The Nuts on the Fence

nutsonthefenceHave you ever noticed that when you focus on the details of an issue that you often loose focus on the big picture, and when you focus on the big picture you end up not getting the whole story? We all make decisions and prioritize based on the way we filter data to meet our own particular view of reality. In making our strategic business decisions at Zerowait we try to get as much information from our customers and vendors and then ask our attorney, insurance broker and accountants for their advice. Business decisions. Our successful customers do the same thing.

Recently we worked with an energy resources company on taking over their support services for their NetApp equipment. We had been working with them for many years on support of s parts of their NetApp infrastructure, and they like working with our engineers. NetApp tried to force them to upgrade to cDot and they could not see any advantage to the upgrade, and when it came time to get a support renewal NetApp’s quotes did not include any way to put their systems and support on a co-terminus billing structure so that all of their equipment would come up for support renewal at the same time. Understanding the NetApp quote was almost impossible. Whether you focused on the details or the total it just did not make any terminus. Our team focused on what he customer wanted and we built a policy that reflected his needs and budget and we won the deal. After we won the deal a NetApp VP contacted the customer to ask why he selected a third party support company. We understand that the customer told the NetApp VP that Zerowait focused on their needs and provided a simple path to meet the company’s performance, support requirements and budget without complexity. Our customers had been testing our support and technical expertise for many years, when it came time to make the move we had already proven that we met their requirements, to win the deal we had to meet our customers’ requirements and formulate a solution to meet their needs.

Just this morning I was reading an article in the Wall Street Journal about some of the issues with Cloud computing. Many of our customers like the idea of getting rid of capital expenditures and outsourcing parts of their infrastructure, but when you focus on the issues your need to be away of the Cyber liability risks and ask your insurance carrier what is covered and what is not. And then you have to find a carrier that will cover the risk that you want to take by outsourcing your data and data infrastructure. The research took us a year, and we reviewed the policies with our lawyer and our engineering team to see how we could make sure we met the coverage requirements and kept our data secure. The Wall Street Journal article points out that the savings may be illusory and need to be fully investigated.

“When on-demand enterprise applications emerged about a decade ago, they were touted as a cheap and more flexible alternative to buying software outright—a move that comes with upfront infrastructure and licensing costs, on top of ongoing fees for maintenance, support and upgrades. But in practice, these promises have been hard to fulfill.”

Outsourcing business critical data services is a risk that many of our customers don’t want to take. But with budgets tight and compliance and data sovereignty rules getting tougher it is hard to keep all the resources you need inside the corporation, so costs are driving data to outside sources. If you focus only on the details of capex costs of storage you risk opening yourselves up on the limits of your cyber liability insurance and the different nations rules over data sovereignty. Do you focus on the nuts or the fence?

A few weeks ago we were at the SEG show in New Orleans, the Oil and Gas business is tightening their belts and we were talking to a lot of folks about how we could help them maintain their NetApp Legacy equipment and also how we could use our SimplStor to help them reduce their infrastructure costs. Many of the technical folks we talked with are going to be at the Super Computer show in Austin next week and we will be there because we are trying to help our clients balance their requirements of data storage, security, and costs. It seems that Zerowait has the unique ability in the industry to focus on what is important to our customers. And that is why we continue to grow.

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Express train to Flexible Opex

Express Ticket window

Express Ticket window

I spent the last week in Australia visiting some of our customers and our business partners at Forum Group in Sydney. Our customer base in Australia continues to grow and we are now working with many different business segments. The folks at Forum Group started out as a customer of ours but we noticed that we were doing business with many of the same customers in closely related business segments, so it just makes sense to work together. Forum Group has NetApp equipment and we provide them support on their infrastructure and they also are using our SimplStor in their cloud offering for customers. Over the last few years Theo Popescu, the Forum Group CTO has become a friend of ours and a trusted business partner, he wanted to add to the discussion we have been having on our blogs about some of the things we are working on and our question and answers are below:

Question 1)  What do you like about working with the Zerowait team and how does it help your customers?

Answer 1) In our modern world of online & self serve it can often be very difficult to find a partner that is willing to go the extra mile and be quick to respond when things go wrong. Zerowait do not only surpass expectations for Forum and our Australian customers but do so from the other side of the world. I don’t know of many partners where the President is so attentive and accessible as Mike is at Zerowait. The net result is our customers receive a premium level of solutions and support they otherwise may not receive elsewhere.

Question 2)  How does SimplStor fit into your product offerings?

Answer 2) Customers always face an interesting challenge it’s time to review their need for disk storage, be it a green field implementation or an upgrade path from an EOL legacy system such as NetApp7. Usually they tend to side with the options they’re used to because it’s what they know. The adage “you don’t know what you don’t know” certainly rings true which is why when educated on the quality, functionality and most certainly the unrivaled cost of a SimplStor solution it quickly becomes the preferred option especially when coupled with renowned Zerowait support.

Question 3) Can you explain how your Flexible OPEX works? And how it helps customers who are migrating storage.

Answer 3) Let’s analyse the aspects of conducting a storage migration project. You have you legacy storage which until decommissioning will need to have support, capital outlay for the new hardware to be implemented, the migration which with a certainty will run twice as long to conduct then as planned due to unforeseen circumstances, professional services for assisting or conducting the entire migration which rise as the project endures delays, then finally support for the new platform ongoing.

There are variable costs associated each of these segments. What if there was a way to provide a plan that combined all of the aspects of the migration under an overarching umbrella at one single Flexible OPEX cost per month, is that something worth investigating?

Here’s how the new world migration looks under the Flexible OPEX model where hardware, software, professional services and support are included in a fixed monthly cost over a 5 year period. You receive support for your legacy storage whilst the migration plan is hatched. The hardware is delivered at the time as per the planned implementation which could be in the 1st, 5th or any years in between as delays to the project blow outs have no monetary impact. The entire migration has already been included as has the corresponding professional services whenever they are utilised. Once migration has been completed support is transferred to the new production equipment with decommissioning, removal and destruction conducted on the old. The real power is that at any stage the Flexible nature of our OPEX agreement means we are able to add or modify the equipment without penalty over the term because in reality if your business doesn’t change in 5 years you probably won’t have a business.

With noncapital outlay, cash flow is maximised and opportunity cost is minimised, professional services fees are fixed while support is maintained throughout. Forum and Zerowait, in partnership, have laid the tracks for the express train to storage migration, don’t get stuck with an all stops ticket.

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Is the next station ZFS?

TracksTrainEffrem Norwood is a good friend of mine and one of the smartest and most capable folks I know in the storage business. I have known Effrem for over 15 years and we have a lot of technical discussions about storage and he often talks with our engineering team about things we are working on. When we were initially designing our SimplStor unit in 2008 Effrem Norwood helped us with the design and testing. He has been working on a special ZFS / Solaris installation for the healthcare business for a few years and has over 10 PB running on a version of our SimplStor hardware. It is a pretty impressive solution set and quite affordable for customers that are not going to upgrade to cDot, but want a powerful and adaptable solution with affordable hardware and software support. We are working with Effrem’s team at BlueRing to help our customers who want the features and benefits of ZFS without the hassle of constant upgrades from a hardware manufacturer. Several of our customers are interested in ZFS as an alternative to migrating to cDot, and below are the 3 questions that have come up in our conversations with customers and the Bluering answers.

Zerowait Question – Can you please tell us how you came to select Solaris and ZFS as the solution set for your Healthcare customers?

Bluering Answer – ZFS is an incredibly powerful filesystem that provides an unmatched feature set that can be deployed on standards based x86 hardware. Oracle provides world class support for this, making Solaris the obvious choice to supply ZFS. All non Oracle Solaris ZFS implementations are a fork of the last build of OpenSolaris, build 134 and I can tell you, a lot has changed with Oracle Solaris ZFS since then that the open source community just can’t match. There are major data loss issues waiting for people in that old code base. For healthcare applications then, ZFS plus Oracle’s comprehensive support on x86 hardware makes it the best overall choice. As healthcare begins to escape the vendor silos it has been stuck in for years, these customers want reliable, Enterprise class storage at a low price. Zerowait SimplStor and Bluering provides this with demonstrated low risk and best results.

Zerowait Question – Can you tell us why the adaptability of the SimplStor hardware is an advantage for your customers and Folks considering migrating from NetApp rather than upgrading to cDot?

Bluering Answer – Solaris is a complete Unix operating system with ZFS included. This means that for your ZFS deployment, with SimplStor hardware you can scale your in memory cache size (ZFS ARC), solid state tier cache size (ZFS L2ARC) and write cache size (ZFS ZIL) to accommodate your specific use cases. Not only can this be done per workload, it can be done while the systems are in production. You don’t need to try and do one size fits all here. You determine your workload and then implement the system. As things change, you only need to make minor adjustments to low cost hardware to handle more data. It’s an entirely different approach that yields superior results, better performance and low cost.

Zerowait Question – Can you provide the top 3 reasons you chose to market your solution with Zerowait as your hardware platform service and support provider?

Bluering Answer –

  1. Value
  2. Service
  3. Relationships

If you’re going to deploy x86 hardware for storage purposes, it takes a lot to make it work correctly. There is no chance of being successful with ZFS in the Enterprise without having the system be right from day one and there’s a lot to that. Once it’s deployed, having access to fast parts replacement is critical. Without it, even the best initial deployments will fail. When and not if something does go wrong, your vendor has to have the right level of relationships with their vendors to make support fast and reliable. Zerowait has spent years developing those relationships so they are only a phone call away for them. That is so important. Try to call say Seagate yourself for a drive firmware issue. Good luck even knowing that’s what the issue is. And most importantly to us was that we got all of this, the whole package, at a better overall 5 year cost than just the servers from any other vendor.

If you have other questions you would like answered please send them our way. The Blue Ring website is

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Getting off the NetApp train at cDot Station

netappTrainEvery week we receive inquiries from NetApp customers who are not going to upgrade to cDot. They are looking to extend the life span of their 7 Mode Filers until they can find a viable solution to migrate to or they just want to keep their current infrastructure running for the foreseeable future. Sometimes organizations just need more time to decide what to do, and often there isn’t the staff with the expertise available to handle intricacies of a data migration.

The forced migration to cDot has caused NetApp customers to reevaluate what they should do as new technologies become mainstream. Data migrations are rarely easy, and often take longer than predicted. Are you getting off the NetApp Train at the cDot station, or are you staying on-board the NetApp train to the next stop?

There are lots of options available and over the next few weeks we will review some of them on this blog to help you make your decisions.

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The Opportunities are Endless.

DSC_0283 Over the last couple of months I have been in Australia, New Zealand, and all around the USA meeting with customers and business partners. Keeping connected with our customers is how we stay focused on providing the NetApp and SimplStor products and services that our customers need. A lot of the customers I met over the last couple of months are concerned about migrating to NetApp cDot and are looking at the three alternatives that are available to them; maintaining what they have, upgrading to cDot, or migrating to another storage platform.

The first group of NetApp customers that we work with are very happy with the performance and features of 7-mode and don’t see any benefit in upgrading to a newer platform from NetApp. For these customers Zerowait’s legacy support services are a great alternative. With our experienced and credentialed NetApp engineering staff and Exception Reporter they are assured that we will be able to provide them the service and support they need to meet their uptime and budget requirements.

The second group is looking for a reliable partner to help them maintain, migrate and decommission their equipment when their NetApp migration is complete. For these customers we can provide the support and swing gear for as long as the project takes. At the end of the project we can then decommission, sanitize, and dispose of their older NetApp platforms whether they are migrating to a cDot NetApp filer or another storage vendor’s equipment.

The third group of customers is moving forward into the NetApp cDot environment and need to use our swing gear in the short term for their migration and then is looking to maintain their older NetApp equipment in an archival or secondary storage mode for an extended period. This group combines the needs of the first two groups with similar solutions.

Savvy customers recognize the value of a company that can help them gain the breathing space they need to make a data migration decision and then help them through the process. That is why customers rely on Zerowait around the world for the expertise and service that we provide.

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What I would do as NetApp CEO

The first rule of a successful business is to listen to your customers and give them what they want. NetApp has a great product and a loyal customer base. However, it seems that NetApp has become a self-absorbed company that has forgotten that its mission is to provide products and services that customers want. Instead they are alienating the customer base. This has not proven to be good success strategy. Instead, I would try embracing the customers who are loyal and asking them what they want and need. For example, customers really like 7 mode, so the first thing I would do is allow customers to keep the product they like. If some customers like cDot and others want to keep 7-mode why not support and improve both Ontap versions?

The second thing I would do is turn the Software Support model around and stop creating barriers for customers to maintain older equipment. Does NetApp really think that raising the price of legacy support for systems is a successful strategy in a competitive world? High legacy support prices have the same effect as high taxes: they are a deterrent to new investment and create an incentive to look for alternative solutions. In the case of NetApp, customers are given the choice between exorbitant legacy support pricing or a costly migration to cDot. Rational customers will chose the least costly solution to solve their problem and that includes the learning curve for their admins. Since the marginal cost of an additional software license is essentially $0.00, I would empower loyal customers and offer them an affordable software support package for their legacy systems.

As NetApp’ s new CEO, the third thing I would do is look over our past history of acquisitions and see how successful they have been. Warren Buffet says something like “invest in what you understand”, which seems like pretty good advice. Especially when it seems that the history of NetApp acquisitions has been marked by one failure after another. And so I would review the strategy and try to invest in technologies that our customers want.

I have been working with NetApp equipment and customers since 1998, and our company has grown because we listen to what NetApp customers want. I recognize that NetApp probably won’t select me as their next CEO, but perhaps they should look at their recent history and take some advice from George Costanza :

“If every instinct you have is wrong, then the opposite would have to be right.”

– Jerry, to George, in “The Opposite”



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Perhaps it is time for NetApp Classic to be released Many of you remember the highly anticipated/marketed release of New Coke and the subsequent release of Classic Coke after it was determined that many customers really liked regular Coke. There seems to be a similar reaction to the Release of NetApp Cdot 8.3. So maybe it is time to release Classic Ontap? If you want to see evidence of unhappy customer reactions to a new product, look at the comments on this Blog:

Every company and person makes mistakes, even the innovative and creative ones. Long term success requires that a successful company face up to a mistake and correct it for its customers, otherwise the customers will find another solution that is more to their liking.

Every day as individuals and groups working together we make choices large or small based on incomplete information and intuition about the future. Most of our choices are guided by past experience and input and influence from our peers. When deciding upon a service offered by a vendor or contractor we need to assign uncertain values to the price, quality, and service. Those values are different for each of us, based on past experience and the perception of the value provided by the service or product offering. In the face of customer’s comments like those in the blog, and many others we have heard in speaking with our customers, I would think it is time to at least consider a return to seven mode as the OnTap classic. NetApp’s quarterly results recently have been flat; to continue growing, a company needs to have a happy customer base.

At Zerowait we provide support to legacy NetApp customers around the world who prefer their NetApp OnTap Classic. That said, if you are one those who like new, we can help you migrate to CDot or another system with our rental Netapp hardware and the many versions of our SimplStor customizable storage hardware. Our aim is to make our customers happy. However you like your storage, we are there for you.

I never liked New Coke.

Picture source

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Similarities between the DMV and your OEM Support?

amphicar rearWe have houses in two states. We therefore have cars in two states. However, we can only be a resident of one of those states. This month one or our cars came due for registration renewal, so we turned to the local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). So far, so good, right?   Not so fast! In the state where we are no longer residents, a required document to renew a vehicle registration is that state’s drivers’ license–which we no longer have! So we contacted the DMV multiple times to see what could be done. Answers ranged from “you need to take the vehicle to the other state to get inspected then bring it back here” (1400 miles away), to “you need to register it in the other state”, to “it can’t be done period, if you don’t have an in-state license”. This does not seem like an out of the ordinary question: surely we are not the first people with this situation! However, trying to get an answer from the DMV is not an ordinary experience. We finally got it resolved through dogged persistence, but this episode made me ponder the role of service providers in general. Making customers suffer a Kafkaesque experience shouldn’t be the model.

Have you ever called technical support and gotten what you consider a nonsense answer, and when you call back the second answer you get is not only different, but does not make any more sense than the first one? It is similar to our experience with the DMV. On our state’s official DMV website there is no mention of how to get an automobile registered if you have an out of state drivers’ license; there is plenty of information on how to register a boat if you are not a resident, though. So I called the number on the site and after being put on hold a nice person told me that what I wanted to do was not possible. I asked why you should be able to register a boat with an out of state license but not a car. Turns out, it’s because a boat is using the waterways, but a car is on the roads. Of course it is: how could I be so stupid! Ahem. That did not answer the question as to why my identification was good enough for a boat but not an automobile, though. My wife called and got a different answer to the question: all we had to do was get an inspection and pay the fee (which turned out not to be true). How could two people have gotten such different answers to the same question?

One way to deal with this is to ask your peers what they would do. They have likely also experienced a frustrating technical support call, and maybe they have found a workaround (i.e., escalate right away) or perhaps know of another vendor that actually fixes things without the hassle. With the DMV being the only game in town, we were stuck. But we did try our own advice. We asked our accountant and insurance agent. They both said that their customers tell them they sometimes just go in to the DMV and it works and other times it doesn’t and they end up registering the car in another state. Sigh. It seemed like explaining how to set up a wireless network: sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Signals come and signals go. Magic.

Another idea: When you finally get a technician that actually seems to know something, write that down. Remember that person for next time! On the DMV issue what we did was take copies of every utility bill we had and went to the DMV. After the interminable inspection lines we had to wait another hour in line to get to the registration window. Once there we were asked if we could provide the out of state registration card for one of the vehicles we own in the other state to verify that we had cars in another state. Er, what? Not quite knowing how to respond to this, we instead kept waving the bills around, pointing to addresses and… a miracle happened.

After thinking about the process we went through it became apparent to me that the reason that our business continues to grow is that OEM service and support uses the DMV model and Zerowait goes in the opposite direction. When a customer calls in with an issue they speak to an engineer that knows what they are talking about. The customers information is verified and the problem is worked based on the idea of let’s get this working right now. At Zerowait we know that no two storage networks are the same, but they all need to provide data to clients. Instead of creating roadblocks to solutions like the DMV, our goal is to create pathways to the successful restoration of data. Make the customer happy. Is that the goal of the DMV or your OEM service provider?


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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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