Author Archives: David Gingell

FlexPod: Efficiency meets Performance

Cisco Fabric Interconnect & Netapp Filer + Disk Shelfs - FlexPodFlexPod now available with all flash-arrays and Cisco ACI

 Now, I generally don’t get very technical or push product too much on this site preferring to take a more holistic and perhaps askance view on the IT industry. There are plenty of posts from my colleagues like Matt Watts that dive into the details and very good they are too. But sometimes I do talk product where I think it is an important innovation, part of a market-shifting technology category or it delivers a significant step forward in helping our customers achieve the successful outcomes to which they aspire.

The NetApp integrated infrastructure offerings are in one such category which is experiencing very significant growth (>50% p.a.). Together with our partner Cisco, we have been delivering FlexPods of varying shapes and sizes into our customers for the last 4 years. By utilizing validated designs, they have been able to bring together applications with the storage-network-compute layers to provide a sort of data center in a box – configured and tested and without all the complexities of bolting it all together themselves.

Whilst FlexPod may not be ready yet to make your coffee every morning, it can certainly help transition to the cloud faster, with less risk and on your terms.

Cisco and NetApp have just announced the availability of new FlexPod designs to allow organizations to get the best of both worlds: getting all the benefits of integrated infrastructure with optimal level of performance with Flash technology.

I have been leading Marketing organizations for many years and I know what you are thinking, another marketing claim from Cisco and NetApp … but what’s really so unique and special about this announcement?

Let me share my views and why I truly think that NetApp and Cisco have reached a new milestone in innovation.

Organizations across the world are shifting towards integrated infrastructure to save time, reduce risk and gain efficiency. With FlexPod our customers can benefit from the major innovations from Cisco and NetApp in compute, networking and storage. Today, more than 4,100 customers have chosen to deploy FlexPod to transition to cloud with a scalable platform.

The latest validated designs using the latest NetApp All-Flash FAS8000 and EF550 arrays will help tremendously to meet the specific performance requirements of a workload or budget requirements, while still delivering the efficiency savings of a single, shared IT infrastructure platform.

We have also released new validated designs using the Cisco Nexus 9000 series switch and new Cisco ACI software including the Application Policy Infrastructure Controller (APIC) server that automates management through a Software Defined Datacenter approach.

In addition, Red Hat is joining the FlexPod Cooperative Support. The Cooperative support now includes Cisco, VMware, Citrix, Microsoft and Red Hat to deliver a coordinated and streamlined support experience for FlexPod.

To learn more about this announcement, please read the NetApp Technology Blog written by Mike Harding, Worldwide Product Marketing Manager at NetApp.

I promise I’ll go back to more highfalutin’ topics on my site in future but I thought it important that you know about Flash meeting integrated infrastructure 😉

Flash et données actives, ne nous laissons pas abuser! (Flash and active data: let’s not get confused!)

JFMSalut tous le monde, today’s post is rather different from my norm. As a Europhile myself I felt it would be good to have a bit of diversity on my site and so this is the first of a very occasional foray into foreign language content. Therefore I am pleased to introduce a guest blogger and an all round great guy, Jean-Francois Marie. Jean-Francois is a NetApp tech leader based out of Lyon and together with a love of food & wine (he lives in Paul Bocuse’s backyard after all), he is passionate about the application of technology.

In his article below he cautions against the view that Flash is a panacea for all storage problems and does so in a lighthearted way. The post is in French and I have made (what I hope is) a valiant attempt to translate it below.

Le buzz du moment est sans nul doute le mot ‘Flash’.

Il est présent partout, dans tous les débats IT, comme la promesse d’une solution de stockage miracle capable de guérir tous les maux des architectures.

Qui de nos clients ne se plaint pas de problèmes de latence, d’un nombre d’iops insuffisant, etc.?

Certainement personne, comme vous pouvez vous en doutez.

Et devinez quoi ? La formule magique est donnée : on va mettre du flash et hop tout va mieux aller…

Et là on voit vraiment des choses vraiment incroyables: des baies de stockage avec plus de 30% de flash, par exemple. Je fais ici exclusion des baies full flash, qui ne sont pas l’objet de cette note.

 30% !!! No comment !

Qu’est-ce que cela veut dire ? N’est-ce pas plus un soin palliatif au stockage plutôt qu’une solution rationnelle et économiquement adaptée aux besoins des applications, donc de nos clients ?

Et bien certainement, car tout simplement, la taille des données actives, le fameux “working set”, n’est jamais aussi gros. Cet espace virtuel, en perpétuel changement, qui représente les données que les applications manipulent à un instant donné, et qui doit donc présenter le meilleur temps de réponse, est de l’ordre de 1 à 3% pour un système NAS, et de 3 à 5% pour du SAN.

Il est donc logique que la technologie d’accélération propose un espace cohérent avec ceci.

Mais cela n’est certainement pas 30%.

30% signifie que le problème vient certainement de la solution de stockage elle-même, et qu’elle est tout juste bonne à être remplacée. Elle n’est peut-être pas saturée au niveau de ses contrôleurs, ce qui donne l’illusion que le problème vient des disques de back-end, et que finalement l’ajout de SSD est LE miracle.

En fait, ce n’est pas le cas. La gestion des IO est totalement non optimisée. Soit à cause d’un RAID non efficace, de problèmes d’alignement, et divers autres effets de bords parasites qui occupent les disques à des tâches structurelles, plutôt qu’à servir de la donnée.

Chez NetApp, nous aimons à croire, que la technologie doit rester au service de nos clients, pour les aider à résoudre leurs problèmes de manière rationnelle et pas le contraire.

Nos technologies #FlashCache, #FlashPool, #AllFlashFAS, #EF et maintenant #FlashRay en sont un bel
échantillon. Nos outils de dimensionnement analysent finement le comportement des applications
pour pouvoir apporter des solutions ajustées.

Nos équipes services et support complètent le tout dans une démarche professionnelle adaptée à tous,
et surtout aux applications les plus critiques de nos clients, celles où les exigences sont extrêmes.

 Alors, si vous devez accélérer, faite le à bon escient avec les solutions #Flash de @NetApp.

Et si vous désirez lire plus de blog NetApp en français, vous pouvez visiter:

https://communities.netapp.com/community/netapp-blogs/fr_associatedstorage/blog/

And now my translation! …….

Flash is undoubtedly the “mot de jour”. It is present everywhere, in every IT debate as the promised of a miracle storage solution capable of curing the ills of IT architectures.

Which customers don’t complain about latency issues, having insufficient IOPs for their data etc. ?

All do, be of no doubt.

And guess what? The magic formula is here: put in flash and, hey presto, everything is going to get better.

And there you’re going to see some truly incredible things: storage arrays with over 30% of flash, for example (I am excluding All Flash Arrays in this post).

30%! No comment.

What does that even mean? Isn’t it rather more palliative care than a rational and economic solution adapted for the needs of the workloads and therefore our clients?

Certainly yes, because the active data set known as the “working set”, is never that large.

This virtual space, which is perpetually changing, which represents the data that the applications manipulate in a given instant, and which therefore has to present the best response times, is in the order of 1 to 3% for NAS systems and 3 to 5% for SAN. It is therefore logical that any acceleration technology has to propose a coherent choice.

But that is certainly not 30% !

30% signifies that the problem is certainly coming from the storage solution itself and that it is just a good time to replace it. It is perhaps not saturated at the level of the controllers which gives the impression that the problem is coming from the back-end disks. And that finally adding SSD is THE miracle.

In fact that it is not the case. IO path management is totally not optimized. Because of inefficient RAID, or problems of alignment and several other parasitic side effects that occupy the disks in structural tasks as much as to serve up the data.

Here at NetApp, we like to believe that the technology must stay at the service of our clients, to help them to solve their problems in a rational manner and not the other way around.

Our technologies #FlashCache, #FlashPool, #AllFlashFAS, #EF and now #Flashray are excellent sample of what we propose. Our sizing tools are doing fine application workload analysis to propose adequate solutions. Our service and support teams complete the picture in a professional approach adapted to you, and above all for the most business critical applications of our clients, where the demands are extreme.

So if you must accelerate, make the best decision with the #Flash solutions from NetApp.

And wish you read more NetApp technical info in French, please do not hesitate to visit :

https://communities.netapp.com/community/netapp-blogs/fr_associatedstorage/blog/

U2 innovating the business model and breathing fresh life into a tired brand

U2The more I think about it, the cleverer it is. It’s a marketing master stroke. By U2 that is. Apple is paying the band a king’s ransom to essentially control the distribution of their new album, Songs of Innocence for one month. How much of a king’s ransom, we don’t know exactly, but it’ll have lots of noughts in it (I have seen a figure of $100m bandied about on the internet). Apple’s decision to give it to 500 million iTunes account holders gratis is clearly a marketing ploy to push iPhone 6 sales and continue their drive for iTunes hegemony. They have made it super easy for their users to own U2’s new offering. Just download it from the Apple cloud. Basically, pretty much everyone reading this post can abandon their perusal right now, open their iTunes on whichever device they have it and download the album right now, for nothing. What’s not to like?

So there’s a potential market of 500 million listeners for U2. How many will download it? impossible to estimate, although no doubt Apple will know soon. U2’s 5th album from 1987, The Joshua Tree shifted 25 million copies, mostly in the first decade after release. Their next highest seller Actung Baby, their 1991 release, sold 18 million copies. Since then it has been a steady decline and their most recent release prior to this new offering, No Line on The Horizon from 2005, sold a relatively paltry (for them) 5 million. They’ve struggled to remain relevant, especially with a younger generation. Most of the reviews of the new offering have been kind but not ecstatic. No real innovation in the music – a bit rawer and harking back to previous motifs and approaches – but essentially a typical U2 album. In essence there is nothing there that would turn the indifferent to the desiring.

If the rate of decline has remained consistent then this album would probably have struggled to shift more than a couple of million copies. If Bono was disappointed with NLOTH, ’ listening habits for low sales, the band and its management certainly weren’t going to take chances with this one. By giving it to Apple to give away whilst getting a fat check in return, they are eliminating an obvious indicator of how good it is, the record sales figures. No-one will know what percentage of the 500m iTunes account holders will download it during the month. Even if it is only 1% then they will match the sales of their last album within 30 days. But perhaps it will be 5% – a whopping 10 million, which would make it instantly their 3rd best-selling album. We are unlikely to see the headline “disappointing sales of U2’s latest”. Brilliant. I can see it now, the Guinness book of World record entry forlargest sales of an album with an asterisk stating *not including U2 Songs of Innocence which may or not have that accolade. TBH we cannot tell”.

Even better, U2 may convert some previously indifferent listeners to fans. And that of course may help with sales of their back catalog. And of course when they embark on their highest grossing world tour in history next year (I am reasonably confident of that), most of the audience will know their current oeuvre.

But what is most interesting is the change of business model. Yes bands have given away their albums for free via download before: Radiohead are a well-known example. But this is on an altogether different scale. One could argue this is about total control being given to the distributor, in this case Apple, and maybe an invasion of privacy taking place. Whilst I appreciate I have to actually download the tracks to my device, they do appear in my purchased folder and that was unsolicited. I am a U2 fan so probably would have bought it anyway at some time, but if I found an album by Jonathan King or Garry Glitter in there, I would be far less sanguine. Others may feel the same about U2. After all, U2 are the most divisive band on the planet. Bono’s posturing and self-aggrandizement can grate for many.

In any event, no –one can doubt U2’s determination to appeal to the digital natives and millennials. If ‘Zeitgeist’ was appropriate to any band, U2 are it. U2 show no signs of being a tired band and they are doing all they can to avoid being a tired brand.

Personally I applaud their innovation in working out how to be relevant.  Sure there were pointers with the U2 iPod a decade ago but the idea of ensuring an average, easy-listening album that sounds like Coldplay doing The Killers is listened to by millions of people is genius. In fact, it is a master stroke.

EMEA Insight: Ich bin ein Berliner…..

 

jfk….4 German words with which most Americans of a certain generation will be familiar. When President Kennedy made his infamous speech, Berlin was going through a political maelstrom and tensions across the city were high. It was extremely divided, metaphorically as well as literally.

Things have moved on pretty significantly with respect to Berlin since 1963. One major aspect is quite how cosmopolitan it has become. Regarded today as one of the most happening cities in Europe, the capital of Germany is in the ‘zeitgeist’ (if you don’t mind me adding another German word to this post). It has become a city known for its tolerance, creativity and forward-looking nature. It is also rapidly becoming a popular destination for business, especially for conferences, summits and expos.

So, it is not a surprise that NetApp has decided to host its EMEA technical conference, Insight, in this magnificent city. After a couple of highly successful years in Dublin, the conference moves eastwards. Originally established to train and educate internal technical staff, the event was expanded several years ago to include the partner community, and last year 2300 staff and partners (50:50) took the trip to the Emerald Isle to deepen their knowledge of the storage and data management marketplace and the technologies of NetApp and its ecosystems partners in particular.

Insight EMEA is part of the global program which kicks off with Insight US in Las Vegas Oct 27 – 30. Three weeks later, with broadly the same program, senior executives from NetApp together with engineering and product operations leaders and technology experts will be in Berlin, eager to share their knowledge with customers, partners and internal staff.

But this year there is a difference. This year we will be joined by customers for the first time. Adding our customers to the program was a decision that was not taken lightly. We could have run a separate customer event of course. But, there is something very unique and special about Insight that we wanted to share with the technical executives and practitioners from our customer base. As a company that believes in partnership as a core tenet, we believe that the mélange of customers, partners and NetApp staff is a key element in our focus on customer experience.

The agenda features NetApp and industry luminaries such as Dave Hitz, co-founder and thought leader, Tom Georgens, Chairman and CEO and Tom Mendoza, Vice-Chairman and leading authority on leadership. Another notable presenter will be Jay Kidd, CTO, who may even give a report card on his 2014 predictions for IT infrastructure. We’ll just have to see (read how I think he fared in 2013 here).

Networking is always a key part of Insight and often one of the aspects most appreciated by attendees. Learning best practices, swapping war stories and understanding what is possible are just a few of the key benefits cited in the past.  Customer keynotes and panels will be announced shortly, but you can be sure that they will feature some pretty cool implementations and business solutions.

NetApp is at the forefront of some of the most disruptive technologies in the industry right now – flash, hybrid cloud, converged infrastructure, object storage to name just a few. As an IT professional can you afford not to come and learn about the latest solutions? And it isn’t just NetApp. Our core partners like Cisco, VMware, Fujitsu along with many others will be in Berlin to help our ecosystem with their IT aspirations.

Customers can check out the agenda register for the event  here. The program is varied, but the emphasis is on learning and training. Certification classes abound and deep technical sessions are the order of the four days. It is primarily for the technical, although business executives from our customer base are very welcome and there is plenty to learn for them as well.

If you are going, I look forward to seeing you there. We can all then proudly announce that Wir sind Berliners!

For my reviews of a past Insight see here and here

 

Start with the Workload

wokrloadMy colleague Matt Watts offered up a provocative video blog post back in May entitled “The demise of tier 1, throwing ‘flash grenades’ at Fortress VMAX” and an even more incendiary one called “” more recently.  Judging by the comments on that one, it touched a nerve with several ex-NetApp employees now working for small Flash startups, believing Matt to be overly partisan and dismissive of their support and scale credentials. Actually I found it incendiary as well, but only in a Lynne Truss kind of way – ‘whom’ not ‘who’, dear boy. Congratulations to Matt though, following the blogging ethos of the great marketer, Seth Godin – making it controversial or funny. Both if possible.

Death to Tier 1?

Anyway, concentrating on the first post, Matt posits that flash will kill tier 1. Whilst I agree in the direction he is taking,  I have a slightly tangential view (well I would, wouldn’t I) to the ‘demise of tier 1’ statement. Personally I don’t see tier 1 actually dying off. Certainly it will evolve. Its economic footprint will certainly diminish and its constituents will change. Tier 1 will continue to exist but it will predominantly mean a combination of hybrid and All Flash Arrays.

Flash will indeed be one of the protagonists that challenges the over-investment and over-provisioning in tier 1 that we see all the time, but so too will cloud. There is a seemingly inexorable headlong rush into cloud computing. Most IT departments have eschewed moving tier 1 applications wholesale into a cloud paradigm so far, but it is certainly the direction it will go. Moving processing from on-premise data centers into private clouds run by cloud service providers or public clouds run by the hyperscalars will certainly change the tier 1 conversation.

Start with the Workload

But maybe we are looking at this the wrong way around.  I think we need to look at this from a top down perspective. We need to start at the workload.

I wrote simplistic post two years ago in which I tried to make the case that the choice of‘storage was the most important decision the CIO would ever make. I wholeheartedly apologize for that. I no longer think that. Sheer, partisan cant.  Of course there are all sorts of very important decisions that a CIO has to take and choosing the enterprise’s storage platform is unlikely to be his most important consideration. My point back then was that most IT departments were moving from a silo’d based approach for the delivery of applications to one founded on a shared virtualized architecture. Therefore the storage platform was becoming more critical with components such as scalability, multi-tenancy and non-disruptive operations becoming necessary capabilities.

Today the discussion is more likely to start with a consideration of ‘workloads’. Only when the CIO and his or her lieutenants have fully understood the types of workloads and the expectations that the business has for the processing of them, can they begin to design, plan and implement to meet the service level objectives. Only when then they have a clear view of that can they hope to decide whether workloads should be on-premise, near-the-cloud or in-the-cloud. Understanding the capacity vs latency dynamic is just the start. The data associated to the workload has a lifecycle and may need to move across the tiers based on its value. Tier one data today may not be tier one data tomorrow. Flash offers unparalleled low latency centricity. But it comes at a significant cost. High capacity through spinning disk offers affordable scalability but comes with a relative performance hit.

For some workloads there is a very obvious answer. Take in finance and banking for example. Swaps & derivatives processing, arbitrage trading or complex financial transacting in the securities markets – all good candidates for All-Flash storage. Latency has to be as low as possible to take advantage of market movements, counter party settlement windows and currency shifts.  For other workloads it isn’t as clear cut. Database applications for instance. High IOPS is clearly important for real-time transacting, but does all the data need tier one storage? Probably not. In fact one global banking organization estimated they had over 3000 Oracle instances but estimated that no more than 10% could be described as ‘business critical’ and needed the maximum IOPS and lowest latency. They had many multiple so-called “tier 1 storage platforms” which were running all those instances. In that situation why would you provision those highly performant systems to cover the 90% of the applications that were not deemed business critical? Surely a cheaper approach could be better utilized.

In our experience All Flash Arrays are ideal architectures for a highly important but limited number of workloads – for those customers that want the lowest latency and high IOPS possible. That’s where the NetApp EF550 is finding a lot of acceptance. However for the vast majority of customers, the marriage of sophisticated data management capabilities together with highly performant All Flash delivers the best of both worlds. This is where the NetApp All Flash FAS comes in. With the #1 Storage OS, Data ONTAP and its set of rich data management features such as compression, deduplication, thin-provisioning, snapshotting and cloning, customers are getting the best of both worlds.  If capacity is an issue then a hybrid of SSD (flash) and HDD (spinning disk) is a popular option as well combining those two media in either the E-Series or the FAS systems.

The point is, if you start with the workload and understand the service level objectives for the processing of the application together with the requirements for the data stewardship and governance, then the discussion of tier 1 takes care of itself. And, the whole market hype around flash becomes a rational discussion about the role Flash plays in an overall data center architecture rather than a bandwagon jumping exercise.

Ferry does Dylan – and not very well.

ferry does dylan

Album review – Bryan Ferry ‘Dylanesque’.

In a series of very occasional album reviews on this site, here are my reflections on ‘Dylanesque’, Bryan Ferry’s homage to Bob Dylan.

Granted it is about 7 years too late to be reviewing it and I suppose anyone who thought about buying it either did so at the time or has since forgotten all about it. For those who did stump up and pay full price back then I doubt it has had heavy rotation. I cannot imagine it was a big seller and now I have heard it a few times I can see why. Still the $5 bargain bin lured me in and, let’s face it, with that sticker price there was never going to be much cognitive dissonance if it was rubbish.

Dylan needs little introduction, coverage or eulogies. Most critics would agree that he is one of the most iconic singer-songwriters ever and he has been highly influential in the development of rock music from its folksy origins in the early 60s and is still going strong with new and challenging material. However from a singing voice perspective, he does rather polarize. I think it would be hard to argue that he is a classy singer. That raspy, sort of whiny voice belies that. However I would defend to the hilt the notion that he has written some of the best music ever recorded. He is a story teller par excellence with a good ear for a hookable tune. In his time, one of the grand innovators.

So for a classy singer like Bryan Ferry, Dylan represents a significant opportunity. The prospect of first class songs sung by a first class singing act should be awesome. Ferry’s smooth vocals ought be able to turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse, if that’s your view of Dylan’s work.

Does it work? Well in a word ‘no’. Ferry can be forgiven for pretty much most things – he is of course the epitome of cool. Even today at 70 he is still has a timeless suavity, let alone in his early 60s when he recorded this. This year I saw him perform at Glastonbury and at the Henley Festival and he didn’t disappoint doing his Roxy Music repertoire.
Choosing 11 of Dylan’s vast oeuvre to cover cannot have been that easy but Ferry plays it safe, very safe. Even casual Dylan fans will be familiar with most of the songs he chose to cover.

Generally speaking, Dylan’s work has attitude. It is edgy. It pushes against the pricks. It couldn’t be further from lounge music if it tried. The idea of going into The Beverley Hills Hotel or The Savoy in London and hearing ‘Idiot Wind’ blasting out is laughable. Unfortunately Ferry is the master of classy lounge music. ‘Avalon’, ‘Jealous Guy’, ‘Slave to Love’, yeah I can imagine hearing any of those as I sip my Pina Colada at the Grand Hyatt on Poipou Beach. And that’s the problem. He sounds like a self-satisfied, upper class lounge singer, which is fine except he’s attempting music that needs attitude. That’s how those songs were sung back in the 60s.

And so when Ferry attempts ‘Knocking on Heaven’s Door’ one cannot help think how lame it is compared not just to the original but to two other rather better covers – Clapton’s and Guns n’ Roses’ which both brought something extra to it. A youthful Clapton, master guitarist though he is, is no A grade singer either, but his version has emotion layered into it. As for Axel Rose, well there is little more to be said to the assault that he and Slash manage to evoke on the ears with their rendition. Ferry manages to make it sound like ‘Avalon’ all over again. To steal what one Twitter writer said of a Coldplay gig a few years ago, ‘now I know what beige sounds like’.

‘The Times They Are A-Changin’’ and ‘All I Really Want To Do’ sound like they have been dialed in and add nothing to either of the originals. Passable covers of ‘If Not For You’ and ‘Simple Twist Of Fate’ do somewhat redress the balance, especially once a rather fine ‘Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues’ has been thrown into the mix.

However the crime of the century (to steal Supertramp’s line) is the cover of ‘Positively 4th Street’. Surely this is one of the most vituperative songs ever written? Together with ‘Idiot Wind’ it would have to be a definite on the team sheet for the most spiteful songs of all time. It is full of venom and hate and Dylan sings it accordingly. Ferry out-lounges himself on covering it. Gone is the threat and is replaced by a warm, hot-chocolately, mogadon-laden rendition. It is like being assaulted by a sheep. This is probably the one song he should not have covered from the Dylan cannon. Only the sneering of The Sex Pistols or Oasis could do that song justice.Can you imagine Bryan ever saying to a lady “I wish that for just one time you could stand inside my shoes, you’d know what a drag it is to see you”. Of course not. His manners are far too polished to ever utter such a cruel sentence. It just has no verisimilitude to it.

On the whole, I appreciate Ferry’s music and most of what he and his Roxy Music band delivered, from their glam rock origins to their mainstream rock output. However this is one vanity project that he should have left well alone.

Post Script: For a professional critic’s view see Pitchfork’s review here – which I saw after penning the above. It is broadly in line with mine, if a lot better written. Douglas Volk is generally harsher in his criticism although kinder about Positively 4th Street

Why a "soft edge" is crucial for superior customer outcomes

Rich Karlgaard, entrepreneur and Forbes publisher wrote a book this year which may prove every bit as seminal as Jim Collins’ Good to Great or as industry defining as Tom Peters and Robert Waterman’s In Search of Excellence.
Titled the The Soft Edge, Karlgaard posits that truly great companies that want to get ahead (and stay there) require superior soft edge skills to match the hard edge skills and strategic base that a company must have in order to be a contender at all. The strategic base for a company is  its markets, competitive positioning, innovation and potential disruptors. The hard edge is what financial folk love – the balance sheet, the P&L, the supply chain, logistics, size and scale. Karlgaard believes great companies excel at optimizing all these. But the soft edge is what is required today to propel a company ahead of its competitors.

The soft edge is a set of norms that are culturally informed but go beyond that. Essentially it is  a set of values that cannot be easily copied. He identifies 5 key values which he contends are essential: trust, smarts, team, taste and story.

See his Forbes post on The Soft Edge here.

NetApp is a company that people tell us ‘just feels plain different’. Much of this I believe can be explained by our soft edge. We have a strong strategic base – check, we are well managed financially by any measure – check. But where I think NetApp sets itself apart is the focus on those values in the soft edge.

And this is not self-serving. This is all about putting customer outcomes at the center of our thinking and the soft edge helps deliver on that. If you do get to read his book, you will see that NetApp is frequently referenced as a company that truly takes the soft edge seriously in order to deliver superior customer outcomes.

Check out my short video as I explain this some more.

gingell soft edge

 

FlexPod: What’s in a name?

ciscappMost corporate IT budgets are flat or are reflecting minimal annual increases. CIOs are being tasked with delivering more for less. That’s broadly the sum of it.  “Deliver innovation and put IT to work to drive the top line, oh, and do it without increasing costs” is the message from the board. CIOs have never been more important to business but equally never been more exposed.

The promise of new consumption models for IT resources which favor the use of the Opex budget rather than the Capex budget is attractive for business leaders and it is no surprise that most companies are using some form of cloud based architectures for at least a part of their IT delivery.

The CIO has also to contend with other parts of the business procuring IT resources directly without consultation with his or her function, so called “shadow IT”, and it is a serious concern for them. Gartner estimates that by 2017 the Chief Marketing Officer will spend more on IT than the Chief Information Officer and IDC reckon Line of Businesses (LoBs) will control 40% of all IT budgets. If those predictions don’t give CIOs pause for thought, then I don’t know what will. 

So what can the CIO do about it? Well, putting aside ensuring the close collaboration and co-operation between the IT function and the LoBs ( see this Forbes video in which NetApp’s Julie Parrish CMO and Cynthia Stoddard, CIO discuss best practice), a focus must be on reducing both complexity and cost in order to deliver functionality and innovation at a faster clip than before. CIOs are embracing this challenge in numerous ways.

One is to consider the use of converged or ‘integrated’ infrastructures.

The pre-packaging of compute, network and storage into a single rack, with validated designs for various workloads is an interesting and growing part of the IT infrastructure market. In fact, in a relatively low growth spend market for IT, converged infrastructures as a category are in realtive hyper growth. Gartner estimate a compound growth rate of 56% – which is significant in anyone’s book.

Why are CIOs spending more in this area than in most other segments? Well the appeal is obvious. Buying a single stack which is prevalidated can potentially cut out a lot of integration work and cost. Actually I think it is also a case that IT departments are seriously stretched these days and there are less and less of the integration skills available either in-house, or indeed affordably available on the open market. This makes the idea of the stack particualrly appealing, espescially where most of the heavy lifting has been done by the vendors.

Cisco & NetApp

NetApp recognised this trend nearly four years ago and began a relationship with Cisco to build a converged infrastrcuture stack. This became known as FlexPod and was a field-driven, engineering exercise that developed into a very powerful business. It emerged as a response to customer demand. It wasn’t the top brass at each of the companies coming together and investing billions to create a business. Rather it was an organic and flexible arrangement that grew at the pace the market wanted rather than the pace demanded by the C-levelers. The name FlexPod reflected the flexible nature of the configurations and the stack-line delivery model. To learn more about FlexPod, read John Rollason’s excellent post click here.

FlexPod – a growth story

Today Cisco and NetApp jointly announced that this organic business, featuring compute blades and networking from Cisco and storage and data management from NetApp has reached $3bn in sales since inception and is now at a $2bn annualized run rate. We have seen a lot of success in service providers with FlexPod, given its adaptability, scalability and some of its key architectural capabilities such as secure multi-tenancy, but also many major enterprises have invested in the architecture as a foundation for their cloud infrastructure initiatives. Given the trend towards cloud computing, especially hybrid clouds, the opportunity is only going to increase. In fact FlexPod is growing even faster than the converged infrastructure market as a whole.

Impressive as the numbers are, what I find fascinating is how quickly two behemoths of the IT industry can come together in partnership and from a standing start create a multi-billion dollar business in less than 4 years. Cisco have proven they can do this in the past with their UCS business, which has grown from a startup in 2009 to being the #1 in x86 blade servers in the US and #2 worldwide. When they announced UCS there was a collective quizzical response – “like the world needs another sever company, yeah right”. But they had some game-changing technology which also proved to be market-share changing as well. You can see the impact of UCS in the market in this infographic. Quite an achievement.

Personification of partnering

But doing it in partnership with another company is a different thing. It requires close collaboration, open minds and a focus on what matters most – the customer. In fact I think the history of FlexPod has largely been shaped by listening to customers and responding by delivering a flexible architecture and support for their chosen workloads. Cisco and NetApp together have had this in mind throughout the development and roll-out of FlexPod.

One of NetApp’s core differentiators over the years has always been its focus on deep relationships with its ecosystem partners and has had an open approach to partnering generally. In a way, FlexPod is the personification of those attributes. A deep relationship with Cisco, for mutual benefit, and strong partnerships with the higher stack ecosystem vendors, Microsoft, VMWare, SAP, Citrix, RedHat and so on.

So it is pleasing to see the growth rates of this part of the business. As we look to help CIOs transition from being the owner/operators of data centers to being the broker of IT services, FlexPod can be a major weapon in standing up IT resources with simplicity and flexibility.

Here comes some more product. Put out the bunting? Yes, I think so…..

overview-fas8000-200x106Whoa hey! NetApp introduces another new FAS system. Read all about it! (well, two systems actually, see here). Put out the bunting and open the champagne.

Depending on your starting position you might possibly be thrilled about the introduction of both the new entry-level FAS system, the 2500 and also the FAS 8080 EX, the fastest, most scalable and most modern storage array that NetApp has ever produced. Effectively we’ve bookended the NetApp hardware range, simplifying as we go.

On the other hand you may be thinking, ‘so what?’ New processors, more memory, more slots, better flash optimization? All good stuff but if you are the CIO of an enterprise or the CTO of a service provider does it get the pulse racing? You may be tempted to second glance it then pass it to your storage team to pick over the news.

However, hold on there Tiger (you don’t mind me calling you Tiger do you?). The speeds and feeds may not thrill you personally, but what about the potential outcomes of using them? That just might.

All the FAS systems run the very latest version of Clustered Data ONTAP (8.2.1), the world’s #1 storage operating system (as measured by capacity shipped. Source IDC). What does this mean to an IT leader?

Well, firstly the combination of the most scalable hardware platform the FAS 8080 EX, coupled with the clustering capabilities of cDOT means that you can establish a simply massive storage fabric stretching to 24 systems and delivering a throughput in excess of 4 million IOPS. And that is important if you want to run the most demanding applications in your data center. You can have a storage platform that is capable of not just joining the enterprise party but being the center of attention.

Like all FAS systems, the new platforms are multi-protocol and operate in both block and file modes. They are equally as adept at hosting tier one, business critical applications as they are in running home directories and email systems. By equipping them with Flash storage, either in an All Flash configuration or in a pooled, flash plus spinning disk architecture, the most demanding business applications can be supported.  These new systems can meet the scale-up and scale-out requirements necessary to support tier one critical applications like ERP, financial applications and web hosting environments.

This translates to lower cost, more flexibility and greater scalability. But critically, it also is a platform that provides non-disruptive operations. Never taking your systems down for unplanned or even unplanned downtime is transformational. Revlon, the cosmetics company reported less than 13 seconds downtime per annum, and even that was planned. See exactly why this was transformational here (see the video and read my post here). Migrating hardware, fixing failing disk drives and upgrading software can all be done without interrupting the applications and the users. That’s what Clustered Data ONTAP allows and now that it is married with the hottest storage platform that we’ve ever produced, we really can stand up arrays that support the most demanding of production environments.

So today, there’s a new sheriff in ‘tier one’ town. He’s drawing his guns more quickly than the opposition, he has less expensive hardware, his bullets never jam and he fires in a flash. Meet the FAS 8080 EX

Some thoughts on leadership

leadership2 I recently delivered a briefing to 40 senior managers of a mid cap technology company from across Europe. It was a small part of a week-long training course that they were undertaking on many aspects of leadership and strategy. I was there primarily to talk about how marketing (my function) is supports corporate strategies, but towards the end of the Q&A session I was asked about my approach to leadership in general.  We had run out of time for an expansive answer, so I thought I’d put some of them down here, point the attendees to this post and solicit any additional input from my readers.

I would not begin to suggest that I have a unique insight into leadership or have developed any remarkable theories on it. There are plenty of gurus out there who have strong opinions and practical experience, about what is after all, a fundamental behavior exhibited every minute of the day. If you want to understand the theory of leadership then there are hundreds of academic books on the subject that deeply analyze the attributes of what makes a leader.

That said, I have been leading teams professionally for the last twenty years or more and prior to that managed teams for several years.So I have some thoughts I’d like to share.

‘If you want to know whether you are a leader, just look over your shoulder and if there’s no-one there, then you’re not’ 

I don’t know who first said that, but it is a clever line. Metaphorically speaking it is true but for most leaders they have a leadership role conferred on them by dint of their seniority in the organization or the management position they hold. There will usually be people over their shoulders, it is just a degree of how far behind!

For me, here are a few of the behaviors  that I think set a leader apart from a manager. I hope I bring these to the table every day, or at least most days! It is very definitely not an exhaustive list but the most important few in my view: –

Passion A leader must be passionate about what he or she does. They must display a desire and a willingness to put things on the line to succeed. They are not unrealistically optimistic and certainly must retain a sense of realism, but they are definitely a positive driving force.

Inspiration A leader needs to inspire his or her team to perform to the best of their abilities. A leader must imbue the sense of excitement that the future holds for the individuals and the company. Inspirational leaders find their people doing extraordinary things and going well above what anyone could reasonably expect. They enjoy lots of discretionary effort from their people.

Bias for Action Most people are familiar with Sun Tzu’s Art of War and Carl Von Clausewitz’s On War treatises on strategy and leadership. Not surprisingly followers expect leaders to lead and that means actually doing something. The analogies with war operations to describe leadership attributes can get a little overdone, but the bias to action within that context is obvious, and it does translate to the business world. A leader must walk the talk.

Communication maven A leader must be a very solid communicator, both internally and externally. As trust is a key construct between the successful leader and the successfully led, the concept of transparency is usually a prescript. Over-communication is usually way better than the alternative, and the worst thing a leader can do is ‘go dark’.

Barrier Remover A strong leader will have built a strong bench – a team he or she can trust to deliver. That in itself is a key skill. What then becomes crucial is that the leader removes barriers which may inhibit the team from reaching its goals and objectives, where ever possible. These are often multi-hued and therefore a successful leader will have an armoury of skills such as diplomacy, guile, negotiation abilities and many other besides.

Total clarity on roles and responsibilities Your people, rather than shying from accountability are actually looking to understand what is expected of them and how they can deliver against those expectations. The clearer the goals and objectives, the more accountability your staff feel and the more they are invested. In fact it is almost counter intuitive, the more accountability your staff have, the more committed and loyal they will be. It always reminds me of the Full English Breakfast – are you involved like the chicken, or are you committed like the pig?

As I said, the number of leadership books is legion and so are the perspectives on leadership they offer. The few behaviors I have highlighted above are a slice only. However they are the top behaviors from my experience and ones that I particularly try to focus on.