This Month in the Cloud – October 2016

This is the first entry in a monthly look at what and why cloud things are happening. It will look at trends and events and sometimes be a bit tongue-in-cheek, since I don’t believe in dry, humorless reporting. Incidentally, “the cloud” is a very broad topic, covering hardware and software and how we do IT.

Big bulk SSDs

Let’s look at some storage news first. The September Flash Memory summit was an eye-opener. Seagate demonstrated a 60TB 3.5” SSD, while Toshiba and Samsung boasted up their 100TB 2.5” units. I talked to Seagate and came away convinced that their drive is very doable today, while the denser drives need another spin on 3D NAND to be real.

What does that all mean. Well, it’s RIP hard drive, for one. 3D NAND is driving SSD price/TB down fast and we should have SSD in the range of 2X or even at parity by the end of 2017. There’s lots of new foundry capacity coming on stream to help that along. But even if it doesn’t get to parity, the hard drive is stuck in the 10TB range for the next few years.

Play that out and we’ll need just 10 percent of the appliance count and 5 percent of the power to deliver the same capacity with the huge SSDs. Overall on a TCO basis, the SSD solution will be cheaper.

We’ll also realize that the new HCI boxes with 24 2.5” drive bays will hold all the secondary storage as well as the primary storage for the cluster. That means the end of free-standing storage appliances, though of course it won’t happen overnight.

Faster than a speeding bullet

The SSD stakes are exciting on the speed front, too. Several 10 Gigabyte/second drives were announced at the Summit, setting a new bar for performance. At least one will be in the tiny M2 format at 1” x 4”. That applies to a whole lot of use cases where small size is good, but it probably won’t impact servers for one reason.

Storage-Class Memory

We already have flash on DIMMS. These NVDIMMs can hold a couple of terabytes of storage each and they are very fast even compared to the new SSDs in the previous section. The industry isn’t sitting on their hands with this tech. Hybrid Memory Cube (HMC) is looking very real in 2017, with CPU modules that hold DRAM memory. The interface between the two is replaced by a very fast but low power serial connection which pushes bandwidth to terabytes/second.

To capitalize on this, most of the industry is pushing a Gen-Z technology that was just announced, with serial connections off the module to extra flash and DRAM. There is a roadmap to extend these connections into a cluster-wide fabric, allowing all of second-tier and even primary tier to be accessed by every server.

This initially will be a block-IO solution, but software is afoot to turn it in to a byte addressable memory where standard CPU PUT and GET instructions can store and retrieve data. This completely bypasses the need for a storage software stack in the OS, as well as 4KB minimum transfers so it will boost access speed to primary memory into the stratosphere.

Hyper-converged infrastructure

HCI is the hottest topic in the IT sandbox today. Almost every company has a project and it looks like an excellent fit for tomorrow’s datacenter. There is a lot of code hitting the market aimed to drive virtual SANs, making it possible for more intrepid admins to save a fortune by building their own boxes. Some of the code is designed bottoms up to run in containers and is faithful to the SDS architectural model. I strongly recommend that to be on your checklist.

Cluster management software is another essential for the HCI cloud. Being able to add and unload gear and monitor a variety of unit types and vintages is crucial to avoiding daily panics.

In other news

PC sales are plummeting. IDC published numbers showing a decline from 78 Million to 69 million 3Q y-y. They said that was 5.2% decline, but my English math skills reckoned it was actually 13%. I think the next set of numbers will be even worse. PCs are about to ride off into the sunset. Virtual desktops in the cloud will win all hands down.

Seagate announced the largest 2.5” HDD to date. It’s 5TB, which would have been considered a whopper a couple of years ago.

AWS and VMware are getting cozy. One has a public cloud but doesn’t think private clouds should exist, while the other missed the public cloud market by a mile. Now they are together, which seems to save face handily, open up new horizons and maybe even make some profit!

The combination could give MS Azure a good race in the hybrid cloud space. That leaves Google with just a public solution out in the cold, so they’ll be looking for a partner, perhaps?