One does not simply do scalable HA NAS

Check out my latest blog post at http://hubs.ly/H02PJ4r0

One does not simply 5

Ben Corrie on Containers… Live in New Zealand

Tempted as I am to start explaining what containers are and why they make sense, I will resist that urge and assume for now you have all realised that they are a big part of our future whether that be on-premises or Public Cloud-based.

Containers are going to bring as much change to Enterprise IT as virtualization did back in the day, and knowing how to do it well is vital to success.

ViFX is bringing Ben Corrie, Containers super-guru, to New Zealand to help get the revolution moving.

Ben blogged about the potential for containers back in June 2015. Click on his photo for a quick recap:

Ben_Corrie[1]

Register now to hear one of the key architects of change in our industry speak in Auckland and Wellington in April, along with deep dive and demos in a 3 hour session. I would suggest to those further afield that this is also worth flying in from Australia, Christchurch etc.

Auckland 19th April

Wellington 21st April

~

And since it’s been a while since I finished a post with a link to youtube, here is The Fall doing “Container Drivers“.

Object Storage Infographic

As a  follow-up to my earlier post comparing Object Storage to Block Storage, here’s a quick infographic to remind you of some of the key differences.

Object storage infographic 160321

Treat me like an Object!

Object Storage that is…

By now most of us have heard of Object Storage and the grand vision that life would be simpler if storage spent less time worrying about block placement on disks and walking up and down directory trees, and simply treated files like objects in a giant bucket, i.e. a more abstracted, higher level way to deal with storage.

May latest blog post is all about how Object Storage differs from traditional block and file, and also contains a bit of a drill down on some of the leading examples in the market today.

Head over to http://www.vifx.co.nz/blog/he-treats-me-like-an-object for the full post.

Free Object Storage Seminar – Tues 16th Feb @ViFX

What is object storage and how does it differ from block and file?

Sign up for a free Object Storage seminar – discussion & examples – Tues, 16th Feb, 12-1.30pm, ViFX Auckland. lunch will be provided.

https://www.eventbrite.co.nz/e/object-storage-auckland-registration-19772808001

 

I.T.’s Time to Decide

The market for IT infrastructure components, including servers and storage, continues to fragment as the few big players of five years ago are augmented by a constant stream of new entrants and maturing niche players, but some things haven’t changed.

The Comfort Zone

It should go without saying that choices in IT infrastructure should be driven by identified requirements. Requirements are informed by IT and business strategy and culture, and it is also perfectly reasonable that requirements are influenced by the personal comfort zones of those tasked with accountability for decisions and service delivery.

I once had a customer tell me that “My IT infrastructure strategy is Sun Microsystems” which was perhaps taking a personal comfort zone and brand loyalty a little too far. His statement told me that he did not really have an IT infrastructure strategy at all since he was being brand-led rather than requirements-driven.

Comfort zones can be important because they send us warning signals that we should assess risks, but I think we all recognise that they should not be used as an excuse to repeat what we have always done just because it worked last time.

Moving the Needle

I had an astute customer tell me recently that his current very flexible solution had served him well through a wide range of changes and significant growth over the last ten years, but that his next major infrastructure buying decision would probably be a significant departure in technology because he was looking to establish a platform for the next ten years, not the last ten years.

Any major investment opportunity in IT infrastructure is an opportunity to move the needle in terms of value and efficiency. To simply do again what you did last time is an opportunity missed.

Decision Making Mathematics

Most of us realise that we are all prone to apply our own style of decision-making with its inevitable strengths and weaknesses. Personal decision-making is then layered with the challenges of teams and interaction as all of the points of view come together (hopefully not in a head-on collision). Knowing our strengths and weaknesses and how we interact in teams can help us to make a balanced decision.

Some multi-criteria mathematical theories claim that there is always ultimately a single rational choice, but ironically even mathematicians can’t agree on that. Bernoulli’s expected utility hypothesis for example suggests that there are multiple entirely rational choices depending on simple factors like how risk-averse the decision-makers are. Add to that the effect of past experience (Bayesian inference for the hard core) and mathematics can easily take you in a circle without really making your decision any more objective.

Knowing all of this, it is still useful to layer some structure onto our decision-making to ensure that we are focused on the requirements and on the end goal of essential business value, for example, use of weightings in decision-making has been a relatively common way of trying to introduce some objectivity into proposal evaluations.

Five Essential Characteristics

Many of you will be familiar with the NIST definition of Cloud as having five essential characteristics which we have previously discussed on this blog. One way to measure the overall generic quality of a cloud offering is to evaluate that offering against the five characteristics, but I am suggesting that we take that one step further and that these essential characteristics can also be applied more broadly to any infrastructure decision as a first pass highlighter of relative merit and essential value.

  1. On-demand self-service (perhaps translated to “ease of use”)
  2. Broad network access (perhaps translated to “connectivity”)
  3. Rapid Elasticity (perhaps translated to “flexibility”)
  4. Resource Pooling (perhaps translated to “physical efficiency”)
  5. Metering (let’s call it “metering and reporting”)

In client specific engagements, if you were going to measure five qualities, it might make more sense to tailor the characteristics measured to specific client requirements, but as a generic first-pass tool we can simply use these five approximated NIST characteristics:

  1. Ease of use
  2. Connectivity
  3. Flexibility
  4. Physical efficiency
  5. Metering & Reporting

The Web of Essential Value

In pursuit of essential value, the modified NIST essential characteristics can be evaluated to arrive at a “web of essential value” by rating the options from zero to five and plotting them onto a radar diagram.

WEV

You still have to do all your own analysis so I don’t think we’re going to be threatening the Forrester Wave or the Gartner Magic Quadrant any time soon. Rather than being a way to present pre-formed analysis and opinion, WEV is a way for you to think about your options with an approach inspired by NIST’s definition of Cloud essential characteristics.

WEV is not intended to be your only tool, but it might be an interesting place to start in your evaluations.

The next time you have an IT infrastructure choice to make, why not start with the Web of Essential Value? I’d be keen to hear if you find it useful. The only other guidance I would offer is not to be too narrow in your interpretation of the five essential characteristics.

I wish you all good decision-making.

Change Don’t Come Easy

I’ve been brushing up on my William Deming recently so I’ve been thinking a lot about change and how change does not always come easily. Markets keep changing and companies as well as people need to learn to adapt.

Learning from others’ mistakes

We can probably all recall brands that were dominant once, but now have faded. Some of the famous brands of my parent’s generation like Jaguar cars, and British Seagull faded quickly in the face of German and Japanese innovation and quality.

One of the most shocking examples is Eastman Kodak. Founded in 1888, they held around 90% of the film market in the United States during the 1970s and went on to invent much of the technology used in digital cameras. But essentially they were a film company and when their own invention overtook them they were not prepared. Kodak eventually emerged from Chapter 11 in 2013 with a very different and much smaller business. Do we say that this was a complete failure of Kodak’s management in the 1970s, or do we say that it was almost inevitable given the size of Kodak and the complete and rapid technological change that occurred?

Turning a Big Ship

Even very large, well established companies can cope with rapid technological change if they react appropriately. It is possible to turn a big ship. Two examples from the Information Technology industry, Hewlett Packard (est. 1939) and IBM (est. 1911) have, so far, managed to adapt as their markets undergo huge change. The future is always uncertain and both have suffered major setbacks at times, but both continue to be top tier players in their target markets.

Attachment leads to Suffering

Of those who failed to adapt, another famous example is Firestone. Founded in 1900 they followed Ford into the automobile era, but failed to keep up with the market move to radial tyres in the late 1960s. They then then ran into several years of serious manufacturing quality problems which greatly reduced their brand value. In 1988 they were purchased by Bridgestone of Japan. One interesting thing about Firestone was that they had an unusually homogeneous management team, most of whom lived in Akron Ohio and many of them were born there. In management studies this homogeneity has come under some suspicion as a contributing factor to their reluctance and then inability to innovate. It might be significant if we compare that with the strife that IBM got into in the early 1990s and the board’s decision to appoint the first outsider CEO who subsequently turned the company around at that time, a feat that was at least in part attributed to his lack of emotional attachment to past decisions.

These are big bold examples and we can no doubt find other examples closer to home.

Innovation in I.T. Infrastructure

With brands and whole companies, failures to innovate will eventually become obvious, but with projects and IT departments, the consequences of failure to innovate can be less obvious for a time.

So why would anyone choose to avoid innovation and change? I can think of four reasons straight off.

  1. Change sometimes carries short term cost and more visible cost.
  2. Innovation carries more short term risk and more visible risk.
  3. If you confuse strategy with technology (which I think we are all guilty of from time to time) then you might worry that innovation conflicts with best practice (whereas the two really operate at different layers of the decision-making stack).
  4. Concern that what appears to be innovative change may turn out to be simply chasing fashion, with no lasting benefit.

These are all examples of what Edward De Bono would call Black Hat thinking, which is very common in the world of I.T. Black Hat thinking is of course valid as part of a broader consideration, but it is not a substitute for broader consideration.

I.T. Infrastructure Commoditization

Perhaps the biggest thematic change in I.T. Infrastructure over the years has been commoditization. My background is largely in storage systems and I see commoditization as having a huge impact. In the past storage vendors have made use of commodity hardware, but integrated it into their products so that the products themselves were not commoditized.

It is no secret among I.T. vendors that manufacturer margins are dramatically higher on storage systems than on servers so new storage solutions based on truly commoditized servers can be expected to have a significant impact.

Not only does hardware commoditization underpin most cloud services like Azure, AWS and vCloud Air, but hardware commoditization is also a driver behind on-premises hyper-converged storage systems like VMware Virtual SAN. With hardware commoditization, the value piece of the pie becomes much more focused on the software function.

But hardware commoditization is only one example of change in our industry. The real issue is one of being willing to take advantage of change.

The Role of the I.T. Consultant

I started off this post with a reference to William Deming. 70 years ago he put forward his ideas on continuous improvement and those ideas are currently enjoying a new lease of life expressed through ITIL.

Three of the questions Deming said we need to ask ourselves are:

  1. Where are we now?
  2. Where do we want to be?
  3. How are we going to get there?

Together the answers to these questions help us to form a strategy.

External IT consultants can be useful in all three of these steps in helping to frame the challenges against a background of cross-pollinated ideas and capabilities from around the market. Consultants can also help you to consider the realistic bite sizes for innovation and the associated risks. But ultimately change and innovation is something that we all have to take responsibility for. And like they sing in Memphis Change Don’t Come Easy.

[a version of this post was originally released at http://www.vifx.co.nz/blog/embracing-cloud-innovation]

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