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Zerowait High Availability Blog

Zerowait is an international 3rd party provider of Parts, Services, and Support for Network Appliance equipment. Zerowait is not a partner of, nor affiliated with, Network Appliance Corporation. Offices in USA,UK & AUS.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Customer Conversations and Product Development

I will start this blog by mentioning that I travel a lot; as a business owner I believe that it is important to visit our customers, and as our business has grown internationally this requires me to travel a lot of the year. By visiting our customers I learn a lot about what our customers are thinking. For example, our SimplStor Product Line was developed based customer requests in the USA, and one of our Australian customers encouraged us to develop a CCTV storage version. That Niche has become a major part of our US SimplStor business.

Over the last year, many of our NetApp CIFS customers have been asking for a SimplStor alternative for who do not want to upgrade to OnTap CDot 8.2+.  They are looking for a High Availability windows based storage solution that has the support they depend on from Zerowait. So over the last few months we have developed a SimplStor HA storage solution and based on customers’ suggestions we’ve built it to be used with VM’s and Veeam to work in  multi location infrastructures. We’ve installed and tested this solution in our own environment with our own data and app servers. Vmware’s SRM and Windows  Storage Server 2012 R2 have worked very well. As part of our testing we included mirroring to a slow cable upload connection to test it as if it was used on a remote rural site. It worked perfectly, and as one of our engineers said – “The SimplStor R2 storage server rocks!”

Over the last month I have been in Australia and New Zealand and traveling around the USA to visit our clients. Our customer base in Australia and New Zealand continues to grow as more people look for affordable solutions for their legacy NetApp support. Additionally, our SimplStor storage line continues to grow and the Australian market interest in our CCTV storage and SimplStor with Windows R2 is strong and we expect 2015 to be a very good year in the region. 

As the Zerowait team travels the world and works with our Global customers we continue to discover new market opportunities for our NetApp support and SimplStor products, and as a storage and networking company we continue to grow by delivering solutions that our customers want. 

Friday, October 03, 2014

Work Arounds

Over the last few months we have been rebuilding our network infrastructure which has been evolving with our business over the last 25 years. The last major upgrade we did was in 2002 and since then there have been a lot of additional servers and people added to the company. As we grew and added to our network we kept adapting what we had to make it work, so there were many work arounds and slowly but surely we grew a very complicated tapestry of a network design.  Last year we decided that our engineering team would slowly rebuild our network infrastructure and storage design in between working on customer issues and storage implementations. In addition, we would change our phone system (VOIP) also,  but we manage the phone system as part of Administration and not part of our Network. 

Once we determined that a rebuild was required we had to decide what was critical infrastructure and what order things could be worked on. Based on what we learned about the new insurance rules on Cyber Liability and Data Breach we determined that we had to keep all data and email functions in house to remain in compliance with the insurance rules and the contracts we had with customers in regards to data security. 

Changing our Physical Servers into Virtual Machines was one of the first things we did and the project went well. We were able to reduce our footprint in our server rooms and we learned some tricks of the trade that already have helped us in supporting our customers who are working in Virtual Machine environments. In the process of virtualizing we were able to clean up quite a few accumulated workarounds in our server architecture and we modernized quite a few of the bits and pieces of our network.

Next came the task of upgrading our routing and switching between our locations to help with our Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity plans.  As our network had grown over the last 12 years we had added some interesting work arounds that allowed applications to talk to each other and created subnets for projects that no longer existed. Throughout the process of re engineering our network we had to keep considering what we had to be prepared for over the next few years in business and as we got closer to completing the project a customer had a request that we had not considered and we needed to consider whether to start the work around process again or purchase new equipment to handle the new customer request. 

We also decided to outsource our phone system and got rid of our Nortel Meridian system. We researched a lot of providers and when we decided on the provider to go with we still did a lot of testing and tried to anticipate everything that our company and our customers would request. Even though we thought we had covered everything we would need, within a week we had to figure out a way to insert a code into the displayed number to indicate the call routing to the individual user along with a redesign of the way our follow me and hunt groups worked.

Despite our attempt to remove all workarounds, it seems we are constantly having to adapt one part of our Network, Servers  or Storage to some new trigger or requirement, whether it be a virus, malware or a new customer request or service enhancement that we are going to provide.  As a company we are all pretty adaptable to new situations and customer requests, and as we rebuild our network it has become clear that no matter how much we try to build a logical network design, inevitably we are going to have to have some workarounds in the tapestry that is our Zerowait infrastructure.

Monday, September 08, 2014

The sun is setting on a free and open internet.

Zerowait has grown into an international company due to the internet and our customers communicate with us from all parts of the globe. We use VPN's, on line meetings, messaging   and VOIP  with our customers no matter where they are.  I met our corporate attorney (Philp Corwin)  on a flight to Australia when he was on his way to an ICANN conference and  over the last several years he has been an integral part of our team as we have grown internationally. Phil was quoted in an article in the Wall Street Journal  and we agree with him, Gordon Crovitz , and the WSJ  that the changing the management of the Internet’s domain name system from multistakeholder private sector leadership to multilateral governmental control will have several deleterious unintended consequences and reduce international commerce and communications.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Peachtree Upgrade to Sage 50 on our NetApp Filer

Zerowait has been using the Peachtree accounting package for many years. Over the past decade, we worked our way through the BTreive to Pervasive upgrade, and this year there was a major upgrade to SAGE 50, required by the new owners of Peachtree, Sage Software. Upgrading a company’s accounting package is something that has to be done carefully. Since we had deployed Peachtree on an ISCSI mounted LUN on our NetApp Filer and we were migrating the app server to a Virtual Machine environment, our upgrade had a few more intricacies than normal to resolve.

The discovery phase of this project looked back over time at the steady growth of our company, to understand how the network and data store had grown and changed over the last 12 years since we first put Peachtree data on our NetApp Filer. While reviewing our Peachtree usage history we found that the shared files and ISCSI LUN set-up were from a different era; now that we were in a VM environment things needed to be changed. 

We decided the best way to move forward was to migrate our ISCSI LUN to a VDisk. Although we consider this to be a pretty standard architecture today, our engineering team found it difficult to get step by step instructions from Sage on how to migrate their application in our particular environment. So it was up to us to figure it out.  Our team built a test VM environment using the old version of Peacthree, then performed the data migration using RoboCopy and everything seemed to work well.  We had our primary users test the application to make certain everything was working correctly, after which our engineering team did an upgrade to SAGE 50 in the virtual environment. There were some tweaks required but we found that we had everything working in the test environment and were confident that we could do an upgrade to our live environment. We made several backups to be safe, and then our engineering team upgraded our Peachtree Accounting package to SAGE 50 and migrated our users to the new package, documenting the way that shared folders had to be mounted, accessing the Forms correctly, and updating DNS on some of the user desktop machines.

We successfully migrated our accounting package without any significant downtime and by using our VM architecture we were able to reduce network complexity and simplify our shared company folders, which after over a decade of accumulated use had gotten a bit convoluted. The whole process took about 25 hours of engineering time to accomplish and we are now on SAGE 50 with a more reliable network and storage architecture than we had before the upgrade.

While we consider Peachtree and SAGE 50 to be a pretty standard application to be hosted in a VM environment with NetApp storage we were surprised to find that the vendor did not have a lot of documentation on this type of network and storage environment.  Therefore we had to create our own migration plan, which worked out quite well. I wonder how many other companies are using their Peachtree / SAGE 50 in a VM and NetApp environment?

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Management Myopia

NetApp's aggressiveness in forcing their customers to upgrade to Cluster Data OnTap  8.2  (CDOT 8.2) is worrying a lot of NetApp storage engineers. From the cost of the hardware and software required for the upgrade to the disruption of stable storage systems, NetApp's stance is causing storage engineers and their managers to look at alternative storage solutions. It seems that NetApp's management has lost sight of a significant portion of their customers' needs, and is now focused on forcing their customers to upgrade.

There is a theory that I have heard which is based on the idea of Vendor Lock-in. NetApp's management has decided that by changing the way licensing works they can lock customers in for the long term and because they believe that there is no viable alternative to OnTap their customers will stay loyal. But this view rejects that technology is marching forward and continuing to commoditize and therefore cheaper alternatives that are ' good enough' will blossom over time.

The history of the technology sector shows this view is myopic. Over time unforeseen innovations will take over from an embedded solution, unless there is a legal lock in that forces a technology to remain static. At the beginning of the NAS revolution NetApp was all about Open Standards and customers empowerment; does this seem like the NetApp we see today pushing customers towards CDOT 8.2?  I believe that Dave Hitz and James Lau were sincerely interested in commoditizing Storage when they came up with the Filer concept, but there seems to be a change within NetApp management now toward locking customers into their brand of storage. This may explain the interest we have been receiving from folks looking to migrate their storage infrastructure to a more open source platform than NetApp CDOT 8.2, and the strong growth in our independent NetApp service and support business.

If you are looking for alternatives to an upgrade from NetApp, Zerowait's legacy filer storage support solutions can provide you breathing room while you consider your strategic storage options. Upgrading to Cluster Data OnTap is not the only solution available to you.