A few weeks ago I had the distinct privilege of being invited to attend HP’s Storage Tech Days 2012 in Fort Collins, Colorado by none other than the legendary Calvin Zito @HPStorageguy. For those that don’t already know, Calvin is HP Storageworks’ Social Media Manager and full time cheerleader for Boise football. He discovered my blog less than a year ago when it was created and we have maintained contact with each other ever since exchanging various ideas, etc. HP had their travel agency reach out to work with me on booking a flight and found them accommodating and very easy to work with. So, January 25th comes and I arrive to a creepily isolated and MASSIVE Denver Airport that makes JFK look like a kid’s play set with a text message from the driver instructing me exactly how to navigate this maze called “Denver International Airport”.
A nice black SUV was waiting with the friendliest driver I had ever met (remember I’m live in NYC). We hit the road and started to make our way to Ft. Collins which was about 45 minutes away from Denver. I never saw a place so flat with no trees in my life, it was quite an experience. It shows me that there is still plenty of space left on this Earth for us humans to populate. Once I got to the hotel in the lobby I see none other than Craig Nunes (Head of marketing for HP Storage) and Calvin Zito. Ok, I will admit that at this point the hidden “inner geek” in me was overjoyed and humbled to be in the land of these giants. I especially remember Craig from VMworld 2011 when he unveiled the P10000 3Par to the world. Of course, down the road this will be remembered as a defining moment in HP Storage history. So, I go up to both of them and Calvin introduces me to Craig and tells him “this is 3cVguy.” Craig says without delay, “3cVguy! we’ve all seen you online, I love your name and what you are doing for the community”. Yup, this was a great boost for me and really gave me a natural high.
Calvin then reminds him that I was the guy who threw a wrench at the marketing guys when I prematurely posted details about the P10000 before HP wanted them released. Of course he remembered that! So, I had a great 15 minute conversation with Craig and Calvin where I put some of my thoughts on how better to market some of the new storage itiiatives to IT Professionals and yes, it was pretty damned cool to be speaking directly to the top guy. Calvin started introducing me around to several of the bloggers that were already scattered around the lobby. As I started to get aquatinted to more of the bloggers the “land of the giants” feeling went to “land of the gods!” The roster consisted of the following leaders:
Eric Siebert – @ericsiebert – www.vsphere-land.com *vExpert, Author of book “Maximum vSphere” Not an attendee but was onsite for the HP Storage VMware integration session. Just had to do a special shout out for a true leader in the VMware community.
Alastair Cooke, – @DemitasseNZ - www.demitasse.co.nz | *Trainer & vExpert*, Flew all the way from New Zealand to interact with everyone, great guy.
Brian Knudtson – @bknudston - www.knudtnet/vblog | *Train Signal Instructor, vExpert, 2x VCAP, and VMunderground member*, Kept badgering him on the VCAP exams and what is what like to create a Train Signal series.
Ray Lucchesi – @raylucchesi - Silvertonconsulting.com/blog | *Industry Analyst*
Howard Marks – @DEEPSTORAGENET – www.deepstorage.net, *Beats SAN’s to death for living, fellow Jersey guy but soon to be Arizona, good luck Howard!*
John Obeto – @JohnObeto – www.absolutelywindows.com, (This guy is naturally hilarious!)
Jeffrey Powers – @geekazine – www.geekazine.com (I now stay up to date with all tech news do this this guy, I encourage you to follow him)
Justin Paul – @recklessop – www.jpaul.me, *vExpert, VCAP*, (Have long used his blog for reference many time over the years, great guy!)
Rick Schandler – @vmrick – www.vmbulletin.com, *VMUG leader and vExpert*, (Aviation guru, had an interesting convo on figuring out how much turbulence it takes to break a wing, entry into Denver was frightening lol)
Derek Schauland – @webjunkie – www.techhelp.cybercreations.net, *Microsoft MVP* (Missed the brewery tour, hah, sorry man)
Matt Vogt – @mattvogt – www.mattvogt.posterous.com
The next morning we had a short 5 minute trip to HP’s facility that houses many storage and HP workstation groups. The facility is HUGE and is flanked by building belonging to Intel and AMD. After some logistics we made our way through the facility to our meetings space HQ. Seeing all the different groups carved out and working was pretty cool. Since I touch a lot of HP workstations it was cool to see the guys who were actually developing them and all the gadgets that populated their workspace. It also made me thankful to work out in the field and not in a cube!
So, after the formal introduction and overview of the meeting agenda by Calvin and Becca, Craig Nunes wasted no time and got right into the state of the union for HP’s Converged Infrastructure ecosystem. The main message Craig wanted us to leave with is that HP Storage has executed the initiatives that has lacked in the past, a streamlined and innovative storage offering built for Tier 1 infrastructures. If you are an HP shop you should be able to stick with them for all your storage needs as well. Craig went on to explain how HP Storage has gained substantial market share from its primary competitors and is now on proposals that HP was never able to get on. HP has EMC and Netapp on its radar for those Tier 1 cloud infrastructures. 3Par has grown 90% since the acquisition and HP is putting a large amount of resources behind it. Of course, they want that 3 billion dollar investment back! The P6000 EVA which got very little talk time seems like it will be phased out within a year or two but who knows. If they did that I feel that there will be a hole in portfolio which could be filled if they decide to make a “baby” 3Par system. Next, he spoke about the “Lefthand” P4000 series which falls into the iSCSI portfolio of storage products. The P4000′s architecture is very simple at the high level. It essentially does away with that traditional “Controller Head -> Disk Shelf-> Disk Shelf -> Disk Shelf” model and moves to the “Controller+Disk Shelf <-> Controller+Disk Shelf <-> Controller+Disk Shelf” setup which means that you are adding power every time you add space (more on this later). The iBrix series is HP’s enterprise level NAS solution whose demand has grown tremendously in the past few years. NAS solutions are far more accepted in the Enterprise then they were in the past. Finally we had the StoreOnce disk based backup solutions that come with advanced compression and de-duplication capabilities. I didn’t know much about the iBrix and Storeonce products so it was pretty interesting to learn more about them. The StoreOnce’s secret sauce is in it’s de-duplication and speed technology, where HP says you can expect up to an 8-1 ratio. The speed rating on the top model clocks in at a supersonic 28 TB in one hour! Very impressive and I will start recommending the 4000 series in future designs.
Craig Nunes going over the growth and market share numbers
After Craig finished we moved right along into the rest of the sessions which focused on drilling down into the products. Brad Katz, Product Manager for P4000 started speaking about these little iSCSi’ers. Now, having implemented several of these devices already I was pretty familiar with them but it is always nice to talk about how the technology actually works under the hood. The P4000 (formerly lefthand) has been a very attractive choice for my SMB customers. There are many smaller sized firms that want the benefits of a traditional SAN but with sticker prices in the six figures and all the complexities that come with them they have been holding out. The P4000 can be purchased in two different forms, the VSA and the appliance. The VSA product turns any ESX(i) supported server into a full virtual SAN, you can loosely compare it to an OpenFiler type offering. The appliance comes prebuilt with SAN/IQ on an optimized DL180 server. From what I hear you can expect about a 10-15% increase in speed when using the pre-built appliance over the VSA software which sound s pretty reasonable. The P4000 is unlike traditional SAN’s for several reasons, the biggest being the “pay as you grow” model. As mentioned earlier the concept of hanging several “dumb disk shelves” off of a controller head is foreign to the P4000. With HP’s solution every time you add a “node” you add both space and power. This brings both CAPEX and OPEX values down significantly against the competition. Network RAID is the technology that keeps things humming along when it comes to speed and redundancy. Think of Network RAID as the standard RAID used for disks, but take it to a higher level and picture the actual nodes being the object in the RAID group instead of the actual disks. As you add nodes to the cluster a re-stripe will execute and start using the additional horsepower and space. The P4000′s are actually scary on how simple they are to setup and maintain. You can literally pull the system out the box, configure it, and get to the point of moving over your data in about two hours. Once again, this is huge for an SMB, especially in these times where budgets are much tighter. Brad went on to compare the P4000 with the new VMware VSA. I did my own comparison many months ago and when you get into the nitty gritty you will see that there really is no comparison between the two at all! The P4000 is a far mature product at this point and has many more years over VMware’s VSA when it comes to development and fine tuning. After the lecture we had a chance to get to the hands on lab portion where everyone was able to setup and configure the P4000 VSA solution. I didn’t get a chance yet to play with the fresh setup installation wizard from the 9.5 version and was pleasantly surprised. It looks like HP has been listing to their customers since the previous VSA installation wizard very very clunky and unintuitive. Finally, we got a hint that a new SSD based version was on its way which happened to be released a few days ago. Check out the new P4900 here.
Next up was Jim Richardson speaking on behalf of the 3Par product line. Now, I have seen Jim speak before and I have always enjoyed his ability to take complex topics and translate them into plain english to his audience. While he was speaking I watched several of the guys smile as if they were finally understanding what 3Par’s technology was all about. Remember, we had mostly EMC guys in the audience! Jim also shared an interesting fact, he sold the first 3Par solution back in the early 2000′s so obviously he knows this product inside and out. Jim discussed the new v400 and v800 which falls under the P10000 series and we all got a history lesson. Server guys from Sun Microsystems started 3Par when they had a different vision from the competitors when it came to storage. The vision would essentially result in the creation of the “chunklet” technology. Chunklet’s basically eliminates the traditional model where data resides on a disk group which means your data will only live on a subset of hard drives, so therefore you only get a certain amount of spindle power. Chunklets are either 256MB or 1 GB in size and attempts to spread out chunklets to all spindles to provide maximum amount of I/O. 3Par arrays are a no brainer for all virtualized cloud infrastructures and Tier 1 storage needs. 3Par is the only id ranged array to offer 4+ controllers which will then provide you with the benefit of persistent cache. In the next few weeks I will be doing a series of posts that go over the entire 3Par offering and technologies. We got a chance to hop on the hands on lab where we worked our way through the InFORM OS and created a bunch of LUN’s and snapshots etc. I just have to reiterate how knowledgeable and friendly (when he has a full stomach) JR is and I will be requesting him to come out to NYC to give a 3Par session to our firm.
RANDOM THOUGHTS – I’ll share a few of my suggestions to HP that I discussed in my initial conversation with Craig and Calvin. Firms like VMware, EMC, and VCE are very friendly toward the IT professional. They have slick marketing material, area meet-up groups, best practice publications, and simulators. People sell, recommend, and like to work on what they know and understand. HP is known for being pretty conservative on the marketing side but I have seen improvement and hopefully Craig will grow this area. With HP Press being born there is no reason why a 3Par book couldn’t be developed or even a mini series to get people more familiar with the technology. Oh, and a simulator for the InFORM OS is a MUST in my book. Unfortunately JR mentioned that it would be at least a year until one would be considered to be developed since most of the resources are tied to to the advancement of the 3Par integration into HP. Until HP creates something like this a lot of business will be lost to EMC and NetApp. If anyone hasn’t even seen EMC or NetApp marketing presentation you are missing quite a magic show.
We then made our way to the data center for a full tour of the facility. The videos are below but tHe battery died toward the end and it was too bad since they showed us some pretty cool software that was able to detect heat spots in the racks. They installed a network switch backwards and we could see this heat spot in the overhead view of the data center. As you can see in the video we took a closer look at the Lefthand P4800, Storeonce, 3Par, and had an in-depth look at the power and cooling technologies used to run this data center. We even got to see some new technology out of HP labs where the floor tiles had moving louvers in them for more efficient cooling. HP is currently researching whether or not it is viable to release this as a product. Go ahead and check out the 3 part video, I guarantee you will learn something new.
Eric Seibert, vExpert, Author of “Maximum vSphere”, owner of the famous site vsphere-land.com, and HP employee took the stage to discuss HP’s abilities when it comes to integration with VMware. Of course, that conversation would be nothing without discussing VAAI and VASA. VAAI is the ability to offload common storage related tasks directly to the storage array without having to involve VMware. The three VAAI API’s offload the following functions directly to the storage array (very succinct list):
1. Hardware Locking Offload/Hardware Accelerated Locking – Expect quicker vMotion and new VM creation times.
2. Write Same /Hardware Accelerated Zero – This API allows the array to bundle up zeroing tasks instead of them being executed one by one. Expect much quicker formatting and reallocations tasks.
3. Full Copy/Hardware Accelerated Copy – Common tasks such as cloning, Storage vMotion, and VM creation from templates require the host to be involved when reading this data and relayed back to the storage array which demands more network and storage horsepower. This API will allow the array to handle the functions and therefore reducing the execution times of the tasks by over 50%.
Another big VMware initiative supported by HP Storage called VASA is a new feature that is starting to gain big traction. VASA essentially allows VMware to integrate with your storage array and learn its capabilities. Think of a time where you built a VM and when it came time to place the VM you lazily placed it on a LUN only measured by space but not performance. Other admins have notes with rows and rows of data outlining the LUN’s capabilities, such as Think or Thick, RAID type, dedup, WORM, etc which can get very annoying to manage and leaves room for mistakes. A lot of administrators who are not aware of the inner workings of storage tend to blindly place VM’s on random datastores.
VASA allows vCenter to show you these characteristics of your array without having to leave the vSphere client or access your storage array’s utility. vSphere 5′s new feature called Storage Profiles can take full advantage of VASA to automatically discover and interrogate your arrays capabilities, input them into vCenter, and categorize the different LUN’s into levels such as (Gold, Silver, Bronze). So, when you are creating a new VM and get to the datastore selection screen you will be presented with enough information in vSphere to make an intelligent and easy decision on where to place that VM. Of course, this is a very brief description of the two technologies so make sure to research them fully. The important thing to realize is that 3Par, EVA, and P4000/VSA fully support VAAI, and VASA! Once again the P4000 gives SMB’s the features that were only available to the big boys.
Eric also brought Aboubacar Diare into the mix to discuss the “under the hood” details on how this all works at the array level. AD is an extremely talented individual who knows his stuff about storage and will make your brain tired from the wealth of information he provides that you cannot read in any book, well that is until Mostafa’s book comes out. Nonetheless, AD is someone who would make Mostafa very proud and all the guys enjoyed his session very much. Hopefully AD will speak at HP Discover and VMworld this year.
Other sessions included the StoreOnce and iBrix products. Storeonce is an Enterprise level disk based backup solution with capacity and speeds out to 512TB and 28TB/hr respectively. The 4100 series seems to be the most friendly model for SMB’s and I expect to be quoting these things out soon. I am a big fan of tapes but am getting tired of the management overhead that comes with them. A monthly tape would be good enough for me just to have in a safe somewhere. You can get a replication license to mirror the device to another site such as a DR location.
We also went over the Virtual System for VMware series which was introduced not too long ago. I did a post here not too long ago on this so I will defer you to that, but for now compare this offering to VCE’s vBlock and Netapp’s Flexpod.
For the final event Calvin arranged for the entire group to take a ride over to the New Belgium Brewery for an awesome tour. NBB’s flagship beer is called “Fat Tire” which tasted pretty good. I’ve always heard how awesome these tours are but never thought much about them. It was a great experience and pretty cool to see hear the story on who they started and to see how everything is made. I highly recommend visiting a brewery if you have a chance.
Overall I very much enjoyed the event and would love to attend a future Tech day. One of the biggest things I left with was the feeling of humbleness. It’s not often that outside of conferences you are within a group of leaders and ultra smart people. It is definitely a little intimidating but those kind of feelings continue to drive myself to only better myself more and more. The mutual respect and extensive collaboration between everyone was admirable. Sometimes, when you gather up a bunch of smart people ego’s can get in the way but none of that happened here. Wish some of the guys I work with could see how knowledge sharing is not a threat but allows you to combine brain power to come up with better solutions. Anyway, even though the event was only a day and half it was packed with a plethora of info and organized very well. Calvin was trying to pry out of us suggestions on making the event better but I honestly have to say it was put together perfectly. If I had to be water boarded to give a suggestion I would say to go a little heavier on the hands on labs, especially on the Storeonce and iBrix series. Also, sessions where the lecture includes working on the actual equipment at the same time would be nice in the future. I express my thanks and appreciation to HP and all the other people involved for putting this informative event together and bringing us all down to Colorado. Oh!, another special thanks to Calvin for this awesome jacket, freaking awesome!