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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.

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.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Autumn for big storage vendors

One of the unintended consequences of virtualization is that it frees the consumer from the lock in of the hardware manufacturer.  At first this was just a problem for the folks making servers as applications and hardware were migrated to the web for efficiencies of scale.  As time went on the virtualization of ecommerce payment, CRM, and small business accounting all proved that small business could compete in larger markets by streamlining the costs of IT and its associated staff.  The online companies that could provide these services used Virtual Machines built on high quality commodity hardware that they assembled themselves and deployed quickly. Now storage is moving to the same commoditized, highly competitive structure.

It often seems like a contradiction at first when I talk to folks about how market competition increases quality while reducing costs, but it is true. Over time profitable companies will seek to increase quality while reducing costs, because customers don’t like the hassles of shoddy quality.  For the manufacturer, the service call to repair something costs more than it would to build in quality, so successful companies build quality in as a way of reducing their costs of service. Their customers that do need a service call receive a better experience since the best service technicians are available to assist, instead of handling everyday failures which don’t happen in a quality product.

Recently I read an article in the Wall Street Journal about how reliable cars are today as compared to those built 20 years ago. This is partly due to technology within the vehicles, but it also has a lot to do with the CAD engineering tools and materials science that has been applied to the manufacturing process.  Cars are so reliable now that the Journal article points out that the dealers are using the recall process to bring customers back in to their showrooms. This points out that the automobile dealers and manufacturers have learned what service companies have know for a long time; quality service builds brand loyalty and brings back satisfied customers to your store.

Zerowait has grown into an international company because we have focused on building quality service relationships with our customers. Consumers can buy from numerous vendors on the Web, but over time they learn that buying a commodity product from the cheapest vendor on the web may not provide the best value.  As labor costs go up the value of the service vendor goes up because a good technician can debug a problem quickly and efficiently.

The big storage vendors are in for a difficult few years, because in order to maintain their high quality service engineers they need to sell highly marked up technology to their customers who are already buying commoditized hardware for their virtualized servers and using open source software solutions.  Low priced commodity storage solutions are becoming more available, so it will be very hard to compete at their current high price point level.  Will they be able to compete in a deflationary marketplace?

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Zerowait’s competitive pricing for Government IT procurement.

Zerowait has been in business for over 20 years, and in that time we have worked with many Federal, State, County and City government IT departments.  Since 2001, the growth in Government Storage requirements has been accelerating, and as this equipment gets older our NetApp government customers have asked us to provide support for more and bigger installations.  Interest in SimplStor by this sector has also blossomed. While many of these customers are able to purchase from us under simplified acquisition procedures, often we are asked if we have a Schedule 70 Contract or a vehicle to make things easier on the procurement folks.  We knew that for this task we would need an expert, and we found one:  Tim Reid, now Zerowait’s Director of Government Contracts.

Tim is a veteran, serving in the US Navy until 1992.  Afterward he began a career helping businesses obtain Government contracts.  Over the last decade Tim has helped small businesses win almost $150 million in Government contracts, and he appreciated how Zerowait specifically could help the government support their legacy storage equipment and migrate to newer platforms like our SimplStor. As a taxpayer, Tim further understood the value we could provide; and, as a specialist in government business development, he recognized the unique value Zerowait could provide in cutting their IT procurement costs.

With Tim’s guidance, Zerowait now has a U.S. Federal General Services Administration (GSA) Schedule 70 contract application in process, which when awarded will allow Zerowait to provide specialized goods and services to a broader segment of the governmental IT sector.  As Tim says, “We are looking forward to being able to answer ‘Yes’ when agency IT managers ask if we (Zerowait) have a GSA Schedule.  Being awarded the contract, and having earned the right to be a GSA schedule contractor, will make all the work getting to this point worth it.”  Over the last several months Tim has added to our capabilities and modified our processes to meet the stringent requirements of government contracting.

After two decades in business Zerowait now has a dedicated government contracts department and we are building a team of specialists to help agencies and organizations that need to maintain, expand, or migrate their data storage infrastructure while staying within strict budgetary constraints.  Zerowait can now offer service and support for legacy NetApp equipment and our SimplStor systems which can run Redhat, Solaris with ZFS or Microsoft Storage Server R2, providing government IT departments the same flexible and affordable systems and support that Zerowait offers our commercial customers.