Tuesday, January 31, 2006

"A telescope will magnify a star a thousand times, but a good press agent can do even better." Fred Allen

Often we find articles in the trade press that seem to be simple rewrites of the press releases that are put out by the PR flunkies. It is not only Oprah that does not feel a need to check the validity of facts . "You are gullible. So am I. We believe that when something is written down and presented as truth, it is actually true. This is the contract between a writer and reader. It is based on trust."

The articles I have read about NetApp doubling their Performance numbers with every release of hardware are extremely hard to prove, but they are published repeatedly by the trade press, as noted by Toigo. If this misrepresentation of the facts was the only time it happened it would be understandable , but it is a pattern. I guess what Fred Allen said is still true today.

Today's word of advice goes back to Ronald Reagan "Trust but Verify", when it comes to Storage Vendor performance statistics, and test before your purchase.

Monday, January 30, 2006

"All vendor demos are boring. It's the law, I think " Scott Adams

That certainly is the truth, some of the powerpoint presentations I have listened too were worse then getting my wisdom teeth out. Why is it that sales and marketing folks take so long to tell you about their Gartner magic quadrant reports and their value propositions?

Why can't they just provide easily verifiable features, benefits, costs and life cycle figures for their equipment, software or support?

At Zerowait we know that you are busy, so here is our marketing pitch:
At Zerowait we provide affordable service, support and upgrades for NetApp equipment. We provide our customers with hardware support contracts varying in length between 1 and 3 years. Our hardware support costs are typically between 50% and 60% of the OEM's cost for support.

Here is our sales pitch:
We are recognized as the leader in third party service and support, if you send us your filer's weekly logs we can provide you a service and support quote for your NetApp equipment. Additionally, we can provide you with a sample of our Exception Reporter service which will may help you increase the performance and storage utilization.

That was easy!

Friday, January 27, 2006

Let's clear up some misconceptions about NetApp storage. You may have heard that there is no such thing as transferable licenses, third party support or reliable SRM tools for NetApp's products. But that is not true.

Transferable licenses - NetApp licenses customers to use their software products and protocols. Their protocols are transferable if the customer writes 'Transferable licensing required' on their PO and the PO is accepted by NetApp. This week we transfered the license on an 800 series unit that was shipped to California and is set up and running. There was no trouble getting the license transfer documents from NetApp. If you would like some help in securing your transferable license from NetApp when you purchase a new unit from them, just give us a call. We will fax you a copy of a letter of transfer from NetApp so you can reference it with your purchase order.

Third Party Service and Support - Zerowait specializes in providing NetApp hardware service and support to end users who are looking for an affordable alternative to the high prices for support that NetApp charges. Zerowait currently supports hundreds of filers in the field and has several hundred NetApp parts customers who perform their own self maintenance. Zerowait provides reliable service for NetApp filers and we can provide reference accounts if you need them.

The Future - Zerowait is expanding to meet the demands of our new customers. In response to these new customers we are building our parts depots currently, and also introducing our Exception Reporter in a couple of weeks. Zerowait will remain focused on providing our customers long term affordable service and support for their High Availability infrastructures.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

When did SATA become full duplex?

I am often asked to comment on the performance of SATA drives as compared to FC in NetApp gear. Although I can't seem to find any reliable perfromance figures comparing the two in a filer application I can't see how a SATA drive can perform as well as a FC drive since the FC drive is Full Duplex and the SATA drive is not.

Jon Toigo has a comment on all of this which I found simple & easy to understand:

January 25th, 2006

I keep getting pinged by folks regarding the differences between SATA and SAS. Is SATA full duplex? Is it enterprise-ready (whatever that means)? Do the drives really shake so much that over the course of the evening the drives will shake themselves out of the array cabinet and end up in a pile on the floor? The answers are, in order, no, who knows?, and bullshit.

A good debate between Fujitsu and Western Digital on the relative merits of the technologies can be found here.

He also pointed me to this article:"A first glance of paper specifications may make SATA look similar in performance to SAS but do not be fooled by first impressions as when it comes to enterprise class server performance SAS drives will considerably outperform any SATA drives due to the fact that the interface is Full Duplex rather than Half Duplex (as is the case for SATA), the SAS drives have lower latency, lower command overheads, faster access times, deeper command queue depths and also offer the possibility of configuring dual-ported solutions which enables a further doubling of data rates."

"Even if the SAS drives are only used in single-ported mode the Full Duplex nature of SAS could bring about a doubling in performance from the interface alone. The important thing is to measure transactions rather than data rates as it is transactions per second performance that normally matters in most server applications. If data streaming only is required then SATA interfaced drives may prove adequate and the user may as well choose the lowest cost per GB in these instances provided they have a secure backup of their data"

I wrote this note to Jon Toigo in reference to NetApp performance :

Hi Jon:

We constantly get asked about the relative performance of FC to SATA drives, because NetApp is pushing the SATA option to provide a lower cost solution to their customers on the FAS3000 series. Our customers would like to see valid, verifiable and repeatable data on the performance between a NetApp Filer with FC drives and one with SATA drives. In the NetApp case, I wonder if the NVRAM card takes up the slack caused by the half duplex SATA drives? Maybe it doesn’t matter on a lightly loaded filer, with few users. However, the FAS3000 is marketed & sold as a high performance unit, not as a disk to disk back up device.


Wednesday, January 25, 2006

You have to think anyway, so why not think big? - Donald Trump

Over the last few years Zerowait has built up quite a reputation as the best provider of NetApp third party support. Large companies like HP, EDS, CSC, and others depend on us for service and support of their NetApp hardware, and many other companies and government departments do also. Recently there has been an increase in interest in our services from companies with 20 to 100 filers which they manage themselves. The savings to these organizations can be enormous, and with our value added services like our exception reporter we can provide better service and support than the OEM. So these companies can realize monetary savings and get increased performance from their filers with service and support form Zerowait.

So we are taking this piece of the Donald's advice - we are starting to think big, this means targeting the larger NetApp accounts in our case. If your company is spending too much on NetApp hardware support, give us a call. You will be glad you did!

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Monopoly...is a great enemy to good management.
Adam Smith - the Wealth of Nations

Prospective customers ask us how can we provide better engineering, service, and support than NetApp does since they are the OEM. It is not easy, as we must compete with the manufacturer of the equipment we have to do a better job and provide superior service and support at a competitive price point. And since the majority of our prospects turn into customers we must do a great job. If you would like a reference from one of our service customers on the hundreds of filers we support just give us a call.

Currently, many NetApp customers are complaining about NetApp being unable to provide them with equipment on time. As the only supplier for their product they have no reason to improve their service except to fight EMC. But if a customer is 'locked in' to NetApp than NetApp has no reason to improve service, because the cost of changing your storage vendor is so high. NetApp's sales force knows this. Therefore only in a competitive situation with another storage vendor will a NetApp Storage customer have more negotiation leverage.

To get the best price from NetApp, you should negotiate at the end of their quarter, when their sales force has to make their numbers. Also it can only help in your negotiation to introduce a competitive product into your negotiation with NetApp's sales folks. Asking Zerowait for reference quotes for upgrades can also help you when you are negotiating with NetApp's sales force.

NetApp supply chain woes frustrate users

Every growing company has problems, I hope that NetApp get's their problems under control. If they don't I am certain that EMC and HDS will be certain to capitalize on NetApp's problems. The more NetApp sells the bigger our business becomes, so I certainly want them to fix their delivery and supply problems quickly.

Toigo has an another interesting post
That is worth reading.

Monday, January 23, 2006

The sole purpose of business is service. The sole purpose of advertising is explaining the service which the business renders. Leo Burnett

Based on this quote I thought it would be a good idea to list what Zerowait does for our customers.

Zerowait provides an affordable alternative to NetApp for service, support and upgrades to NetApp customers who love their NetApp equipment, but can't afford the annual service costs from NetApp.

Zerowait provides transferable licensed filers to NetApp customers who are looking for licensed filers without having to pay NetApp's high prices.

Zerowait provides parts for NetApp users who are looking for a reliable vendor for their NetApp needs.

Zerowait supports NetApp filers for customers and helps our customers tune their filers to provide optimum performance for their particular needs.

Zerowait ships NetApp equipment around the world in support of service organizations managing NetApp filers for their customers.

Zerowait provides 24/7/365 on call services for our service and support customers.

Friday, January 20, 2006

I've learned that mistakes can often be as good a teacher as success. Jack Welch Recognizing opportunities when they arise is relatively easy, creating and executing profitably on the opportunity is much more difficult. But the willingness to adjust your product and service offering to the requirements of your customer is often the best way to gain access to new customer opportunities. I asked a stock analyst this week why public companies often focus on market share rather than per unit profitability. The analyst said that the reason is that there is a disconnect between the shareholder's value perception and the employee managers of the company.

It seems logical to me as the President of Zerowait that the best way for us to succeed is to satisfy our customers as completely as we can and therefore provide more value to our NetApp customers for their NetApp service and support dollar than NetApp does itself. Outstanding service and support for NetApp products is a tiny market niche, but we are focused on it. NetApp itself is focused on new product sales instead of service and support of installed product. Zerowait provides an affordable alternative to NetApp for service, support and upgrades of NetApp equipment. Hundreds of NetApp customers buy parts and service from us every year, and we expect to add to our customer base significantly again this year, because we are focused on customer support and the manufacturer is not.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Ask the Engineer

We get asked this question a lot in relation to NetApp Filers


Question: Is there a way to get NetApp's standard dump command to automatically sequence through tapes in an autoloader? Or do I still have to manually break things up per tape?

Answer: Find out if your autoloader or tape library supports "Stacker Mode" or "Sequential Mode". Spectra Logic 2K TreeFrogs, for instance, support the former. Your manual can explain how to set it.

The autoloader in Stacker or Sequential Mode is dumb, only knowing that if a tape is ejected then it should remove the tape and replace it with the next one in line.

Once the Library is in Stacker or Sequential Mode, then you just need to specify, in the DUMP command, the drive name for each required tape.

EXAMPLE 1: To dump a volume named "test" to tape you could use:

    dump 0f urst1h /vol/test

    urst1h is the device name on a sample tape library and passes the commands for unload rewind. Run sysconfig -t to determine the equivalent for your own autoloader tape library.

EXAMPLE 2: Now lets say your volume is 150GB and your tapes hold 50GB each uncompressed. You would need 3 tapes. The command to span the three tapes using DUMP would be:
    dump 0f urst1h,urst1h,urst1h /vol/test
In the above example, the number of tapes is indicated in the command line. If the filer does not complete the dump in the specified number of tapes and needs more, then it will drop you out to the filer prompt with a device open error. This indicates that the tape library is not ready, but that the filer wants to continue the dump.

To continue, you simply need to make sure another tape is available in the library, and then type yes [ENTER] to retry. The dump will continue with the next tape.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Zerowait is working on developing our European distribution and support center. Of course the first step is always to get the shirts and coffee mugs in place!

Over the next few months we should have this service depot completely ready to go.

News from the Blade. org initiative just came into my mailbox. If you want to keep abreast of changes in this niche market you may want to visit their site www.blade.org

Monday, January 16, 2006

NetApp has told many of their customers that it will cease support on their NetApp F760's in the summer. While I was at the storage conference at CES, I spoke about this with many folks. It was suggested that perhaps NetApp should outsource the support to Zerowait, since we are supporting so many of their systems anyway. Although many of our customers have told us that our service and support exceeds that of their OEM's, I would not hold my breath waiting for NetApp to formally recommend Zerowait for their legacy hardware support.

If you are looking into a NetApp purchase, I would suggest that you request your license transferability documents when you make your Purchase Order, and also that you plan for your equipment's support in the period from 3 to 7 years. NetApp typically raises their support prices substantially at 3 years to motivate customers to replace their equipment. Zerowait affordably supports NetApp equipment that has been serving data reliably for 7 years or more. You may want to consider the costs of your ongoing support and service alternatives when you purchase your next NetApp filer.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Over the last week I have been visiting many of our NetApp service and support clients on the west coast. I visited 15 clients this week. It seems that everyone is struggling to get more value out of their storage infrastructure and more from their storage vendor. Most of the customers I visited were very interested in the issue transferability of licenses on NetApp filers, and also the interoperability of storage shelves. Not one of our customers was happy with NetApp's service and support pricing. But that is why they called Zerowait in the first place. Everyone of the customers I spoke to was very interested in our ZHA Exception Reporter.

It is good to be back in my office, and it looks like I will be visiting our NetApp customers in Texas in the next few weeks. If you would like me to stop in to see you while I am in Texas, just drop me a note.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Consumer Electronics Show

I have to go to Las Vegas tomorrow to visit with a bunch of customers and associates at CES . It is always a fascinating show. After the CES, I will be traveling to Southern California to visit with several of our customers. The area from Santa Barbara to San Diego represents a significant portion of our NetApp service and support business.

As some of you may know we also support Arrowpoint load balancers. When Cisco purchased Arrowpoint a few years ago, many of these customers did not want to go on the upgrade path that Cisco offered. There were three OEM's of the Arrowpoint unit before the take over by Cisco. ATT, Alcatel and Zerowait. We were told that Zerowait was the largest OEM at the time of the purchase, I think we are the only one supporting these units anymore.

During the Internet boom of the late 1990's many of our customers were deploying large arrays of servers behind their load balancers, and these servers were connected to NetApp Filers to serve their SQL and Oracle databases. A lot of these customers are still running their NetApp F760's that we sold them, The F700 series is still reliable and under the 3 TB limits of the units, so these customers see no need to upgrade. With Zerowait support the 700 series is quite affordable to keep running.

Andy Monshaw of IBM was interviewed by Computerworld - click to read the complete interview

I found this portion of particular interest...

Do you see acquisitions playing heavily into your product road map in 2006?

We did the NetApp agreement and the Aperi thing. Now it's time to get into the OEM alliance and acquisition space. We've built a new team and we're engaged with over 30 potential spaces where this would make sense. So I'd say in 2006 this will be one of the space that will be pretty hot for us.

Would NetApp be a potential purchase for you?

I'm not going to comment on that.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Where do you turn for advice on maintaining your NetApp Storage infrastructure?

Many customers read the marketing and press releases provided by their friendly sales folks. But these documents are heavily weighted in favor of the company that produces them. A lot of IT decision makers read the trade magazines, but many of these magazines are heavily influenced by the advertising and revenue requirements of the magazines. Very few companies actually have the time and budgets required to run a bake off of competing products to see which one actually meets all of their requirements in their production environment.

Most decisions in storage are made with incomplete information on performance and long term costs. The vendor manufacturers know this, and they will low bid the cost to get in the door and open an account to their proprietary equipment, and then they will quickly begin to work on getting a customer to lock in on their proprietary technology. The cost to change storage technology can be quite expensive for an IT department. And this is the gravy train that the vendor is looking for.

So what options does a locked in customer have to rationalize their cost structure and affordably extend the lifespan of their equipment? Expert third party support is one option, and in certain niche markets it is the only option available because of bankruptcies and acquisitions in the highly competitive storage marketplace. For example, third party support in the NetApp marketplace is the only competition to the locked in customer available. Many of our customers keep NetApp support on some systems and use Zerowait for third party support on other systems. These customers feel that keeping some competition in the marketplace will keep competitive pressure on their manufacturer vendor. And they seem to be correct, as NetApp has dropped their support prices to many customers after hearing that Zerowait is in an account.

Avoiding getting locked in to a specific vendor's technology is the best long term way to keep your storage costs low for the long term. However, if you are locked in to a technology, there usually is a specialty support organization for that equipment.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Keeping up with the news.

Some of our readers have asked us how we keep up with the NetApp news that this Blog focuses on. It is really quite easy using the Google news alerts. We just select the topics we are interested in and Google emails us. But we also read a lot of technical journals, technical mailing lists, and a few blogs also.

Independence Air filed for bankrupcy today.
Analysts said Independence's failure reflects its own missteps, rather than any fundamental flaws in the low-fare carrier strategy pioneered by Southwest Airlines Co. and imitators.

Terry Trippler, who runs the CheapSeats.com travel website, said in an interview, ''They had too many planes flying to too many cities too often and too low prices. There was just no way they could make money. Fuel prices didn't help either," Trippler added, noting that costs soared after this fall's Gulf Coast hurricanes.

NetApp had featured them in a press release a few months ago.
Since deploying the NetApp solution, Independence Air has realized increased business flexibility and management savings. Even with tripling storage requirements, the company has reduced storage management time and staffing requirements by more than 50% to 75%, respectively. Performance improvements in critical night batch processing have also enhanced competitiveness. “The amount of time it took to complete one particular operation fell from two hours to 45 minutes,” said Hughes. “This improvement directly impacts the ability to complete routine maintenance on schedule and to keep our planes flying on time.”

Monday, January 02, 2006

Commodity parts clarification by NetApp.

See business week article
The "state of the shelf" strategy has to do with how the systems are designed and what components we use. We have never designed a custom semiconductor or ASIC. Most other storage manufacturers have several ASIC's in each system. EMC' systems have quite a few.

Most of our hardware sub-assemblies are also sourced from other manufacturers. Our disk shelves and packaging are sourced at Xyratex, a company based in the UK. The system mother boards and chassis for our FAS900 series were co-designed and are manufactured by NEC who sells tham as Wintel servers. The I/O cards such as the Ethernet NICs and FibreChannel HBA's are standard cards from suppliers such as Q-Logic.

However, the system we take to market is uniquely NetApp. Part of our business practice is that all elements of the system must be purchased from NetApp by the customer. We do not allow or support the introduction into our systems of components or disk drives purchased from sources other than NetApp. There are several reasons for this policy (including revenue), but the primary reason for this policy is quality and support. Our systems are hihgly tuned high performance systems that require careful quality control of the components to function properly and reliably. Every time we have allowed customers or partners to plug in components or disk drives from other sources we have significant reliability issues. And when an issue occurs we are not able to provide support because we do not know what is in the system.

So the components and sub-assemblies are "state of the shelf", but the way we put them together into a system is part of our value add.