Eye on Blades Blog: Trends in Infrastructure
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Displaying articles for: February 2009

7 Ways to Network on a Shoestring Budget

Sorry, this is really not about IT networking.  It's about social networking.  I thought I'd post this as a social experiment to see how many network admins opened this blog today -- and maybe get some good ideas from you folks on how to take cost out of networking.  Let's hear it!


As I wait your ideas on IT networking, here's some useful stuff to build your personal networking skills. 



Maybe I should post this again on April Fool's Day!

Aaron Delp: Traditional Expansion Options for Blades and Virtualization

Aaron continued his series, 'Blades and Virtualization Aren’t Mutually Exclusive' this week. It's a very good read, especially if you're new to virtualization on blades and trying to figure out the best configuration.




  • Part 3 covered IBM Traditional Expansion Options and discussed different options for drives, memory and network connectivity in support of virtual servers.


  • Part 4 basically did the same thing for HP BladeSystem today.  Aaron promised more analysis of our virtualization blade and Virtual Connect Flex-10 in future posts.  Those are the ones I'm most looking forward.

There are lots of great comments on both of these posts, so you have something to add check out it and share your thoughts with Aaron.

Much ado about the unknown

That's how Ashlee Vance put it in regard to all the peacocking from Cisco these days. The only thing I can say is there is very little fodder for meaty analysis other than to examine what they say and offer questions to you dear reader. That's because vision is, well, a vision.  It sounds great, but it's all in the execution. 


Here's what we hear customers asking:




  • How will you help me take cost out today?


  • How will you help me be ready for the unknown tomorrow?

I know the world loves a good fight.  Sorry to disappoint you, but I can't fight what isn't there.  


In last weeks' blog, I asked "What If a Plumber Built Your House", posing some questions that came to mind based on a recent report by the Lippis Group. 


Well, after today's article courtesy of Ashlee Vance on the NYT blog, maybe is should have talked more about peacocks.  I haven't seen this much prancing, primin and preening in quite some time  Appearently, being a peacock is catchy as Bob Beauchapmp from BMC had to shake his tail feathers too.  Some of the comments are just too ripe not to expand on.


As you can imagine, we're spending a few minutes each day watching all the peacocking going on at Cisco. 


I really can't give you an analysis of Cisco'spromised products and vision because, well it's a vision.  What I can do is the same thing you are doing, taking in all the proclamations and grandstanding. 


Bob Beauchamp said, “There is a new architecture being developed that is really revolutionary,” Bob Beauchamp, the chief executive of BMC, told me in a recent interview. “I think that represents a very significant threat to I.B.M. and H.P. who have business model issues associated with a new architecture.”


Question to BMC: What is the business model issue and are these better questions of Cisco than to IBM and HP?  




  • Revolutionary innovation?  HP BladeSystem, Insight Dynamics, and Virtual Connect Flex-10 are just a few innovations that have the attention of about 54.7% of the market and apparently it has a few other vendors spinning their wheels too.


  • End-to-end capability? Network plumbing and management tools are key elements to the next-generation datacenter architecture.  However, we know that bringing the big picture together takes a lot of heavy lifting across the entire data center stack which explains our many decades of investment in our desktop to NonStop portfolio and integration with partners from Microsoft and Oracle to Cisco and Brocade and more.


  • Growth while delivering lower cost to customers; or stated another way, growth with thin margins?  We have kept a lot of the infrastructure inline with Moore's Law, storage, networking and management costs are the next targets.  We're sure that 65% vendor margins are not what customers are looking for in their next-generation data center.

Business model is a fine discussion to have. I just wish Mark Hurd had time to weigh in because he was say it more clearly than me.  If you think that HP can compete with revolutionary innovation.  Isn't Cisco jumping into the blade market HP created with innovation.  It seems a lot of this may be a response did Virtual Connect Flex-10.  http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/02/17/and-so-begins-the-next-mainframe-saga/


 


What's the revolution?  Fewer choice and less integration with what you have today and need tomorrow?

What makes a great engineer?

We are fortunate here at HP to be surrounded by the best engineers in the world.  When I ran across this presentation below, I had to share it with you.  N. Rajagopal at RDS came up with a solid list of six traits of a great engineer.


Here's a summary of the list with a blade team spin.




  1. Curiosity - Our software team stands out here.  They are always looking for a better way and questioning the status quo.  Greg on our team showed me some ideas about interfaces the other day that really turn the concept of systems management on it's head. Way cool stuff created because they wondered how it could be better.


  2. Likes to break things - Wade Vinson, HP's Fan Man turned Pod Father is my favorite 'breaker of stuff'.  Paradigms, constraints, rules - he relishes breaking stuff more than a 3 year old.  I mean that in a good way Wade.


  3. Knows how to get going - The server and infrastructure biz is all about sprinting to the next thing.  Seth Godin talked about sprinting the other day stating "When we sprint, all the internal dialogue falls away and we just go as fast as we possibly can. When you're sprinting you don't feel that sore knee and you don't worry that the ground isn't perfectly level. You just run."  I suppose a good kick in the pants from Mr. P never hurts either.


  4. Knows the art of the tradeoff - This is probably the hardest one.  Our folks HATE tradeoffs. Good ideas never die with the blade team.  They just wait for the next rev.


  5. How to think long term - Guy McSwain's team could have taken shortcuts on the power for BladeSystem c-Class for the short term, but they insisted on massive power scalability.  So far, the c7000 has taken everything that Xeon, Itanium and Opteron can throw at it. I wonder if IBM reads this . . .


  6. Never stop learning - I might add "never quit" too.  The original Compaq and HP blades were awesome learning experiences for us all.  I can promise you that even with more than 50% share of the blade market, they are still taking a lot of notes!

Enjoy the deck and share with an aspiring engineer.



What else would you add to the list?

Labels: engineers

Are you willing to kill the sacred cow?

Outside the box means killing cows.


Are you ready for -


To truly think different?


Switch ports are Cisco's sacred cow.  Whatever solution they come up with is unlikely to result in left over hamburger meat.

What if a plumber built your house?

Nine months ago, I started to build a house. This week was all about tying up loose ends. We're only days away from moving in. One such loose end was the mystery of the missing faucet.  It was a cool bronze faucet I picked up on eBay for a song.  Forgotten in my trunk, I never gave it to the plumber. 


As the plumber came today to install it, he handed me a change order for $175 - something about the valve and trim weren't compatible!?!  The faucet was in and the plumber was out in five minutes flat. He also warned me not to cry to him if it breaks. Sigh. 


I'm really glad my plumber didn't build my house.




  • The house budget would have come in just shy of a one billion dollars. I promise you, on a per hour basis, my plumber walked away with 10x more profit than my builder.


  • Faucets would have been the focal point of every room.  I even suspect the pipes would be outside of the walls.


  • All pipes and faucets would be made of 24k gold.  The rest of the house, crape paper.

If you want to build a house, hire a custom builder.  They can see your vision. They grasp the big picture and they know how to bring the pieces together.  Most importantly, they know how to execute it.  Custom builders also know your budget and they don't get paid if they bust it. 


That brings me to this article today from Lippis group.  The title is "Are Cisco, HP and IBM on Data Center Collision Course?" It's clear to me that Cisco is taking a plumbers' view to the next generation datacenter. Or a "packet plumber" view if you will. 


This article does a great job of posing some interesting questions of Cisco while clearly drawing the lines between different approaches already being executed in the market, i.e. Adaptive Infrastructure.  James Staten at Forrester echoed some of these sentiments in a recent post as well.


Here are some of the quotes and questions that popped out to me:




  • "Cisco’s Data Center 3.0 initiative is its vision to orchestrate virtual IT." - What data center is virtual only?  Convergence is needed in the data center - not divergence.  Virtual and physcial can not be addressed separately with different tools, processes, etc.  There needs to be a master plan for physical and virtual to minimize the proliferation of different tools, control conflicts and poorly managed processes.


  • "Its products include the Nexus family of data center switches including the Nexus 7000, a high-density 10Gbs Ethernet core switch; Nexus 5000 . . . "  followed by "Cisco Nexus family provides customers with a granular path to add capacity and capabilities to the data center network while allowing customers to have the ability to leverage their existing and continued investment in Catalyst." The granular path is a little unclear here for Catalyst and IOS folks.  Exactly how does Cisco's vision include the millions of Catalyst and IOS products out there? 


  • "But here’s the rub: business models."  Quite a rub indeed.  HP has a proven history of driving out cost across the data center.  Possibly the only player in that can do it on all four axis in the data center - compute, storage, networking, and facilities.  Will Cisco drive down network costs the way HP has driven down compute and facilities costs?  We think it takes a lot more effort than addressing FCoE to get there. 

The final assertion I saw was that Cisco thinks that "HP and IBM will be painted as legacy data center players."  I guess I'm okay with that as our legacy. 


HP knows data centers.  Cisco knows networks.  Which one do you want to build your house?


 

Aaron Delp Busts Blade Power Myths

We recently learned that Aaron Delp closed down his BladeVault blog and is focusing on creating more useful infomation to share with the greater community by contributing to Scott Lowe's blog.  For those of you that don't know Aaron, he's a senior engineer who is literally on the front lines of the blade and virtualization revolution. No, he doesn't work for HP or IBM.  But he does know just about everything there is to know about us both.  The good, the bad and the ugly.

power_meters

We not only like Aaron because he's a smart guy who shoots it straight, but also because he likes to share what he knows with the community.  Like I said, he knows a lot.


Well, here's what he's up to now.  In a series titled "Blades and Virtualization Aren't Mutually Exclusive", Aaron is sharing a ton of personal research and experience with blades.  In his first two articles in the series, he takes an insider look at the power advantages of blade versus rack servers - looking at both HP and IBM.  I know we told you blades use a lot less power before, but you still think we're full of crap.  Fine.  Take it from Aaron.


 



In his next article, Aaron promised to focus on the expansion abilities of both the IBM and HP blade servers. We'll be reading and linking his thoughts here.

Desperately Seeking Virtual I/O

Our friends at Dell are at it again.  In case you don’t pay as much attention to the happenings in the blade world as we do, here’s a recap.  Dell has been chasing the HP BladeSystem for some time now.  Though bamboozled on several fronts, the searchmetal_detector_convention for a competitive virtual I/O solution to Virtual Connect has been the most elusive.  Here’s the retrospective from March 2008 to February 2009. 

1. Virtual I/O ‘Take One’ for Dell was a partnership with eGenera in March 2008.

Headline: eGenera Inks OEM Deal with Dell

Dell is listening to customers and providing solutions that make the virtual data center easier to deploy and manage, regardless of platform,” said Rick Becker, vice president, Dell Software & Solutions. “Dell and Egenera will help customers focus on company growth by delivering excellence in virtualized infrastructure from server performance, storage interoperability to dynamic data center management.”

 

 2. Dell asked for a mulligan in July 2008 when they tossed eGenera overboard and tried to create something sort-of like Virtual Connect; meet FlexAddress.  Over a year and half late to market after version 1.0 of Virtual Connect.
Headline: Dell joins ranks of I/O virtualization providers with FlexAddress

"We have taken a very different approach than HP. Theirs is a proprietary switch that plugs into their backplane, and after adding all of the switching, it can cost about $20,000 for one chassis," said Rick Becker, vice president of software and solutions, Dell Product Group. "We have done this using open standards, so FlexAddress works with other switches like Cisco and Brocade and users don't have to switch their switches."

3. Dell and go back to the partner route with a Cisco bear hug.
Headline: Dell and Cisco team up on next-gen datacentres

Sorry, no quote from Rick Becker on this one, but here’s another that will give you an
idea.  "We're hearing much more interest from customers on FCoE, even though it is not an officially ratified standard, but at the moment, iSCSI is available and affordable," said Robin Kuepers, head of storage for EMEA at Dell.  No one asked if the Cisco's Nexus switches that Dell has simply agreed to resell are compatible with Cisco's large installed base of Catalyst switches or all the other industry compatible switches such as ProCurve and others.  Hint: They're not. (UPDATE: The comments below called me out that this was overkill and they are right; I should explain. There are differences in feature/functions between Nexus and Catalyst, especially related to capabilities with VM's and the future implementation of FCoE.  Catalyst switches will be missing out on some of these capabilities under the current direction.  The right direction is to have open standards for these types of capabilities, regardless of the plumbing in the datacenter and a Nexus-only approach doesn't get us there either.)

4. That brings us to Tuesday, February 3rd and a 180 degree sprint, to yet another partner.

Headline: Dell Pairs with Xsigo on Virtual I/O 

"What we are excited about with the Xsigo appliance is the openness," explains Rick Becker, vice president of software and solutions at Dell's Product Group. "This works across form factors and vendors, and in a heterogeneous data center, this can mange it all no matter what logo is on the box."  No shortage of handshaking going on over there. After all, HP's Solution Builder Program has over 300 members.
  

However, there’s one important thing that you should know about the Xsigo Dell announcement that Dell didn’t mention.  It does its magic with InfiniBand. That means you need to have an Infiniband network in place to use this product.  I’m all for open standards in this space too, like Anthony Dina at Dell blogged about last week, other than companies that have decided to base their server interconnect on InfiniBand, there is a more straightforward path for customers looking for a datacenter-wide virtual I/O strategy and an end-to-end virtual infrastructure
  

We do agree with Dell that not all businesses are the same, so a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution isn’t a good approach.  To complete our offerings, HP partners with Xsigo among other virtual I/O vendors.  It’s supported on HP blades and rack/tower servers too.  However, our cornerstone is advancing innovation like Virtual Connect Flex-10 on plain old fashioned Ethernet and Fibre Channel that most businesses will find is a ‘flex-size-fits-most’ solution that fits them just right.

The x86 server market dance floor: Cisco wants in. I.B.M. wants out.

Welcome to the x86 server market dance floor. We hope you know the Jitterbug.


For a catagory that everyone brushes off as a commodity market, there sure is a lot of excitement these days.  First came the rumors that IBM wants out.  Ashley Vance at the New York Times wrote about it again last week.  Very doubtful.  IBM has some serious technology chops, take it from someone that dances with IBM every day.  Plus, they know just as we do that a strong server business is the lynchpin of the infrastructure.  Then came Cisco....they don't seem to want to answer a the tougher questions, etc.


Lets take all this tap-dancing as an opportunity to understand what it takes to not only survive, but to thrive in the server market. There are three keys to making it: having the right point of view, a strategy to execute and a business model to support it.   


Point of view:


To understand the right point of view, you first, you need to know a little secret about the x86/64 server market - it's not about the servers.  It's about infrastructure and ecosystem, and that takes years of cultivation, investment and committment.  In other words, you really have to want to be here because there are easier ways to make money. 


The only way to solve an infrastructure problem is from an infrastructure point of view.  It simply falls apart if you come at it from a network, storage or server-centric view of the world.  We get this, and that's why more businesses choose HP as their dance partner than any other. And you thought it was just about servers!


The only correct point of view is an integrated one from the business need to the infrastructure service to deliver it.


Strategy:


Let's break down the integration problem this way. 


The business needs the service.  That comes from the application.  The application sits on the server.  The server connects to everything else. 


Or think of it another way.  The work is done on the server. The information sits on the storage. The network is the plumbing that passes the information between the two.  All of this lives inside the datacenter and the staff is there as the check and balance to keep all these moving parts working together.


You can see two critical things here: application/server integration and infrastructure/facility/people integration


Business model: 


Now, it's one thing to say you can integrate all this stuff.  It's another to have a business model to support it.  Our model works well for a few reasons.  First is the ability balance two contridctory ideas: innovation and low cost. You have to have a committment to continuous innovation with the ability to scale that business in order deliver ever lower cost to the customer. 


Our early background as a server company taught us not to mess with Moore's Law. We think we've done pretty well at helping customers take cost out and get more over the last years. During that time, we also turned our attention to the rest of the picture - the management, the facility, the storage and yes, the network.  Still a ton of work to do here.


How do businesses choose their dance partner on the server dance floor?


Assets


Integration


application integration, management, connectivity. 


Reason 1: You are only as good as your dance partner


Reason 2: You have to keep up with the music


Reason 3: You have to pace yourself


Reason 4: You have to practice


 

Blade Hacks: NIC teaming recommendations with Virtual Connect

A simple question came across the virtual watercooler yesterday and the experts weighed in with some great advice.


Question:


What are the recommended NIC teaming options when using VC? Any conditions where one setting would be preferable over another?


Answer:


There are no “recommended” NIC teaming option for Virtual Connect but ther is extra flexibility in defining your uplink sets, which give you HA you can’t get in the rackmount world.  To summarize:


 


You can make an NFT team from NICs that are serviced by the same or different VC Ethernet modules.  One NIC or the other is active at any given moment, and stays active until a link loss is detected.  Note – Smartuplink should be set on VC networks servicing NFT teams, so that an uplink failure translates to a downlink failure to the NIC, triggering NFT to fail over to the other NIC.  If all NICs in an NFT team are serviced by the same module, that module can be a single point of failure.  If serviced by separate modules, then you have better HA.


You can make a TLB team from NICs that are serviced by the same or different VC Ethernet modules.  If all NICs in an TLB team are serviced by the same VC module, that module can be a single point of failure.  If serviced by separate modules, then you have better HA.


SLB is NOT supported with any VC module. SLB=port channeling and VC doesn’t support it. Only NFT and TLB are supported.

See the Virtual Connect Ethernet cookbook and Usage Scenario videos found here for more details.

 

Consolidation versus Convergence

Words mean things.  At least they do in the real world.  Sometimes I wonder about the IT world.  In the real world, there is a shared understanding of the definition, usage and intent.  You can even look it up in something called a 'dictionary'.  

what are word for?

For some reason, the same word in IT has many different interpretations to many people.  Here are some examples: Clouds. Solutions. Virtualization. Grids.  And we wonder why no one understand what we are talking about.


Here are two words that got me thinking yesterday: Consolidation versus Convergence. According to the dictionary,



Consolidation: the process of uniting : the quality or state of being united ; specifically : the unification of two or more corporations by dissolution of existing ones and creation of a single new corporation


Convergence: the act of converging and especially moving toward union or uniformity ; 2: the state or property of being convergent. 3: independent development of similar characters (as of bodily structure of unrelated organisms or cultural traits) often associated with similarity of habits or environment. 4: the merging of distinct technologies, industries, or devices into a unified whole


Here are the important differences I see.


-   Consolidation is about fewer.  Convergence is about simpler.
-   Consolidation combines things that are alike.  Convergence combines things that are not alike. 
-   Both can have the potential to take cost out.  But convergence has the bigger potential to upset the whole apple cart.
-   When you consolidate, you have the same thing you started with.  When you converge, you have something very, very different.


'Convergence' is the bigger, more interesting idea, don't you think? When I do hear 'convergence' which is rare, it usually sounds like either a far-off vision or like 'consolidation' in a pretty wrapper.   If I had to add another prediction to our "what's hot / what's not list" for 2009, it would be Convergence is HOT. Consolidation is NOT.   As an example, HP Adaptive Infrastructure is lot more about convergence than plain-old consolidation. 

How would you build a cloud starter kit?

Sometimes our blade ambassadors pass questions and ideas around our virtual watercooler.  Today's most interesting one was:



"If you were asked to give a basic spec with a BladeSystem for a large cloud-type, general-purpose computing platform using VMware (up to 100 chassis) for a large corporation, how would you build it and why?"


The question was pretty broad and for a real cloud implementation, we'd defer to the really cool work going on in HP labs on cloud computing.  But but here were some of initial thoughts that came back.


1. Multiple workloads such as VMs are often host memory bound.  Therefore, the bigger the memory the better.  The ProLiant BL495c is especially well suited to this task with multi-core procs and huge memory capacity.   2. What about the network connections? When used in combination with Virtual Connect Flex-10, throughput is extremely high (10Gb per LOM), very configurable, flexible without a bunch of coordination, and you’ll realize 4 to 1 consolidation of the network equipment.  Add Virtual Connect-FC and some shared HP SAN storage and you'd add more flexiblity and cut about half of the fibre channel equipment costs. 3.  Bring it all together with Insight Dynamics and you get a smart capacity planner and orchestrator layer for both the vm's and the apps on physical servers. 

These three alone would be a great start cloud-starter kit that any business would envy. 

 

Tell us how you'd do it.


 

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About the Author(s)
  • More than 25 years in the IT industry developing and managing marketing programs. Focused in emerging technologies like Virtualization, cloud and big data.
  • I work within EMEA HP Servers Central Team as a launch manager for new products and general communications manager for EMEA HP Server specific information. I also tweet @ServerSavvyElla
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  • Global Marketing Manager with 15 years experience in the high-tech industry.
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