Building a modern data platform – Control

In the first parts of this series we have looked at ensuring the building blocks of our platform are right so that our data is sitting on strong foundations.

In this part we look at bringing management, security and compliance to our data platform.

As our data, the demands we place on it and the amount of regulation controlling it, continues to grow then gaining deep insight into how it is used can no longer be a “nice to have” it has to be an integral part of our strategy.

If you look traditionally at the way we have managed data growth you can see the basics of the problem, we have added file servers, storage arrays and cloud repositories as demanded, because more, has been easier than managing the problem.

However, this is no longer the case, as we see our data as more of an asset we need to make sure it is in good shape, holding poor quality data is not in our interest, the cost of storing it is no longer going unnoticed, we can no longer go to the business every 12 months needing more and while I have no intention of making this a piece about the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), it and regulation like it, is forcing us to rethink how we view the management of our data.

So what do I use in my data platforms to manage and control data better?

Varonis

varonis logo

I came across Varonis and their data management suite about 4 years ago and this was the catalyst for a fundamental shift in the way I have thought about and talked about data, as it opened up brand new insights on how unstructured data in a business was been used and highlighted the flaws in the way people were traditionally managing it.

With that in mind, how do I start to build management into my data platform?

It starts by finding answers to two questions;

Who, Where and When?

Without understanding this point it will be impossible to properly build management into our platform.

If we don’t know who is accessing data how can we be sure only the right people have access to our assets?

If we don’t know where the data is, how are we supposed to control its growth, secure it and govern access?

And of course when is the data accessed or even, is it accessed? let’s face it if no one is accessing our data then why are we holding it at all?

What’s in it?

However, there are lots of tools that tell me the who, where and when of data access, that’s not really reason I include Varonis in my platform designs.

While who, where and when is important it does not include a crucial component, the what. What type of information is stored in my data.

If I’m building management policies and procedures I can’t do that without knowing what is contained in my data, is it sensitive information like finances, intellectual property or customer details? Or, as we look at regulation such as GDPR, knowing where we hold private and sensitive data about individuals is increasingly crucial.

Without this knowledge we cannot ensure our data and business compliance strategies are fit for purpose.

Building Intelligence into our system

In my opinion one of the most crucial parts of a modern data platform is the inclusion of behavioural analytics, as our platforms grow ever more diverse, complex and large, one of the common refrains I hear is “this information is great, but who is going to look at it, let alone action it?”, this is a very fair point and a real problem.

Behavioural Analytics tools can help address this and supplement our IT teams. These technologies are capable of understanding and learning the normal behaviour of our data platform and when those norms are deviated from can warn us quickly and allow us to address the issue.

This kind of behavioural understanding offers significant benefits from knowing who the owners of a data set are to helping us spot malicious activity, from ransomware to data theft.

In my opinion this kind of technology is the only realistic way of maintaining security, control and compliance in a modern data platform.

Strategy

As discussed in parts one and two, it is crucial the vendors who make up a data platform have a vision that addresses the challenges businesses see when it comes to data.

There should be no surprise then that Varonis’s strategy aligns very well with those challenges, as one of the first companies I came across that delivered real forethought to the management, control and governance of our data assets.

That vision continues, with new tools and capabilities continually delivered, such as Varonis Edge and the recent addition of a new automation engine which provides a significant enhancement to the Varonis portfolio, the tools now don’t only warn of deviations from the norm, but can also act upon them to remediate the threat.

All of this tied in with Varonis’ continued extension of its integration with On-Prem and Cloud, storage and service providers, ensure they will continue to play a significant role in bringing management to a modern data platform.

Regardless of whether you choose Varonis or not it is crucial you have intelligent management and analytics built into your environment, because without it, it will be almost impossible to deliver the kind of data platform fit for a modern data driven business.

You can find the other posts from this series below;

modern data platform
Introduction
modern storage
Part One – The Storage
alwayon
Part Two – Availability
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Building a modern data platform – Availability

In part one we discussed the importance of getting our storage platform right, in part two we look at availability.

The idea that availability is a crucial part of a modern platform was something I first heard from a friend of mine, Michael Cade from Veeam, who introduced me to “availability as part of digital transformation” and how this was changing Veeam’s focus.

This shift is absolutely right, today as we build our modern platforms backup and recovery is still a crucial requirement, however, a focus on availability is at least, if not more, crucial. Today nobody in your business really cares how quickly you can recover a system, what our digitally driven businesses demand is that our systems are always there and downtime in ever more competitive environments is not tolerated.

With that in mind why do I choose Veeam to deliver availability to my modern data platform?

Keep it simple

Whenever I meet a Veeam customer their first comment on Veeam is “it just works”, the power of this rather simple statement should not be underestimated when you are protecting key assets. Too often data protection solutions have been overly complex, inefficient and unreliable and that is something I have always found unacceptable, for business big or small you need a data protection solution you can deploy and then forget and trust it just does what you ask, this is perhaps Veeam’s greatest strength and a crucial driver behind its popularity and what makes it such a good component part of a data platform.

I would actually say Veeam are a bit like the Apple of availability, although much of what they do has been done by others (Veeam didn’t invent data protection, in the same way Apple didn’t invent the smartphone) but what they have done is make it simple and usable and something that just works and can be trusted. Don’t underestimate the importance of this.

Flexibility

If ever there was a byword for modern IT, flexibility could well be it, it’s crucial that any solution and platform we build has the flexibility to react to ever changing business and technological demands. Look at how business needs for technology and the technology itself has changed in the last 10 years and how much our platforms have needed to change to keep up, flash storage, web scale applications, mobility, Cloud, the list goes on.

The following statement sums up Veeam’s view on flexibility perfectly

“Veeam Availability Platform provides businesses and enterprises of all sizes with the means to ensure availability for any application and any data, across any cloud infrastructure”

It is this focus on flexibility that make Veeam such an attractive proposition in the modern data platform, allowing me to design a solution that is flexible enough to meet my different needs, providing availability across my data platform, all with the same familiar toolset regardless of location, workload type or recovery needs.

Integration

As mentioned in part one, no modern data platform will be built with just one vendors tools, not if you want to deliver the control and insight into your data that we demand as a modern business. Veeam, like NetApp, have built a very strong partner ecosystem allowing them to integrate tightly with many vendors, but more than just integrate Veeam deliver additional value allowing me to simplify and do more with my platform (take a look at this blog about how Veeam allows you to get more from NetApp snapshots). Veeam are continuously delivering new integrations and not only with on-prem vendors, but also as mentioned earlier, with a vast range of cloud providers.

This ability to extend the capabilities and simplify the integration of multiple components in a multi-platform, multi-cloud world is very powerful and a crucial part of my data platform architecture.

Strategy

As with NetApp, over the last 18 months it has been the shift in Veeam’s overall strategy that has impressed me more than anything else, although seemingly a simple change, the shift from talking about backup and recovery to availability is significant.

As I said at the opening of this article, in our modern IT platforms nobody is interested in how quickly you can recover something, it’s about availability of crucial systems. A key part of Veeam’s strategy is to “deliver the next generation of availability for the Always-On Enterprise” and you can see this in everything Veeam are doing, focussing on simplicity, ensuring that you can have your workload where you need it when you need it and move those workloads seamlessly between on-prem, cloud and back again.

They have also been very smart, employing a strong leadership team and, as with NetApp, investing in ensuring that cloud services don’t leave a traditionally on-premises focussed technology provider adrift.

The Veeam and NetApp strategies are very similar, and it is this similarity that makes them attractive components in my data platform. I need my component providers to understand technology trends and changes so they, as well as our data platforms, can move and change with them.

Does it have to be Veeam?

In the same way it doesn’t have to be NetApp, of course it doesn’t have to be Veeam, but in exactly the same way, if you are building a platform for your data, then make sure your platform components deliver the kinds of things that we have discussed in the first two parts of this series, ensure that they provide the flexibility we need, the integration with components across your platform and a strategic vision that you are comfortable with, as long as you have that, that will give you rock solid foundations to build on.

In Part Three of this series we will look at building insight, compliance and governance into our data platform.

You can find the Introduction and Part One – “The Storage” below.

modern data platform
The Introduction
modern storage
Part One – The Storage

 

 

Building a modern data platform – The Series – Introduction

For many of you who read my blog posts (thank you) or listen to the Tech Interviews Podcast (thanks again!) you’ll know talking about data is something I enjoy, it has played a significant part in my career over the last 20 years, but today data is more central than ever too what so many of us are trying to achieve.

pexels-photo-373543.jpegIn today’s modern world however, storing our data is no longer enough, we need to consider much more, yes storing it effectively and efficiently is important, however, so is its availability, security, privacy and of course finding ways to extract value from it, whether that’s production data, archive or backup, we are looking at how we can make it do more (For examples of what I mean, read this article from my friend Matt Watts introducing the concept of Data Amplification Ratio) and deliver a competitive edge to our organisations.

To do this effectively means developing an appropriate data strategy and building a data platform that is fit for today’s business needs. This is something I’ve written and spoken about on many occasions, however, one question I get asked regularly is “we understand the theory, but how do we build this in practice, what technology do you use to build a modern data platform?”.

That’s a good question, the theory is all great and important, however seeing practical examples of how you deliver these strategies can be very useful. With that in mind I’ve put together this series of blogs too go through the elements of a data strategy and share some of the practical technology components I use to help organisations build a platform that will allow them to get the best from their data assets.

Over this series we’ll discuss how these components deliver flexibility, maintain security and privacy, provide governance control and insights, as well as interaction with hyperscale cloud providers to ensure you can exploit analytics, AI and Machine Learning.

So, settle back and over the next few weeks I hope to provide some practical examples of the technology you can to deliver a modern data strategy, parts one and two are live now and can be accessed in the links below. The other links will become live as I post them, so do keep an eye out for them.

modern storage
Part One – The Storage
alwayon
Part Two – Availability
control
Part Three – Control

I hope you enjoy the series and that you find these practical examples useful, but remember, these are just some of the technologies I’ve used and are not the only technologies available and you certainly don’t have to use any of these to meet your data strategy goals, however, the aim of this series is to help you understand the art of the possible, if these exact solutions aren’t for you, don’t worry, go and find technology partners and solutions that are and use them to help you meet your goals.

Good Luck and happy building!

Coming Soon;

Part Four – What the cloud can bring

Part Five – out on the edges

Part Six – Exploiting the Cloud

Part Seven – A strategic approach

Building a modern data platform – The Storage

wp_20160518_07_53_57_rich_li.jpgIt probably isn’t a surprise to anyone who has read my blogs previously to find out that when it comes to the storage part of our platform, NetApp are still first choice, but why?

While it is important to get the storage right, getting it right is much more than just having somewhere to store data, it’s important, even at the base level, that you can do more with it. As we move through the different elements of our platform we will look at other areas where we can apply insight and analytics, however, it should not be forgotten that there is significant value in having data services available at all levels of a data platform.

What are data services?

These services provide added capabilities beyond just a storage repository, they may provide security, storage efficiency, data protection or the ability to extract value from data. NetApp provide these services as standard with their ONTAP operating system bringing considerable value regardless of whether data capacity needs are large or small, the ability to provide extra capabilities beyond just storing data is crucial to our modern data platform.

However, many storage providers offer data services on their platforms, not often as comprehensive as those provided in ONTAP, but they are there, so if that is the case, why else do I choose to use NetApp as a foundation of a data platform?

Data Fabric

“Data Fabric” is the simple answer (I won’t go into detail here, I’ve written about the Data-Fabric_shutterstock.jpgfabric before for example Data Fabric – What is it good for?), when we think about data platforms we cannot just think about them in isolation, we need considerably more flexibility than that, we may have data in our data centre on primary storage, but we may also want that data in another location, maybe with a public cloud provider, we may want that data stored on a different platform, or in a different format all together, object storage for example. However, to manage our data effectively and securely, we can’t afford for it to be stored in different locations that need a plethora of separate management tools, policies and procedures to ensure we keep control.

The “Data Fabric” is why NetApp continue to be the base storage element of my data platform designs, the key to the fabric is the ONTAP operating system and its flexibility which goes beyond an OS installed on a traditional controller. ONTAP can be consumed as a software service within a virtual machine or from AWS or Azure, providing the same data services, managed by the same tools, deployed in all kinds of different ways, allowing me to move my data between these repositories while maintaining all of the same management and controls.

Beyond that, the ability to move data between NetApp’s other portfolio platforms, such as Solidfire and StorageGrid (Their Object storage solution), as well as to third party storage such as Amazon S3 and Azure Blob, ensures I can build a complex fabric that allows me to place data where I need it, when I need it. The ability to do this while maintaining security, control and management with the same tools regardless of location is hugely powerful and beneficial.


API’s and Integration

When we look to build a data platform it would be ridiculous to assume it will only ever contain the components of a single provider and as we build through the layers of our platform, integration between those layers is crucial and does play a part in the selection of the components I use.

API’s are increasingly important in the modern datacentre as we look for different ways to automate and integrate our components, again this is an area where NetApp are strong, providing great third party integrations with partners such as Microsoft, Veeam, VMware and Varonis (some of which we’ll explore in other parts of the series) as well as options to drive many of the elements of their different storage platforms via API’s so we can automate the delivery of our infrastructure.

Can it grow with me?

One of the key reasons that we need a more strategic view of data platforms is the continued growth of our data and the demands we put on it, therefore scalability and performance are hugely important when we chose the storage components of our platform.

NetApp deliver this across all their portfolio. ONTAP allows me to scale a storage cluster up to 24 nodes delivering huge capacity, performance and compute capability. The Solidfire platform, inspired by the needs of service providers, allows simple and quick scale and a quality of service engine which lets me guarantee performance levels of applications and data, this is before we talk about the huge scale of the StorageGrid object platform or the fast and cheap capabilities of E-Series.

Crucially NetApp’s Data Fabric strategy means I can scale across these platforms providing the ability to grow my data platform as I need and not be restricted by a single technology.

Does it have to be NetApp?

Do you have to use NetApp to build a data platform? Of course not, but do look at whatever you choose as the storage element of your platform that it can tick the majority of the boxes we’ve discussed , data services, a strategic vision and ability to move data between repositories and locations and provide great integration , while ensuring your platform can meet the performance and scale demands you have on it.

If you can do that, then you’ll have a great start for your modern data platform.

In the next post In this series we’ll look at the importance of availability – that post is coming soon.

Click below to return to “The Intro”

 

modern data platform
Building a modern data platform – The Series – Introduction

 

 

NetApp Winning Awards, Whatever Next?

WP_20160518_07_53_57_Rich_LI.jpgIn the last couple of weeks I’ve seen NetApp pick up a couple of industry awards with the all flash A200 earing the prestigious Storage Review Editors Choice as well as CRN UK’s storage Vendor of the year 2017, this alongside commercial successes (How NetApp continue to defy the performance of the storage market) is part of a big turnaround in their fortunes over the last 3 years or so, but why? What is NetApp doing to garner such praise?

A bit of disclosure, as a Director at a long-term NetApp Partner, Gardner Systems, and a member of the NetApp A-Team advocacy programme, I could be biased, but having worked with NetApp for over 10 years, I still see them meeting our customers’ needs better than any other vendor, which in itself, also suggests NetApp are doing something right.

What is it they’re doing? In this post, I share some thoughts on what I believe are key parts of this recent success

Clear Strategy

If we wind the clock back 4 years, NetApp’s reputation was not at its best, tech industry analysts presented a bleak picture, the storage industry was changing, with public cloud storage and innovative start-ups offering to do more than those “legacy” platforms and in many cases, they could, NetApp were a dinosaur on the verge of extinction.

Enter the Data Fabric, first announced at NetApp’s technical conference, Insight, in 2014. Data Fabric was the beginning of NetApp’s move from a company focussed on storing data to a company focused on the data itself. This was significant as it coincided with a shift in how organisations viewed data, moving away from just thinking about storing data to managing, securing, analysing and gaining value from it.

NetApp’s vision for data fabric, closely aligned to the aims of more data focussed organisations and also changed the way they thought about their portfolio, less worried about speeds and feeds and flashing lights and more about how to build a strategy that was focussed on data in the way their customers were.

It is this data-driven approach that, in my opinion, has been fundamental in this change in NetApp’s fortunes.

Embrace the Cloud

A huge shift and something that is taking both customers and industry analysts by surprise is the way NetApp have embraced the cloud, not a cursory nod, but cloud as a fundamental part of the data fabric strategy and this goes way beyond “cloudifying” existing technology.

ONTAP Cloud seamlessly delivers the same data services and storage efficiencies into the public cloud as you get with its on-prem cousin, this provides a unique ability to maintain data policies and procedures across your on-prem and cloud estates.

But NetApp has gone beyond this, delivering native cloud services that don’t require any traditional NetApp technologies, Cloud Sync, allows the easy movement of data from on-prem NFS datastores into the AWS cloud. While Cloud Control provides a backup service for Office365 (and now Salesforce) bringing crucial data protection functionality that many SaaS vendors do not provide.

If that wasn’t enough there is the recently announced relationship with Microsoft, with NetApp now powering the Azure NFS service, yep that’s right, if you take the NFS service from the Azure marketplace this is delivered fully in the background by NetApp.

For a storage vendor, this cloud investment is unexpected, but a clear cloud strategy is also appealing to those making business technology decisions.

Getting the basics right

With these developments, it’s clear NetApp have a strategy and are expanding their portfolio into areas other storage vendors do not consider, but there is also no escaping that their main revenue generation continues to come from ONTAP and FAS (NetApp’s hardware platform).

If I’m buying a hardware platform, what do I want from it? It should be robust with strong performance and a good investment that evolves with my business and if NetApp’s commercial success is anything to go by, they are delivering this.

The all-flash NetApp platforms (such as the award winning A200 mentioned earlier) are meeting this need, a robust enterprise-level platform, allowing organisations to build an always-on storage infrastructure that scales seamlessly with new business demands. 6-year flash drive warranties and the ability to refresh your controllers after 3 years also give excellent investment protection.

It is not just the hardware however, these platforms are driven by software, NetApp’s ONTAP operating systems is like any other modern software platform, with regular code drops (every 6 months) delivering new features and improved performance to existing hardware via a non-disruptive software upgrade, providing businesses with the ability to “sweat” their hardware investment over an extended period, which in today’s investment sensitive market is hugely appealing.

Have an interesting portfolio

NetApp for a long time was the FAS and ONTAP company, and while those things are still central in their plans, their portfolio is expanding quickly, we’ve discussed the cloud focussed services, there’s also Solidfire with its unique scale and QoS capabilities, Storage Grid a compelling object storage platform, Alta Vault provides a gateway to move backup and archive data into object storage on-prem or in the cloud.

Add to this the newly announced HCI platform you can see how NetApp can play a significant part in your next-generation datacenter plans.

For me the awards I mentioned at the beginning of this article are not because of one particular solution or innovation, it’s the data fabric, that strategy is allowing NetApp, its partners and customers to have a conversation that is data and not technology focussed and having a vendor who understands that is clearly resonating with customers, analysts and industry influencers alike.

NetApp’s continued evolution is fascinating to watch, and they have more to come, with no doubt more awards to follow, whatever next!

Securing all of the things – Valory Batchellor – Ep44

It’s not news to anyone listening to this show that the challenge around the security of our data and systems is a substantial one. Our technology seems to be under constant threat, from external hackers, to insiders, from targeted attacks to malware finding its way randomly onto our systems and causing havoc and all of this before we look at increased regulation and compliance demands.

The ever-increasing threat has led to us looking to technology to help protect our systems, however this has now led to its own problems, with many of us investing in numerous platforms and tools which has created a huge sprawl of solutions, that do not interact, all have their own consoles and all are presenting us with alerts and notifications that we then expect our already stretched IT function to understand and act upon.

This range of individual tools of course, also means that problems can “slip through the net” as the disjointed use of technology does not necessarily allow us to see the correlation between alerts that in themselves are insignificant, but when put together point to an attack or breach in progress.

It is this problem that has inspired this series of Tech Interviews episodes looking at the security challenge, we have episodes looking at some new approaches with anonymization and blockchain, but we start by looking at the bigger picture, of building a modern security strategy.

I’m joined by Valory Batchellor of IBM. IBM has done some interesting work in building what they call their Immune System, this looks to help people step back from the problem and take a wider strategic approach to tackling the security threat.

In this chat we look at the current and evolving threat, the challenges presented by multiple, disjointed security tools and we also discuss the future and how machine learning and artificial intelligence could give us an infinite amount of security analysts, working on an infinite amount of security problems, with unlimited resources!

Valory provides some fantastic insight with a real enthusiasm and obvious expertise for her subject, so enjoy the show as we look to “secure all of the things”.

You can find Valory on twitter @ValBatchellor

You can find out more from IBM security at securityintelligence.com and www.ibm.com as well as look at some of the research from IBM x-force.

And do look at the work the national cybersecurity centre here in the UK is doing via their website www.ncsc.gov.uk

Next week I’m joined by Harry Keen from anon.ai as we look at data anonymization and the part it plays in data security.

To catch that show, why not subscribe on iTunes, SoundCloud or Stitcher.

Thanks for listening

Don’t be scared – GDPR is a good thing, embrace it!

I can’t open my inbox these days without someone telling me about the European Union, General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the content of these emails ranging from the complex to the scaremongering.

However, what I don’t see are the ones extolling the positives of the regulation.

In my humble opinion, GDPR is a driver for some very positive change in the way that we as businesses, use the data that we have and will continue to collect in ever-growing amounts.

I’m sure we’ve all heard how data is the new gold, oil, etc, and to many of us our data is among the most valuable assets we hold and as I heard recently “the ability to gain actionable insights from data is what will separate us from our competition.” I personally believe this to be true, the businesses that know how to manage and gain value from their data will be the ones that are the success stories of the future.

If data is such an asset, then…

Why do we keep hearing stories about high profile data breaches, such as Equifax and Deloitte, where sensitive information has found itself in the public domain? If data is an asset, then why are we so lax with its security? Are we that lax with other assets?

Data is hard

The problem is, that managing data is hard, we don’t know what we have, where it is, who has access, and when or even if they access it. This lack of insight makes securing and managing data a huge challenge — and why the idea of more stringent regulation is a frightening prospect for many.

Why is GDPR a good thing?

The GDPR is going to force organizations to address these problems head-on, something that, for mthumbs upany of us, is long overdue. Although the regulation focuses on the privacy of “data subjects,” the principles can and should be applied to all of our data.

To be clear, GDPR is not a data management framework. Its scope is much wider than that. It is a legal and compliance framework and should be treated as such. But, while GDPR is “not an IT problem,” it’s certainly a technology challenge, and technology will be crucial in our ability to be compliant.

Why GDPR and technology is helpful

Even If GDPR did not demand our compliance, I would still thoroughly recommend it as a set of good practices that, if you’re serious about the value of your data, you should be following.

I believe the principles of the GDPR, along with smart technology choices, can positively revolutionize how we look after and get the very best from our data.

In the last 12 months or so, I’ve done a lot of work in this area and have found 4 key areas, where the GDPR alongside some appropriate technology choices has made a real difference.

1. Assessment

assessment-1024x819

As with any project, we start by fully understanding our current environment. How else are you going to manage, secure and control something if you don’t know what it looks like, to begin with?

Your first step should be to carry out a thorough data assessment, understand what you have, where it is, how much there is, if it’s looked at, what’s contained within it and of course, who, when, where and why it’s accessed.

This is crucial in allowing us to decide what data is important, what you need to keep and what you can dispose of. This is not only valuable for compliance but has commercial implications as well: why take on the costs of storing, protecting and securing stuff that nobody even looks at?

2. Education

It’s too easy to look at our users as the weakness in our security strategy when they should be our strength. They won’t ever be, however, if we don’t encourage, educate and train them.

Technology can help provide training, develop simple-to-use document repositories or keep them on their toes with regular orchestrated phishing tests. This helps users develop skills, keeps them aware and allows us to develop metrics against which we can measure our success.

We must move away from the annual “lunch and learn” briefing and realize we need tools that allow us to continually educate.

3. Breaches

breachThe GDPR places a major focus on our ability to identify breaches quickly and accurately and be able to report on exactly what data we have lost. Traditionally this is an area in which business have been lacking, taking weeks, months or maybe even years to be aware of a breach. In a world where we are ever more data-reliant, this cannot be acceptable.

Technology is the only way to meet these stringent reporting requirements. How else will you know the when, where and how of a breach?

But technology isn’t only about reporting. The ability to have such visibility of data usage —  the who, where and when of access — will allow us to quickly detect and stop a breach, or at least reduce its impact.

4. Data protection by design

This is perhaps the most positive part of GDPR, as it will encourage us to build data protection into the very core of our infrastructure, systems and data repositories. Whether on-prem or in the cloud, under our control or a service providers, security has to be at the heart of our design — not an afterthought.

We need to use this as an opportunity to encourage cultural change, one where the importance of our data is not underestimated, where maintaining its integrity, security and privacy is a priority for everyone, not just IT.

Is the GDPR a lot of work? Yes.

Is it worth it? In my opinion, 100%, yes — GDPR is a real positive driver for a long overdue and crucial change and should be embraced.


Keeping on top of ONTAP

The last year has been a big one for NetApp, the turnaround in the company’s fortunes continues, fantastic growth in the all flash array market, the introduction of cloud native solutions with tools and of course not to forget Solidfire and the newly announced HCI platform. All have created lots of interest in this “new” NetApp.

If you have read any of my content previously, you’ll know I’m a fan of how NetApp operate and their data fabric strategy continues to make them the very best strategic data partner to meet the needs of many of the people I work with day-to-day.

Why am I telling you all of this? Well, like with all technology companies, it’s easy to get wrapped up in exciting new tech and sometimes forget the basics of why you work with them and what their core solutions still deliver.

For all the NetApp innovations of the last couple of years, one part of their business continues to be strong and even at 25 years old remains as relevant to customer needs as ever and that is the ONTAP operating system.

ONTAP, in its latest incarnation, version 9 (9.2 to be exact), maybe more than anything shows how NetApp continue to meet the ever-changing needs of the modern data market, because it would be easy, regardless of its strength, to write off an operating system that is 25 years old, but NetApp have not, they have developed it into something markedly different from the versions I first worked with 10 years ago.

These changes reflect the changes we, as users in more data focussed businesses, demand from our storage, it’s not even really storage we demand, it’s an ability to make our data a core part of our activities, to quote a friend “Storing is boring” and although storing is crucial, if all we are doing is worrying about storing it, then we are missing the point and if the focus for ONTAP was only that, then it would become very quickly irrelevant to a modern business.

How are NetApp ensuring that ONTAP 9 remains relevant and continues to be at the heart of data strategies big and small?

Staying efficient

Although storing may be boring, in a world where IT budgets continue to be squeezed and datacentre power and space are at a costly premium, squeezing more and more into less and less continues to be a core requirement.

Data Compaction, inline deduplication, and the newly introduced aggregate wide deduplication all provide fantastic efficiency gains. If you align this with integration of increasing media sizes (10TB SATA, 15TB Flash, something not always easy for NetApp’s competition), you can see how ONTAP continues to let you squeeze more and more of your data into smaller footprints (60Tb on one SSD drive anyone?), something that remains critical in any data strategy.

Let it grow

As efficient as ONTAP can be, nothing is efficient enough to keep up with our desire to store more data and different types of data. However, ONTAP is doing a pretty good job of keeping up. Not only adding additional scalability to ONTAP clusters (Supporting up to 24 nodes) NetApp have also taken on a different scaling challenge with the addition of FlexGroups.

FlexGroups allow you to aggregate together up to 200 volumes into one large, high performance single storage container, perfect for those who need a single point of storage for very large datasets. This is something I’ve already seen embraced in areas like analytics where high performance access to potentially billions of files is a must.

Keep it simple

A goal for any IT team should be the simplification of its environment.

NetApp have continued developing ONTAP’s ability to automate more tasks and by using intelligent analysis of system data they are helping you to take the guess-work out of workload placements and their impacts, allowing you to get it right, first time, every time.

The continued development of quick deployment templates has also greatly simplified provisioning of application storage environments from out of the box to serving data, taking just minutes not days.

In a world where an ability to respond quickly to business needs is crucial, then the value of developments like this cannot be underestimated.

Keep it secure

Maybe the most crucial part of our data strategy is security and in the last 12 months NetApp have greatly enhanced the capability and flexibility of this in ONTAP.

SnapLock functionality was added 12 months ago, allowing you to lock your data into data archives that can meet the most stringent regulatory and compliance needs.

However, the biggest bonus is the implementation of onboard, volume level encryption, previous to ONTAP9, the only way to encrypt data on a NetApp array, was like most storage vendors, with the use of self-encrypting drives.

This was a bit of an all or nothing approach, it meant buying different and normally more expensive drives and encrypting all data regardless of its sensitivity.

9.1 introduced the ability to deliver encryption on a more granular level, allowing you to encrypt single volumes, without the need for encrypting drives, meaning no need for additional hardware and importantly the ability to only encrypt what is necessary.

In modern IT, this kind of capability is critical both in terms of data security and compliance.

Integrate the future!

I started this piece by asking how you keep a 25-year-old operating system relevant, in my opinion the only way to do that is to ensure it seamlessly integrates with modern technologies.

ONTAP has a pretty good record of that, be it by luck or design, it’s port into the world of all flash, was smooth, no need for major rewrites, the ONTAP method of working was geared to work with flash before anyone had thought of flash!

The ability for ONTAP to see media as another layer of storage regardless of type was key in supporting 15TB SSD’s before any other major storage vendor and it is this flexibility of ONTAP to integrate new storage media which has led to one of my favourite features of the last 12 months, FabricPools.

This technology allows you to seamlessly integrate S3 storage directly into your production data, be that an on-prem object store, or a public cloud S3 bucket from a provider like AWS.

In the V1.0 release in ONTAP 9.2, FabricPools tier cold blocks from flash disk to your S3 complaint storage, wherever that is, bringing you the ability to lower your total cost of ownership for storage by moving data not actively in use to free up space for other workloads. All done automatically via policy, seamlessly providing an extension to your production storage capacity by integrating modern storage technology.

ONTAP everywhere

As ONTAP continues to develop, the ways you can consume it also continue to develop to meet our changing strategic needs.

Fundamentally ONTAP is a piece of software and like any piece of software it can run anywhere that meets the requirements to run it. ONTAP variants Select and Cloud, provide software defined versions of ONTAP that can be run on white box hardware or delivered straight from the cloud marketplaces of AWS and Azure.

The benefit of this stretches far beyond just been able to run ONTAP in more places, it means that management, security policies and data efficiencies are all equally transferable. It’s one way to manage, one set of policies to implement, meaning that where your data resides at a given moment becomes less important, as long as it is in the right place at the right time for the right people.

In my opinion, this flexibility is critical for a modern data strategy.

Keep it coming

Maybe what really keeps ONTAP relevant is the fact that these new capabilities are all delivered in software, none of the features have required new hardware or for you to purchase an add-on, they are all delivered as part of the ONTAP development cycle.

And the modern NetApp has fully embraced a more agile way of delivering ONTAP, with a 6-month release cadence, meaning they can quickly absorb feature requests and get them delivered to platforms that desire them quickly, allowing them and us to respond to changing business needs.

So, while NetApp have had a fascinating year, delivering great enhancements to their portfolio, ONTAP still retains a very strong place at the heart of their data fabric strategy and still, in my opinion, is the most complete data management platform, continuing to meet the needs presented by modern data challenges.

Find out more

If you want to know more about ONTAP and its development then try these resources.

NetApp’s Website

Justin Parisi’s BLOG – providing links to more detailed information on all of the technologies discussed and much more!

TechONTAP Podcast – NetApp’s excellent TechONTAP podcast has detailed information of all of the information shared here, it’s all in their back catalogue.

And of course you can leave a comment here or contact me on twitter @techstringy

What is a next generation data centre? – Martin Cooper – Ep35

There is no doubt that our organisations are becoming ever more data centric, wanting to know how we can gain insight into our day to day operations and continue to be competitive and relevant to our customers, while delivering a wide range of new experiences for them.

This move to a more data driven environment is also altering the way we engage and even purchase technology in our businesses, with technology decisions now no longer the preserve of IT people.

These changes do mean we need to reconsider how we design and deliver technology. Which has led to the idea of “The Next Generation Datacenter”, but what does that mean? What is a Next Generation Datacentre?

That is the subject of this week’s podcast, as I’m joined by Martin Cooper, Senior Director of the Next Generation Datacentre Group (NGDC), at NetApp.

With over 25 years in the technology industry, Martin is well placed to understand the changes that are needed to meet our increasingly digitally driven technology requirements.

In this episode, we look at a wide range of topics, starting with trying to define what we mean by Next Generation Datacentre. The good news is that NGDC is not necessarily about buying a range of new technologies, but about optimising the processes and technology that we already have.

We touch on how a modern business needs flexibility in its operations and how decisions made in different parts of the business, who focus on applications and data, not infrastructure, require IT teams to respond in an application and data focused way.

Martin also discusses the types of organisations that can benefit from this NGDC way of thinking, and how in fact, it’s not about entire organisations, but about understanding where the opportunities for transformation exist, and delivering change there, be that an entire business, a single department or even a single application.

We also provide a word of caution and how it’s important to understand that not all our current applications and infrastructure are going to migrate to this brave new world of Next Generation Datacentres.

Next Generation Datacentre is not about a technology purchase, but is about understanding how to optimise the things we do, to meet our changing business needs and Martin provides some excellent insight into how we do that and the kind of areas we need to consider.

To find out more from Martin and from NetApp you can follow them in all the usual ways.

Their website Netapp.com

On twitter @NetApp @NetAppEMEA

You can also follow Martin @mr_coops

Martin also mentioned a selection of podcasts that often discuss next generation datacentre, you can find more details on those shows by clicking the links below.

SpeakingINTech

The Cloudcast

NetApp’s own TechONTAP podcast.

I hope you enjoyed the show, if you did and want to catch all future Tech Interviews episodes, then please subscribe and leave us a review in all of the normal places.

Subscribe on Android

SoundCloud

Listen to Stitcher

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