Analyzing Top 5 Storage and Data Center tech predictions made in 2016

Last year in January I published “Top 5 Storage and Data Center tech predictions for 2016” predicting the possible happenings for 2016 in Storage world. Let’s relook at the predictions and analyze how much of it has happened.

Magnetic storage disk numbers will decline in the enterprise space.

Dell EMC declared the year of 2016 as “Year of All Flash” (YoAF) on February 29th, 2016, a month later after the post was written. During the entire span of 2016, I witnessed the steps that Dell EMC took to make 2016 the YoAF. The company’s biggest announcements in 2016 were Unity All Flash Array and VMAX All Flash Array. They also announced all flash versions of existing products such as Isilon, VxRAIL, and others. There was a similar situation at other storage vendors as well. This indirectly drove enterprise SSD shipments up. AnandTech reports, Q2 2016 SSD shipments up 41.2% and in Q1 it was up 32.7% YoY. A report published in November 2016 by TRENDFOCUS shows a great increase in SSD adoption. Following is an excerpt from TRENDFOCUS report,

“In the enterprise SSD world, PCIe units leaped a spectacular 101% from CQ2 ‘16, mainly due to emerging demand from hyperscale customers. Both SATA and SAS posted growth with 6% and 14% increases”

Another report published by TRENDFOCUS in August 2016 says,

“On the enterprise SSD side, although SATA SSDs still dominate both hyperscale and system OEMs from a unit volume perspective (3.2 of the 4.07 million units shipped in CQ2 ’16), SAS SSDs saw a tremendous jump in capacity shipped in CQ2 ’16. Unit volume rose only 5.4%, but exabytes shipped increased a whopping 100.5% from the previous quarter. The move to higher capacities (like 3.84TB and even a few 15TB) is real. The storage networking companies taking SAS SSD solutions have embraced these higher capacity devices (helped by declining prices) at a surprising rate.” 

In summary, during Q2 SATA SSD’s shipped more and in Q3 PCIe and SAS SSD’s overtook SATA in growth. This lead to a serious NAND drain. El Reg reports this with a funny headline – “What the Dell? NAND flash drought hits Texan monster – sources. Thrice during the year, TRENDMICRO reported the NAND shortage. Shortage for NAND caused SSD prices to go high in Q4 2016.

Enterprise flash drives with more storage space will appear and the cost will come down.

Enterprise SSD heavyweights such as Samsung, Toshiba and others introduced larger capacity TLC drives in 2016. Samsung’s 15.36 TLC NAND device is the largest I have seen on production in a storage array. There were other TLC drives with capacity ranging from 3TB to 15TB. Most of these TLC SSD’s are 1 WPD (Write per day) devices. However, 3D XPoint is still not seen in enterprise storage arrays. The price did come down during the beginning of 2016 but certain NAND devices price went high due to the demand.

Adoption of NVMe and fabrics will kick start in the enterprise space

While it is true that use of NVMe is widely used in high-performance computing space, it has not made its way to the most common datacenters yet. The reason is NVMe over Fabrics (NVMe-oF) has not gained popularity as thought. Dennis Martin, president and founder of Demartek LLC advises, Nonvolatile memory express (NVMe) is coming to a storage system near you soon, and IT pros need to become familiar with the protocol. With DSSD, Dell EMC entered this space and it will be very much interesting to see the advancements in this space. We are looking at companies adopting developer-centric infrastructure design. These new protocols may get popular with such design. Interestingly, it is the PC world which has embraced NVMe sooner that enterprise. Samsung, Toshiba, MyDigitalSSD, Plextor, and others sell ultra-fast NVMe SSD’s. NVMe SSDs are the fastest SSD that are currently being sold.

Software defined storage solutions will grow as the cloud adoption increases

There is a serious competition between Dell EMC ScaleIO and VMware VSAN even though both belong to Dell technologies, these two products are eating away the competition in SDS. Mainly SSD growth is fueled by the rise of cloud technology such as OpenStack and HCI appliances. Dell EMC beefed up its HCI portfolio in the year 2016 with VxRAIL and VxRACK. VxRAIL runs entirely on VMware VSAN and VxRACK runs on ScaleIO or VSAN. Another iteration of VxRACK runs OpenStack with ScaleIO. These advancements fueled SDS growth. The report predicts that global SDS market to grow at a CAGR of 31.62% during the period 2016-2020.

Enterprises will realize that cloud is not an alternative to traditional data center.

IMO the year of 2015 was the most important time for OpenStack. Everybody knew what OpenStack is and some conscious customers went all in on OpenStack. made news in 2016, “Snapdeal launches its own cloud – Snapdeal Cirrus“. During the mid of 2015 Snapdeal realized that public cloud stops being cost effective after a certain scale. So they went on to build their own hybrid cloud – Cirrus. Cost is not the only factor that drove them towards hybrid cloud lane, the need of massive compute power to fuel flash sales where millions of people buy on were also a reason. Cirrus has more than 100,000 cores, 500TB of memory, 16PB of Block and Object storage entirely built on Ceph, SDN, spans 3 data centers and so on. Infrastructure like this makes sense for a company which runs each of its tech stacks at a large scale. Developer centric IT will only look at cloud-like infrastructure because it makes sense for them. As predicted earlier, traditional storage & compute tech will continue to exist in its own space.

Zoning in Cisco SAN switch for beginners

Three years ago I wrote “Zoning in Brocade FC SAN switch for beginners”. Many people found it useful and some even emailed me saying it was very helpful. Their kindness inspired me to post more content to this blog and I am very thankful to each and every one of my blog readers. Brocade and Cisco FC networking devices are found in almost all data centers. It would be a bias to not cover the zoning steps in Cisco 😉 So here is zoning steps in Cisco fiber channel switches and directors,

Zoning in Cisco devices is pretty straightforward. A zone contains multiple zone members. Zone members are device pWWN (pWWN of the N-Port attached to the switch), fabric pWWN (Switch port pWWN – Port based zoning) etc. This tutorial is based on the attached device pWWN. As this is more common and have advantages when compared with other types of zone membership. Once a zone is added with members, it is added to a zone set. A zoneset is a collection of zones. Consider reading Zoning in Brocade FC SAN switch for beginners to understand the basics and the need for zoning.

Zones are contained in a VSAN.

Best practice is to configure a zone with single initiator and single target. This is to avoid unnecessary use of switch resources. Although zones are contained in a VSAN, only one zoneset can be active at any given time. When you activate a zoneset the configuration information is sent to all other switches in the fabric and it the new zoneset is enforced on all switches. For easy understanding here is a picture of zones which contains single initiator and target,

single initiator and target zones.
single initiator and target zones. © MDS 9000 Fabric configuration guide

As you can see, a fabric means collection of switches (inter connected together) or a single switch. S1, S2, S3 are storage devices and H1, H2, H3 are hosts. The next image illustrates how zones and zonesets are represented in a fabric,

zones and zonesets
zones and zonesets © MDS 9000 Fabric configuration guide

Here is a summary of what we discussed,

  • pWWN of devices attached to switch port is called zone member and it is added to a zone.
  • One or more zones are then added to a zoneset.
  • Finally, only one zoneset is activated and the change propagates fabric wide.

Before proceeding further identify and make a note of the pWWN’s of N-Ports that are going to be zoned together.

Zoning CLI commands

Since zones are contained in a VSAN, Any zone creation must happen on the concerned VSAN. First, we need to enter into the configuration mode and then into VSAN.

Step 1: Enter configuration mode

switch# config t

Step 2: Creating zone (testzone) on VSAN 100

switch(config)# zone name testzone vsan 100

Step 3: Adding members to the newly created zone

switch(config-zone)# member pwwn 10:00:ff:05:1e:4b:d5:30

and repeat the same to add another member (target)

switch(config-zone)# member pwwn 50:01:10:80:00:ad:33:e8

Step 4: Add the newly create zone to test_zoneset.

switch(config-zone)# zoneset name test_zoneset vsan 100

The above command selects the zoneset test_zoneset

switch(config-zoneset)# member testzone

Now we have added the newly created zone to zoneset in fabric. Next step is to active the zoneset.

Step 5: Activating the zoneset is an online process and the ports/devices which is being configured/re-configured are only affected.

switch(config-zoneset)# zoneset activate name test_zoneset vsan 100

Final Step: Once the zoneset is activated the running configuration must be copied to the startup configuration. This is done to prevent the switch from losing the configuration information. The following command copies the running configuration to the startup configuration on all switches in fabric.

switch# copy running-config startup-config fabric

And we are done, congratulations! The switch should be able to let the host and storage talk to each other. Hope you find this useful. Got question? post it in the comments section.

Top 5 Storage and Data Center tech predictions for 2016

Every few years we see major shift in technology trends. With more Internet of things; comes more data and we need a new way of computing. In 1965 Gordon Moore foresaw future when he was working at Fairchild Semiconductor. His vision is Moore’s Law. Moore’s Law helped companies to make software for tomorrow. This post is not an attempt to foresee future, but an attempt to cover how technology trends may change Storage and Data Center industry in 2016.

1. Magnetic storage disk numbers will decline in the enterprise space.

It well known that all flash array (AFA) sales numbers are growing and almost all storage vendors have atleast one AFA in their portfolio. Some vendors convert/enhance their already popular storage array lineup with flash drive only offerings. HPE 3PAR and EMC’s VNX2 arrays can be offered with only flash drives. Flash arrays come in different variant, general purpose dual controller arrays, AFA with scale-out architecture, inline deduplication and compression etc. The general purpose flash array with dual controllers is finding its way into more small and medium datacenters to suffice traditional workloads. Arrays with most modern features such as scale-out, deduplication are being used for specific workloads. Therefore the adoption rate of AFA may fuel the decrease of magnetic disks.

2. Enterprise flash drives with more storage space will appear and the cost will come down.

Most semiconductor manufacturers have already announced that they are now less focusing on 2D NAND (Planar). Most flash storage devices that we use today are all 2D NAND. And most importantly drives used in storage arrays are 2D NAND’s. On Nov 2015 HPE announced support for 3D NAND drives on their 3PAR series arrays. In 2016 we will continue to see most vendors doing the same. We cannot say for certain that 2D NAND drives prices will come down drastically but there will be a price difference when compared to the previous year.

3D NAND drives have better capacity when compared to 2D NAND drives. There is also another exciting new technology which Intel and Micron has introduced; it is significantly better than 3D NAND. 3D XPoint (Branded as Optane) is denser than 3D NAND and also leaps ahead in performance. Intel and Micron claims their 3D XPoint drives are more durable than any SSD in the market today. A common misconception is that 3D NAND and 3D XPoint is the same. This is not true; both NAND technologies are entirely different. 3D NAND internal structure will look like a sky scraper. 3D XPoint is a dual stack approach and the metal conductor will be sandwiched between the memory cells. The following image illustrates how a memory cell is accessed, the white bar is a metal conductor and each memory cell stores single bit of data.


My prediction is that we will see more 3D NAND drives appear on market as well as being supported by storage arrays. For 3D XPoint it will take atleast another year. Because Optane drives uses NVMe and PCIe interconnect. Both are not present in storage arrays, except EMC’s upcoming DSSD; which uses PCIe interconnect.

3. Adoption of NVMe protocol and fabrics will kick start in the enterprise space

Non Volatile Memory Express (NVMe) is a new storage protocol. NVM express work group claims that NVMe is better than SCSI. NVMe is in development since 2009. But only in 2015 it is widely known and interest on it has sky rocketed. Here is Google trends for search term “NVMe”,


NVMe presents many advantages over SCSI. It uses Ethernet, PCIe as a transport medium and NVMe over FC fabric is a work in progress. Adoption of NVMe will kick start in 2016 and will continue to grow. Popular interfaces like SATA and SAS may become obsolete in the near future if NVMe adoption grows.

During EMC world 2015, DSSD was demonstrated; DSSD is an enterprise storage array that uses NVMe protocol over PCIe interconnects. This array outperforms all the all flash arrays in current market and is expected to be generally available anytime in 2016. NVMe protocol is not just used to access SSD. It is used to access nonvolatile memory as well. NVRAM is a PCIe based SSD used to extend the capabilities RAM.

NVMe will slowly be adopted as an alternative for SAS, FC, and SATA. It is also possible for a storage controller to connect over PCIe to its disk enclosures. NVMe over Ethernet and FC may also replace current host connectivity protocols. Therefore my prediction is; we will witness adoption of NVMe fabric and NVMe protocol by some enterprise storage systems.

4. Software defined storage solutions will grow as the cloud adoption increases.

A near perfect solution does not exist in market today. By completely transforming your storage infrastructure to server based software defined storage, you create compute and storage silos. Few Hyper Converged Appliances in the market today provides appliance based compute and storage solution. But its scalability is limited. It’s not possible to expand the appliances beyond certain limit.

Although the above described challenges pose a threat, SDS is a perfect candidate for cloud based infrastructure. For example, Ceph is the most used storage solution in OpenStack because it is open source and just requires hardware. OpenStack also supports various storage arrays. But most people who adopt OpenStack do not want to use enterprise storage arrays (usage of Ceph is an evidence for that). Existing supported storage arrays can be configured to connect with Cinder, Swift and Manila.

During the recent OpenStack summit, users were asked to participate in a survey. The results of survey are published as a report after each summit. In the survey the following question was asked and the result is in the image.

Which OpenStack Block Storage (Cinder) drivers are in use?

Image originally appeared in OpenStack user survey report

The survey result showed Ceph is the most preferred choice for block storage deployment. This confirms software defined storage is leading in OpenStack cloud. VMware EVO:RAIL is a hyper converged appliance which by default uses VSAN. VMware also partnered with a number of OEMs to have their own variant of EVO:RAIL but VSAN remains as the only storage option. Similarly EMC’s SDS offering is ScaleIO. EMC also has an open source SDS controller called CoprHD. CoprHD is based on ViPR Controller and it abstracts all storage arrays in datacenter. It supports EMC arrays as well as 3rd party arrays using OpenStack Cinder driver.

My prediction is, rapid adoption of cloud and interest in SDS solutions will grow further in 2016.

5. Most importantly, Companies will realize that cloud is not an alternative to a traditional data center.

When OpenStack was being widely known most people thought it to be a replacement of traditional data center. The truth is, OpenStack is for cloud aware applications. Running your Microsoft Exchange server or a database on the virtual machines (Instances) is not a good idea when high availability of instances is a question. One of the fundamental limitations when it comes to block storage is that, OpenStack cinder does not support shared volume access to an instance. A volume can be mounted to only one instance at a time.

Mainframes were enjoying great market share in 90’s and early 21st century, its lucrative market share was threatened by emergence of rack servers. Today’s servers are very much capable of doing what a Mainframe can do. But still Mainframes are not out of industry yet. Similarly emergence of cloud and cloud aware applications will transform IT industry because the applications which are being developed are solutions to real world problems. But the traditional computing infrastructure will continue to exist in its own space.

Note: This article is based on my own insights in storage technology and not based on market report or analysis. 

What to do when the port goes to No_Sync state (Brocade)

Sometimes the port on Brocade SAN Switch change its state to No_Sync, It means the SFP is seeing light but the frames are out of sync.

This state change can occur on any type of port. If there is a host connected simply reboot the host or disable and enable the ports on HBA.

If this is on a E-Port – Disable and enable the ISL ports in both ends.

If its still not fixed, check porterrshow and portshow of that individual port and also check Lrs_in, Lrs_out, Ols_in and Ols_out countes of the port which is in question. This will help to narrow down if the cable or SFP is bad. Click here.

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What is MPIO DSM/device mapper/NMP and why we need it?

I am writing this article to understand the basic functionality of Multipath I/O. This article is targeted at Beginners of SAN technology.

Why we need multipath I/O?

In early days all storage solutions were SCSI based and directly attached to the host. When Fibre channel was introduced it enabled us to provide storage access to multiple hosts from a single centralized storage system. But those days all storage systems were Active/Passive arrays so communication happens in one path.
Modern day storage systems are Symmetric and Asymmetric active active arrays. Now we need to understand the difference between these two in order to understand MPIO

Asymmetric Active/Active

Lets consider a dual controller/node storage system and a LUN is provisioned to host. Lets assume the LUN is owned by controller A and there is two active paths between host and array. Lets assume host is accessing this LUN via controller B. Since the LUN is owned by controller A it alone will get exclusive access to write or read data from the LUN. Controller B will communicate with other controller via its internal link to get the IO served.

Symmetric Active/Active

If its an Symmetric Active/Active array whoever is the owner of LUN any controller/nodes in the storage system will be able to read/write data on the LUN regardless of ownership.

Multipath I/O

Multipath IO is a feature will will effectively manage the active paths to storage array. There are various path selection polices(PSP) which can be set for individual LUN. Following are the commonly used PSPs

  1. Most Recently Used (MRU)
  2. Fixed
  3. Round Robin (RR)

Round Robin is the most commonly used path selection policy for various storage arrays due to its dynamic load sharing capability. In ESXi environments RR is preferred to achieve good performance.

Similarly the host software which is required to configure this has various names on different OS Platforms. Microsoft calls it as MPIO, in Linux world this host software is called as Device Mapper. Vmware goes by the name Native multipathing plug-in (NMP)

For optimum performance it is recommended to use device specific DSM files, here device meaning the storage array. Storage vendors will release DSM files for easier configuration and it will instruct the host is how to access the LUN using a set of predefined rules.

Apart from this, there is also wide range of software solutions to manage multipath for LUNs in a larger scale using softwares like EMC Powerpath, HP Secure Path, Hitachi HighCommand Dynamic Link Manager etc.

The best practice is to implement Multipath as recommended by the storage vendor. Selecting the appropriate storage specific PSP will lead to optimum performance of LUN.

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