VMware EVO: The KFC of SDDC

EVO is the KFC of SDDC
EVO is the KFC of SDDC

VMware EVO is bringing to software-defined data centers the same type of business model that Kentucky Fried Chicken had brought to restaurants decades ago. VMware is hungry to grow and is expanding its business to new territories. Colonel Sanders’s revolutionary vision to sell his chicken recipe and brand through franchise model is now coming to IT infrastructure as ready-to-eat value meals.

Most of the press reports and analyst blogs are focused on VMware’s arrival into converged infrastructure market. Of course, vendors like Nutanix and SimpliVity will certainly lose sleep as the 800-pound gorilla has set its eyes on converged infrastructure market. However, VMware’s strategy is much deeper than taking over the converged infrastructure market from upstarts, it is a bold attempt to disrupt the business model of selling IT infrastructure stacks while keeping public cloud providers away from enterprise IT shops.

Bargaining power of supplier: Have you noticed the commanding power of VMware in EVO specifications? Partners like Dell and EMC are simply the franchisees of VMware’s infrastructure recipe and brand. It is no secret that traditional servers and storage are on the brink of disruption because buyers wouldn’t pay premium for brand names much longer. It is the time for them to let go of individuality and become delivery model for a prescriptive architecture (franchise model) from a stronger supplier in the value chain.

Software is now the king, no more OEM: In the old world where hardware vendors owned brand power and distribution chains, software vendors had to make OEM deals to get their solutions to the market in those hardware vehicles. Now the power is shifting to software. The software vendor prescribes (a softened term that actually stands for ‘dictates’) how infrastructure stacks should be built.

Short-term strategy, milk the converged infrastructure market: This is the most obvious hint VMware has given; reporters, bloggers and analysts have picked up this obvious message. As more and more CIOs are looking to reduce capital and operational costs, the demand for converged systems is growing rapidly. Even the primitive assembled-to-order type solutions from VCE and NetApp-Cisco are milking the current demand for simplified IT infrastructure stacks. Nutanix leads the pack in relatively newer and better hyper-convergence wave. VMware’s entry into this market validates that convergence is a key trend in modern IT.

Long-term strategy, own data center infrastructure end-to-end while competing with public clouds: The two of three key pillars of VMware strategy are enabling software-defined data centers and delivering hybrid clouds. Although SDDC and hybrid cloud would look like two separate missions, the combination is what is needed to fight Amazon and other public cloud solutions from taking over the workloads from IT shops. The core of VMware’s business is selling infrastructure solutions for on-prem data centers. Although VMware positions itself as the enabler of service providers, it understands that the bargaining power of customers would continue to stay low if organizations stick to on-prem solutions. This is where SDDC strategy fits. By commoditizing infrastructure components (compute, storage and networking) and shifting the differentiation to infrastructure management and service delivery, VMware wants to become the commander in control for SDDCs (just like how Intel processors dictated direction for PCs in the last two decades). EVO happens to be that SDDC recipe it wants to franchise to partners so that customers could taste the same SDDC no matter who their current preferred hardware vendors are. Thus EVO is the KFC of SDDC. It is not there as a Nutanix killer, VMware also wants to take shares from Cisco (Cisco UCS is almost #1 in server market, Cisco is #1 in networking infrastructure), EMC Storage (Let us keep the money in the family, the old man’s hardware identity is counting its days) and other traditional infrastructure players. At the same time, VMware wants to transform vCloud Air (the rebranded vCloud Hybrid Service) as the app store for EVO based SDDCs to host data services in cloud. It is a clever plan to keep selling to enterprises and hide them away from the likes of Amazon. Well played, VMware!

So what will the competitive action from Amazon and other public cloud providers? Amazon has resources to build a ready-to-eat private Fire Cloud for enterprises that can act as the gateway to AWS. All this time, Amazon focused mainly on on-prem storage solutions that extend to AWS. We can certainly expect the king of public clouds do something more. It is not a question of ‘if’; rather it is the question of ‘when’.

EMC’s Hardware Defined Control Center vs. VMware’s Software Defined Data Center

EMC trying to put the clock back from software-defined storage movement
EMC trying to put the clock back from software-defined storage movement

EMC’s storage division appears to be in old yeller mode. It knows that customers would eventually stop paying a premium for branded storage. The bullets to put branded storage out of its misery are coming from software defined storage movement led by its own stepchild VMware. But the old man is still clever and pretending to hangout with the cool kids to stay relevant while trying to survive as long as there are CIOs willing to pay premium for storage with a label.

Software-defined storage is all about building storage and data services on top of commodity hardware. No more vendor locked storage platforms on proprietary hardware. This movement offers high performance at lower cost by bringing storage closer to compute. Capacity and performance are two independent vectors in software-defined storage.

TwinStrata follows that simplicity model and had helped customers extend the life of existing investments with true software solutions. The data service layer offers storage tiering where that last tier could be a public cloud. EMC wants the market to believe that its acquisition of TwinStrata is an attempt to embrace software-defined storage movement. But the current execution plan is a little backward. EMC’s plan is a bolted-on type of integration for TwinStrata IP on top of legacy VMAX storage platform. That means EMC wants to keep the ‘software-defined’ IP closer to its proprietary array itself. The goal is, of course, to prolong the life of VMAX in the software-defined world. While it defeats the rationale behind software-defined storage movement, it may be the last straw to pull the clock back a little.

Hopefully there is another project where EMC will seriously consider building a true software-defined storage solution from the acquired IP without the deadweight of legacy platforms. Perhaps transform ViPR from vaporware to something that really rides the wave of software-defined movement?

The Big Hole in EMC Big Data backup story

It is one of the crucial roles for the marketing team in any organization to communicate the value of its products and services. It is not uncommon (pardon the double negative) for organizations to show the best side of its story while deliberately hiding the weaker aspects through fine prints. The left side of the picture below is the snapshot of breakfast cereal (General Mills’ Total) that came with my breakfast order in Sheraton while travelling on business.

EMC appears to have a Big Hole in its Big Data Backup
EMC appears to have a Big Hole in its Big Data Backup

Note that General Mills had claimed 100% of daily value of 11 vitamins and minerals but with an asterisk. The claim is true only if I consume 53g serving, but the box has only 33g!

Although I may have felt a bit taken back as a consumer, I enjoyed giving a bit of hard time to my General Mills friends and I moved on. This is a small transaction.

What if you were responsible for a transaction worth tens of thousands of dollars and were pitched a glass half-full story like this? It does happen. That General Mills cereal box is what came to my mind when I saw this blog from EMC on protecting Big Data (Teradata) workloads using EMC ‘Big Data backup solution’.

General Mills had the courtesy put the fine print that part of the vitamins and minerals are missing from its box. EMC’s blog didn’t really call out what was missing from its ‘box’ aka Data Domain device to protect Teradata workload using Teradata Data Stream Architecture. In fact it is missing the real brain of the solution: NetBackup!

First a little bit of history and some naked truth. Teradata had been working with NetBackup for over a decade to provide data protection for its workloads. In fact, Teradata sells the NetBackup Agent for Teradata for its customers. This agent pushes the data stream to NetBackup media servers. This is where the real workload aware intelligence (the real brain for this Big Data backup) is built. Once NetBackup media server receives the data stream it can store it on any supported storage: NetBackup Deduplication Pool, NetBackup Advanced Disk Pool, NetBackup OpenStorage Pool or even on a tape storage unit! When it comes to NetBackup OpenStorage Pool, it does not matter who the OpenStorage partner is; it can be EMC Data Domain, Quantum DXi,… The naked truth is that the backend devices are dumb storage devices from the view of NetBackup Agent for Teradata (the Teradata BAR component depicted in the blog).

EMC’s blog appears to have been designed to mislead the reader. It tends to imply that there is some sort of special sauce built natively into Data Domain (or Data Domain Boost) for Teradata BAR stream. The blog is trying to attach EMC to Big Data type workloads through marketing. May I say that the hole is quite big in EMC’s Big Data backup story!

I am speculating that EMC had been telling this story for a while in private engagements with clients. Note that the blog is simply displaying some of EMC’s slides that are marked ‘confidential’. The author forgot to remove it before publishing it. In closed meetings with joint customers of Teradata and NetBackup, a slide like this will create the illusion that Data Domain has something special for Teradata backup. Now the truth just leaked!

EMC or HP: Who is stretching the truth on deduplication system performance?

EMC proudly announced the availability of Data Domain 990 during EMC World 2012 on May 21st. The claim in the news release was that the system could backup up to 248 TB in 8-hour backup window with 31 TB/hr throughput. Further, it claimed that it is 6x faster than closer competitor.

The pride was shattered within 2 weeks. Even Kardashion’s marriage lasted longer than the claim. HP announced that it could protect up 100 TB/hr using its StoreOnce family of products. EMC looked at it with tears and finally responded as given here

EMC said HP’s decision was “puzzling”, and argued the comparison was not fair because HP’s claim was for four hardware systems working on four storage pools compared to EMC’s figures for one system and one pool. Deduplication, which removes copies of data from storage to improve usage, only works within pools of data.

Now is time for a reality check.

Number of systems involved in deduplication processing: EMC’s claim is that Data Domain 990 is a single head unit while HP StoreOnce B6200 is a multi-node system. From the first look, it sounds like a legitimate argument; but the reality is that EMC has no reason to shed crocodile’s tears about this. Here is why.

The 31 TB/hr rate for Data Domain 990 is coming from Data Domain Boost, the software component that offloads most of the processor-intensive deduplication processing to backup servers and/or application servers. The unit by itself is not doing all the work. The story is not different for HP B6200 either; it is making use of StoreOnce Catalyst software, which does similar to what Data Domain Boost does for Data Domain 990.

The absolute number of processing heads shouldn’t matter in this case as the actual performance numbers are skewed on account of distributed processing. I would even give credit to HP, as their solution is highly available with two nodes serving one storage pool. Backups are the last line of defense in an enterprise. High Availability brings additional customer value.

Number of name spaces: Single name space provides deduplication across all the workload ingested into the storage pool. Data Domain 990 is a single name space device with one processing head. You buy HP B6200 in the form of two nodes and storage known as couplets.  It is not crystal clear from HP’s documentation whether multiple couplets can share the same name space or they use dedicated name spaces. I am giving the benefit of doubt that EMC did the research and made the statement on this. Some of the defensive comments HP did after EMC’s reaction tend to indicate the HP stretched the truth a little here.

HP marketing veep Craig Nunes says an 8-node B6200 is a single system because it is managed as one and has a single namespace. The single namespace is segmented into four individual namespaces, one per couplet, and, he says, “next year I could do a firmware update and change that”.

So, I am inclined to support EMC from this point unless someone can confirm from HP’s documentation that a four-couplet unit uses a single name space.

Truth in comparisons: 

EMC’s claim: 6x faster than closer competitor. HP’s claim: 3 times faster (backups) than closest competitor

The statements won’t actually tell you how ‘closer/closest’ competitor is decided. EMC is defining closer competition based on IDC’s report on market share on Purpose-Built Backup Appliances (PBBA) and they are referring to IBM. They selected to compare IBM because they have the poorest number. The other vendors in the list with– HP at 25 TB/hr without Catalyst and Symantec at 23.7 TB/hr for its NetBackup 5220– have solutions superior to IBM! EMC cannot even claim 2x (let alone 6x) if the closest comparison was based on performance itself.

HP defined closest competitor in terms of the actual performance. They compared against EMC’s 31 TB/hr to make the 3 times faster claim with 100 TB/hr.

Verdict: Always ask questions on metrics! It is easy to make a claim while staying vague on details.

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