A Bull and Drivers

It is not about locking bulls on to a bullock cart and driving it. It is about how you castrate a bull!! Keep reading to find out what I am talking about.

The book everyone in the Storage world is talking about currently is the book by Dave Hitz,the founder of NetApp. It has a  very eye catching title  ” How to Castrate a Bull: Unexpected Lessons on Risk, Growth, and Success in Business.”  You can read the Chapter Zero at Dave’s blog A very interesting Chapter Zero. Around the time the book was released, NetApp also topped the “Best Company to work for”  list released by Fortune Magazine. So everyone is now keen on reading  Dave’s book in order to get an insight on how NetApp created such a culture. The book has been released in US. I am not sure if it is available in India yet. I intend to buy and read this book. Will post my thoughts on the book once I read it.

I had the good fortune of meeting Dave once when he visited India in the early 2000s. I was part of  Wipro, where we hosted him for a meeting. It was pleasure interacting with him, though it was a brief interaction. He was a very down to earth person, absolutely no airs, asked questions with a real intent to learn about work done in India and was very articulate about his vision. NetApp didn’t have a development center in Bangalore then. They later started their India operations and are doing quite well.

In my last post I spoke about some storage technologies that we need to concentrate in these time. What I left unsaid was the fact that you need to have your fundamentals clear and strong. Only then will reading up and learning these new technologies help. And nothing gets more fundamental than writing device drivers.

Here comes the second part of my title. I want to recommend the book written by my friend and ex-colleague, Sreekrishnan Venkateswaran, “Essential Linux Device Drivers”. This is a welcome addition to the literature on Linux Device Drivers. The books which are commonly available here are Pajari’s, “Writing Unix Device Drivers” and the O’Reily standard, “Linux Device Drivers” by Corbet and Rubini.  Sreekrishnan’s book covers writing device drivers for a lot of devices. You will find device drivers here for I2C, PCMCIA, Blue tooth, WiFi etc. In short, it is very up to date with respect to devices that it talks about.

You will find lot of good reviews of this book on the web so I will not write a detailed review here but will talk about Sreekrishnan instead. Sreekrishnan is an IBM veteran being with IBM India for a long time. I came to know him when I joined IBM for a brief stint starting Nov 2006. It soon became apparent to me that the whole team was looking up to Sreekrishnan when it came to technical matters. He was always the first one to be called whenever there was any technical issue that needed immediate attention and whenever there was a fire to be doused. He was the also the technical face which was projected to visiting prospects,. Without exception every prospect would be impressed by Krishnan’s indepth Linux knowledge.  Krishnan and his team have ported Linux onto lot of devices including a wrist watch!! Whenever there was a client demo on our Linux porting capabilities, Sreekrishnan would show the Linux port onto a wrist watch as an example. In order to point out how feature hungry people were, Krishnan would remark, “What is the use of a Linux wrist watch if you can’t get stock market quotes on it in real time!!. So we had a implement that as well”. This would bring a smile on the face of the person watching the demo. I see that Krishan has used the same example in his preface as well, where he documents the issues which he and his team faced while porting Linux onto a wrist watch in late 1990s.

Sreekrishnan is an extremely approachable person, and, as with all good technical folks, is passionate about what he does. He is generally very happy to discuss technical matters with you and clear any doubts that you may have. The book is written in a very engaging style and makes the subject interesting. When I read the book it is almost like hearing Sreekrishnan speak.

Krishnan has been contribution regularly to Linux Magazine for quite some time now and his hands on experience in Linux clearly comes out in the book. This book was published by Prentice Hall last year in US under its Open Source Development series. This book is now available in India as a low price edition. I would definitely recommend anyone working in the Linux area and is writing  (or intends to write) a device driver to get this book. It is definitely worth keeping this in your reference library.

Nothing enriches your life like a good book. Here is a lovely quote I read about books. There was a person (I forgot his name) who is supposed to have bought lots of books and built a massive personal library. When someone asked him why he spent so much money on books, he replied, “If I had not bought these books, I would have had lot of money. But I would not have been richer”. I vehemently agree with him. (In case someone knows who made this quote, let me know. I will attribute it accordingly.)

I will leave you to mull on that quote.

Technologies for these troubled times

“What technologies should we  come up to speed in these troubled times”, is a question that students and engineers freshly into a job ask me. Times are tough, especially for guys coming out of college and those having a job in hand but  not working on client  project yet. Here is my take on some recent technologies areas which everyone wanting to work in the server and storage domain should know about.

Virtualization is something which will be taken for granted a few years from now. Every enterprise would have implemented some form of virtualization or other. Virtualization, in case you didn’t know, is the act of showing something that doesn’t exist. Some people feel Ramalinga Raju of  Satyam was a master in this. The only difference is that the virtualization we are talking about is beneficial to the user whereas the sort of virtualization done by Enron, Madoff and others of their ilk is beneficial only to the ‘virtualizer’.

In case anyone wants to get on the Server Virtualization bandwagon, it is quite easy.Free VMware player is available for download (http://www.vmware.com/products/player) .  I downloaded VMware player and use Ubuntu Linux in it. That enables me to write some programs in the Linux environment while still using my Windows to check my mails and prepare Powerpoint slides.  (Who can ever escape Powerpoint?) In VMware marketplace there are many virtual appliances available for free. (http://www.vmware.com/appliances/marketplace.html) If you have the free disk space and time on your hands, you can download them and try it out. This will give you an idea about server virtualization. If you love Open Source, you can try out Xen Hypervisor. I have not tried it out yet but will do so soon. (www.xen.org)

In the Storage area, assuming you have a basic understanding of Storage technologies, Thin Provisioning is an technique which you can read up on. This is a technique wherein you show the user a lot of disk space as his quota but you don’t need to have all that space physically available right now. (Think  Satyam again) You keep buying storage as the users keep filling up capacity. This is something which all free email service providers like Google, Yahoo, Rediff etc would be doing. It makes no sense to buy all the advertised storage. (I mean, how can you buy ‘unlimited’?) The companies would be buying more and more storage as your mail account keeps growing with all those mp3 and jpeg files. This technique is called Thin Provisioning and the key aspects to achieve success in this are capacity planning and capacity forecasting. So read and understand how Thin Provisioning works and how it is implemented. I am sure if you are in the Storage array space you will have to do this sooner than later.

The next Storage technology you may want to look at is Data Deduplication. This is the simple idea of removing all duplicate data by storing a single image and pointing all duplicates to this image. There are multiple ways to do this and there is debate on where it needs to be done. Will post on this debate at a later date. Virtual Tape Library (VTL) solutions come with Data Deduplication. So here is something you should be looking at. Even in these tough times Data Domain, a company focused on Data Deduplication has posted impressive results.

Another technology you can read up on is Wide Striping and Micro RAID. Rather than me explain I will point you to this lovely video by Mark Farley of 3Par, where he clearly explains these concepts. (BTW, Marc makes most of the videos you seen on his blog while driving!! He uses a steering wheel cam. This is one of the few videos he has made when he wasn’t driving. Shows how quality of improves dramatically when you feet are firmly planted on the ground 🙂

Things like Solid State Drives and Fibre Channel Over Ethernet (FCOE) are happening on the infrastructure front but as engineers and system integrators concentrate on virtualization and the other technologies that I mentioned. Our role in Solid State Drives and FCOE will be limited in the immediate future.

Before I end, I need to say something to all college grads which should actually be unsaid. But I will say it anyway. More than reading up all this stuff, ensure your basics are strong. Your programming skills, your understanding of the operating system and your analytical ability are things that anyone planning to hire you will look for initially. So strengthen your basic by working hard on them regularly. Now that I have given this piece of advice, I can sign off  in peace.

(I got an indication on how bad times are for all industries when the Toyota service centre folks called me on their own and give you a service  appointment. “Whatever day and time  you want, sir”. Made me realize the enormity of the problem)

Update:  I had not checked my Google Reader for a couple of days. After posting this I checked my reader to realize that Marc of 3Par has now put up a video explaining chunklets. Check it out.

Radhakrishna Bairy – A small tribute

New Year dawned on a sad and tragic note with the passing away of a friend, former colleague and a great human being, Radhakrishna Bairy. It was shocking to all of us that Bairy, as he was fondly known, went for a mundane hernia operation and never came back alive. No one fully knows nor can comprehend why this tragedy happened.

Bairy and I worked together as part of the Sequent (later IBM) offshore account. He managed the ptx/Dynix team. I had met him a week before he went for the operation and we were discussing various issues, personal and professional, for quite sometime. Even now I find it difficult to believe that he is no more.

I had great respect for Bairy both on the professional and personal front.  As a people manager, he had the knack of assessing the talent of each of his team mates perfectly. I can say without contradiction, that all those he rated very highly have done very well professionally. They are  in good positions in various companies. He always gave me an exact idea of the capability of his team members and he never let any personal issues with the concerned person affect his assessment of the person. In this aspect, he was a professional to the core.

His sense of work ethic  was impeecable. He was a person who knew his own limitation and would readily admit it. He was one you wanted on your team since he was always positive about any new program that you wanted to try out. He would suggest ways in which  it can be done better and he would work hard to make it a success. Any task assigned to him got his full attention and he was always thinking of ways to effectively complete the task.

More than the professional aspect, it is in the personal sphere that I wish I could emulate one of his key characteristics . His total lack of bitterness, whatever be the situation. He was a very straightforward person and told you what he thought about any subject. He was always open about his disagreement, if any. He would express his unhappiness with people but there would never be any bitterness associated with it. This is a very rare quality and you can see it only in very few people.

All our hearts go for Lalitha and the children, who have to face this mammoth tragedy. I sincerely pray to God that they can overcome this tragedy in due course of time.

Bairy will be missed by all of us. May his soul rest in peace.

It's virtual everywhere

In my last post I had spoken about the VMware virtualization seminar. Coincidentaly I had to do some work on virtualization for an important client of mine. As I was going through lot of literature related to virtualization, what stuck me is the inroads that virtualization is making into multiple spheres. Ofcourse I have always been a server and storage guy and looked at virtualization as something more related these areas. It was quite instructive to learn that virtualization is being used in various other areas as well.

Take the case of networking. I was aware of Virtual LAN(VLAN) and Link Aggregation. I now found out that Cisco has introduced switches that virtualize across switches. That is, they can take two switches, connect them together and show them as a single switch on the network !! User see more ports, it provides reliability and these switches share their routing tables. Of course, Cisco had also implemented the concept of Virtual SAN (VSAN) in their switches earlier.

More interesting is the fact that virtualization is coming on to the mobile. It is going to take some time getting there but efforts are on. ARM is supposed to be providing support for virtualization in its processors and companies like VMware are very serious about providing a Hypervisor for a mobile phone. Individual applications can run in an isolated VM so that when the application crashes, it affects only that particular VM and doesn’t hang your phone. There are challeneges ahead, especially in terms of providing real time response for some applications, power management etc.  I am sure these challenges will be addressed and in a few years time we will see phones with hypervisors.

The coming years are definitely going to see more virtualization in multiple spheres. In cases of servers, I think virtualization is a logical thing to do. I don’t mean from the point of view of consolidating servers, saving costs etc., but as a logical thing to do.  I mean, do you think anyone would buy multiple TVs just because each TV can only show you certain channels? We don’t seem to blink when it comes to running applications. We buy multiple systems just because an application will run only on a certain platform. Since the basic function of a computer is to run an application, worrying about the application should be the priority and not worrying about the underlying OS. Virtualization helps achieve it. It will be too much to ask for a single OS for all systems, isn’t it?

Read an interesting article on how Storage is spreading to different areas. This is an article about Storage usage by Avid, the video editing folks. You can read the article here. A good friend of mine works at Avid. It is instructive to read this article, especially the last couple of paragraphs. It shows how much we take the customer requirement for granted and maybe never ask the customer what they need !!

It’s the year end now and as usual there are lot of articles on 10 Best Whatever of the year. To us Storage folks, we need to follow what is happening in the Industry. This article gives the Top 10 Storage acquisitions that happened in 2008. No doubt this will affect our future as well going ahead.

Wish you all Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year 2008. I will be out after Christmas on a short vacation. Catch up with you next year.

VMware seminar and some thoughts on virtualization

On Wednesday I attended a VMware Virtualization seminar at Hotel Chancey Pavillion, Bangalore. It was a well attended, half-a -day, seminar. It must have been a combination of VMware’s popularity and the current market scenario, that brought in a large crowd and the huge hall was full. The other surprising thing was that most people arrived on time and the seminar started at 9 am as announced. A rarity, which the first speaker made a point of mentioning.

The seminar was done professionally. Things started on time, the speakers spoke well, the presentations were brief and to the point and importantly all speakers finished their presentations within the alloted time. In short, they ensured that you were not bored. A major achievement for a seminar !!

In most of the seminars sponsored by the marketing teams, the theme always remains the same, “We have the exact solution to every problem that you have.” You need to observe what they are not saying or don’t want to say in order to get a more realistic picture. This seminar spoke about the future features and products from VMware. From what I could gather from the presentation, the two key areas they are keen on addressing are:

  • Running business critical application in virtualized environment
  • Management tools to support server virtualization

They had a presentation about running critical apps like Exchanger server, SAP, Oracle in virtual machines and showed how this could enable better performance. Given that VMware would want to be in the heart of the enterprise, addressing this issue will be of paramount importance.

Management of virtual machines is another headache which requires lot of good tools. Currently VMware has certain tools and they are quickly adding to this list. The future tools, as always, give an idea of what is missing now 🙂

The speaker on Desktop Virtualization was very gung-ho about it. Reminded me of the X-server days when we thought that the diskless workstations running X-servers would catch up soon. Somehow that didn’t happen to the degree we anticipated. It will be interesting to see how much Desktop Virtualization catches on. To me the adoption of Desktop virtualization would be slower than Server virtualization but a good value proposition exists.

VMware folks say that they have around 600 customers in India. I am sure this number will increase soon. In a country like ours, virtualization makes great sense. Especially given the power shortage and the current quality of power. This was emphasized in the seminar and I fully agree. The lesser we draw power the better it is for everyone. Maybe we should make virtualization mandatory for companies which draw more than a certain amount of power for their IT needs. I am sure the server vendors will not be very happy whereas the virtualization guys will be more than happy. Given the value proposition of virtualization, it doesn’t need a law for people to see the benefits. Especially in the current economic condition.

A nice article by Eric Seibert, which talks about what you must do after you have virtualized. Read it here.

Met a manager from a company which implemented virtualization. He was saying how difficult it was to get expert help. The company from whom they bought the infrastructure would send some ‘experts’ initially for deployment. After a few days, they would be pulled out and new faces will appear. Upon continuous pressure the old guys will return but only for a few days. When they tried getting some consultancy from the software guys, their quote for consultancy services was more than the cost of the infrastructure !! Apparently they had their experts in Singapore, who had to fly down and stay in some fancy seven start hotel for which this company had to foot the bill !!! This is something I have personally seen, being on both sides of the table. Consultancy and training are high margin stuff and companies want to do this on their own but unfortunately do not have enough staff to meet all the demands.

Cloud(ed) Management

It is usual that whenever newer technologies, techniques or paradigms emerge, there is a certain amount of confusion. On one hand these are generally held as a panacea for all ills that plague us. On the other hand, it is felt that this wouldn’t work for some reason or the other!! The truth generally lies somewhere in between. I remember the hype we had in my former company when we started work on a Bluetooth stack. At that time it was felt that every connection in the future would be Bluetooth. The hype died down and the team was disbanded before the world discovered the actual uses of Bluetooth !! Well, talk about getting the timing right !!

I think Cloud computing and Cloud storage are going through a similar phase now. You need to look into all sides of the argument to bet on how this will pan out in the near future. Thanks to all the various blogs by people from different companies and other articles, users are getting to hear multiple arguments.

Dave Graham, of EMC, has started a series of articles about Cloud Optimized Storage. I plan to follow them in order to get a good understanding of what this technology is all about. You too can read the article here and follow Dave’s future articles.

There was an interesting blog by Martin Glassborow, a Storage user, whose blog is titled ‘Storagebod’. He had a post which pointed out the lack of good management tools for managing storage. You can read his post here. A hard hitting post which elicited good responses with people sharing their storage management woes.

This leads to me thinking on how on earth are the Cloud companies going to manage their storage !! The Cloud company is going to manage multiple data centers. The cost effectiveness for the Cloud company comes from consolidating lot of storage and allocating storage in an optimized fashion. This is easier said that done. If the current tools do not allow for effective management of a data center of one single company, imagine what will happen when data centers of many companies are merged together in the cloud!! Things become even more complex when server virtualization is added to this mix. It will be interesting to see if any specific tools to manage the cloud will emerge or if the administrators of the cloud will have to do with the tools available currently. I am sure no one envies the administrators of the cloud.

An argument against the Cloud. Here is an article by Andi Mann, which questions the cloud from a security and compliance perspective.

Interesting times indeed. Interesting and tough. We will talk about the tough part in the next post.

Castles in the Cloud

I will try and post the recent happenings in the Storage world in my blog every week. Atleast I will try 🙂 In this post let’s talk about the current hot topic, the Storage Cloud.

The idea of Storage cloud is to enable you to build your Storage Castles in the Cloud. The idea is that data will no longer be stored in your own data center but will be stored online elsewhere. You can say that this elsewhere is what constitutes the Cloud. This Cloud would be run by a company which will provide this service of storing the data and would enable you to access your data as fast as you would in your own data center. In essence, the data center operations of your company will now be outsourced to this ‘Cloud company’. Your enterprise will need less number of admins, less management and supposedly less headache. It is the duty of the ‘cloud company’ to deliver the storage to you as per the agreed upon SLAs. Of course, you need to pay for this service. And probably pay a lot.

Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it. As they say, every complex problem has a simple solution which is wrong !! Not that the concept of Cloud Storage or Cloud Computing is wrong. It is just that there are lot of questions being asked. Like, how much will this model affect the networking bandwidth, will such a model be ok from the compliance point of view and so on. Google and Amazon are two companies who are generally quoted when referring to ‘The Cloud’ and both of them had outages recently. So the debate is on.

Why would the Cloud succeed when a similar concept like Software As A Service (SaaS) did not take off? (Many of you would remember about this buzzword during the early part of this century.) That’s the million dollar question. Or shall I say the multi-million dollar question. My guess is that for a couple of reasons Cloud may turn out to be different from SaaS. One, the data growth is tremendous and the complexity of managing data is also increasing. So many companies may want to outsource this activity to the experts rather than keeping a large IT team and buy more and more storage. Second, lot of the big guys have entered the fray. Google and Amazon have shown that cloud can work. Microsoft recently announced an offering called ‘Azure’ targeted at the cloud. EMC announced Atmos, short for Atmosphere, which it calls as Cloud Optimized Storage. (COS) (We will have to wait and see if the industry will pick up this term.) The combined marketing strength of these companies has already created a lot of buzz about Cloud, thereby increasing the prospects of its adoption by the industry.

You can read about EMC’s Atmos in this blog by Storagezilla, an EMC Blogger. As you can see, Atmos is designed for the cloud, information being stored as objects and policies which act on these objects. Policies are also used to drive geographical data placement. Initially, the reaction to this announcement from EMC’s competitors was that it was nothing new and not innovative enough. Slowly I see a perceptible change and people saying, “Oh yea, we too have it !!” This probably means that EMC is onto something big and saw the market before others did. As usual, time will tell us how successful this will be but it has surely created a buzz in the Storage circles. Companies like EMC will not invest in coming out with such a product if they didn’t believe Cloud would work.

What does all this mean to guys like us who thrive on services business? We need to learn atleast three things if we need to succeed in this area. One, about the Cloud itself. Second, about Server Virtualization, since the Cloud will pretty much be virtualized. Three, Storage virtualization. All three will be important in our business.

That’s it for my first technical post. Will continue with more updates about new releases and more action from the Storage land soon.

Welcome to my Blog

A warm welcome to my blog.

A few months back I started my own firm, ‘Yagnavalky Center of Competency’. As the name implies, I will be working in the area of competency development in the Indian IT industry. The areas of my interest are Storage, Linux / Unix and Perl. I have been doing some work in the Storage area for corporates and educational institutions. It has been ‘so far so good’ till now. Given the current global scenario, need to see how things progress. In my opinion, this is the time to offer solutions which will have a positive impact for client’s business. Generic solutions may not find many takers.

I intend to blog about IT education in India, both in the educational institutes and corporates. I will also blog regularly about my favorite subject, Storage. And any other technical subject that catches my fancy.

Once again, Welcome to my Blog. I intend to update the blog at regular intervals. You can visit here on a regular basis or subscribe to the feed using your favorite reader.