All Aboard the Data Train

The other night myself and Mrs Techstringy were discussing a work challenge. She works for a well-known charity and one of her roles is to book locations for fundraising activities, on this occasion the team were looking at booking places at railway stations and considering a number of locations, however all they really had to go on was a “gut feeling”.

As we discussed it we did a bit of searching and came across this website http://www.orr.gov.uk/statistics/published-stats/station-usage-estimates which contained information of footfall in every UK railway station over the last 20 years, this information was not only train geek heaven, it also allowed us to start to use the data available to make a more informed choice and to introduce possibilities that otherwise would not have been considered.

This little family exercise was an interesting reminder of the power of data and how with the right analysis we can make better decisions.

Using data to make better decisions is hardly news, with the ever-increasing amounts of data we are collecting and the greater access to powerful analytics, machine learning and AI engines, all of us are already riding the data train taking us to a world of revolutionary ideas, aren’t we?

The reality is, that most of us are not, but why?

For many, especially with data sets gathered over many years, it’s hard, hard to package our data in such a way that we can easily present it to analytics engines and get something useful from it.

But don’t let it stop you, there is potentially huge advantage to be had from using our data effectively, all we need is a little help to get there.

So what kind of steps can we take so we too can grab our ticket and board the data train?

Understand our data

The first thing may seem obvious, understand our data, we need to know, where is it? what is it? is it still relevant?

Without knowing these basics, it is going to be almost impossible to identify and package up the “useful” data.

The reality of data analytics is we just can’t throw everything at it, remember the old adage garbage in, garbage out, it’s not changed, if we feed our data analytics elephant a lot of rubbish, we aren’t going to like what comes out the other end!

Triage that data

Once we’ve identified it, we need to make sure we don’t feed our analytics engine a load of nonsense, it’s important to triage, throw out the stuff that no one ever looks at, the endless replication, the stuff of no business value, we all store rubbish in our data sets, things that shouldn’t be there in the first place, so weed it out, otherwise at best we are going to process irrelevant information, at worst we are going to skew the answers and make them worthless.

Make it usable

This is perhaps the biggest challenge of all, how do we make our massive onsite datasets useful to an analytics engine.

Well we could deploy an on-prem analytics suite, but for most of us this is unfeasible and the reality is, why bother? Amazon, Microsoft, Google, IBM to name but a few have fantastic analytics services ready and waiting for your data, however the trick is how to get it there.

man-lifting-heavy-boxThe problem with data is it has weight, gravity, it’s the thing in a cloud led world that is still difficult to move around, it’s not only its size that makes it tricky, but there is our need to maintain control, meet security requirements, maintain compliance, these things can make moving our data into cloud analytics engines difficult.

This is where building an appropriate data strategy is important, we need to have a way to ensure our data is in the right place, at the right time, while maintaining control, security and compliance.

When looking to build a strategy that allows us to take advantage of cloud analytics tools, we have two basic options;

Take our data to the cloud

Taking our data to the cloud is more than just moving it there, it can’t just be a one off copy, ideally in this kind of setup, we need to move our data in, keep it synchronised with changing on-prem data stores and then move our analysed data back when we are finished, all of this with the minimum of intervention.

Bring the cloud to our data

Using cloud data services doesn’t have to mean moving our data to the cloud, we can bring the cloud to our data, services like Express Route into Azure or Direct Connect into AWS means that we can get all the bandwidth we need between our data and cloud analytics services, while our data stays exactly where we want it, in our datacentre, under our control and without the heavy lifting required for moving it into a public cloud data store.

Maybe it’s even a mix of the two, dependent on requirement, size and type of dataset, what’s important is that we have a strategy, a strategy that gives us the flexibility to do either.

All aboard

Once we have our strategy in place and have the technology to enable it, we are good to go, well almost, finding the right analytics tools and of course what to do with the results when we have them, are all part of the solution, but having our data ready is a good start.

That journey does have to start somewhere, so first get to know your data, understand what’s important and get a way to ensure you can present it to the right tools for the job.

Once you have that, step aboard and take your journey on the data train.

If you want to know more on this subject and are in or around Liverpool on July 5th, why not join me and a team of industry experts as we discuss getting the very best from your data assets at our North West Data Forum.

And for more information on getting your data ready to move to the cloud, check out a recent podcast episode I did with Cloud Architect Kirk Ryan of NetApp as we discuss the why’s and how’s of ensuring our data is cloud ready.

New fangled magic cloud buckets – Kirk Ryan – Ep32

Remaining relevant in a changing world – Rick Vanover – Ep28

One of the biggest challenges we face in technology is constant change. Change is not bad of course, but it presents challenges, from upgrading operating systems and applications, to integrating the latest technology advancements, to responding to new business problems and opportunities.

But it is not only those implementing and managing technology who are affected.

Technology vendors are equally effected, the IT industry is full of stories of companies who had great technologies but have then been blindsided by a shift in the needs of their customer base, or a technology trend that they failed to anticipate.

It was with this in mind that I visited Veeam’s, VeeamON conference.

Veeam are a technology success story, a vendor who arrived into the already established data protection market and shifted how people looked at it. They recognised the impact virtualisation was having on how organisations of all types where deploying their infrastructures and how traditional protection technologies where failing to evolve to meet these new needs.

Veeam changed this and that is reflected in their tremendous success over the last 9 years, today they are a $600M+ company, with 100’s of thousands of customers. But the world is now changing for them also, as we start to move more workloads to the cloud, as we want more value from our data, as security starts to impact every technology design decision, and of course as we all live ever more digitally focussed lives, our needs from our systems are changing hugely.

How are Veeam going to react to that ?, what are they going to do to continue the success they’ve had and to remain relevant in the new world that much of their market is shifting into ?.

For this week’s podcast, I look at that very question and discuss Veeam’s future with Rick Vanover, Director of Technical Product Marketing & Evangelism, Rick is a well-known industry face and voice, and we had an excellent conversation looking at Veeam’s future aims.

We discuss their repositioning as an availability company, look at how Veeam are developing a range of solutions to give them an availability platform and how this platform will allow their customers to build a strategy, to not only protect their critical data assets, in a range of different data repositories, but will also allow them to move their data seamlessly between them.

We also take a look at some of the big announcements from the show and pick out our top new features.

In my opinion, Veeam’s strategic vision is a good one, the ability to provide organisations with the data protection they need regardless of data location and the ability to move data between those locations is important, but, as ever, remaining relevant will be dictated by their ability to execute that vision.

Hope you enjoy the show.

To find more about Veeam you can of course check out their website www.veeam.com and engage with them on twitter @veeam and if you want to catch up with Rick, he can also be found on twitter @RickVanover.

Over the next couple of weeks we will be looking more at availability and protection, as we talk with the wider technology community as well as industry analysts on how they see the evolving data market.

To catch those shows then subscribe in all the normal ways.

Oh and I hope you like the new theme tune!

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Veeam On It – Day Two at Veeam ON

Day two of Veeam ON in the can, and a big day for thier core product Veeam Availability suite, with the announcement of Version 10, delivering some key new functionality. There was also some smart additions to the wider Veeam Platform family, but more on those at a later date.

Let’s start with Availability Suite V10, still very much at the core of what Veeam are delivering;

Physical Servers and NAS

While Veeam introduced the ability to backup physical servers with their free end point protection tool, V10 sees that capability more tightly integrated into the suite, this with the addition of agents for both Windows and Linux strengthens their capabilities in the wider enterprise, allowing Veeam to truly move just beyond virtual machines workloads.

NAS support is also a very welcome addition, allowing direct interaction with data housed on those enterprise storage repositories, housing TB’s of unstructured data. In a Veeam world previously the only way to protect that data would be if it resided on a Windows File Server and for many of us, that’s just not the case.

Although great additions, I don’t think I’m been overly harsh suggesting these are “table stakes”, fleshing out the suite to capture as many potential data sources as possible and really bringing them in line with most of the enterprise data protection market.

But, the announcements did more than just fill gaps, recognising both critical business challenges and embracing key technology developments in how we store our data much more effectively.

Continuous Data Protection

Some workloads in a business are a real challenge to protect, their availability is so critical to our business that they have the most stringent recovery point and time objectives, tolerating close to zero outages and data loss.

Often this is dealt with by the application design itself taking advantage of clustering and multiple copies of data across the business (think SQL Always on and Exchange DAG’s for example), but what if your application doesn’t allow that, how do you protect that equally critical asset.

CDP is the answer, limited currently to virtual machines hosted within a VMware environment (due to it exploiting specific VMware technologies) CDP provides a continuous backup of that key workload and in the event of a critical failure, not only can Veeam now make that workload quickly available again, but data loss will be only a matter of seconds, allowing us to meet the most stringent of service levels for those critical applications.

Object and Archives

My personal favourite announcement is the addition of native object storage support in V10. Object storage is becoming the de-facto standard for storing very large datasets needing long term retention, it is the basis of storage for the public hyperscale providers such as Microsoft and Amazon.

The addition of native support, alongside the addition of backup archiving capabilities, really start to introduce the possibility of a backup fabric giving On-Prem production, to backup repository, off to cloud for cheap and deep long-term retention.

Delivering that without the need for large and expensive 3rd party cloud gateway appliances, is a real plus.

The critical inclusion of S3 support also means that if you are already deploying any of the leading object storage platforms into your current infrastructure, as long as they support S3, and those leaders do, you can hook your Veeam data protection strategy straight in.

Veeam have certainly fleshed out version 10 nicely, adding some missing functionality, but also dealing with some tricky availability challenges, while embracing some of those emerging storage technologies.

And that’s just the Availability Suite, more to come on some of the wider announcements – but now, time for day 3…

 

When Public Cloud Isn’t The Answer – Matt McSpirit – Ep 16

The power, flexibility, scale and simplicity that comes with “cloud” services is something that many of us have embraced.

The ability to deliver quickly and easily, complicated application and platform infrastructures is very appealing, especially for those of us who are continually challenged to deliver solutions to business problems ever more efficiently.

Public cloud providers like Microsoft, Amazon, Google and IBM are a great answer to many of the modern technology challenges we are faced with, but, what happens when public cloud can’t be the answer to our challenge?

There are many reasons that a public cloud solution isn’t right,technical, commercial or of course, security driven, privacy and data sovereignty are concerns of many a business as they consider cloud.

What do we do? we can see the benefit, but also understand why we can’t take advantage of the solution.

The answer?

Build your own, deliver your own on-premises cloud solution. But How? how do I build my own Microsoft Azure, where on earth do I start?

Well you’ve come to the right place, in part two of my conversation with Microsoft Technical Evangelist Matt McSpirit, we discuss Azure Stack, Microsoft’s forthcoming private cloud converged solution, currently available in Technical Preview, ahead of it’s launch later this year, Azure Stack gives you all of the flexibility and deployment efficiency of Azure, with all the control, security and privacy of delivering it from your own data centre.021317_1151_EmbracingDe1.jpg

In this episode we discuss  what Azure Stack is, who it is (and is not) for, as well as how you to get your hands on it.

It’s a fascinating technology solution and Matt provides great insight into why it may be for you and how you get started finding out.

Enjoy the show.

Matt mentioned a range of resources that you can get your hands on to find out more about Azure Stack;

The Main Azure Stack page for more background and detail on the solution

Click here to access the Azure Stack Tech Preview

Check out the very informative sessions from Microsoft Ignite.

You can find Matt on Twitter @mattmcspirit

And if  you missed part one of our chat, don’t worry, it’s here .

If you enjoyed the show and want to make sure you don’t miss the next one, then why not subscribe on iTunes or Soundcloud or wherever else you get your podcasts.

Thanks for listening.

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Tech Trends – Object Storage – Robert Cox – Ep13

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve chatted about some of the emerging tech trends that I expect to see continue to develop during 2017 (Have a read of my look ahead blog post for some examples). To continue that theme this episode of Tech Interviews is the first of three looking in a little more detail at some of those trends.

First up, we look at a storage technology that is growing rapidly if not necessarily obviously, Object Storage.

As the amount of data the world creates continues to grow exponentially it is becoming clear that some methods of traditional storage are no longer effective. When we are talking billions of files, spread across multiple data centers across multiple geographies, traditional file storage models are no longer as effective (regardless of what a vendor may say!) that’s not to say that our more traditional methods are finished, in fact a long way from it, however there are increasingly use cases where that traditional model doesn’t scale or perform well enough.

For many of us, we’ve probably never seen an object store, or at least think we haven’t, but if you’re using things like storage from AWS or Azure then you’re probably using object storage, even if you don’t realise it.

With all that said, what actually is object storage? why do we need it? how does it address the challenges of more traditional storage? what are the use cases?

It’s those questions that we attempt to answer in this episode of Tech Interviews with my robert-coxguest Robert Cox. Robert is part of the storage team at NetApp working with their StorageGrid Webscale object storage solution.

During our chat we focus on giving an introduction to object storage, why is it relevant, the issues with more traditional storage and how object overcomes them, as well as Robert sharing some great use cases.

So, if you are wondering what object is all about and where it maybe relevant in your business, then hopefully this is the episode for you.

Enjoy…

If you’d like to follow up with Robert with questions around NetApp’s object storage solutions you can email him at robert.cox@netapp.com

You can find information on NetApp StorageGrid Webscale here 

And if you’d like a demo of StorageGrid then request one here

Next week we take a look at one of the most high profile of tech trends the emergence of DevOps, to make sure you don’t miss out you can subscribe to the Tech Interviews below.

Hope you can join us next week, thanks for listening…

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Insights from the storage industry?

Last week I was away in Berlin at NetApp’s Insight conference (See what IFD572BD3-226B-428F-B6F4-849481A8B842.jpg did with the title there!) always an enjoyable event with good information, company, food and the occasional large German beer. That aside, I do try to attend a handful of these types of events a year as a part of my job.

How does it benefit my job?

A big part of my role is to identify key industry trends and challenges and to see whether our technology partners are developing solutions to take these on and help our customers to adapt and modernise their IT and maintain competitive edge in a fast changing business world. Whether that’s Microsoft, one of our  data management and security providers, or, as in this case a storage provider like NetApp. We need to know our partners are still delivering relevant solutions.

So how did NetApp measure up ?

Our answer to this is usually found in the keynote sessions, that’s the home of strategic presentations and product announcements, Insight was no exception.

Understanding the problems?

Did the NetApp leadership address the fundamental challenges that we are seeing?

Three messages really stood out for me at the event, each hit key concerns I see in my daily dealings with senior IT people.

Data is critical

Data was at different times the new gold, new oil and the new digital currency, but ultimately it was THE most important thing, it was the key focus of pretty much everything covered across the four days and that’s how it should be, it’s our businesses most critical asset, it’s the thing that has the opportunity to separate us from our competition by extracting true value, whether that’s better reporting, better analytics or more flexibility in movement from on-prem to cloud and back. Getting the best from it is a major goal for us all.WP_20161114_15_51_23_Rich_LI.jpg

This focus was refreshing it also included coining the phrase;

NetApp not the last independent storage vendor but the first data management company

That works for me, my conversations these days are never speeds and feeds based, much more around outcomes and aims, tick in the box then.

DevOps it

You just can’t have an IT discussion these days without throwing around the phrase DevOps – I’d be disappointed to be honest if it wasn’t brought up – I’m not even going to attempt to try to do justice to the breadth of the topic here, there’s lots of great DevOps content out there (For an excellent DevOps intro have a listen to the Tech ONTAP Podcast episode with Gene Kim here ) .

I think often we assume this kind of stuff is just about software development, but in my mind it’s much more about the way we are looking to consume technology in our businesses, IT cannot be an impediment to us doing business, the modern business needs to be able to respond quickly to new challenges and we need to have an IT infrastructure that can not only change but one we are not afraid to change when we need to.

There was a great session with a day in the life of DevOps, that although played for laughs, brought home the importance of automation, the ability to fail fast and how to manage modern development processes, of course with a healthy bit of how things like NetApp’s integration with Docker, access to API’s with both ONTAP and Solidfire can all help build a modern agile data infrastructure.

Integrating the cloud

NetApp has talked extensively about their data fabric message for the last couple of years, many of you know I’m a fan (for example Data Fabric – what is it good for). The driver behind the fabric is the reality, that for most of us and our IT infrastructure, the future is going to be hybrid, some stuff on prem, some stuff in the cloud. But this kind of hybrid environment comes with challenges, no challenge bigger than how we move data between our on-prem and cloud environments, and not just how we move the datasets around, but how we ensure that it remains under our control, secure and protected and does not end up living in a cloud storage silo.

Insight this year showed the maturity of what NetApp have been doing in this space, not only with the additional capabilities they added to the NetApp portfolio, closer integration of ONTAP and Alta Vault, the announcement of SnapMirror to Solidfire, the enhancements to ONTAP cloud with additional capabilities in AWS as well as support for Azure, but also the introduction of a couple of really interesting solutions that don’t need any “traditional” NetApp solutions at all.

Cloud Sync allows for the movement and conversion of data between an on-prem NFS datastore up into AWS’s analytics tools, designed  to greatly simplify the usage of services such as EMR. Alongside this is Cloud Control a solution to help protect the contents of your Office 365 services, email, SharePoint and OneDrive for Business, giving you the ability to back data from these services into anything from your NetApp based on-prem storage to storage blobs in Azure and AWS. Impressively both of these are just services that you can sign up to, point at the relevant cloud services and away you go, no requirement for any other NetApp tech if you don’t want it.

What I like about this is it shows their commitment to data, it’s no longer about selling you ONTAP or FAS hardware (even though they remain great platforms) but about helping us to enable our data to be used in this quickly changing technology and business world.

Did NetApp deliver what I was looking for?

Certainly for me they did, as I said right at the start, when I get time with key technology partners I’m looking to see if they are addressing the primary issues we and our customers are seeing and are they understanding the key technology trends, personally I think at Insight NetApp nailed it and will continue to be very relevant in the modern data management world.

So good job NetApp.

I hope you enjoyed the post, if you want some further info from Insight, here’s some resources you may find useful.

While I was out there I got to do a couple of interviews with key NetApp staff that were recorded for their YouTube channel.

I chatted here with Elliot Howard about the wider challenges that customers see and how NetApp and it’s partners can help;

On this video I spoke with Grant Caley NetApp UK’s chief technologist and asked about industry trends and how they are going to effect out storage usage in the future;

Finally I also spoke with some of the attendees at the event to see what they thought of Insight and tech conferences in general. You can find that here on TechStringy Interviews – or go get the podcast from iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts.

 

 

 

 

 

Make my cloud so…

A bit of a Star Trek misquote I know, but I’m pretty sure Captain Picard would have said that as the ships IT department looked to enable their hybrid cloud strategy. For many of us, hybrid cloud is the reality of our future IT designs, the flexibility provided by access to cloud compute and storage, both technically and commercially makes cloud services compelling in many instances.

However, those compelling cases do come with a cost. Using hugely scalable public cloud technologies presents challenges, application architecture, system design but more often than not they are data issues, security, governance, protection or even just moving big lumps of data around, all add to the challenge that comes with trying to enable these flexible cloud based services.

With that in mind, I took great interest in NetApp’s November 1st Hybrid Cloud announcements (You can find the press release here), especially the very strong emphasis on enablement, this was not your usual product range announcement. Often these announcements are almost “self serving”, get a new widget from, buy our updated solution or platform. Don’t get me wrong there is an element of that in these NetApp announcements, with updates to a couple of major products, but what was really interesting was the cloud service solutions that where mentioned, technologies that where not your “traditional” NetApp solution, no need for a hardware array, no need for ONTAP or anything else, these where purely service offerings that are designed for no other reason than to address the significant challenge of enabling our integration with cloud services.

I don’t plan on going into detail on all of the announcements, check out a great post like this from Mike Andrews (@trekintech) for wider analysis, I just wanted to look at a couple of the more generic cloud enablement solutions, that don’t need any “traditional” NetApp components.

Cloud Control for Office 365

In my experience, one of the early cloud integrations an enterprise will make is Office365, taking advantage of Microsoft’s Software as a service offering for email, document management and file storage. These services, which although critical, are often time intensive to deliver, while providing little additional value to the business, “table stakes” if you will, a company must have these things, but they are not going to give competitive advantage.

Giving it to Microsoft to run makes perfect sense, however one thing that is often missed when a business moves to 365 is data protection. Microsoft’s role is clear, it is to present you with a secure, scalable and resilient service, however it is not to protect your data. 365 offers several options for data retention, however, Microsoft do not protect you from data deletion, accidental or malicious, once that data is gone, it’s gone.

So how do you protect it? There is a growing market of solutions to this challenge and NetApp have now thrown their hat in to the ring with an extremely comprehensive offering.

Cloud Control is a full SaaS offering, no need to purchase equipment, or install anything on prem, take it as a service, point it at your 365 subscription and you have the capability to back up your Exchange, SharePoint and OneDrive for Business repositories.

What separates Cloud Control, in my opinion, is the number of possible backup targets you can use. If you have a NetApp environment, that’s great, you can take your 365 data and back it straight into your ONTAP environment, don’t have on-prem ONTAP? no problem, you can spin up ONTAP cloud and back off to that.

Don’t want ONTAP at all? Use AltaVault from the NetApp portfolio to move your data to an object store and of course, you don’t want anything at all from NetApp, no problem Cloud Control will allow you to move data straight into an AWS S3 bucket or an Azure storage blob.

Cloud Control provides granular data protection, with item level recovery for your 365 implementation, enabling you to deliver enterprise level data protection to your public cloud service.

Cloud Sync

A key benefit of cloud compute is the ability to get masses of processing power as and when you need it, without having to build a big compute cluster which spends most of its time idle.

Things like Hadoop are fantastic tools for data analytics, but it’s one heck of an expensive tool to deploy and has taken big data analytics away from many enterprises.

However, cloud providers like AWS have addressed this with services available to rent as you need them. The trick with these is, how do you move data to that analytics engine as and when you need it? how do we seamlessly integrate these services into our infrastructure?

Step forward the Cloud Sync service. Cloud Sync points at your on-prem NFS datastore (no it doesn’t have to be ONTAP based NFS) and your analytics service and seamlessly syncs the on-prem data to the analytics engine when needed, allowing you to take advantage of cloud compute, while ensuring your datasets are always refreshed.

Cloud Sync is all about automating those difficult tasks, and in modern IT, that is exactly what we are looking for, orchestrating the use of cloud compute allowing us to consume services in the most effective way.

Again, delivering this without the need for any of the more “traditional” NetApp technologies.

But Why?

I suppose this begs the question, why as a storage vendor, build solutions, that actively have no need for your storage products? Well let’s not be fooled, both of these services are NetApp subscription services, and of course both solutions can enhance existing NetApp technology, however I don’t think that’s the primary aim.

If you’ve ever looked at any of NetApp’s Data Fabric strategy, you’ll see that they are a very different storage company, who are much happier to talk about data strategy than selling you things, of course they have things that can enable your strategy, but a conversation about how we manage our data in this modern IT world, I see as something far more valuable than just selling something a bit faster, with a few more flashing lights, getting us to think about how we move, manage and secure data is far more important.

These November 1st announcements are just another example of NetApp’s commitment to its Data Fabric and how the right fabric can enable an organisation to fully exploit cloud flexibility, I very much look forward to seeing these solutions in action as they come to market and of course keen to see what NetApp add next to this increasingly impressive hybrid cloud story.

Cloud enabled captain…

For more detail on NetApp’s cloud solutions visit their cloud website where you can get information as well as access to trials of these services.

cloud.netapp.com

For some background reading on data fabric, please feel free to check one of my previous posts;

Data Fabric – What is it good for?

And if you have any questions, feel free to contact me @techstringy or on Linkedin.

For other posts with details on the announcements check out

Taylor Riggan’s View on Cloud Sync

Mike Andrews NetApp Hybrid Cloud Launch

And if you’d like a bit of audio to listen to, I also interviewed Mike Andrews for a TechStringy Interview discussing the announcements and their strategic and technical impact, feel free to have a listen here;

NetApp Hybrid Cloud Announcements with Mike Andrews