Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Zombie Storage & Clouds

Imagine the Press release - High availability data center moves Zombie storage into the clouds.

(EOL) End Of Life announcements often frighten storage users into upgrading equipment when they don't have to. Storage administrators know that files and document storage is getting harder to maintain as our digital data trail grows. Actually, everyone knows it - we all have saved stuff somewhere and can't remember where it is on our hard drives.

Most folks agree with this NetApp study

"Compared to the full amount of allocated storage on the file servers, this represents only 10 percent of data," Leung said. '[This] means that 90 percent of the data is untouched during this three-month period.'

After (3) months most data becomes Zombie storage - storage that is spinning and burning electricity, but very rarely accessed. As it ages it gets accessed less and less. How many documents have I stored over the last ten years which are still on my hard drives, but I will never look at again? I will bet there are thousands. I am guilty of creating Zombie storage.

The delete key is the green key that is never used enough.

Storage should have a cost per user, but as storage media gets cheaper, we save more useless information - How many of us have heard the phrase " there is no cost to saving data". Junk accumulates quickly yet needs to be accessible - According to users. Spinning media with dead data still takes power, directly and in cooling costs. There is a cost.

This is where your legacy storage platform can come to play. Using the Hierarchical Storage Management models of olde , you can move secondary and tertiary storage to olde platforms that the OEM does not maintain any more. Zombie storage can be put on low performance media. After all, data migrations are expensive. Data that is rarely accessed can be shuffled between older assets quite easily. Mirroring and copying data based on access rules makes a lot of sense.

Some folks are using Cloud Storage providers for this, but I have concerns about security for sensitive data being put in a cloud storage provider's aggregated storage.

In the next few months I expect to see a provider emerge from the fog that will be able to provide a very high speed, private, secure, cloud storage solution that will charge only for storage as you need it. If this all emerges as I expect it to, we may have an answer to controlling costs on your Zombie storage requirements.

....Thanks for the link Simon

Friday, February 20, 2009

Alternative Views

Recently, there has been an increase in interest in our services within the financial sector, and that can have multiple reasons. But the root cause is that folks in this storage intensive business need to cut operational costs quickly and we can help them do that. Coincidentally, there is a clause in the new Stimulus bill which should help our business because it is going to make it harder for financial companies receiving TARP funds to hire folks with H1B visas. These companies may have to outsource these jobs to companies like Zerowait that can provide storage support services. With American jobs on the line I think it may be harder to reverse this clause than some folks think. I imagine that a lot of service companies and employees will be writing their Senators and Congressman to keep the clause without any changes.

No matter how you feel about the Stimulus package, it will have direct effects on the storage business overall because the cost of money is going to go up. As a significant portion of storage sales are financed, there will be a a increased cost for buying new equipment.

Here is an article that explains the potential problem pretty well.

With the US deficit soaring, Treasuries aren't a great safe-haven investment
Based on the cost of fiscal stimulus and the recently announced bank bail-out, the US federal government's debt to GDP ratio is heading much higher.

By Martin Hutchinson,
Last Updated: 12:57PM GMT 19 Feb 2009

By 2011, it may even equal Hungary's current ratio, which skyrocketed due to profligate spending and remnants of centrally planned waste.

This suggests the credit quality of currently top-rated US Treasury debt may trend down more toward the quality of Hungary's government debt, which is nearer the bottom of the investment-grade pecking order. That's not a complete disaster. But it means treasury bonds won't really be a safe-haven investment either.

Assuming deficit projections by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) for the 2009 and 2010 fiscal years are right, and adding in the costs of the stimulus package, the bank rescue plan and borrowing costs, US public debt would rise from 41pc of GDP in September 2008 to about 70pc of GDP in September 2011 - roughly in line with Hungary's December 2008 ratio.

... here is the issue stated at the end of the article

Finally, the projection assumes US interest rates remain low. With treasury-bond maturities now averaging only 48 months, higher interest rates would rapidly feed into higher borrowing costs and budget deficits.

Theoretically, this should cause more folks to want our support services. - Time will tell - : )

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A different point of view

Saving money in the Data Center on energy costs, seems to be something just about all of our clients want to do. Yesterday's Wall Street Journal had an article that pointed out how radically different an energy producing country's administration feels about alternative power generation and resource usage, as compared to our Administration's point of view.

Currently, we think of power outages as incidents, not long term events. But what if energy is curtailed for the long term?

The article ...
"Saudi Arabia Oil Minister Ali Naimi lobbed a verbal salvo in the crude vs. renewables scuffle. In a speech to oil executives in Houston, he warned that promoting the growth of renewable fuels too quickly could create a “nightmare scenario” – too little investment in oil, while renewables aren’t yet ready to pick up the slack.

His remarks seemed aimed at officials in Washington D.C. and particularly members of President Barack Obama’s administration. His speech comes at a time when the new Obama administration embarks on an ambitious path to steer the country’s energy policy away from fossil fuels. President Obama was to instate a national renewable electricity mandate and a carbon cap-and-trade system this year.

“We must be mindful that efforts to rapidly promote alternatives could have a ‘chilling effect’ on investment in the oil sector,” he said at the Cambridge Energy Research Associates oil conference, according to his prepared remarks. “A nightmare scenario would be created if alternative energy supplies fail to meet overly optimistic expectations, while traditional energy suppliers scale back investment.”

That echoes an argument made last summer by a Dutch think tank–basically, that oil-producing nations are just as concerned about “security of demand” as consumer countries are about “security of supply.”

Mr. Naimi’s warning against ramping up investments and expectations in renewable energy comes at a time when OPEC members are feeling the financial pain of low crude oil prices.
Mr. Naimi, the longtime oil minister for Saudi Arabia, is one of the most influential voices in the oil world. But he speaks as the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries has slashed output in an effort to cut supplies and keep prices from falling.

Still, Mr. Naimi acknowledged that the world was likely headed towards a transition away from fossil fuels. But he said it wasn’t clear which fuels or technologies would be able to gain the scale and economics needed to replace crude oil.

The cost of replacing the current “highly efficient and economical” energy infrastructure with alternatives would be “prohibitive” in the short term. “A prudent approach demands we recognize that the massive scale of the global energy system makes rapid change costly and impractical,” he said."

The article led me to ask some questions:

1) What happens to data center costs and up time guarantees if we run into a power crisis?
2) How do we decide which systems are critical in a completely integrated network?
3) Do we have a Disaster Prevention plan that includes provisions for which systems are critical if we only are allocated 80% of the power consumption we used last year?
4) Which servers and appliances can be turned off and are not critical?
5) How often are you going to do a backup and will we have the power to complete it?
6) How long can our UPS and generators realistically provide the extra power we need?
7) What will this do to our bottom line costs of operations?

** linked to by Simon Sharwood - Thank you.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Fear can stagger market activity

The recession is causing a lot of companies to focus on their bottom line, some companies are laying off people which is always hard and others are trying to cut expenses in various ways. Cutting expenses is also hard when a lot of things are purchased as long term service contracts. Whether you agree with the efforts the government is taking or not there is no doubt that there will be unforeseen effects to the long term economy caused by the actions they are taking. According to the head of the Congressional Budget Office - Douglas Elmendorf:
"CBO estimates that by 2019 the Senate legislation would reduce GDP by 0.1 percent to 0.3 percent on net."

For perspective on the time frame - 2019 may seem like a long time away, but it is only 10 years, and Zerowait is now in our 20th year in business.

Making strategic business plans in such an environment is very difficult and I think it is one of the main reasons that we are seeing our business prosper. Keeping things going for the short term is a viable alternative. There are no clear signs of how to judge interest rates and business activity over the next year, and according to the Congressional Budget office the current bill could actually hurt long term growth

"In contrast to its positive near-term macroeconomic effects, the Senate legislation would reduce output slightly in the long run, CBO estimates, as would other similar proposals. The principal channel for this effect is that the legislation would result in an increase in government debt. To the extent that people hold their wealth in the form of government bonds rather than in a form that can be used to finance private investment, the increased government debt would tend to “crowd out” private investment—thus reducing the stock of private capital and the long-term potential output of the economy."

Forecasting the future is not possible in these turbulent times - there seems to be no consensus. By the way, the CBO's 10 year time frame is often considered to be two hardware upgrade cycles by our customers. Since the effects of the government's actions are not quantifiable by economists and business analysts it is not a surprise that folks are holding on to equipment longer and stretching life cycles.

I think we are seeing the effects of uncertainty as a business driver.

Monday, February 09, 2009

DC , Atlanta and Charlotte

Last week I went to visit customers and friends in DC, Atlanta and Charlotte. Our list of government customers is growing as time goes by for a number of reasons. Just like everyone else the government needs to stretch their budgets and recognizes that storage subsystems that were built for high availability a few years ago, remain reliable even after they are superseded by the manufacturer's newest models. Maximizing the capacity of the heads that are in place makes a lot of sense with your and my budget dollars. Thanks uncle Sam .

In the strange twisted intersection of Government and the financial sector that has been brought about by the recent infusions of Government money into the banking system, there has been a uptick in interest in our services at banks that are NetApp users also. These banks are also looking to stretch their storage infrastructure's lifespan beyond the OEM's End Of Life statements.

Thoughts of economizing on network and storage equipment seems to be going on in both the Government sector and the financial sector, and from the meetings it seems that there is a general understanding that maintaining equipment that performs well is a logical and cost effective way to stretch everyone's budget dollars.

Tough economic times have often inspired creative solutions to problems, and more and more companies are recognizing that our company provides a reliable way to manage and maintain their storage assets for the long term, and they are asking us to provide them more services also.

Also, today I want to say thank you for search storage for citing my blog in a recent article.

It still surprises me to see who reads my blog on a regular basis.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Outside the box

For many years we have been working with companies on slightly unusual network applications. In the 1990's we worked with a lot of companies as they got onto the web and started to do credit card transactions. One of the first companies that we worked with on a major load balancing and security project was Cybercash. I thought they had a great business, but ultimately they failed for a variety of reasons. The unintended consequences of fast growth and losing their focus on their objectives were certainly general causes.

Knitting together the software and patches that keep routers, switches, servers, applications and security working does not have to end in failure. By addressing the unintended consequences of each component and their effects on each of the other components, high availability networks can be built and maintained. It just takes planning. Unfortunately, many admins and IT execs don't have time to plan to this extent--which is why many networks are continually added to and why many customers with network attached storage seem to operate in a seemingly catch-up mode as they work to maximize their storage infrastructures. It is often more expedient to add to the current network and patch a piece than rethink the whole thing.

This all leads up to what will happen to storage and network growth when budgets get cut and regular purchasing is stopped or severely diminished. I suspect that storage and network administrators will begin to acquire storage on an as-needed basis and purchase it over time. This will differ from past behavior where they sought to purchase in bulk for future growth. The pricing models and terms are still being worked out by numerous vendors, and ownership of capacity and components has to be determined. The economics of enterprise storage is changing with the economic conditions. It will be interesting to see which vendors will be able to adapt to the changes and which unintended consequences are brought about by the current recession and our reactions to it.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Great options still available

Over the past week I have spoken to some storage administrator friends who manage great islands of storage. And while they still have excess capacity on their heads and can redeploy storage in different ways, they have been told to curtail their new raw storage equipment purchases. Putting storage purchases off can work for a little while because most of the time customers buy more storage than they actually need at time of procurement. But eventually, more media will have to be purchased. Maximizing the capacity and utility of the heads works well for many of our customers because the majority of storage is only accessed occasionally, so by redeploying storage to older heads, probably will not noticeably change data access speeds for end users.

History has shown that storage media prices go down over time, so buying storage as you need it really makes a lot of sense for many customers, and this section of our business has been growing lately. Folks are recognizing that maximizing heads with storage is a great idea when budgets are tight. But perhaps the harder economic climate is also teaching people to think creatively about their storage purchases and usage.

A study last year raises some interesting questions, and may explain why many of our FAS980 customers are currently maximizing the capacity of these older systems.

During the three-month period that the network was under scrutiny, more than 90 percent of the material on the servers was never accessed. The researchers captured packets encoded using the Common Internet File System protocol, which Microsoft Windows applications use to save data via a network. About 1.5T of data was transferred.

Statistically speaking, most data on enterprise networks rarely gets accessed after it is written to network storage, according to researchers from NetApp Inc. and the University of California. Evidently, we are too busy writing new data to go back over old data.

Andrew Leung, a computer science researcher at the University of California, presented the findings at the USENIX conference in Boston last week. Given those results, organizations might want to consider moving much of their data to slower but less expensive storage units since it rarely gets accessed, he said."