Monday, April 30, 2007

Storage Vendors to Watch: Cleversafe

The second company with buzz at SNW, but not present at the show, wasn't a surprise unlike Gear6, a storage vendor to watch, in my opinion. As Clark wrote earlier, Cleversafe approach of security through obscurity was being considered a shift from traditional approach of encryption where encryption keys are single point of failure for data that need to be stored for a reasonable length of time. As previously mentioned, Cleversafe is one of my favorite new company also.

Paraphrasing below from Cleversafe patent application [11/241,555], Digital Data Storage System, the concept is simply to provide security through information dispersal and integrity through replication and hashing.
A distributed storage system for storing slices of original data on multiple storage devices in one or more locations. The individual data slices on each storage device are unrecognizable and unusable except when combined with data slices from other storage devices. The data slices are selected by information dispersal algorithms so that even if there is a failure of one or more storage devices, the original data can be reconstructed.




The ah ha! moment for me was when an end-user in a session at SNW asked a speaker for the opinion on Cleversafe grid strategy. Earlier, the same end-user had pointed out to me that he has been evaluating solutions based on clustered and distributed file systems. It also reminded me of last startup, I was involved with, where we were trying to utilize unused storage on untrusted and unreliable nodes within an enterprise. Our vision was more along the lines of FarSite than Cleversafe. We often encountered two questions that are primarily addressed by Cleversafe approach.
  1. How will you make sure that data stored on untrusted nodes can not be accessed directly by users at that node?

  2. How will you make sure that data stored on unreliable nodes is available even though one or more nodes may be offline.
I agree with Clark on the clever strategy adopted by Cleversafe to open source the code and look for revenue from service and support. I just can't visualize Cleversafe as a stand-alone product in an enterprise, more like a component of a larger grid based storage service or solution:
  • Leverage the inherent data protection available with distributed storage. Why should data first be pushed to a central location in the name of physical consolidation and then pushed out to duplicate in the name of business continuity?

  • Leverage the performance scalability with simultaneous transfer from multiple nodes. Why should data be stored on one node and restricted by the bandwidth and performance available at one node when it can be striped across multiple nodes to enable simultaneous transfer?

  • Trend of location proximity of data with user. Why should data be anchored at one place when user is becoming more mobile?

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Storage Vendors to Watch: Gear6

Last October, Gear6 came to my attention. But it didn't really hit home until a well-informed end-user talked to me about them at SNW. He was very excited about Gear6 product to address NFS performance issue with transaction databases. Based on what I understand, the product is a caching appliance, conceptually very easy to understand.

Excerpts from Gear6 website:
… keeping frequently accessed data in a very large central memory pool … This enables high performance data access by avoiding time-consuming disk operations and accelerates applications due to dramatically decreased response times and increased data throughput.

This innovative approach complements existing NAS/NFS deployments and installs transparently in the data center without requiring changes to current applications or infrastructure.
Actually, it was quite amusing at the conference. Most probably, I steered few end-users to Gear6 by suggesting to check out G6 caching appliance. These end users told me that they are using Oracle databases with NFS and performance being one of their pain points. I found three simple questions that can quickly tell whether someone may want to investigate G6 product.
  1. Are you using transaction databases?

  2. Do you use NFS mounts?

  3. Do you have performance issues?
G6 product seems to be one of those products that require 10 minutes for presentation, 20 minutes for answering follow-up questions, 30 minutes for demo and then the question When do you want a unit for evaluation? Following is a clean version of a picture with G6, we drew at SNW. Is it feasible?
I will categorize Gear6 caching appliance as product that does only one thing but does it very well. With singular focus on NFS performance, Gear6 also made a good choice to attend Collaborate 07 an Oracle Community Event.

BTW, you may want to hop over to Thoughtput blog maintained by Gary Orenstein at Gear6 for more caching related information. Also check out these presentations from Gear6.





Share your thoughts on Gear6 and its caching appliance approach.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Storage Vendors to Watch: View from SNW

Background

I had the pleasure of conversing with numerous end users, small to large, during three days of SNW conference. Typically, I found end-users to be more willing to discuss different topics and express opinions. I am not sure why vendors rarely can have an open and fun conversation. They tend to become clam.

Most end-users request anonymity and rightly so considering the prior troubles of one end user, I heard at SNW. An unscrupulous storage journalist published an overheard conversation with name of the end user, without permission, resulting in legal and HR issues for this person. Anyway, no name of end users on my blog. I met some great people at SNW with whom I hope to stay in touch for a long time to come.

I received vendor briefing from IBRIX, Axeda, Storewiz, Njini, Asempra, STORServer, VMware and Falconstor. Thank you to the executives from these companies to come and talk to me. I hope to provide digital ink in some form, favorable or unfavorable, to them in near future.

I also had interesting conversations for couple of hours with guys involved in M&A (Merger & Acquisitions) scouting storage companies at SNW. The experience with raising private equity for my last startup made discussing the prospects of various storage companies a fun exercise.

Most information in Storage Vendors to Watch series comes from my conversations at SNW.

Companies that were not present at SNW

Interestingly to start this series, I want to talk about two companies that were not present at SNW but were part of conversation at SNW. The reason, I am excited about these companies because all the initial information came from end-users currently investigating or evaluating their products. Hopefully, the end-users were not plugged in to SNW by these companies to disseminate positive information.

To be continued …

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Themes of SNW Spring 2007

It was a great experience to attend Storage Networking World in San Diego. Thank you, Bill Wrinn and ComputerWorld for allowing me to attend the conference with media credentials. Hopefully, blogger experiment was as interesting to organizers as to me.

Overall, I felt there were three main themes to the show:

Global data reduction: It was apparent at SNW that users are starting to look at products that can reduce the data footprint on all type of storage across enterprise. There is strong interest in de-duplication, compression or any other single instancing method. End-user Town Hall meeting is an exclusive affair. Data reduction may have been one of the topics brought up in the meeting!

On the topic of End-user Town Hall meeting, are you guys really think that taking your grievances from such closed meetings to vendors through SNIA helps? Security weaknesses in products didn't get addressed by vendors until they were made public.

Special-purpose appliances: End-users seem to be more interested in products that can do one thing very well than try to solve all their problems half-ass. Whether they are unification, performance, security or vertical-specific solutions, end-users didn't seem too concerned about having special-purpose appliances in their data center. Introducing delays in data path is still a concern but it is no longer a hurdle as long as a major pain point is resolved for the customer.

Another related mindset change was end-users willingness to buy from startups. In my discussions with end-users except for few very conservative shops, it wasn't uncommon for their data centers to already have or under evaluation products from startups. This is a welcoming change from couple of years ago when end-users were only willing to buy from large established vendors. Such conservative attitudes do nothing more than slowing innovation and creating barriers for real solutions to alleviate the pain points.

Clustered and grid storage: This is a shift from earlier trend of scale-up. No longer end-users are demanding a larger capacity and higher performing version of a product. Instead they are looking for product that can scale out as their requirements change without a need for replacing existing solution. Performance scalability through clustered storage is no longer confined to high performance computing (HPC) market. It started making significant inroads with vertical-specific applications and now moving in to main stream for resource intensive applications like data mining.

The success of Google with scale-out architecture using commodity hardware is also making end-users wonder why can't they leverage the same in their environment leading to increased interest in grid storage that can adapt to changing workloads, dynamic environment and provide single view of storage.

There could be another theme with data classification at SNW. But I didn't see anything that stood out, same old policy-driven stuff, nothing intelligent, with limited end-user interest.

Of course, you may disagree with the above themes so let's hear your thoughts. An IBM person with whom I shared cab to the airport thought the main theme was Storage Virtualization.

Go figure!

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Readers Sentiment on Storage Blogging

Mark wrote a retort to ex-bloggers who quit because of lack of readers, as I mentioned in my previous blog post after talking to few ex-bloggers at SNW.

In my opinion, most storage ex-bloggers tried to write for somebody else rather than for themselves. What they failed to do was to treat the readers, however few, as peers and build relationship. They just wanted to sell or show off something to their readers.

I firmly believe page hits, clicks, links and the number of readers don't count for much. What matters most is the level of interaction with readers, not only online through blog comments but also offline through emails, phone calls and face to face encounters. Differences of opinion doesn't matter, take solace in the fact that at least readers felt comfortable enough to share their opinions and express differences.

Even though directed at companies, The Cluetrain Manifesto gives advise that every storage blogger should heed:
Can you put yourself out there: say what you think in your voice, present who you really are, show what you really care about? Do you have any genuine passion to share? Can you deal with such honesty? Such exposure?
The reader sentiment, in my small sampling at SNW, about storage bloggers was very consistent. The readers expressed liking storage bloggers with personality and have one or more qualities of being opinionated, straight-shooters, analytical, passionate and even somewhat of nut-case. The blog readers in storage industry and in end-user storage community subscribe to most known storage blogs but they related to very few of them.

Actually, no corporate storage blog made the grade on building relationship with the readers, especially the readers from end-user community. The reasons for skepticism were quite varied like only covering topics aligned with the interest of their companies to when do these supposedly busy executives find time to write blog posts. Most readers wouldn't be able to differentiate most blog posts from the company marketing collateral if both were presented in same format. Some even assumed that topics and majority of content for corporate storage blogs may be generated by ghostwriters and marketing groups.

The data storage professionals who work in end-user environment also felt uncomfortable blogging about storage. The reluctance was particularly strong with ones who are involved in evaluation and design of storage solutions. They felt that the topics of interest to them like architecture, design, performance and problems are typically protected by vendors confidentiality agreement as well as fear of potential reprisal from storage vendors and their own management. My suggestion to end-users was to blog anonymously, as guest writer on other storage blogs or just feed the sources they trust, whether analysts, journalists or bloggers doesn't matter.

Hearing end-users at SNW unsolicited praising IBRIX, Isilon, 3Par, Gear6, and Acopia while thrashing products like SVC from established vendors, my advise to storage startups is to start blogging and also facilitate end-users to blog that are testing and using your product.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

SNW Day Two 10:00am - Bloggers Evening Recap

SNW Day One was really busy from early morning to late in the night. For me, the highlight of SNW Day One was the Bloggers Evening. The turn out at the evening was better than expected.

I sent out a reminder early afternoon to meet outside the hotel lobby bar at 6:00pm. Bruce Moxon, Blake Golliher, Clark Hodge, Claude Lorenson, SW Worth (both starting a Microsoft Stoarge blog) and myself initially met outside the lobby bar. We talked for half-an-hour standing outside the bar about blogging and storage.

Blogging concerns expressed during discussions were about making sure the information posted on the blog doesn't run afoul with employers as well as respecting the NDAs and confidential information of employer and suppliers. As we had a mix of storage bloggers representing vendors, services and end user, the blogging concerns were very varied. Past couple of days, I met quite a few ex-bloggers who were quickly discouraged not by their employers or any external entities but from absence of readers resulting in loss of blogging enthusiasm.

Unfortunately, we missed Marc Farley as I didn't get a chance to check email before Bloggers Evening and he had replied to my reminder mentioning being delayed for few minutes.

In the end, Bruce, Blake, Clark and myself went out for dinner to a nearby Italian restaurant. We had spirited discussion mostly about storage and blogging. We talked about how posts from opinionated and analytical bloggers make for a better read than people who just want to write nice things, marketing spiel or creating a very polished post. We also got in to discussion about our favorite upcoming storage companies, favorite conferences and events, favorite technologies and how changing storage landscape may impact few existing storage players.

Afterward, Blake and I also got in to discussion at hotel bar about social networking and its migration in to enterprise, our careers, interests, storage landscape and what's next for us.

Overall, Bloggers Evening turned out to be a great get-together. I echo the statement expressed by Bruce and others.
When is the next bloggers get-together?
I hope next Bloggers Evening is sooner than later.

Monday, April 16, 2007

SNW Day One 9:00am

SNIA introduces new Executive Director

Last night, I attended SNIA event at SNW to introduce SNIA's new Executive Director Leo Leger. I got to meet some new faces and some old.

It was great to run into an old acquaintance, Laurence Whittaker from my days at Toronto Storage Networking User Group (TSNUG). He is as usual very active with SNIA End User Council. We didn't get to talk about the EUC strategy planning over the weekend as he got dragged of by Wendy. Hopefully, I will run in to him again during the show and get some information on EUC plans for the next year.

I talked to Leo Leger, the new SNIA Executive Director. The talk was quick and short kind of reminded me of being at speed networking event! I also sat down with Arun and others from Patni Computers. They seem to be active in providing software services to storage companies.

I also met Scott Kipp from office of CTO at Brocade/McDATA. He wrote several books including Fibre Channel Advances and Broadband Entertainment: Digital Audio, Video and Gaming in Your Home. He shared challenges and discouraging results from his past attempts at blogging. He is again planning to start a blog. I invited him to Bloggers Evening and talked to other bloggers about their experiences and feedback on his challenges. Unfortunately, he is not able to join us for Bloggers Evening due to conflict with SNW Speakers Dinner.

The highlight of the evening was talking to Vincent Franceschini. Even though, he doesn't post regularly, I always enjoyed reading Vincent's blog as he focuses on emerging technologies at HDS. Personally being interested in technologies ready to cross the chasm from research to industry, we had lively discussion on the challenges and opportunities of Grid Storage and Service-oriented Architecture. It was surprising that he had thoughts on the role of memory prediction in grid storage.

Talking to Vincent felt like sitting in a room brainstorming ideas. He is definitely passionate and opinionated about emerging technologies, the traits I admire personally. He mentioned enjoying blogging but also explained time constraints with current responsibilities both at HDS and SNIA as well the challenges of talking about future trends and emerging technologies that may be construed as pie-in-the-sky by some. Hopefully, he will take me up on my offer to work with him on blogging about emerging technologies as well as with Grid Storage initiatives.

SNW Solutions Lab

Last night, I also walked around SNW Solutions Lab where people were working hard to make everything operate properly. It reminded me of my involvement with SNIA SNW Interoperability Lab six years ago. I never got to see the fruits of the labor that time but from the planning chaos of 2001, this Solutions Lab seems lot more organized.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

SNW Day Zero 6:50pm

Storage can't compete with Aircraft Carrier

I arrived in sunny San Diego at 3:00pm to attend Storage Networking World Spring 2007. On my way from airport to Manchester Grand Hyatt hotel, the site of SNW, I passed by lots of boats and a huge Aircraft Carrier. And I couldn't resist the allure of aircraft carrier which overshadowed anything storage had to offer. So the first thing I did after checking in to hotel was to take a walk to fascinating USS Midway and the USS San Diego monument.



SNW before the Opening

After enjoying the sunny Aircraft Carrier, I checked out the different locations where SNW events will be held and took a peek in the expo hall before opening day. Looks so quiet but I am sure tomorrow, we wouldn’t be saying same.



Microsoft Water

While navigating around the huge equipments crates of various vendors, I ran in to none other than Darrell Kleckley and the Microsoft Storage team. I first met him when he was on SNIA Education Committee and now he is a Technical Evangelist at Microsoft.

I hope Microsoft sent cases of Windows Vista water to SNW. If Donald Trump can sell water then why not Bill Gates too! And if you listen to Paul Graham, water may be the next market Microsoft needs, to make itself feared again.


Bachelorette Party

It is just my luck that I get to stay in the room right across a bachelorette party room.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Can we meet at SNW?

Sunday 4/15 noon, Leaving Seattle for San Diego.
Monday 4/16 evening, At Bloggers Evening.
Tuesday 4/17 from 10:00am to 7:00pm, In one-on-one meetings.
Wednesday 4/18 evening, Leave San Diego and return to Seattle.

Rest of the schedule is wide open. And, I would like to meet as many of my blog readers as possible.

If you are going to be at SNW and your schedule permits, let's meet. Just send me an email or call me with day, time and location where you would like to meet.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Bloggers in Demand at SNW

Clarification: Bloggers Evening is Monday, April 16th at 6:00PM in Hotel Lobby. The JPR Cocktail event is Tuesday and totally separate from Bloggers Evening. I just wanted to clarify this as several people inquired.

I am amazed at the amount of attention being bestowed to storage bloggers at SNW by vendors, analysts and PR firms. I have received numerous emails and phone calls since my first post in which I mentioned plans to attend SNW as Storage Blogger.

Do you maintain a storage blog and would like to cover SNW events as blogger? Please send me an email or get in touch with Bill Winn at Topaz Partners who is managing media credentials for storage bloggers.

Several storage industry executives who presently don't blog requested to attend the Bloggers Evening. Clark Hodge and I discussed the issue of non-bloggers attending Bloggers Evening. We have decided to open up the Bloggers Evening to everyone.

Scott Kline from JPR Communications wrote a comment to my previous post and also sent me an email with official invitation for all Bloggers to JPR Cocktail Party.
I also want to have all of the Bloggers and associates of the Bloggers join us for cocktails and appetizers on Tuesday night from 7-9pm at the main lobby bar. I have attached the official invitation for you and whomever else wants to have some free drinks and food with all of the editors, analysts and companies.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Bloggers Evening at SNW

Response exceeding Expectations

Response to my call for organizing an evening with Bloggers at SNW has exceeded my expectations. Mario Apicella aptly summed up my feeling about this initiative.
Only two years ago you could have counted storage bloggers without taking your socks off and now we can put together a small crowd.
Initially, I thought this evening may turn out to be party of one or two. But after a week of responses, I wish we should have tried organizing bloggers evening earlier.

In addition to last blog post, Say Hello at SNW, I reached out to storage bloggers through comments on their blog and email messages. I will continue to reach out to more bloggers next week. If you don't hear from me, it may just indicate that I am not aware of your blog. Please don't assume that you are not invited, just send me an email, leave a comment or pick up the phone and call me. All bloggers are welcome to Bloggers evening.

Thank you Storagezilla, Tony Pearson, Josh Maher, and Mario Apicella for spreading the word through post on your blogs.

A Party of Six

As of Saturday night, Bloggers evening is no longer a party of one but SIX. Following bloggers have expressed interest in attending Bloggers evening.

Clark Hodge, Storageswitched! Blog
Claude Lorenson, starting a storage blog at Microsoft
Marc Farley, Equallogic Blog
Tony Pearson, IBM Inside System Storage Blog
Jon Toigo, Drunken Data Blog

Even few bloggers, who are not attending Bloggers evening, mentioned the reason being absent all together at SNW. They also have very encouraging words for Bloggers evening.

"I'm afraid I can't make it to this SNW. … I love the idea of a bloggers get-together." Dave Hitz, Netapp

"it's a great idea but I am not going to SNW this time and this is one more reason to regret it :>)" Mario Apicella, Infoworld

"It is a great idea and thanks for the invitation!" Mike Linnett, Zerowait

When and Where

I am not familiar with SNW host Hotel, surrounding area and attendees interest in evening events at SNW. I am tentatively proposing we meet Monday, April 16th at 6:00PM in the lobby of Hotel Manchester Grand Hyatt and head out to a bar/restaurant at hotel or a location close by. Any alternate suggestions are very welcome.

Agenda

There is no specific agenda for Bloggers evening. Most likely, our discussion will revolve around storage blogging and data storage industry. If you would like to discuss any specific topic, please leave a comment, send me a message or just raise your topic at Bloggers evening.

Neither Fee Nor Free

There is no fee for attending Bloggers Evening, just bring your passion for blogging and data storage. But do bring your credit card, cash, food stamps, guns or any other method you use to pay for your own drinks and food. Unfortunately, there is no financial sponsor to cover the cost at Bloggers Evening.

Even though, Jeremiah will not be at Bloggers Evening, he has offered to buy us some drinks. Thank you! for the offer, Jeremiah. Anyone from PodTech is welcome to join us at Bloggers Evening. Anybody else who wants us to get drunk and stuffed, you are welcome to join us and pick up the tab.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Say Hello at SNW

I am planning to attend Storage Networking World (SNW), April 16 - 19, 2007 in San Diego. I will be there as storage blogger and plan to blog often about interesting stuff from the conference floor, thanks to SNW organizers. Hopefully, I will meet lots of people from my favorite storage startups Cleversafe, Storewiz and InPhase, other storage vendors and users.



I am looking forward to seeing fellow storage bloggers, familiar faces from the past and some strangers who will become familiar in the future. If you will be at SNW and want to get together, leave a comment, send an email, call 206-390-4580 and give me a date and time when you would like to meet.

An Evening with Bloggers

I also would like to bring together all bloggers attending SNW for one evening. Please get in touch with me, if:
  • You are a blogger attending SNW and want to meet face-to-face with fellow bloggers.

  • You are interested in helping with organizing a bloggers evening at SNW.

  • You are interested in discussions with bloggers.
Suggestions for SNW Attendees

Unlike fellow bloggers, Jeremiah Owyang, Chuck Hollis, Dave Hitz, and Hu Yoshida, I attend very few conferences during a year and like to leverage such opportunities to the maximum.

What were your experiences at SNW in the past? What looks interesting this year? What suggestions would you offer to SNW attendees?

Use comments below to share your thoughts.