Tech Field Day – My First Time!
I was attending VMworld last month and while attending the vExpert Welcome Dinner I met Stephen Foskett from Gestalt IT. I heard of Tech Field Day events from other previous attendees including my good friend Matt Vogt (@mvogt), who was a delegate at Tech Field Day 7. You can read his review of the event here: “http://mattvogt.posterous.com“.
So what is Tech Field Day? At first I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Was this a conference, a mini conference, mini sessions, or round table type discussions? I watched a few of the videos from past events online so I had somewhat of an idea of what to expect, but each Tech Field Day is different. Tech Field Day 8 was centered around start up companies in the Silicon Valley which a seasoned company or two thrown in to spice things up. I was extremely happy to be able to attend TFD8 for many reasons, with the biggest being that I was thrilled about the line-up of companies presenting at this event. It isn’t every day you can walk into a company and be given the red carpet treatment! In my opinion, Stephen did a great job choosing companies for all the delegates to visit in the past and this TFD was no exception.
The format for Tech Field Events is a mix between round-table discussions and mini-session style presentations. One thing to understand is that the group of people selected to attend the events are not your average technologists, they are all very smart, highly educated and highly regarded IT related people. Also, everyone is involved to some degree in either social media, blogging or run technology related websites. The group of delegates can be from many different disciplines of IT, for example, this TFD had a mix of administrators, service providers and bloggers from various fields like Networking, VOiP/IP Telephone, Virtualization, Storage, Servers and System Administration. This was a truly a small, but dynamic group of people that was assembled to review 8 companies and the technology that they bring to the table. I have to say, I was humbled and honored to be a part of the Tech Field Day 8 group.
Review One, or Review them All?
We had one heck of a list of presenters at this TFD8 event which made the note taking and review process very tough, mostly because things ran together so tightly. We were literally running from one event to another, with only a few minutes to catch our breath in between. Steven did a great job keeping us on time and not letting us show up late for any of the presenting companies. However, this type of schedule left very little room to type up blog entries, especially 8 separate posts. Instead of posting about all 8 presentations that I’m sure would put my readers to sleep, I decided to pick my top 3 presentations and companies to focus on.
With such a great list of presenters at the event the selection process for the top 3 was not easy. So how did I decide who deserves to be in myTop 3?
I looked at the following checklist to make my top 3 presenters:
- Brand Image and visual presentation at the sessions.
- Presenters and who they were, C-Level, Engineers, or top tier management types.
- How serious each vendor took Tech Field Day and the Delegates, in preparation, content and interaction.
- The Technology of course – How viable is what the topic is being presented on and how beneficial is their technology.
- How good was the coffee? – A fun one! No one ever talks about the coffee! Very important for us techies! J
Number 1: For Technology, Presentation, and Brilliant Engineers +…..Goodies!
My pick for number 1 vendor is PureStorage and they deserve it! I have to admit, all three of my picks had some awesome engineers available and presenting, along with CEO’s that were really into the whole idea of Tech Field Day. Chris Wahl, who was another delegate at TechFieldDay, wrote a great post on some technical facets of the PureStorage technology which you can read about here: http://goo.gl/rEYux (nice job Chris!) Instead of repeating everything that Chris outlined very well in his post, I am just going to talk about my thoughts of the technology.
The Technology: Really awesome sums it up. While we were at the presentation, the lead VMware engineer (missed him name sorry!) presented the group with a live demo of 1000 or so virtual desktops being powered up on their all flash arrays. It was really impressive, Tony Burke, another TFD delegate requested all of the VM’s to be powered off, and then powered back on in front of us. Awesome test, which are the types of things us delegates want to see, not the slide decks or reading material, we want to see the raw technology in action.
The Presentation: The entire PureStorage team of lead engineers was on hand to answer our questions, which again was really awesome. The CEO Scott Dietzen gave a great introduction on the vision of the company, jumping right into the core of the Pure Storage technology. The next person up was John “Coz” Colgove, who is the founder and CTO of the company. You can definitely tell that John was a key in developing the Pure software architecture, super smart and really knows his low level application and OS development. Other engineers that were key in our discussions were John Hayes, Founder and Chief Architect and Michael Cornwell, Director, Technology & Strategy. If you ever have the opportunity to meet any of these individuals I highly recommend it, they are super talented and really know their stuff. No matter what the question was all of the engineers and executives answered each question honestly. The entire presentation was handle very well and was engaging from all of the delegates. You can watch the entire presentation here at the Tech Field Day website: http://techfieldday.com/category/news/
The Core Tech – SSD’s:
Pure has some really cool technologies behind their overall package, especially in the software arena, which really sets their arrays apart from other all SSD counterparts. Using all MLC based SSD’s that are actually Samsung MLC based 470 series SSDs have really helped lower their cost. The Samsung based 470 series die package has some really impressive numbers to begin with, on top of the modifications that Pure has made to the firmware, I am sure the performance of a single SSD is even more impressive than what see with a similar SSD on its own. (Review of the 470 series drive here: http://goo.gl/9R1a4)
All of the delegates asked a lot of questions (as shown in the video) about the reliability of the Samsung SSDs. We have all heard about of the reliability problems with SSD’s in the past, but we were assured us that most, if not all of the major SSD issues have been eliminated or a work around via software modifications and enhancements. Pure has stated that they have never had a drive failure in ANY of their arrays. That’s right… ZERO failures. Do I believe that? Yes, definitely. I say this because if you keep yourself updated on the lasted SSD drives out from various manufacturers the reliability levels have gone up, not down or stayed the same. The drives that Pure is using is designed by Samsung and tweaked by Pure and I must say, they have one of the brightest flash memory technologists around on their team, Michael Cornwell. If you haven’t heard of him you should look him up. He was one of the key designers of the flash memory design in the iPod/iPhone design and REALLY knows his flash design and technology.
The entire Purity OS looks really cool. I actually really would love some hands on time with it because it really looks like a super powerful environment. They have plans for full VMware integration, while there already is support for some, Pure is on track to support the entire VAAI, VASA, VAAI 2.0 primitive’s available from VMware. There are a few smaller caveats in their product but it’s still really only a generation 1 product (go to market build/version) so it’s only going to get better.
To sum up the Pure Storage presentation is tough; it’s an awesome product, with a lot of questions that will work themselves out in the coming months. SSD’s are only going to get cheaper, faster and more reliable. The 6GB/s back-plane technology is going to be our limiting factor in the not too distant future. One thing is for sure, SSD’s are fast, great for VDI and other heavy i/o related applications and I would love to run just SSD’s instead of hard drives. I highly recommend watching the Pure Storage video that I linked to above to get an even better understanding of the Pure Storage product.
Number 2: For Thinking Outside the Box, Awesome Technology, Controversial…..and Best Breakfast!
I have to be honest, I never heard of Nutanix before TFD. I had heard of their concept, but I didn’t know someone was actually “doing” it. We arrived at the Nutanix headquarters right in central Silicon Valley early in the morning on Thursday where we were greeted with a nice warm breakfast from Panera Bread, which really hit the spot. I am big breakfast and coffee guy and thought it was very nice of the Nutanix team to take care of us in that area. Again, just as the rest of the presentations from other vendors, the primary engineers and lead developers along with the Nutanix board including their CEO, Dheeraj Pandey, Founder & CTO Dr. Mohit Aron and Founder & CPO Ajeet Singh. Who is Nutanix? They are a venture backed start-up backed by LightSpeed Ventures and Blumberg Capital. No surprise, but they have an incredible line-up on their board of directors with tons of experience and backing along with an awesome group of very talented engineers.
The presentation setup was also great; we had a nice roundtable setup surrounding the key speaker. Right off the bat the presentations stated that they would stay “on track” with technology talk only, no marketing which is exactly what we all cared about. The presentations reviewed the key concepts of the Nutanix technology and how they came about the design and concept of the hardware and overall goals.
The main pillars of the Nutanix product consist of Distributed Computing, Virtulization and Solid State drives. The presenters mentioned Google and Amazon and how they realized that NAS/SAN based storage deployments were way too expensive and cost too much to keep running. The Google system runs across multi servers in clusters utilizing the Google File System and allowed Google to build massive scalable data centers without the massive costs of SAN storage architectures, which is the similar approach that Nutanix has taken with their product. By utilizing a mix of 2.5inch 1TB 7200RPM disks, three Intel SSD’s per node and most importantly, a 320GB Fusion-IO card in a PCI-Express slot in EACH Compute Blade, which in itself is really impressive.
The key to the Nutanix architecture is SOCS – a patent-pending scale-out converged storage layer that has the following unique set of capabilities:
• It is converged with the compute layer. VMs and SOCS co-exist on the same cluster.
• It is VM-aware. SOCS provisions storage on a per-VM basis and can identify I/O coming from each VM.
• It can scale out from a few nodes to a large number of nodes.
• It has ground-up integration with solid-state drives.
• It provides high availability against disk or node failures.
• It provides high performance by making I/O access local, leveraging solid-state drives and employing a series of patent-pending performance optimizations.
• It provides unique capacity optimization capabilities.
For more information on the Nutanix Technology with more in-depth deep dives I recommend reading the awesome white-paper from their website which can be downloaded here: http://goo.gl/pHPrJ
Nutanix has taken a concept of storage virtualization and put a twist on it. Nothing that they are doing is something Dell, HP or others could develop. What makes Nutanix special is their approach with the advanced software layer and virtual machine control layer. The hardware itself is impressive and the concept of removing the SAN from the datacenter is a really awesome concept. We are in the process of reaching the point where having storage separate from our computer layer is becoming less and less needed as components are getting smaller and faster. The addition of SSD’s and the Fusion-IO card continue break the performance barriers we once had. In my review of the Dell R510 I stated that with 12 2.5inch hard drives plus LSI’s CacheCade technology you can create an impressive local storage environment. All its going to take is for someone to layer some sort of virtualization layer on top of that storage and computer resources to create a similar design that Nutanix is delivering, obviously at a lot lower technical level and nowhere near what Nutanix has delivered here in their product offering.
Awesome product with a bright future with the strong possibility of someone larger to acquire their patents and technology team, let’s just hope it’s not someone too big that will not let this technology continue to grow, because they do have compelling product. The biggest challenge I see them facing is the market segment that they are trying to grab, I think they would better off lowering their cost and attacking the middle market then trying to go after the big dogs like EMC and Netapp and even Compellent. It’s going to be very hard to get those customers to switch to a different storage/computer vendor, especially with the relationships that they have in place currently. Let’s see what happens in the next 6 months.
Number 3: For Most Engaging Presentation, Personality, Quality…..and Genuinely Awesome Guy!
Nasuni is another company that I have heard of but haven’t had the chance to use or read more into their offering. Basically, Nasuni is a cloud storage provider, however they do not host, design or provide the storage environment, instead they provide the technology to get your data INTO the CLOUD of providers that they have approved. A totally different approach then other vendors in the market place, the key is Nasuni’s filer virtual appliance which handles the file the replication and data duplication to offsite cloud providers.
The presentation of the Nasuni product was done by their CEO and Founder, Andres Rodriguez. Andres has quite the impressive background, he developed the Archivas enterprise cloud storage system which was purchased by Hitachi in 2006. Today, Andres key focus is Nasuni, he is in charge of sales, marketing, and partnership development and is the key face of the company, which is why he was at TFD. Andres was an awesome presenter and is a super fun guy to talk to, more importantly he is not your typical CEO, he really knows his technology. He gave one of the best presentations at TFD, mostly because of his high energy and strong belief in his company’s product, which I must say is really impressive.
The Nasuni technology is based off a virtual appliance filer, called the Nasuni Filer (simple enough, right?). The Nasuni filer DOES NOT hold your files; it acts a trusted courier between your data center and the cloud providers. They believe that since Google, Amazon and others already built their storage environments they don’t need to try and re-invent of build their own. This layer of security answers a lot of the questions around cloud security environments and eliminates many of the caveats of cloud data storage.
The Nasuni appliance only stores and replicates delta file changes instead of entire files to the cloud providers. The data itself along with the channel that it is transported over is encrypted with openPGP technology which guarantees the security of the data that you are storing with Nasuni’s cloud providers. Since the data that you have stored with Nasuni’s cloud providers is completely portable between clouds, you can switch cloud providers at any time that you wish. To understand more about Nasuni I strongly recommend reading their webpage here: https://www.nasuni.com/resources/faqs/#about_nasuni and also downloading their virtual appliance for testing in your own environment.
With the Nasuni technology you can basically create your own mini dropbox style storage environment for your organization for your most important fileshares. After the impressive presentation on Nasuni technology offering I am seriously considering researching the options of using Nasuni at my current employer for storing our important Windows file-shares and some select data in the cloud. One of the things that Andres was very clear about was the ability to freely download their product with 14 day free trial. You can actually fully test the Nasuni product in your environment to really see how powerful their product is, and I must say it’s a serious player in the cloud market place.
Final Words: Tech Field Day 8
This was my first experience at Tech Field Day. Stephen Foskett and all of the members of Gestalt IT did a great job with the entire event. We moved very quickly between events mostly because we had so many awesome companies to visit. I wasn’t able to cover the event here on my blog, but thankfully every session of every company is available to watch by everyone. The BIGGEST thing to understand is that TFD is NOT a conference, it is a hands on, in depth roundtable discussion environment. I strongly recommend watching all of the events located here to fully understand how awesome this event is: http://techfieldday.com/category/news/
I would like to thank Stephen and everyone at Tech Field Day for inviting me to this extremely educational event; I am looking forward to having the opportunity to attend more TFD events in the future!
You can read the rest of the delegates blogs and reviews listed below, I also recommend following them all on twitter!
- Amy Arnold, Just another day at the office…, Google+, @AmyEngineer
- Tony Bourke, The Data Center Overlords, @TBourke
- Kyle Brandt, Server Fault, Kyle Brandt, @KyleMBrandt
- Chris M Evans, The Storage Architect, @ChrisMEvans
- Robin Harris, StorageMojo, @StorageMojo
- John Hickson, StudioSysAdmins, @StudioSystems
- Bill Hill, Virtual Bill, Stumptown Virtualization, @Virtual_Bill
- Paul Miller, Cloud of Data, @PaulMiller
- Rick Schlander, VMware Tips, Scripts & Engineering, @VMRick
- Matt Simmons, Standalone Sysadmin, @standaloneSA
- Chris Wahl, Wahl Network, @ChrisWahl