Data Fabric – What is it good for?

Data-Fabric_shutterstock

Anyone who’s seen my social content recently will know I’m a big fan of the concept of data fabric, now the thing with I.T. is we love to get excited about phrases like this and assume everyone else will “get” what we’re talking about..well imagine my surprise the other day when I was talking to a business colleague and he asked me…

Data Fabric, what is it good for?

That’s a great question isn’t it (even if the immediate answer is to start to channel a bit of Edwin Starr)… what on earth is it?..and I guess he probably isn’t the only person asking..

I started by making it clear, when I’ve been talking about data fabric, my discussions have been around the strategic conversations I’ve been having with our customers and storage vendor NetApp, that’s probably not a surprise to those who know me, I’ve had a long association with them, so no shock there, however maybe more surprising is even if I did want to look elsewhere, no one else is really having this discussion and really, they should be…

So when my colleague then went on to ask two other questions, it got me thinking, that the answers would maybe make a good BLOG post..

What where these two questions? well, first up;

What problem does it solve ?

To be clear, data fabric is not a product or a bit of technology, it’s a strategy. I read a great article recently from the founder of CoHo, another storage vendor, who talked about how often the data storage debate gets lost in technology and completely loses site of the primary point of any business looking at data storage, they have data storage challenges and they want someone to solve a problem for them, not to go on about different feeds and speeds and flashing lights…

So let’s see if we can answer that, with a focus on business problems and not get lost in technology (and there is plenty of innovative tech behind the NetApp data fabric story) hopefully you’ll find it interesting and see why it’s maybe more important than ever that those making storage decisions need to think way beyond the silo of specific technologies and look much wider.

Today most of the customer conversations I have, pretty much always include two key topics, using the cloud and managing data, be that it’s security, availability or flexibility of access, the problem with those two things is that they don’t necessarily complement each other very well.

Many of the data strategies I see implemented often include data silo’s, flash over here for one project, archive storage elsewhere, because I don’t want it on flash, some stuff over here in the cloud, because i want access to that all over the place, or need it as part of my DR, but now i have a whole host of tools managing these things and the data in one silo can’t move to another, the problem with this is, as it becomes more complex, the more difficult it becomes to manage, the more difficult it becomes to control, mistakes happen, exposing our data and our businesses to risk.

Even if that doesn’t happen you end up put in a corner with all your data sat separately and no ability to easily move between your silo’s.

That’s what a data fabric strategy fixes, it addresses all of these data silo’s by allowing you to put your storage where you want it, while allowing it to be managed by a single toolset, allowing seamless movement between your storage types.

So this leads to the second question –

How does NetApp help me solve that problem then?

This is for me where NetApp have been smart, how so?

First let’s look at how other smart technology ecosystems deliver their data. let’s look at Apple for instance;Apple Data Fabric

If you buy into the Apple eco system, with your iTunes account, your Mac, your iPad, your phone etc. – as a user you don’t even think about how you get access to your content from one device to another – it’s just there, Apple have created a data fabric.

But if we look at our enterprise IT, are we doing the same, in many cases, no we are not…

NetApp have been smart and looked at this model and asked can we do something similar?

Many of you know NetApp as a storage vendor – supplying physical storage arrays. However what NetApp actually do, is is write software and their biggest software solution is their OnTap operating system and it is this operating system, that many people don’t necessarily see, that is the core of the data fabric.

How? in the end NetApp’s storage capability is delivered completely via the OnTap operating system and because fundamentally OnTap is a piece of software, like any piece of software it can be installed on any capable platform.

So what? – well just imagine if the storage operating system you have sat on your storage array, could be moved around, and maybe dropped into a virtual machine, or could sit in front of a big lump of public cloud storage.

Once you’ve done that, you really have an opportunity to break down storage silo’s and provide real flexibility of choice of where you put your data.

image

If you look at the image above, you can see Data OnTap right at the core of what the data fabric looks like, the OS can then be installed onto or over the top of any of those multiple platforms, once it’s there you have all of the same features and functionality regardless of what sits behind it.

We can sit our OnTap OS on top of an disk array full of SAS or SATA, or maybe it can sit on some All Flash infrastructure, but maybe we don’t have NetApp arrays, no problem, let’s sit it in front of a 3rd party disk array, or maybe we want it out in our branch office as a VM, or maybe we want it in the cloud sat in front of some AWS storage.

That gives us one operating system on a range of devices, one set of tools to manage it, the same capability across each of those platforms, which ultimately gives us the capability of easily moving data around our fabric, across different storage types, so we want to move our SAS data onto all flash – no problem, drop flash into our fabric and over it goes. Want to move data into the cloud, no problem, let’s mirror it across – what about when we want it back.. no problem, we mirror it back.

It’s that operational flexibility that addresses the issues we discussed in the answer to the first question, that of failing to look at the big picture and potentially puts our data into silo’s that can not be moved to other platforms, does that matter, well in some cases maybe not, but in many, if you are thinking strategically about your business technology, then you need to consider whether the decisions you are making are going to give you the flexibility to respond to changing business needs, allowing you to take advantage of future technology changes etc.

I appreciate that we have talked a lot about NetApp here, but at the minute I’ve not really seen this joined up thinking at this scale elsewhere, however if your technology partners are offering this kind of fabric, that’s great, explore it. All I ever look at with posts like this, is to get those reading it thinking about strategic considerations they may not have done before, hopefully this post has done that.

Hopefully some food for thought…

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Steamy Windows

steamy-windows

First post for a little while – but been away on my summer holls, with a coWP_20150812_21_24_57_Prouple of super weeks in Orlando – great time had by all, thanks for asking! Then two weeks of catching up on things that piled up while I was away!!!

But back now and never fear I have a few posts in the pipeline –

I thought as a first bit of post holiday blogging some Windows 10 attention was in order. As I opened up my BLOG editor I noticed on twitter Microsoft wishing a Happy 20th Birthday to Windows windows 95 2095, discussing how far Windows had come – and of course it has, it’s had to, because the world it operates in is so very different to the one Windows 95 found.

Windows 10 has already had lots of coverage and I’ve no intention of covering many of those things again, there’s plenty of excellent posts already talking about some of the user experience and consumer enhancements, everything from the start button, to continuum and universal Apps. As important as I think those things are, getting the user experience across multiple devices will be key to Windows10 success, those things aren’t really my area so I wanted to focus elsewhere and look at some of the enterprise enhancements and capabilities that you will find tucked away inside this shiny new operating system and its ecosystem.

So what Windows 10 questions are the enterprise asking?

Things like; If 10 really is the last “release” of Windows and all subsequent releases will be automated transformations of this base release – do you want your secure corporate desktop just updating? What about all my mobile users, how do I make their experience better and my life easier? And of course, once the enterprise has decided the time is right, the enterprise IT guys biggest problem is, how on earth do i get this out there?

Last week I got the chance to learn the answers to many of these questions, thanks to the good people at QA training who put me in a room with Ed Baker from Microsoft (check Ed out at his BLOG) for more…

So what where some of the key enterprise takeaways I picked up ?

Let’s contradict myself and start with a couple of “look and feel” type things first;

Broad Device Range on a Single Platform

Windows 10 is designed as a single operating systems that can run across any form factor, from an enterprise point of view this is really valuable, one operating system from PC down to IOT devices, means one OS to manage, one set of rules and policies across all of your devices, now that’s powerful.

Familiar Experience

Familiar experience is key in an enterprise role out, the last thing youwindows 10 desktop want after rolling that OS across all of your devices is endless phone calls about how do I do this an that – the return of a familiar start button and a desktop experience means easier transition for users.

Alongside those things, the ability to deploy, manage and control your desktop estate is critical for an organisation and here it looks like Windows 10 is delivering some smart stuff.

I think firstly Microsoft have grasped the idea that the end user device world has changed greatly, i thought this graphic summed it up…

windows 10 evolving business needs

So how is 10 helping in this mobile-first, device-first world? how are Microsoft solving the challenges of the move from the recent past?

Here’s the top 5 things i took from Ed’s session.

Management features

It doesn’t matter the size of your end device estate, managing the pesky fella’s is the trick and Windows 10 delivers a great range of options for this. Of course if you are a large desktop estate with an investment in a desktop management suite or System Centre, then of course 10 continues to plug into that, but what’s more impressive is the range of cloud management solutions available in 365 and Azure and the way 10 seamlessly integrates in, providing ability for a level of device control regardless of the location of that user, even those who never come into the office, or maybe bring their own devices into your organisation, these can be simply and effectively controlled.

And remember, one OS across multiple device formats, means a single set of rules can manage all kinds of devices.

windows 10 mgmt features

Identity Choices

This is probably my favourite Windows 10 feature – the ability to interact with Azure Active Directory. How many times have we built a machine away from the office, got to that bit where we need to put in our domain credentials and then have to start messing around hooking up with the office, or wait until the next time we are in… Azure AD is you friend here, and the support for joining an Azure AD from your 10 device, is your BFF! (one for the kids!)

If you don’t know, Azure AD is, not surprisingly, a cloud replica of your domain and it’s credentials, so if you use Office365 you are already using Azure AD, it provides a single sign on across all of your 365 business applications, email, OneDrive, SharePoint and Skype for Business. It also extends beyond this providing single sign on to multiple 3rd party services as well.

Windows 10 ability to interact with this means you can join your companies active directory without having to be physically connected to your on premise domain, this makes life so straightforward, it is a feature you will love!!!

Upgrade options

Ok, I’m bought in, now how on earth do I get this wonderful OS out onto my machines.

choices are plentiful…

win 10 deployment

The one that was most interesting was the provisioning option. This is designed for those new machines, out of the box, that need your enterprise config dropped on them. Today how would you do that? drag it into the office, get your corp image, then image it.. yep, already taking too long and what if that user never comes to the office and has bought a shiny new laptop? or how about a user is working away, loses his device, how do you get a new one to him and have it brought into line with corporate policy?

Well what if you could predefine a workflow that then changes the deployed OS to meet your corporate standard, so if you’re user has gone bought a new laptop with Windows10 and you wanted enterprise and some config changes, you send them a deployment pack… they access it…and hey presto machine configured.

Windows as a Service

Last up in my Windows 10 top 5 – is the much discussed Windows as a Service, this is the idea that, if this is the last version of Windows that we ever see (bit like the Men In Black, last suit idea!) and everything else will be incremental advances that automatically get dropped into the OS, how does that impact my enterprise IT setup? do I want random updates to my precious enterprise build – well of course not..

Microsoft know that too – so welcome Windows Update for Business – delivers a number of key controls for the enterprise, the idea of roll out rings (familiar to those who have been on the Windows Insider programme), the ability to define maintenance windows, peer to peer delivery ( I like this one particularly – the ability for your device to get updates from other devices on your network, not just update servers) and of course if you’ve invested in System Centre to manage this, don’t worry, that is supported as well.

windows as a service

And lastly, if you have “special systems” those critical machines that can’t be changed, you can ensure they only ever get security updates, with no new functions or features ever added.

Got to say, I came away from Ed’s session really impressed, some stuff I’d already used (The Azure AD integration) and some stuff I wasn’t aware of, but lots to be enthused by.

If you’re in enterprise IT and considering a move to Windows 10, i’d suggest give it a proper look, lots of great stuff in there from an experience point of view, but lots of excellent enterprise capability to help you deliver your IT better.

If you want more info from Ed Baker check him out on twitter @edbaker1965 or his BLOG at ed-baker.com for more Windows 10 goodness.

Or if I can help, look me up in the normal places, Twitter, LinkedIn or drop me an email.