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Open Source Storage: 6 Benefits


Storage software creation, delivery, and support are all evolving at a high rate today. We’ve added open source coding, support-services bundling, platform pre-integration, code as a service, microservice architectures, and scalable  software-defined storage services to the traditional bundled proprietary code approach. Open source packages in the storage word are now mainstream solutions.

The acceptance of open source storage is no accident. The leaders in the space, such as Ceph and Gluster, are all characterized by large communities, well-organized communications between developers, liaison with the customer base, and the support of a commercial vendor delivering full technical support and, typically, for-profit enterprise editions with additional features. These open source storage products compete with for-profit code and maintain leadership in most areas other than prices.

Apart from the leading packages, we see many other examples of open source storage code arising from communities of interest, such as the Btrfs and OpenZFS file systems, the LizardFS and Lustre distributed file systems, and Pydio, a file sharing system. , These projects vary in fullness of feature set and code quality, so that in their early stages it is definitely buyer beware. These packages, however, are a rich source of innovation for the storage industry and some will likely grow beyond their niche status in a couple of years, so it is impossible to dismiss them out of hand.

The community nature of open source means several things. First, it makes niche solutions easier to obtain since the community pre-defines a receptive customer base and a roadmap of needs. Compare this with the traditional startup – raising funds, defining an abstract product, developing it, and then finding customers. Community-based solutions lead to much more innovation. Often, solutions serving your specific needs are available, though a thorough evaluation is needed to offset risk.

In and of itself, open source storage code would not be interesting without the availability of commodity  hardware platforms that are much cheaper than gear from major league traditional vendors. It’s relatively easy to integrate open-source code onto these low-cost, highly standardized platforms. Generally, the standardization inherent in commodity hardware makes most open source code plug-and-play, irrespective of the hardware configuration.

In this slideshow, I delve into six open source storage benefits, and why you should consider open source storage for your data center.

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6 Reasons SSDs Will Take Over the Data Center


The first samples of flash-based SSDs surfaced 12 years ago, but only now does the technology appear poised to supplant hard drives in the data center, at least for primary storage. Why has it taken so long? After all, flash drives are as much as 1,000x faster than hard-disk drives for random I/O.

Partly, it has been a misunderstanding that overlooks systems, and focuses instead on storage elements and CPUs. This led the industry to focus on cost per terabyte, while the real focus should have been the total cost of a solution with or without flash. Simply put, most systems are I/O bound and the use of flash inevitably means needing fewer systems for the same workload. This typically offsets the cost difference.

The turning point in the storage industry came with all-flash arrays: simple drop-in devices that instantly and dramatically boosted SAN performance. This has evolved into a model of two-tier storage with SSDs as the primary tier and a slower, but cheaper, secondary tier of HDDs

Applying the new flash model to servers provides much higher server performance, just as price points for SSDs are dropping below enterprise hard drive prices. With favorable economics and much better performance, SSDs are now the preferred choice for primary tier storage.

We are now seeing the rise of Non-Volatile Memory Express (NVMe), which aims to replace SAS and SATA as the primary storage interface. NVMe is a very fast, low-overhead protocol that can handle millions of IOPS, far more than its predecessors. In the last year, NVMe pricing has come close to SAS drive prices, making the solution even more attractive. This year, we’ll see most server motherboards supporting NVMe ports, likely as SATA-Express, which also supports SATA drives.

NVMe is internal to servers, but a new NVMe over Fabrics (NVMe-oF) approach extends the NVMe protocol from a server out to arrays of NVMe drives and to all-flash and other storage appliances, complementing, among other things, the new hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI) model for cluster design.

The story isn’t all about performance, though. Vendors have promised to produce SSDs with 32 and 64TB capacity this year. That’s far larger than the biggest HDD, which is currently just 16TB and stuck at a dead-end at least until HAMR is worked out.

The brutal reality, however, is that solid-state opens up form-factor options that hard disk drives can’t achieve. Large HDDs will need to be 3.5 in form-factor. We already have 32TB SSDs in a 2.5 inch size and new form-factors, such as M2.0 and the “ruler“(an elongated M2.0), which will allow for a lot of capacity in a small appliance. Intel and Samsung are talking petabyte- sized storage in 1U boxes.

The secondary storage market is slow and cheap, making for a stronger barrier to entry against SSDs. The rise of 3D NAND and new Quad-Level Cell (QLC) flash devices will close the price gap to a great extent, while the huge capacity per drive will offset the remaining price gap by reducing the number of appliances.

Solid-state drives have a secret weapon in the battle for the secondary tier. Deduplication and compression become feasible because of the extra bandwidth in the whole storage structure, effectively multiplying capacity by factors of 5X to 10X. This lowers the cost of QLC-flash solutions below HDDs in price-per-available terabyte.

In the end, perhaps in just three or four years flash and SSDs will take over the data center and kill hard drives off for all but the most conservative and stubborn users. On the next pages, I drill down into how SSDs will dominate data center storage.

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6 Ways to Recycle Your IT Gear for Earth Day


We all love our smartphones, computers, tablets, and gadgets. Some of us wait in long lines the moment the latest tech hits the shelves, while others upgrade when our old devices finally kick the bucket. Either way, we are all inevitably left with obsolete technology that we need to discard. The hardware, batteries, cables, and accessories often become burdensome because we are not sure how to recycle this material. As digital transformation continues to permeate IT professionals’ data centers, the same is true of legacy infrastructure that is either rendered obsolete by new technology like cloud computing or are simply subject to an upgrade.

Recycling properly can take time that IT professionals may not have since they’re busy keeping organizational processes running smoothly, which means the environment often takes a backseat as old tech collects dust in the supply closet.

In the spirit of Earth Day this Sunday, SolarWinds polled its THWACK community of more than 145,000 IT professionals and collected their best tips and tricks for recycling or disposing of older hardware in an environmentally friendly way.

Here are some of the best ways to reuse and recycle old technology this Earth Day, along with advice on how to be more green by reducing your data center footprint.

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Data Protection in the Public Cloud: 6 Steps


While cloud security remains a top concern in the enterprise, public clouds are likely to be more secure than your private computing setup. This might seem counter-intuitive, but cloud service providers have a leverage of scale that allows them to spend much more on security tools than any large enterprise, while the cost of that security is diluted across millions of users to fractions of a cent.

That doesn’t mean enterprises can hand over all responsibility for data security to their cloud provider. There are still many basic security steps companies need to take, starting with authentication. While this applies to all users, it’s particularly critical for sysadmins. A password compromise on their mobiles could be the equivalent of handing over the corporate master keys. For the admin, multi-factor authentication practices are critical for secure operations. Adding biometrics using smartphones is the latest wave in the second or third part of that authentication; there are a lot of creative strategies!

Beyond guarding access to cloud data, what about securing the data itself? We’ve heard of major data exposures occurring when a set of instances are deleted, but the corresponding data isn’t. After a while, these files get loose and can lead to some interesting reading. This is pure carelessness on the part of the data owner.

There are two answers to this issue. For larger cloud setups, I recommend a cloud data manager that tracks all data and spots orphan files. That should stop the wandering buckets, but what about the case when a hacker gets in, by whatever means, and can reach useful, current data? The answer, simply, is good encryption.

Encryption is a bit more involved than using PKZIP on a directory. AES-256 encryption or better is essential. Key management is crucial; having one admin with the key is a disaster waiting to happen, while writing down on a sticky note is going to the opposite extreme. One option offered by cloud providers is drive-based encryption, but this fails on two counts. First, drive-based encryption usually has only a few keys to select from and, guess what, hackers can readily access a list on the internet. Second, the data has to be decrypted by the network storage device to which the drive is attached. It’s then re-encrypted (or not) as it’s sent to the requesting server. There are lots of security holes in that process.

End-to-end encryption is far better, where encryption is done with a key kept in the server. This stops downstream security vulnerabilities from being an issue while also adding protection from packet sniffing.

Data sprawl is easy to create with clouds, but opens up another security risk, especially if a great deal of cloud management is decentralized to departmental computing or even users. Cloud data management tools address this much better than written policies. It’s also worthwhile considering adding global deduplication to the storage management mix. This reduces the exposure footprint considerably.

Finally, the whole question of how to backup data is in flux today. Traditional backup and disaster recovery has moved from in-house tape and disk methods to the cloud as the preferred storage medium. The question now is whether a formal backup process is the proper strategy, as opposed to snapshot or continuous backup systems. The snapshot approach is growing, due to the value of small recovery windows and limited data loss exposure, but there may be risks from not having separate backup copies, perhaps stored in different clouds.

On the next pages, I take a closer look at ways companies can protect their data when using the public cloud.

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6 Ways to Transform Legacy Data Storage Infrastructure


So you have a bunch of EMC RAID arrays and a couple of Dell iSCSI SAN boxes, topped with a NetApp filer or two. What do you say to the CEO who reads my articles and knows enough to ask about solid-state drives, all-flash appliances, hyperconverged infrastructure, and all the other new innovations in storage? “Er, er, we should start over” doesn’t go over too well! Thankfully, there are some clever — and generally inexpensive — ways to answer the question, keep your job, and even get a pat on the back.

SSD and flash are game-changers, so they need to be incorporated into your storage infrastructure. SSDs are better than enterprise-class hard drives from a cost perspective because they will speed up your workload and reduce the number of storage appliances and servers needed. It’s even better if your servers support NVMe, since the interface is becoming ubiquitous and will replace both SAS and (a bit later) SATA, simply because it’s much faster and lower overhead.

As far as RAID arrays, we have to face up to the harsh reality that RAID controllers can only keep up with a few SSDs. The answer is either an all-flash array and keeping the RAID arrays for cool or cold secondary storage usage, or a move to a new architecture based on either hyperconverged appliances or compact storage boxes tailored for SSDs.

All-flash arrays become a fast storage tier, today usually Tier 1 storage in a system. They are designed to bolt onto an existing SAN and require minimal change in configuration files to function. Typically, all-flash boxes have smaller capacities than the RAID arrays, since they have enough I/O cycles to do near-real-time compression coupled with the ability to down-tier (compress) data to the old RAID arrays.

With an all-flash array, which isn’t outrageously expensive, you can boast to the CEO about 10-fold boosts in I/O speed, much lower latency , and as a bonus a combination of flash and secondary storage that usually has 5X effective capacity due to compression. Just tell the CEO how many RAID arrays and drives you didn’t buy. That’s worth a hero badge!

The idea of a flash front-end works for desktops, too. Use a small flash drive for the OS (C-drive) and store colder data on those 3.5” HDDs. Your desktop will boot really quickly, especially with Windows 10 and program loads will be a snap.

Within servers, the challenge is to make the CPU, rather than the rest of the system, the bottleneck. Adding SSDs as primary drives makes sense, with HDDs in older arrays doing duty as bulk secondary storage, just as with all-flash solutions, This idea has fleshed out into the hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) concept where the drives in each node are shared with other servers in lieu of dedicated storage boxes. While HCI is a major philosophical change, the effort to get there isn’t that huge.

For the savvy storage admin, RAID arrays and iSCSI storage can both be turned into powerful object storage systems. Both support a JBOD (just a bunch of drives) mode, and if the JBODs are attached across a set of server nodes running “free” Ceph or Scality Ring software, the result is a decent object-storage solution, especially if compression and global deduplication are supported.

Likely by now, you are using public clouds for backup. Consider “perpetual “storage using a snapshot tool or continuous backup software to reduce your RPO and RTO. Use multi-zone operations in the public cloud to converge DR onto the perpetual storage setup, as part of a cloud-based DR process. Going to the cloud for backup should save a lot of capital expense money.

On the software front, the world of IT is migrating to a services-centric software-defined storage (SDS), which allows scaling and chaining of data services via a virtualized microservice concept. Even older SANs and server drives can be pulled into the methodology, with software making all legacy boxes in a data center operate as a single pool of storage. This simplifies storage management and makes data center storage more flexible.

Encryption ought to be added to any networked storage or backup. If this prevents even one hacker from reading your files in the next five years, you’ll look good! If you are running into a space crunch and the budget is tight, separate out your cold data, apply one of the “Zip” programs and choose the encrypted file option. This saves a lot of space and gives you encryption!

Let’s take a closer look at what you can do to transform your existing storage infrastructure and extend its life.

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