Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Hidden Costs of Unreliable Disk Drives

The Dirty Little Secret of Managing RAID Storage
*By Jerome Wendt, President and Lead Analyst at DCIG Inc.

Organizations are storing more data than ever on disk. Archives, backups, DR and video surveillance data along with unstructured data are largely contributing to this explosive growth. Yet one of the dirty little secrets of managing the large disk farms needed to store all of this data is managing the replacement of failed SATA hard disk drives (HDDs). While current RAID technologies do an adequate job of protecting from data loss in most of these environments, when a SATA HDD fails, it still does require someone to replace it.

Replacing failed SATA HDDs may be no big deal in smaller environments. But when you start to consider how potentially unreliable some SATA HDDs are and the time involved with managing their replacement in large disk farms, the process becomes much more complicated. Here are just some of the steps that I had to follow when I worked at a Fortune 500 data center and had to replace a failed HDD (SATA or otherwise):

• Open a trouble ticket in my organization's change control system
• Open a trouble ticket with the vendor to replace the disk drive
• Determine the urgency of replacing the failed disk drive.
• Schedule a time for the HDD replacement.
• Notify the affected application, server, change control and security teams.
• Verify the new drive was successfully installed and close out the open trouble tickets.

While not every organization has to go through all of these steps to replace failed SATA HDDs, regularly replacing failed HDDs becomes a cost and a risk to any company.

Organizations obviously do not want to lose data on their SATA storage systems, but they also do not want to dedicate a full time person to manage the task of replacing failed HDDs. It makes sense to think more about this issue ahead of time and to buy storage systems that mitigate the problem.

Here are some features that organizations should look for in SATA storage systems to ensure high reliability of the SATA HDDs:

• Manufacturers that have a history (5+ years) of working with SATA.
• Manufacturers that only use enterprise SATA HDDs.
• Manufacturers that stress test the HDDs before deploying them in the system.
• Manufacturer can manage HDDs when they are spun down.

Once organizations know about some of these finer points that SATA storage system manufacturers take (or do not take) to ensure the reliability of the SATA HDDs within their systems, it becomes easier to justify choosing one over another for these types of hardware benefits. For instance, Nexsan Technologies is a prime example of an organization that has a long history of working with SATA HDDs (10+ years) and has taken all of these steps and more to ensure the reliability of SATA HDDs on its many products which include SATABoy and SATABeast.

Most organizations say that when they are contemplating the use of SATA HDDs that their primary concern is reliability. In truth, most are more initially concerned about the protection and recoverability of their data which is a fear most SATA storage system manufacturers address through the use of RAID. But RAID only addresses concerns about data reliability, not hardware reliability, and as customers can find out after the fact, reliable SATA HDDs have a value that organizations may only appreciate and understand after they purchase an unreliable storage system.

*Jerome Wendt, President and Lead Analyst at DCIG Inc., writes extensively about data storage, including white papers, product analysis, and blogging at www.dciginc.com. SANDirect thanks him for his contribution today!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Too Good to be True: Green AV $&^&^%@)(*&^%$

Too Good to be True: Save your Computer—and the Environment—with Green AV

By Jim

Debbie stares at the pop-up window in dismay: “Windows defender warning: review harmful unwanted software Trojan:win32/Fake xpa severe.” This is the fifth attack detected in five minutes. She’s very annoyed.

A bright green button flashes: “Do you want to block the attack?” Well, heck yeah. The computer’s got Norton Anti-Virus, and Debbie’s waiting for it to do its thing, but it hasn’t. It seems to be ignoring the attacks. Another anti-virus program, called Green AV, claims to handle 100% of malicious software, viruses, spyware, and malware. She clicks through. They promise to block the annoying attacks and—bonus—they donate a portion of the purchase price to save Amazonian rainforests. Talk about green performance!

It’s a bit pricey--$99 and change—but the testimonials are good and it offers a 100% money back guarantee. If it works like it claims, the price is well justified. And if it doesn’t then you get your money back, right?

Fortunately, most IT professionals (and Debbie too) are rather too savvy to actually fall for this clever scam—especially given that whoever created the bogus website forgot to use spell-check. But just because you’re not coughing up the hundred bucks doesn’t mean you’re not in trouble. In Debbie’s case, all she did was click an ad for teeth whitening—an ad posted on her Yahoo! Mail site—and she became infected.

Green AV spreads like most viruses do—through innocuous-looking downloads. Once on your computer, it avoids detection by the simple expedient of removing your protective software. Next, it begins to produce fake warnings of attacks, as well as redirecting your web browser to warning screens in place of the websites you want to visit—and each time, it offers to “fix” your problem, if you’ll just visit their website and buy their program.

And the worst part of the problem is that a true solution simply doesn’t exist yet. Some folks have had success with downloading Malwarebytes or manually removing offending files. But not Debbie—we had to wipe her computer clean and reinstall everything.

What’s amazing about the whole thing is that these clowns are still out there. Not only their ads and the malware itself, but a plain-for-the-world-to-see website (www dot green-av-pro dot com—we’re not posting an actual link because we don’t want to promote traffic there) with an apparently fully functional shopping cart with which to part innocent bystanders from their cash. Why hasn’t anyone shut this scam down? Why hasn’t Mcafee, Microsoft, Symantec, etc put a stop to this malicious irritation?

How about you? Have you been infected? What did you do about it? Do you know a fix that really works? Can you help shut this scam down? Tell us!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Go Green With Nexsan

by Heather

Green is hot this year, and for good reason. At last, companies can be environmentally friendly while still watching their bottom line, thanks to new technologies that combine high performance and cost savings with environmental benefits.

One company that is riding on that wave is Nexsan, with their AutoMAID technology built into all of their storage disk array products (including SATABoy and SATABeast). According to an article at Processor.com and a recent U.S. Department of Energy study, idle computers are responsible for more than half of the 53 billion kilowatt hours of power that business computers consume annually. AutoMAID addresses the SAN side of that equation by placing storage drives into an idle state when not immediately in use without slowing down data retrieval times. According to Nexsan’s website, AutoMAID users realize an energy savings up to 60%.

I spoke with Bob Woolery at Nexsan this week about AutoMAID and their other green initiatives. Here’s what he had to say:

Me: Value and green are becoming more and more interconnected. Can you talk about that connection, how it has grown, and where it is going?

Bob: That’s a great question, because when people think about value, they tend to think of low cost and often, what features they have to give up. But when Nexsan talks about value, we focus on a holistic meaning—price is part of it, but it’s not the only thing. Our value involves not only less to buy, but also improved energy efficiency, space efficiency and a lower cost to operate.

A good comparison would be the Honda Accord. It’s not the lowest priced car on the market, but it is one of the best values. Likewise, Nexsan may not be the least expensive provider but we provide tremendous value like power efficiency, reliability, space efficiency, and performance.

Me: Besides AutoMAID, what else is your company doing for Green?

Bob: Our products, compared to competitive systems, are in and of themselves more energy efficient. They use less power. For instance, the SATABeast with all drives running uses 686 watts. A comparable unit from a competitor uses 1,155. We all purchase drives from the same small set of disk manufacturers, but the Nexsan team closely monitors all aspects of energy usage in our storage systems and uses a systemic approach to analyze and reduce power usage. We work with our entire supply chain to reduce the energy our components use while delivering high quality at a good price.

Me: In seven years of selling Nexsan products, we have never known a system to fail. Tell me more about what your users are experiencing with your product, especially AutoMAID.

Bob: Adoption to this technology has been pretty darn quick. Within a year of purchase, 34% of our customers have turned on the AutoMAID functionality. That may sound a little slow, but in the arena of behavioral changes, that’s really very fast. Compare that to how long it has taken our society to transition from incandescent light bulbs to energy saving compact florescent light bulbs.

Me: I still have some incandescent bulbs at my house.

Bob: Exactly. One of the challenges in changing people’s behavior is they believe, incorrectly, that “green” means slow and expensive. And while the first generation of MAID technology was that, the Nexsan Team asked “why does it have to be that way?” and designed an energy saving technology that challenged the rules of storage and provides performance with energy savings – Speed with Green. Why should you have to compromise value and performance to be green? So we developed a MAID technology that delivers value, performance, and energy savings. No compromise.

Me: What’s next for the environment?

Bob: More and more companies are going to adopt similar energy efficient technologies but Nexsan is not sitting still. There will be additional innovation in this technology segment and users are going to become smarter about how and when to use energy saving technologies.

Me: What else should our readers and customers know about MAID technology and the future of Green?

Bob: One of the objections to this specific technology is that people think they are running their disks 24/7, that their disks are never idle, so they don’t see how shutting down idle disks will apply to them. But the reality is that very few centers are actually accessing their disks all the time. In fact, on average a disk is only accessed 15% of the time. For customers who believe they are accessing their disks all the time, we say: Humor us. Just turn on AutoMAID Level 1 for one week. Most of the time, they realize an immediate 20% cost savings. Those who turn it on, rarely turn it off again.

Another objection we hear is that it’s difficult or expensive. The truth is that there is a single on-screen dashboard with simple on-off toggle controls. You set it once and forget about it. It self-optimizes according to your instructions. And since it’s already included in our products, there is no additional expense.

Me: One last thing—SANDirect has just been awarded a GSA schedule 70 for your product, which allows us to sell complete storage solutions to government agencies. Does your product carry some sort of government-sponsored approval, like an Energy Star certification?

Bob: Great question. The government doesn’t currently have Energy Star certification for storage. That is something we will be working on. We’ll keep you posted.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Bringing Sky-High Technologies Down to Earth--Safely

By Jim

I was fortunate enough to get an introduction to John Secord, the COO of SouthSales Communications (www.southsales.com) located in Charlotte, NC. We met at a networking function last week and they are working on some pretty exciting data transmitting and storage technologies for “mobile resource management.”

I can't divulge everything we talked about, but it involves real time tracking and information gathering from basically anything that moves. And by moves, I mean stuff that moves really fast; aircraft to be exact. Everyone knows about the “black box” that holds the key to “what went wrong” any time an aircraft is downed. What I didn’t know before talking to John is that these new technologies are changing that paradigm faster than—well, faster than a speeding jet. Instead of locking all the information inside the aircraft, and deleting it before each new flight, now that information can stream directly to an off-board server, where it can be stored and analyzed in real time.

John is an interesting guy, a pilot and a military veteran, so he knows what he’s talking about. He’s actually personally made use of this technology. Orange County, California, not too far back, he and some friends were coming in at about 1200 feet, when the engine quit. No power, emergency situation. The story has a happy ending of course—they made it in safely, coasted in on momentum and the skill of a former military pilot (John himself, as a matter of fact). Thanks to their own technology installed in the aircraft, they analyzed the engine data over a glass of wine that night. Discovered the problem, transmitted details to the mechanic, got it fixed. Then transmitted the pertinent data to the engine manufacturer. Manufacturer used the data to find a flaw in the engine design, which they were then able to correct for future iterations of the same aircraft. Technology applied, lives saved.

And here’s what I can’t say much about but--They’ve recently completed some successful testing with Lockheed-Martin. Look for more about that soon.

John is himself an interesting individual with some great experience in varied industries ranging from movies and lighting, to software to communications. And of course, he’s a pilot and a military veteran (“We’re all aviators, and that’s what sparked this business,” he says). Being fairly new to the Charlotte area, he is on a quest to find out more about the businesses and opportunities we have here.

SouthSales has been in operation here for over twenty years and specializes in mobile data transmitting technologies for emergency services, hospitals, and governments. The company was founded by Tim Rock, who has now resumed his Sales leadership role within the company and working closely with John to develop new markets and products. Traditionally they have worked primarily within North and South Carolina, but are now moving to a national model with an emphasis on Government and the Military. They will do well because of their unique innovative leadership.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Tech gurus know how to party too

By Mark

Upscale BlackFinn Saloon and Restaurant in the Charlotte epicenter was hopping with happening tech gurus last night. XO Communications hosted about 50 attendees over drinks and apps (no, they weren’t giving out free software for mobile devices—just very tasty edibles) in the lux environment of Blackfinn’s wood-paneled second floor.

Over seared ahi and classic beef sliders (Blackfinn’s signature mini burgers), reps gathered from more companies than I had time to meet. Among those I did get to meet were Steve Schwartz, Pivod Technologies; Philip Ciccarello, Nascar Plaza; Tim Rock and John Secord, SouthSales Communications; Lee Bellinger, American Lantern Press; Al James, Netview; and Braden Gracey, Charlotte Colocation Center.

Of course, XO Communications came in force, including Senior Account Executive Bob Larkin, who is currently working on transferring SANDirect’s communications network over to XO’s services; as well as Josh Brant and Laura Watkins who were responsible for organizing the event. XO took advantage of Blackfinn’s large screen televisions to prominently display their logo, and Larkin says the event originated as a way for their company to generate leads. However, he adds, it’s evolved into an opportunity for everyone to benefit from new contacts and leads. I agree.

Thanks, XO!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Infiniband VS 10GB Ethernet--Which Does What?

by Heather Head

There’s no doubt that speed and performance are hot topics among data storage and retrieval users and manufacturers today. But for consumers, the question of where to invest can be daunting, especially when it comes to interconnectivity protocols.

June’s finalization of an FCoE standard excited some industry analysts, and shows promise for growing that end of the industry. However, with Cisco pushing 10GB Ethernet products, most companies are investing in this standard for their Windows-based connectivity. QLogic, Chelsio, and Mellanox are among the producers of 10GB Ethernet. Users include Boeing, as well as email hosting and archiving provider, LiveOffice.

Then there’s Infiniband, offering four times the speed of already-speedy Ethernet, at lower cost. According to a May press release from the InfiniBand® Trade Association (IBTA), three independent trade analysts confirmed continued market growth of InfiniBand products in the HPC and data center server and storage markets. According to Tabor Research, for instance, “HPC-using organizations that are considering converged fabric strategies are more likely to consolidate on Infiniband than Ethernet.”

Unlike Ethernet, however, Infiniband doesn’t prefer to communicate with top-heavy servers running on a Windows OS. Shunning the mass market in favor primarily of high-end performance shops, Infiniband likes Unix or Linux equipment. Implemented with high-speed data storage and processing, it provides unprecedented performance for high-speed computation.

Mellanox and QLogic (with the purchase of NetXen) offer Infiniband products, and organizations like the National Institute for Health are using it.

Bottom line: If you’re running Windows servers, Ethernet currently provides easier connectivity. But if HPC performance is your game, you’ll get more for your dollar with Infiniband. Some companies run both, depending on factors beyond the scope of this discussion. If there’s any doubt as to what your company needs, contact someone who understands both and can give you tailored advice (that’s our shameless plug—866-463-3372—we’ll fix you up with just the right thing). Whatever you decide, the latest products will provide you with faster access than ever before possible.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Who's Who on the SSD-Tuned Array Bandwagon

by Heather

This year has seen practically all of the major storage manufacturers hopping aboard the solid state bandwagon—and for good reason, given the improvements in performance, capacity, cost of ownership, lower energy consumption, and the ability to realize those benefits while utilizing existing storage area disk arrays. They’re all approaching SSD a little differently, and here are the salient details on the big three:

EMC:

* First to market (by weeks)

* Integrated into the Symmetrix DMX-4, their flagship storage appliance

* Coined the term "Tier 0" for the SSD component of the storage architecture

* Marketed to high end customers--shops whose demand for high performance warrants the hefty price tag

* Zeus Technology manufactures their SSD technology

* CEO Joseph Tucci: "SSD tuned arrays will totally change the game"

* 60% more IOPS, 28% fewer drives, 21% less power and cooling, and 17% lower acquisition cost, compared with previous iterations of the Symmetrix product

Hitachi:

* Current sales leader for SSD tuned arrays

* Integrated into the Universal Storage Platform Volume Manager, their flagship storage controller appliance

* Marketed to high end customers

* Intel and STEC manufacture their SSD technology

* Their SSD tuned arrays are also sold under Sun, HP, MPC, and IBM brands

* USPVM masks storage area complexity, allowing users to ignore the "tier" paradigm

NetApp:

* The Performance Acceleration Module adds SSD support to the NetApp V-Series, their flagship storage controller appliance

* Comes integrated in the new V-Series line, or can be placed into an existing controller to improve performance without adding disk drives

* Marketed to high end customers

* Uses Texas Memory's RamSan-500 solid state disk array

* Same level of throughput with half as many HDDs to lower cost by 27%, reduce rack space by 44%, and lower electricity usage by 47-54%, compared with non-SSD tuned V-Series

* Feb 2009: "Welcome to NetApp Unified Storage 2.0--doing Solid State Storage--our way"

* Claims to have an "18-year head start" in optimizing SSD performance, thanks to their WAFL architecture designed for disk arrays, but apparently optimized for SSD as well

All three claim to have overcome the inherent challenges of SSD in enterprise class applications, including credibility, write performance, and reliability concerns. And all three have chosen to ignore the inherent bottleneck caused by placing SSD’s blazing fast speed inside the storage area network instead of on the server side, but Hitachi has released some switches and other components designed to widen the bottleneck by a bit. It remains to be seen whether this particular bandwagon will go where the major manufacturers are betting it will, but it seems clear that SSD is going to play a big part in the future of the storage industry.