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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Zerowait’s competitive pricing for Government IT procurement.

Zerowait has been in business for over 20 years, and in that time we have worked with many Federal, State, County and City government IT departments.  Since 2001, the growth in Government Storage requirements has been accelerating, and as this equipment gets older our NetApp government customers have asked us to provide support for more and bigger installations.  Interest in SimplStor by this sector has also blossomed. While many of these customers are able to purchase from us under simplified acquisition procedures, often we are asked if we have a Schedule 70 Contract or a vehicle to make things easier on the procurement folks.  We knew that for this task we would need an expert, and we found one:  Tim Reid, now Zerowait’s Director of Government Contracts.

Tim is a veteran, serving in the US Navy until 1992.  Afterward he began a career helping businesses obtain Government contracts.  Over the last decade Tim has helped small businesses win almost $150 million in Government contracts, and he appreciated how Zerowait specifically could help the government support their legacy storage equipment and migrate to newer platforms like our SimplStor. As a taxpayer, Tim further understood the value we could provide; and, as a specialist in government business development, he recognized the unique value Zerowait could provide in cutting their IT procurement costs.

With Tim’s guidance, Zerowait now has a U.S. Federal General Services Administration (GSA) Schedule 70 contract application in process, which when awarded will allow Zerowait to provide specialized goods and services to a broader segment of the governmental IT sector.  As Tim says, “We are looking forward to being able to answer ‘Yes’ when agency IT managers ask if we (Zerowait) have a GSA Schedule.  Being awarded the contract, and having earned the right to be a GSA schedule contractor, will make all the work getting to this point worth it.”  Over the last several months Tim has added to our capabilities and modified our processes to meet the stringent requirements of government contracting.

After two decades in business Zerowait now has a dedicated government contracts department and we are building a team of specialists to help agencies and organizations that need to maintain, expand, or migrate their data storage infrastructure while staying within strict budgetary constraints.  Zerowait can now offer service and support for legacy NetApp equipment and our SimplStor systems which can run Redhat, Solaris with ZFS or Microsoft Storage Server R2, providing government IT departments the same flexible and affordable systems and support that Zerowait offers our commercial customers.

 

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New information challenges established assumptions

NewcastleHarbour NSW Over the last couple of weeks I traveled to our Australian office and visited our clients in Sydney and Newcastle to discuss their storage issues and strategies for the next couple of years. Almost all of our clients were discussing the Cloud storage pricing war between Amazon, Google and Microsoft and trying to figure out how to take advantage of the cloud for archival storage within their storage tiers. 2 cents a TB per month for cloud storage changes the dynamics of archival storage.

Many of our clients in Australia need storage proximity so that they can take advantage of the bandwidth required to do their rendering or run complex algorithms for their modeling. The issue of storage proximity makes it hard to use the cloud providers for the majority of their storage requirements except as a replacement for archival tape. When the big cloud providers are offering a cost of 2 cents per TB per month the costs of a tape library, maintenance, licensing and offsite storage for archival data storage tapes is hard to justify when budgets are tight. And for this reason our clients are looking at moving archival tape assets to the cloud.

Moving archival information to the cloud inevitably leads to finding an integrated and affordable solution to simplify the transmission and retrieval from the cloud. At three meetings last week we discussed the integration of Microsoft’s Storage Server R2 and their Azure cloud as an integrated Hierarchical Storage Management (HSM) strategy instead of tape. Our clients wanted to know if Zerowait had a pathway that could help them migrate their data and storage from NetApp to a combination of NetApp for their tier one storage and a High Availability SimplStor for their Tier two storage that could move data back and forth to the cloud, and reduce their storage costs substantially.

Zerowait has a simple and affordable pathway to help our NetApp support customers slash their storage costs without affecting their storage availability. We can help our NetApp customers move their data to our SimplStor equipment running either Red Hat storage, Microsoft R2 or Solaris with ZFS, and if our clients want to move their archival data to one of the big cloud storage providers we can help our customers set up this service also. And finally when our customers old equipment is removed from service we will  help our customers sanitize their legacy disks and dispose of their old equipment. 

It seems that at 2 cents a TB per month, the big cloud guys have gotten the attention of the big storage users and now the question is how to create a 3 to 5 years storage strategy to take advantage of this technological change. With this easy to understand strategy, Zerowait is providing our customers with an affordable set of solutions to help them meet their future High Availability storage requirements.

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A Consensus is Building

This week we were at the National Association of Broadcasters show in Las Vegas meeting with our clients in the Media business. Our media clients are some of our largest storage users and while we initially supported their NetApp architectures, our SimplStor products now have a strong following in the VFX business. Over dinner one night with our clients we discussed the main issues facing big storage customers (which are really every storage customer’s issues), the price per TB of storage and the availability (or lack thereof) of bandwidth to take advantage of cloud storage providers who seem to be in a race to become the lowest cost provider. This article in Storage newsletter illustrates how price competitive cloud based providers are:

“The new pricing plans did not change the amount of free storage available but it lowered the entrance fee enough to make customers more willing to pay for the service. Before the change, 100GB could be purchased for $5/month, now it’s $2, the 1TB plan is at $10 (formerly $50) and you can now go up to 30TB for $300/month whereas the highest storage space available was 16TB before the change.”

http://www.storagenewsletter.com/rubriques/cloud-online-backup-ssps-msps/google-drive-re-kindles-price-war-between-cloud-storage-services/

The price war for cloud-based storage seems to have taken the traffic from the big storage providers’ booths and the NetApp booth did not have many people in it when we went by it. But neither did EMC, Hitachi or any other big storage provider.  Large storage customers are looking for affordability, and the big iron storage providers can’t provide affordable mass storage and remain profitable in part because of the costs of their large engineering and support staffs.

At NAB it became apparent that there is an emerging consensus that the high end storage only providers like NetApp are going to see some significant erosion of their markets by lower cost alternatives. The disruptive technologies of the 90’s are being disrupted themselves by commoditized high availability storage software. Going beyond Linux, the availability of Solaris ZFS and Microsoft Storage Server R2 on commodity based Cluster in a Box hardware is one way to cut the costs of storage. And our customers are interested in these solutions that can now be created and supported by a niche high availability storage company like Zerowait.

Our customers like our service and support model and the way we can provide a semi- custom solution for them at less than 50% of the cost of the big players in the marketplace. The internet and the ease of international shipping has created a global community of media storage users large enough to provide Zerowait sufficient customer base to profitably build and support these kinds of niche solutions. When people from around the world can easily work together to create affordable quality solutions everyone wins.

 

 

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A Bridge to the Future

boulder mountainsOver the last couple of weeks I have been visiting customers in Colorado and found that many of NetApp’s customers are distressed by the costs of upgrading to OnTap 8.2, which include new hardware (in many cases), training and data migration. Migrations are never easy, and with the corporate mantra these days being “doing more with less” finding spare cycles in an IT department to develop and document the migration plan, then schedule and implement it with limited staff is alienating many of NetApp’s customers.

The majority of IT departments don’t have the expertise to handle data migrations, and justifying another proprietary upgrade for storage hardware is at odds with management’s push to reduce costs (both capital and ongoing support) using open source and commoditized solutions. These customers, and many more, are yearning for an affordable storage solution for tomorrow and the next 5 years or more, and the media is beginning to notice.

Is this perception true? Possibly – and the IDC numbers and NetApp’s own recent results, with flat-lining revenues indicate that something is not quite right in Sunnyvale. The filer lion king is turning, just maybe, into a floppy old beast and needs to reinvigorate its carnivore approach to the storage business.

In a tough economy, storage administrators need a trusted advocate on their side to help bend the costs down and Zerowait has a set of alternative solutions to help customers whether they want to maintain their legacy NetApp infrastructure, migrate to an affordable and reliable open source solution, or migrate up to 8.2. In addition to providing long term legacy NetApp support, allowing you to capture the maximum ROI from your current NetApp investment, our engineering staff has the broad storage and network experience to provide assistance in data migrations, whether supplementing your staff or managing a turn key migration. And for those looking to contain costs by taking advantage of the open source  x86 environment, our SimplStor product line delivers highly reliable, affordable  storage with the enterprise support and auto notification limited IT staffs need to ensure availability.

Zerowait has support, migration, and alternative hardware solutions that will help you build a bridge to your Future data storage requirements.  www.zerowait.com

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A Storage Sweetener

Since NetApp’s introduction of OnTap 8.2 several months ago, Zerowait has been receiving a steadily increasing number of requests for staff augmentations and help in planning data migrations, often to more affordably priced storage arrays. Migrating mixed NFS and CIFS NAS volumes can be tricky. These migrations typically require a significant time investment and cost a princely sum when handled by the OEM of high-priced, first-tier storage. Zerowait has developed a recipe to sweeten the mix when customers want to refresh and augment their data storage infrastructure.

The upgrade to 8.2 OnTap is leaving a bitter taste in many customers’ mouths, and who’s to say that OnTap 8.3 will even have a “7-mode”? The upgrade involves training customers on Clustered OnTap, which contradicts NetApp’s messaging that customers would only need to learn OnTap once and never learn it again. The conversion is a lengthy process as all data needs to be copied from the 7-mode system to Clustered OnTap without any means for an in place upgrade. Regardless of OnTap mode, once a customer’s upgrade is complete, all of the customer’s licenses will be reissued to a new code that is node-locked reducing the portability of OnTap that NetApp always championed. While some customers may like the new feature sets, there are many who feel the 8.2 upgrade is going to add unwanted complexity in both solution engineering and day to day operations.
This is a fork in the road for NetApp’s customers. A sizable number of customers like the simplicity, reliability, and compatibility of their current equipment with 7-mode. Additionally, customers have to engage NetApp directly to get 8.2 licenses for older systems, which requires an expensive NetApp support agreement.

Our customers like NetApp’s original messaging that allowed customers the freedom to upgrade their filers simply, on their own schedule, and without a professional services engagement. Now you have to ask permission for an upgrade from NetApp. What people have traditionally liked about NetApp is that it left administration of the filers in the hands of the administrators. This was a big differentiator from EMC, who controlled even the simple task of swapping out of bad drives! Trading that freedom in and being forced into a box is a bitter drink to swallow for many NetApp aficionados.

Zerowait’s customers have asked us to sweeten the storage cocktail they’ve been offered, and we have come up with a recipe which leverages a customer’s NetApp equipment with our SimplStor hardware to provide an affordable and easy to manage tiered storage strategy. Using our approach, customers will be able to put their primary storage on whichever current equipment they choose, and then using standard migration methodologies, move their lower tier data to NetApp equipment, which Zerowait supports, on a second tier. For even greater cost savings, SimplStor can be rapidly deployed for archival storage needs.

Zerowait’s customers like the flexibility to choose their storage equipment’s support model while most are questioning how NetApp’s new licensing scheme will benefit customers. If you are considering an upgrade to OnTap 8.2, but aren’t sure about it, give us a call and we will review the options with you. Our expert engineering staff can help your staff upgrade or migrate your data and afterwards they can enjoy a refreshing glass of lemonade using our recipe of lemons, sweeteners, and a few drops of our secret sauce.

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