Sunday, August 31, 2014

DataGravity - An Intelligence Platform for Your Data

By now, you've heard of DataGravity. They just won the Best of VMworld 2014 awards for two categories: New Technology and Best of Show. If you weren't able to attend VMworld in San Francisco this year, you should do yourself a favor and check out the DataGravity Discovery Series demo. Because this company is not just creating a new storage product, they're creating a new platform.

The core principle that drives DataGravity's development is this: you should expect more from your storage. But I like what I heard Paula Long say during DataGravity's presentation to the Tech Field Day Extra delegation on Monday: "You bought the storage, you should know what's in it."

The Discovery Series product provides the storage services like most other networked storage solutions: SMB, NFS, and iSCSI. Nothing too shocking there (well, not that I'll get into now). But the unique power of this product is in the data-aware platform they've created. We've been conditioned to ask only a few basic questions from our storage:

  • How much space are we consuming?
  • How much space do we have left?
  • How many IOPS can the storage handle?

We've limited the interrogation of our storage systems because these are the only questions for which they have answers. DataGravity's intelligence engine runs on the "passive" storage controller, and captures and analyzes meta-data on a dedicated pool of disks. That means that there's no performance penalty to be paid, and you'll have access to data about your data. Initially, the platform looks for five tags within your data: credit card numbers, social security numbers, URIs (or is it URLs?), IPv4 addresses, and email addresses. (Future releases will include the ability to create custom tags for your data). But think of what you can learn by just looking for these five bits of data.

Take this concept one step further: you can also create an audit trail of which users access which data (this requires the installation of an agent to associate SIDs with human-readable names). Now you know what's on your storage, and who is accessing it. For those of us who spend any measurable amount of time managing storage, this is a big pivot in how we think about data.

One final thought: Paula Long is very aware of where this technology is going. She put it this way: "We didn't build a bunch of features into the array. We actually built a bunch of capabilities into the array, which we can build features from." To me, that sounds like DataGravity knows their innovations will create a community of users who find new use cases for this technology. And that's when this platform will take off.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

EVO:Rail Announcement at VMworld 2014

An anagram for Love Air. :)
At Monday's VMworld General Session, VMware announced the next phase in the journey to the Software-Defined Data Center: EVO:Rail. It's kind of a big deal, too. Here's why.

Validation of Hyperconvergence

First and foremost, EVO:Rail's existence validates the trend in IT over the last two years to build self-contained, purpose-built platforms for virtualization. Many companies, such as SimpliVity and Nutanix, successfully merged compute and storage into a single hardware appliance. SimpliVity took that notion a step farther and bundled some networking magic (such as WAN optimization). But the networking stack was conspicuously absent from these converged solutions. And, no, VCE's VBlock doesn't belong in this conversation because it is NOT a converged anything.

EVO:Rail is different because it's not just hyperconverged at the hardware layer: it's hyperconverged software, too. You'll get vSphere and Virtual SAN, with a beautifully simple HTML5 interface for doing the initial configuration. For me, that means that I don't need to spin up my Fusion Windows 8.1 VM just to manage EVO:Rail. Win! (And thanks to Gabriel Chapman for correcting my error: EVO:Rack, and not EVO:Rail, that will ship later includes NSX.)

A New Unit for Infrastructure

A while back, I wrote a post about hyperconvergence: The Hyperconverged Hamburger. One of the main concepts in that post is that we need to stop treating virtualization as the collection of server, network, and storage hardware. Instead, we need to treat virtualization as a component, not a confluence of components. This is where EVO:Rail shines: you buy EVO:Rail, and you get virtualization. Period. You can quit investing in the storage dinosaur that is SAN. And you can quit wrestling with the integration between your blade chassis and your upstream switches.

To learn more, read through Duncan Epping's blog post here. Or check out the HOL at HOL-SDC-1428.

Saying Goodbye - VMworld Edition


It's over, isn't it? VMworld.

We congregated. We jubilated. We educated. We submarinated. We... inebriated.

But what we really did was connected. Engineer to consultant, marketer to executive: we connected.

VMworld isn't about VMware. It isn't about virtualization. It's isn't about whatever you think it's about.

It's about being in the right place at the right time. It's about listening. It's about putting your ego on pause long enough to listen to another member of the community. Whether that's a Cisco evangelist or a vSphere security guru: we listened to learn.

Everyone I spoke with this week agreed: finding your voice is paramount to success in this whole twitter / blogging thing. Ergo: I submit this post to you, LS.

Listen to the people around you. They're smarter than you. They're wiser than you. And they're more eager to share their experience with you.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Tech Field Day at Cisco UCS Grand Slam!

Next week, I'm headed to NYC with the Tech Field Day crew will for the Cisco UCS Grand Slam event. What is that, you ask? Cisco isn't sharing many details, but you can tell from their event description that they intend to, once again, disrupt the data center world.

Cisco UCS truly changed how we think about server and network in the context of data center virtualization. It took some time to grok the concept of separating the server from the hardware, but once we adopted that approach, UCS suddenly made sense. And other server vendors took notice; look at HP's and Dell's attempts to replicate UCS and its flagship features. I expect this event to unveil the next significant leap in data center "server" technology. But I don't have any more insight into this event that you do!

They're promoting the event heavily via social media channels, and with good reason: Cisco's CTO Padmasree Warrior will be presenting.

The good news is that you can watch the live stream of this event by registering here. Or follow along with #UCSGrandSlam on Twitter. Either way, be sure to tune in when this event gets started.

Disclosure: Tech Field Day and Cisco are sponsoring my travel and lodging for this event. Awesome.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Tech Field Day Extra - DataGravity, SolarWinds, Asigra

Well, it's finally here: today I'm joining a group of wicked smart people as part of the TFD Extra delegation at VMworld! We've got three companies (DataGravity, SolarWinds, and Asigra) lined up to present their latest products, solutions, and insight into the development of both.


DataGravity (formerly known as the "Secret Company" on Monday's TFDX session) will pretty much make you rethink storage. I can't possibly do their work justice in a single paragraph, so I'll just say that you'll wonder why no one else has thought of this before. The short version is that they are data-aware storage with analytics built-in. I spent an hour chatting with the Product Manager last night at the Solutions Exchange, and it was inspiring to hear how passionate he and the team is about this platform. I'm excited to see how customers use the data that's collected; especially since I spend my days consulting for the public sector. This is going to be KILLER.


Oh, SolarWinds. We've been BFFs for, I don't know, a decade? Everywhere I go, there's a SolarWinds product in the mix. Whether it's Orion NPM, SAM, VMAN, or Storage Manager: these are the tools I rely on to see what's happening on the infrastructure and application level. You may recall that I spent April of this month as a Thwack Ambassador, which was a great experience with the company and the community they're foster. Today they will share their perspective on performance in a hybrid environment (side note: EVERY environment is now a hybrid environment, IMO). This, like the previous session, will be KILLER.


Asigra's presentation will make you rethink how you protect your data. I agree with the concept: put the focus on recovery, not backup. And bundle all elements of data protection into a single suite, so you're not cobbling together a backup / dedupe / encryption / replication / recovery infrastructure with solutions from many, many vendors. I'm excited to learn more about Asigra, and I'll be certain to share what I've learned.

Stay tuned for updates and new posts after (if?) I've survived the infamous TFD party wagon!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

It's the People, Stupid

It's my second VMworld, and it couldn't be more different from my first appearance in 2012.

The first time around, I built a schedule of technical sessions and stuck to it. Ok, maybe I missed one because I didn't realize that travel time between building was deceptively... deceptive. But I really just stuck to the sessions. Sure, I hit up the big party Wednesday (to watch Jon Bon Jovi do whatever it is that he does nowadays). But I was naive to the real draw of this event.

It's the people, stupid.

Stroll around the Solutions Exchange and chat with the SEs and engineers who actually helped develop the solutions. You'll run into all kinds of true technology experts in random places (for example, I ran into Stephen Foskett, Tom Hollingsworth, and Chris Wahl (in that order, mind you) after the #vBrownBag opening acts wrapped up in City View). And wouldn't you know it? Everyone loves to make time to chat a bit, in spite of being terribly busy themselves. Plus I got to spend the afternoon catching up with Adi Lutvich, my occasional co-worker and a hell of a virtualization, storage, and networking engineer who will be cajoled into tweeting and blogging before the week is over.

After just one afternoon, I'm convinced that, while the conference sessions are clearly incredible opportunities to learn and develop your professional skills, it's the social networking events, put on by members of the community, that are the main attraction. (Yes, that was a lot of commas.)

I'm off to #VMunderground now to continue my streak of meeting and chatting with people that I've only interacted with on Twitter. See you there?

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Minecraft Server 1.7.9 on EC2 Ubuntu

My boys LOVE Minecraft. Their obsession has evolved from learning how to mine and place blocks to troubleshooting Forge, working with multiple mods, and downloading texture packs. They're smart kids, and they've surpassed my knowledge of the game. They've learned how to identify suspicious downloads (which you run into a lot in the weird world of and mediafire-hosted files) and can work with compressed files and the quirks of the 8.1 Metro interface without much assistance.

But the one thing I've got over them is an EC2 instance running a minecraft server.

I launched it last fall to test out EC2. I figured I'd have zero credibility in the technical community if I'd never, you know, actually used AWS. So I launched a micro instance running Ubuntu 12.04 LTS, installed java, downloaded the minecraft server .jar file, and I was up and running.

But that was last fall, when 1.7.6 was the latest release, and it relied on whitelisting via a text file named whitelist.txt. That file was easy to maintain: each player that you want to whitelist gets its own line. Easy. Basic.

Enter 1.7.9. Whitelisting (and OPing, and banning) is now configured via JSON files. And the format of these files is significantly different from the old whitelist.txt files I was familiar with. So this post is about how to get whitelist.json and ops.json configured manually for at least one player. And remember, I'm running minecraft_server.1.7.9.jar from a linux server with no GUI. That's what makes this slightly more interesting.

Manually Editing Your 1.7.9 Whitelist

Here's what my whitelist.json file looks like. Follow this format for yours, too.

You'll notice that we've got more than just a username here. We've got the corresponding UUID along with the username. So your first task is to gather the UUID for the users you'll be adding to the whitelist. To do this, I just launched Minecraft on my Mac and tried to connect to the server. The connection failed, because I wasn't whitelisted quite yet. But with access to the server and its logs, I knew I'd see an entry in my /usr/minecraft_server/logs directory that listed my username and UUID along with an error. I copied that UUID into the whitelist.json file, saved it, restarted minecraft_server.1.7.9.jar, and I was able to connect. But I couldn't use the in-game console to add my boys to the server. It's because I wasn't an OP.

Manually Editing Your 1.7.9 OPS list

You won't be surprised to learn that this file is of the same format as whitelist.json. So you can cut and paste from that file into this one (assuming you want the users listed in your whitelist to also be server operators).

The only bit that's unique to this file is the level line. It's a measure of how much control an OP has over the game and server (see this article for the details). I gave myself 4 because awesome.

Next Steps

Now you're configured to log into your minecraft server and use console commands to manage these two lists from here on out. You have to admit: /whitelist add username is a hell of a lot easier that the manual method above. But on this early Saturday morning, while I'm listening to Gang Starr and drinking coffee out of a mug from the US House of Representatives, getting into some old-school vi trouble is just what I was looking for. :)

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

My Day In Pictures, Episode 1

I'm kinda tired of writing paragraphs about stuff. So here are two pictures to show you how my day has been (oh, and thanks for asking!).

Yes, you read that correctly. 281840 microseconds (281ms) of latency. 

I have issue with the words "Managed by your system administrator" here.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Blogging at VMworld 2014 in San Francisco!

I'm excited to return to VMworld this year, and this time around I've been selected to receive a blogger pass for the conference! That means I'll be cordoned off in the 31337 blogger section for the keynotes.... I think. Really, it means that the rest of the conference attendees won't need to put up with me furiously banging away on my MBA while you're trying to listen to the presentations.

I've booked a solid 4.5 days of sessions, community events, and the occasional party for VMworld this year. That'll give me dozens of topics to write about and share with you all. And share I will. When I haven't attended VMworld in the past, I've relied on accurate and timely blogposts to catch up on the events. This time, it'll be my opportunity to return the favor.

I'll be attending sessions on hipster stuff like DevOps (actually, is DevOps mainstream now, and Docker is hipster?), NSX, Storage Best Practices, and some PowerCLI stuff I'm into lately. So I'll be posting about those topics and more. You're excited, right? Right. I could tell.

If you're interested in learning more about VMworld, this link is for you.

If you've read enough, and you're ready to register, well THIS link is for you.

Hope to see you in San Francisco! And thanks for reading the #eager0.