshots, replication, archiving, monitoring and management.

In the end, I decided to leverage the power of blog by writing this post and putting forward questions to my readers.

What is your opinion and experience with online backup services?

As a customer and user, what would you like to see in an online backup solution in next 12 - 24 months?

As a service provider, storage vendor, or someone familiar with various storage technologies, what technology would you recommend to be included within next 12 - 24 months?

BTW, if you have any experiences with Servosity On Deman Backup service, I would like to hear about them.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Bloggers are like sheep herd

I was absent from blogosphere for past two weeks, not intentionally. Blogging took a back seat while I managed few other projects in my life.

At work, by pure chance, I landed up performing the first field installation of new data de-duplication product. The pressure to not screw-up was great considering the high visibility internally. At home, I made a move from Eastside to Seattle that disrupted blogging routine. Also, as I am settling down in Northwest, moonlighting opportunities are growing resulting in thoughts about resurrecting a moonlighting venture.

Blogosphere hasn't been very exciting either. Most blog posts are starting to look very similar and repetitive. Everyone seems to hop on to latest news. Most posts are nothing more than hashed, rehashed or paraphrased versions of original story. It was amusing to see the coverage, blogger after blogger gave to Intel 45nm processor and the YouTube announcement of paying content creators.

Another annoying trend is promotion of audio and video podcasts through blog posts. I rarely listen or watch podcasts. Why? Because it takes too long to figure out quality and relevancy of podcast compared to scanning a text post in few seconds. And, more often than not, podcasts are nothing more than someone droning on and on about nothing .... It wouldn't be a bad idea for audio and video bloggers to start posting transcripts.

I am subscribed to almost 200 blog feeds through Google Reader. Still, there seems to be lack of original and quality content to read on blogs. Finally, I started axing the blog feeds that didn't have enough original content and thoughts put in to the posts. Quality is trumpeting over quantity in deciding who stays.

Old fashioned print publications and broadcasters seem to be offering better quality content like Z-RAM coverage in IEEE Spectrum. There may be a business opportunity for print publications or another startup, read all bloggers opinions on an issue or news, distill, summarize and print them.

Bloggers are expressing more and more what corporate marketing and public relations groups are feeding them than speaking their own mind and opinions. Bloggers are acting like sheep herd instead of sheep dogs.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Two Myths about iSCSI Adoption

… Continuation of my opinion from previous post to the expanding iSCSI debate in the storage blogosphere.

Check out opinions of Tony Asaro and Steve Duplessie on debate between Dave Hitz & Chuck Hollis. Beth Pariseau also wrote a nice summary of the debate. Chris Evans is taking on in-depth investigation of iSCSI. I am looking forward to reading about his experiments and analysis.

Since my last post, I received few emails and phone calls with skepticism, typically bestowed on me, after writing an opinion that doesn’t align with storage people with fancy titles and so-called experts. Without going into specific details, I worked with iSCSI time-to-time for over six years in variety of roles on variety of iSCSI projects.

And, if you are just starting to understand the issues with iSCSI adoption explained in Chuck’s post, you have lot to catch up.

Controversial Myths

Chuck expressed some good thoughts about the future trends and driving factors for iSCSI adoption.

In my experience, some of the driving factors may be just red herrings. These are the myths that originate from wishful thinking of people promoting iSCSI instead of realities of the iSCSI adoption impediments in customer environment.
First, I think you’ll see more of the same: iSCSI in smaller, greenfield SAN builds where FC isn’t entrenched yet. But from small acorns mighty oak trees grow.
Myth #1 The smaller greenfield iSCSI environment will grow without any challenge.

This myth is created when people take the “switching costs can outweigh any benefit of a new technology” lesson too literally. They forget that as long as a technology is not fully entrenched, it is not very difficult to get people to switch. And that is the challenge for smaller Greenfield iSCSI installs. They are not fully entrenched yet thus not difficult to switch to something else like FC.

Two key points to ponder are:
  1. Why greenfield iSCSI environment came about in the first place?

  2. What happens when these small installs are considered for expansion?
Going out a bit farther, I believe that further cost reductions in 10Gb ethernet technology will encourage people to take another look at an alternative to FC.
Myth #2 10Gb Ethernet will save the day for iSCSI.

This myth is created when people assume that major hurdle to iSCSI adoption is speed and feeds. If history is telling, a new technology doesn’t replace incumbents just because of incrementally higher performance. Either new technology has to blow the incumbents out of water with several folds increase in performance or offer a value proposition that is not present in incumbents.

Just consider this, nobody would care about data de-duplication if it was offering 2x increase over conventional compression, but a 20x increase gets everyone’s attention. From another perspective, today you will be considered underdog with a Virtual Tape Library (VTL) solution that doesn’t have de-dupe even though VTL with de-dupe is slightly slower performing due to extra de-dupe processing overhead.

Another underlying assumption of this myth is that performance of everything else connected to 10GbE will remain the same as with current 1GbE and data transfer requirements will not grow. Fat chance!

Before 10Gb Ethernet can be considered for underlying iSCSI infrastructure, it also needs to be fully entrenched in customer environment as preferred networking infrastructure technology. There are too many infrastructure and political challenges to kill any 10GbE adoption for iSCSI environment without the Ethernet owners having the first crack at it.

The above observations are based on my past experiences with few expansion projects for small iSCSI installs. One of the project even considered 10GbE. In the end, it was too easy to replace iSCSI install with FC-SAN than expand them.

Controversial Positioning

I close this post with two controversial iSCSI positioning statements that I believe are impeding it’s adoption. No explanation provided at this time and you are welcome to chime in, if you desire.

Position #1 iSCSI is a storage interconnect leveraging Ethernet.

Posiiton #2 iSCSI is a replacement for or complementary with FC.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Year of iSCSI or Languishing iSCSI

There is interesting iSCSI debate brewing between Chuck Hollis of EMC and Dave Hitz of NetApp.

I got my first taste of iSCSI when I laid my hands on newly released Cisco 5420 iSCSI router. The iSCSI standard was barely at draft 0.8.

Initially, I was excited about iSCSI and even got involved in SNIA iSCSI and IP Storage initiatives. But the way iSCSI was being positioned in the market, it didn’t take long to realize that iSCSI will play second-fiddle to Fibre Channel (FC) for a very long time.

T/M/C vs. Company

Dave compares first four years of iSCSI revenue with that of NetApp to convey that it feels like the “Year of iSCSI.”

In my opinion, Dave is thinking about it wrong because he is comparing oranges to apple. iSCSI is a technology/market/category (T/M/C) and NetApp is a company. A comparison between them makes no sense.

First four years of iSCSI revenue are divvied up between several iSCSI vendors with no single vendor dominating the iSCSI category. In contrast, most NAS revenue, not all, went to one company, NetApp. In sixth year of NAS, NetApp was equated to NAS. Can you tell me which company is equated to iSCSI in its sixth year? Nobody.

Whom do you think of when someone mentions NAS, server virtualization, data de-duplication, Fibre Channel, network routers, desktop operating system? Yes, whether it is NetApp, Vmware, Data Domain, Brocade, Cisco, Microsoft or countless others, there was one dominant vendor to born out of each of these “new” T/M/C. They were primarily responsible for defining the “new” T/M/C. And, this is the anathema for iSCSI in my opinion.

There is no single vendor that defines iSCSI category and until there is one, it will continue to languish.

There is another lesson in languishing iSCSI. A T/M/C languishes whenever it goes through standardization before any one vendor has a chance to define it, another successful strategy in the arsenal of established players for killing new T/M/C. This is why SNIA, primarily dominated by established vendors, keep pushing to standardize new T/M/C before they have chance to take root.

I am glad to see that SNIA didn’t get their claws on data de-duplication before Data Domain had a chance to establish roots

More to come ….

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The Great Ideas of Dr. Mortimer Adler

After reading my previous blog entry on Richard Feynman, one reader suggested picking up works of Dr. Mortimer Adler for my next non-storage related reading. Dr. Adler was a philosopher, professor, author and star of his own TV show.

After some research, I decided to get How to Think about The Great Ideas book from King County Library System. This book is a collection of transcripts from his TV show, The Great Ideas, aired in early 1950s. Guessing from how quickly my request for this book was fulfilled by library system, works of Richard Feynman seem to be more popular in Seattle region.

This week, I am focusing on reading this book instead of listening, reading and writing two cents in storage blogosphere. The Great Ideas book is very fascinating and some of the lessons are worth sharing on this blog.

Look for more from this book in coming days.

All the news about stormy conditions in Seattle region reminded me of this image of tree hanging on power cables. I captured this picture during last windstorm in Redmond.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Who has the best full disk encryption solution?

Last week, a ZDNet blog post mentioned that US federal government is conducting a contest to find the best full disk encryption product. The winner will become the preferred federal solution to address data loss issues from stolen or missing computers.

The who's who of storage and encryption industry like Seagate, CipherOptics, Credant, Decru, NetApp, McAfee and PointSec attended the industry briefing. Click here for RFP information on Data at Rest (DAR) Encryption program.

The RFP DAR Technical Requirements provides high level criteria for a DAR solution.
  • FIPS compliant algorithms for encryption, hashing and signing
  • Encrypt data on removable storage media/devices
  • Single management console for Full Disk and File Encryption
  • File compression and encryption in a single step
  • Boot authentication
I wonder what are the different techniques for DAR encryption?

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Online Data Storage Debate

Check out friendly debate with Jeremiah about prospects and challenges of online data storage services. Actually, we first started this discussion during my visit to HDS in September.

Jungledisk connects you to Amazon S3

Why I think future Online Data Storage companies will Pay You to Upload Data

Surely, Online storage services such as Amazon's S3 storage service can be a useful service as secondary storage or data I want to access on the road or data I want to share with others or data that has low value to me. But as primary storage and for my valuable data, I am skeptical.

Can you trust anyone else to store and protect your data?

I will cover more on this topic in my future blog posts. Few weeks ago, I was asked about my thoughts on this segment by an acquaintance in financial sector. I am just gearing up for a detailed analysis of online data storage opportunities.

Are you involved in online data storage service segment? If you are, I would like to get your perspective for my analysis and future blog posts. Interested, you know how to contact me. >>---------->

I am wearing Montsuki and Hakama, traditional Japanese clothing for formal occasions, in this picture.