The Reality of QoS and SLA’s on Legacy Filers

Many NetApp customers around the world have both new and legacy systems and are trying to maintain high availability in a mixed storage infrastructure of different vintages, with different OnTap and firmware versions.

A history of NetApp Service and Support

A history of NetApp Service and Support

In most cases the newer equipment is still covered by the manufacturer’s hardware support warranty, but the older equipment which is also storing critical databases and information is unsupported and maintained with parts that have accumulated in a closet or a desk drawer. Although highly affordable this method is hardly highly reliable; administrators and engineers know that it is not sustainable in a NetApp infrastructure where the firmware versions are critical and different vintages of filers are not compatible with each other.

ClosetFinalZerowait has been working with and solving customers’ NetApp issues for over 17 years, longer than many of NetApp’s support and engineering employees  have been in the storage  business, and we have a global reputation for helping customers meet their critical storage requirements. Zerowait provides many Global 2000 companies that have a legacy NetApp infrastructure with a highly respected service and support alternative to the manufacturer. We provide their engineers and admins the Service Level Agreement  (SLA) they need to fulfill the Quality of Service (QoS) guarantees their organizations need to compete in the global marketplace, where access to their data is critical to success.

If you are looking for affordable support for your legacy NetApp equipment, the boxes of old parts in the basement really aren’t the solution. Give us a call and you can have an affordable SLA from a reliable partner you can depend on for your legacy NetApp equipment.

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Big Oil – Big Data – Big Savings

Williams 2011During the boom of the last few years the oil and gas business bought a lot of storage equipment.  Zerowait has several oil and gas clients that use our NetApp ZPA legacy support, and some have supplemented their NetApp storage with our SimplStor equipment. Now, as the price of oil is declining company IT staffs are looking for efficiencies and easy ways to cut costs and to extend the life of their storage systems; all without affecting uptime or their quality of service. Zerowait has been supporting the NetApp storage of energy resource companies for over a decade and  as their IT budgets get tight they know they can depend on Zerowait for our NetApp service and support and our SimplStor hardware for innovative, cost effective solutions for  their big storage requirements.

The Geographic diversity of our Energy resources clients is pretty amazing.  We are now working with Energy companies on their NetApp legacy storage support in Australia, Europe and North America.  They all need high availability storage systems that are affordable to maintain and we expect this business niche to grow for us in 2015.

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Peak Performance

ZW_PeakPerformance_smallThe end of the year is a time for reflection on this year’s events and planning for next year’s business opportunities. Our customers faced a lot of challenges this year and so did we as the economy changed, the internet faced new challenges and new regulations took effect.

As the economies of Australia, Canada, Europe, New Zealand, and the USA changed this year our business changed to meet the demands of companies and governments with tighter budgets and growing storage requirements. To meet the demand many of our old and new customers wanted to expand their legacy NetApp infrastructures. With tight budgets they needed a partner who would work with them to provide cost effective solutions for NetApp equipment and support, and Zerowait’s business grew to meet these needs. On the operations side, we had to work with a new bank that specialized in foreign currency exchange to meet the needs of one of our customers with many international divisions. The bank we have been using for two decades was unable to help us because of new Dodd Frank regulations. Interestingly, the new bank we are using offers better credit card processing rates than our old processor, so while Zerowait experienced some unexpected consequences because of the new regulations, our new banking partner had a better credit card solution which was an unexpected benefit.

Our customers around the world depend on the internet for their business success and so does Zerowait. We all recognize that all business is now global and our partnerships span the world. The issues of cyber liability and data breach raised their heads this year and the changing insurance landscape and vulnerabilities that corporate networks face have caused everyone to take another look at the centralization of storage in corporate networks and the security of on line data. As storage grows with the expansion of the internet of things, every company needs to have a business continuity plan that includes strategy for data access to critical files like accounting and operations if their network is breached. Perhaps silos and private cloud still have their place in modern storage architecture.

Just like the banking challenge we faced in 2014 led us to a better solution in another part of our business, we expect that many of the challenges in 2015 will also bring innovative solutions for our customers willing to look outside the box to solve their problems. We look forward to working with you to make 2015 a success

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Breaking: U.S. Government Funding Bill Delays IANA Transition

http://www.internetcommerce.org/breaking-u-s-government-funding-bill-delays-iana-transition/

On the evening of Tuesday, September 9th, Congressional leaders unveiled a 1,603 page, $1.01 trillion FY 2015 appropriations bill to fund the U.S. government through the end of September 2015. One provision of the omnibus bill would delay the IANA transition until after the September 30, 2015 expiration of the current contract between the NTIA and ICANN.
Language in the bill states:
SEC. 540. (a) None of the funds made available by this Act may be used to relinquish the responsibility of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration during fiscal year 2015 with respect to Internet domain name system functions, including responsibility with respect to the authoritative root zone file and the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority functions.
(b) Subsection (a) of this section shall expire on September 30, 2015.
That language, a modified version of the “Duffy Amendment” that was contained in the House version of the National Defense Authorization Act, would allow NTIA to start spending funds on a transition after exercising its first option to extend the contract.
In addition, the explanatory report language of the Commerce-Justice-State portion of the omnibus spending bill, in which the above language is contained, states the following:
Internet governance.-The agreement reiterates House and Senate language regarding the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) matters and modifies Senate language by directing NTIA to inform appropriate Congressional committees not less than 45 days in advance of any such proposed successor contract or any other decision related to changing NTIA’s role with respect to ICANN or IANA activities. In addition, NTIA shall submit a report to the Committees on Appropriations within 45 days of enactment of this Act regarding any recourse that would be available to the United States if the decision is made to transition to a new contract and any subsequent decisions made following such transfer of Internet governance are deleterious to the United States.
This language appears to require NTIA to inform Congress 45 days prior to extending the IANA contract or taking any other decision in regard to it; as well as to submit a report to Congress within 45 days after the spending bill’s enactment regarding whether the US would have any post-transition recourse if subsequent decisions were deleterious to the U.S.
This final bill language has already been negotiated with and accepted by Senate Democratic and House Republican leaders and is likely to be enacted and sent to President Obama by the weekend. It is unlikely that the White House would veto the bill and risk a government shutdown over this IANA language (although other provisions could become sticking points between the Administration and Congress).
Rumors were already circulating in Washington that NTIA was prepared to extend the current IANA contract by at least six months in recognition of the fact that it may be impossible for the ICANN community to design and stress test enhanced accountability measures by the end of the current contract term, much less have them in place by then. So the bill may have little effect on the actual timetable for the transition. It remains to be seen what reaction to its enactment comes from ICANN, the ICANN community, and other nations.

Philip S. Corwin, Founding Principal
Virtualaw LLC
1155 F Street, NW
Suite 1050
Washington, DC 20004

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Customer Conversations and Product Development

I will start this blog by mentioning that I travel a lot; as a business owner I believe that it is important to visit our customers, and as our business has grown internationally this requires me to travel a lot of the year. By visiting our customers I learn a lot about what our customers are thinking. For example, our SimplStor Product Line was developed based customer requests in the USA, and one of our Australian customers encouraged us to develop a CCTV storage version. That Niche has become a major part of our US SimplStor business.

Over the last year, many of our NetApp CIFS customers have been asking for a SimplStor alternative for who do not want to upgrade to OnTap CDot 8.2+.  They are looking for a High Availability windows based storage solution that has the support they depend on from Zerowait. So over the last few months we have developed a SimplStor HA storage solution and based on customers’ suggestions we’ve built it to be used with VM’s and Veeam to work in  multi location infrastructures. We’ve installed and tested this solution in our own environment with our own data and app servers. Vmware’s SRM and Windows  Storage Server 2012 R2 have worked very well. As part of our testing we included mirroring to a slow cable upload connection to test it as if it was used on a remote rural site. It worked perfectly, and as one of our engineers said – “The SimplStor R2 storage server rocks!”

 

Over the last month I have been in Australia and New Zealand and traveling around the USA to visit our clients. Our customer base in Australia and New Zealand continues to grow as more people look for affordable solutions for their legacy NetApp support. Additionally, our SimplStor storage line continues to grow and the Australian market interest in our CCTV storage and SimplStor with Windows R2 is strong and we expect 2015 to be a very good year in the region.

As the Zerowait team travels the world and works with our Global customers we continue to discover new market opportunities for our NetApp support and SimplStor products, and as a storage and networking company we continue to grow by delivering solutions that our customers want.

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Work Arounds

Over the last few months we have been rebuilding our network infrastructure which has been evolving with our business over the last 25 years. The last major upgrade we did was in 2002 and since then there have been a lot of additional servers and people added to the company. As we grew and added to our network we kept adapting what we had to make it work, so there were many work arounds and slowly but surely we grew a very complicated tapestry of a network design.  Last year we decided that our engineering team would slowly rebuild our network infrastructure and storage design in between working on customer issues and storage implementations. In addition, we would change our phone system (VOIP) also, but we manage the phone system as part of Administration and not part of our Network.

Once we determined that a rebuild was required we had to decide what was critical infrastructure and what order things could be worked on. Based on what we learned about the new insurance rules on Cyber Liability and Data Breach we determined that we had to keep all data and email functions in house to remain in compliance with the insurance rules and the contracts we had with customers in regards to data security.

Changing our Physical Servers into Virtual Machines was one of the first things we did and the project went well. We were able to reduce our footprint in our server rooms and we learned some tricks of the trade that already have helped us in supporting our customers who are working in Virtual Machine environments. In the process of virtualizing we were able to clean up quite a few accumulated workarounds in our server architecture and we modernized quite a few of the bits and pieces of our network.

Next came the task of upgrading our routing and switching between our locations to help with our Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity plans.  As our network had grown over the last 12 years we had added some interesting work arounds that allowed applications to talk to each other and created subnets for projects that no longer existed. Throughout the process of reengineering our network we had to keep considering what we had to be prepared for over the next few years in business and as we got closer to completing the project a customer had a request that we had not considered and we needed to consider whether to start the work around process again or purchase new equipment to handle the new customer request.

We also decided to outsource our phone system and got rid of our Nortel Meridian system. We researched a lot of providers and when we decided on the provider to go with we still did a lot of testing and tried to anticipate everything that our company and our customers would request. Even though we thought we had covered everything we would need, within a week we had to figure out a way to insert a code into the displayed number to indicate the call routing to the individual user along with a redesign of the way our follow me and hunt groups worked.

Despite our attempt to remove all workarounds, it seems we are constantly having to adapt one part of our Network, Servers  or Storage to some new trigger or requirement, whether it be a virus, malware or a new customer request or service enhancement that we are going to provide.  As a company we are all pretty adaptable to new situations and customer requests, and as we rebuild our network it has become clear that no matter how much we try to build a logical network design, inevitably we are going to have to have some workarounds in the tapestry that is our Zerowait infrastructure.

 

 

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The sun is setting on a free and open internet.

Zerowait has grown into an international company due to the internet and our customers communicate with us from all parts of the globe. We use VPN’s, on line meetings, messaging   and VOIP  with our customers no matter where they are.  I met our corporate attorney (Philp Corwin)  on a flight to Australia when he was on his way to an ICANN conference and  over the last several years he has been an integral part of our team as we have grown internationally. Phil was quoted in an article in the Wall Street Journal  and we agree with him, Gordon Crovitz , and the WSJ  that the changing the management of the Internet’s domain name system from multistakeholder private sector leadership to multilateral governmental control will have several deleterious unintended consequences and reduce international commerce and communications.

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Peachtree Upgrade to Sage 50 on our NetApp Filer

Zerowait has been using the Peachtree accounting package for many years. Over the past decade, we worked our way through the BTreive to Pervasive upgrade, and this year there was a major upgrade to SAGE 50, required by the new owners of Peachtree, Sage Software. Upgrading a company’s accounting package is something that has to be done carefully. Since we had deployed Peachtree on an ISCSI mounted LUN on our NetApp Filer and we were migrating the app server to a Virtual Machine environment, our upgrade had a few more intricacies than normal to resolve.

The discovery phase of this project looked back over time at the steady growth of our company, to understand how the network and data store had grown and changed over the last 12 years since we first put Peachtree data on our NetApp Filer. While reviewing our Peachtree usage history we found that the shared files and ISCSI LUN set-up were from a different era; now that we were in a VM environment things needed to be changed.

We decided the best way to move forward was to migrate our ISCSI LUN to a VDisk. Although we consider this to be a pretty standard architecture today, our engineering team found it difficult to get step by step instructions from Sage on how to migrate their application in our particular environment. So it was up to us to figure it out.  Our team built a test VM environment using the old version of Peacthree, then performed the data migration using RoboCopy and everything seemed to work well.  We had our primary users test the application to make certain everything was working correctly, after which our engineering team did an upgrade to SAGE 50 in the virtual environment. There were some tweaks required but we found that we had everything working in the test environment and were confident that we could do an upgrade to our live environment. We made several backups to be safe, and then our engineering team upgraded our Peachtree Accounting package to SAGE 50 and migrated our users to the new package, documenting the way that shared folders had to be mounted, accessing the Forms correctly, and updating DNS on some of the user desktop machines.

We successfully migrated our accounting package without any significant downtime and by using our VM architecture we were able to reduce network complexity and simplify our shared company folders, which after over a decade of accumulated use had gotten a bit convoluted. The whole process took about 25 hours of engineering time to accomplish and we are now on SAGE 50 with a more reliable network and storage architecture than we had before the upgrade.

While we consider Peachtree and SAGE 50 to be a pretty standard application to be hosted in a VM environment with NetApp storage we were surprised to find that the vendor did not have a lot of documentation on this type of network and storage environment.  Therefore we had to create our own migration plan, which worked out quite well. I wonder how many other companies are using their Peachtree / SAGE 50 in a VM and NetApp environment?

 

 

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Management Myopia

NetApp’s aggressiveness in forcing their customers to upgrade to Cluster Data OnTap  8.2  (CDOT 8.2) is worrying a lot of NetApp storage engineers. From the cost of the hardware and software required for the upgrade to the disruption of stable storage systems, NetApp’s stance is causing storage engineers and their managers to look at alternative storage solutions. It seems that NetApp’s management has lost sight of a significant portion of their customers’ needs, and is now focused on forcing their customers to upgrade.

There is a theory that I have heard which is based on the idea of Vendor Lock-in. NetApp’s management has decided that by changing the way licensing works they can lock customers in for the long term and because they believe that there is no viable alternative to OnTap their customers will stay loyal. But this view rejects that technology is marching forward and continuing to commoditize and therefore cheaper alternatives that are ‘ good enough’ will blossom over time.

The history of the technology sector shows this view is myopic. Over time unforeseen innovations will take over from an embedded solution, unless there is a legal lock in that forces a technology to remain static. At the beginning of the NAS revolution NetApp was all about Open Standards and customers empowerment; does this seem like the NetApp we see today pushing customers towards CDOT 8.2?  I believe that Dave Hitz and James Lau were sincerely interested in commoditizing Storage when they came up with the Filer concept, but there seems to be a change within NetApp management now toward locking customers into their brand of storage. This may explain the interest we have been receiving from folks looking to migrate their storage infrastructure to a more open source platform than NetApp CDOT 8.2, and the strong growth in our independent NetApp service and support business.

If you are looking for alternatives to an upgrade from NetApp, Zerowait’s legacy filer storage support solutions can provide you breathing room while you consider your strategic storage options. Upgrading to Cluster Data OnTap is not the only solution available to you.

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Autumn for big storage vendors

One of the unintended consequences of virtualization is that it frees the consumer from the lock in of the hardware manufacturer.  At first this was just a problem for the folks making servers as applications and hardware were migrated to the web for efficiencies of scale.  As time went on the virtualization of ecommerce payment, CRM, and small business accounting all proved that small business could compete in larger markets by streamlining the costs of IT and its associated staff.  The online companies that could provide these services used Virtual Machines built on high quality commodity hardware that they assembled themselves and deployed quickly. Now storage is moving to the same commoditized, highly competitive structure.

It often seems like a contradiction at first when I talk to folks about how market competition increases quality while reducing costs, but it is true. Over time profitable companies will seek to increase quality while reducing costs, because customers don’t like the hassles of shoddy quality.  For the manufacturer, the service call to repair something costs more than it would to build in quality, so successful companies build quality in as a way of reducing their costs of service. Their customers that do need a service call receive a better experience since the best service technicians are available to assist, instead of handling everyday failures which don’t happen in a quality product.

Recently I read an article in the Wall Street Journal about how reliable cars are today as compared to those built 20 years ago. This is partly due to technology within the vehicles, but it also has a lot to do with the CAD engineering tools and materials science that has been applied to the manufacturing process.  Cars are so reliable now that the Journal article points out that the dealers are using the recall process to bring customers back in to their showrooms. This points out that the automobile dealers and manufacturers have learned what service companies have know for a long time; quality service builds brand loyalty and brings back satisfied customers to your store.

Zerowait has grown into an international company because we have focused on building quality service relationships with our customers. Consumers can buy from numerous vendors on the Web, but over time they learn that buying a commodity product from the cheapest vendor on the web may not provide the best value.  As labor costs go up the value of the service vendor goes up because a good technician can debug a problem quickly and efficiently.

The big storage vendors are in for a difficult few years, because in order to maintain their high quality service engineers they need to sell highly marked up technology to their customers who are already buying commoditized hardware for their virtualized servers and using open source software solutions.  Low priced commodity storage solutions are becoming more available, so it will be very hard to compete at their current high price point level.  Will they be able to compete in a deflationary marketplace?

One of the unintended consequences of virtualization is that it frees the consumer from the lock in of the hardware manufacturer.  At first this was just a problem for the folks making servers as applications and hardware were migrated to the web for efficiencies of scale.  As time went on the virtualization of ecommerce payment, CRM, and small business accounting all proved that small business could compete in larger markets by streamlining the costs of IT and its associated staff.  The online companies that could provide these services used Virtual Machines built on high quality commodity hardware that they assembled themselves and deployed quickly. Now storage is moving to the same commoditized, highly competitive structure.

It often seems like a contradiction at first when I talk to folks about how market competition increases quality while reducing costs, but it is true. Over time profitable companies will seek to increase quality while reducing costs, because customers don’t like the hassles of shoddy quality.  For the manufacturer, the service call to repair something costs more than it would to build in quality, so successful companies build quality in as a way of reducing their costs of service. Their customers that do need a service call receive a better experience since the best service technicians are available to assist, instead of handling everyday failures which don’t happen in a quality product.

Recently I read an article in the Wall Street Journal about how reliable cars are today as compared to those built 20 years ago. This is partly due to technology within the vehicles, but it also has a lot to do with the CAD engineering tools and materials science that has been applied to the manufacturing process.  Cars are so reliable now that the Journal article points out that the dealers are using the recall process to bring customers back in to their showrooms. This points out that the automobile dealers and manufacturers have learned what service companies have know for a long time; quality service builds brand loyalty and brings back satisfied customers to your store.

Zerowait has grown into an international company because we have focused on building quality service relationships with our customers. Consumers can buy from numerous vendors on the Web, but over time they learn that buying a commodity product from the cheapest vendor on the web may not provide the best value.  As labor costs go up the value of the service vendor goes up because a good technician can debug a problem quickly and efficiently.

The big storage vendors are in for a difficult few years, because in order to maintain their high quality service engineers they need to sell highly marked up technology to their customers who are already buying commoditized hardware for their virtualized servers and using open source software solutions.  Low priced commodity storage solutions are becoming more available, so it will be very hard to compete at their current high price point level.  Will they be able to compete in a deflationary marketplace?

 

 

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