XIV the Vblock of the Storage World

By | March 28, 2011

Last week I was reading one of Steve Chambers posts about his first quarter at VCE when I was struck by the similarities of IBM XIV and the VCE Vblock…..

Let me quote a few lines from Steve’s blog and compare them to IBM XIV.

Before VCE came along with their Vblock product, it was really hard, slow and expensive to deploy converged infrastructure.

Why is it different at VCE?

Sit down with me and we can create a bill of materials from your requirements in less than 15 minutes.  If you press the Buy Now button then thirty days later it will be shipped to your datacenter loading bay on one or more pallets……

Then a VCE guy turns up in a taxi and in one day will have the whole thing running for you.  The day after that you can do your testing and launch your services and start making money.  Time to value and time to cash after making these kind of investments is what keeps the senior managers awake at night.”

Comparing IBM XIV to the above statement is as simple as substituting a few words in the text above.  Seriously.  Replace the following words –

VCE –> IBM

Vblock –> XIV

Converged Infrastructure –> Storage

Stay with me on this….

Steve goes on to say –

“What would the business prefer?  To be earning revenue from your new infrastructure in sixty days, or be still sitting in a room looking at a whiteboard and still doing the low level design and still working out which product firmware is compatible?  Been there, done that, now it’s up there with ITIL for me.  It is of value only to the professional services teams that charge customers for it.  It’s boring.  It’s dead, dead, dead.”

You could say the same about XIV. 

I for one used to love designing storage arrays.  In fact in some respects I still do.  RAID Groups, RAID configurations, drive geometries and rotational velocities, port groupings, number of ports per CPU, cache partitions, cache write-through vs write-back, cache slot sizes, backend loop isolation, short stroking, concat or striped LUNs, is the LDEV from the inner or outer tracks of a disk…. whiteboarding… Mmmm donuts!!!

If I’m honest, as a contractor, my higher rates were often on the more complicated configurations.  Complicated storage configurations made me a lot of money.

But to use Steve’s words, are these days dead dead dead?

XIV and Vblock – Making the Case

Last time I checked, Vblock comes in certain pre-defined configurations.  Think of them as small medium and large (I’m somewhat oversimplifying but the principle remains) and there is precious little you can flex within the Vblock.  Same goes for XIV, it effectively comes in  a small choice of pre-canned configurations, small medium and large.

With such limited configuration options, be it Vblock or XIV, there are pro’s and cons.

Pros

Simplicity.  And simplicity is king these days.  With any given XIV, it is relatively easy to know what it can and cannot do.  Capacity is probably the simplest.  XIV grows to a certain size and that’s it.  Need more capacity?  Buy another one. 

Similar story for IOPs and MB/sec.  XIV will do so many and no more.  Need more?  Buy another one.  Simple, reliable, predictable.

No hours of whiteboarding, or days of PS consultancy to decide between RAID This or RAID That.  No guessing the mix of SATA, SAS and SSD, how much cache to buy, how many front end ports, which licenses, matching business hours with data movement windows, aggresiveness of data movements. 

Life is terribly simple –

  1. Choose which one you want, small medium or large. 
  2. Make the order. 
  3. Several days later it arrives shrink wrapped
  4. Take a stanley knife to it, plug it in to the power and your SAN and an hour or so later you are provisioning from it.

Simples!

simples

Cons

As with Vblock, XIV and the cookie cutter approach has its drawbacks too.

You can easily end up with stranded capacity or IOPs if your workload doesn’t fit nicely within what an XIV can do (all equally sized SATA drives with a common protection level).  While this is true, this is also true of the vast majority of storage I’ve ever seen.  As storage arrays grow, despite of the efforts of highly skilled storage admins and architects, the arrays tend to become unbalanced, both on the backend and on the front end.  So this is arguable as a drawback in many cases.

Thin Provisioning, or more correctly overprovisioning, on the other hand is definitely a strange one with XIV, and one you must be careful with.  If you buy the biggest model, overprovision it and then have a subsequent bank-run on your storage you can be in a world of hurt.  This is because you cannot simply add more shelves to it, there is no easy central bank ready to print you more storage and bail you out.  So be careful.

If you have a huge environment, then you could easily end up with XIV-sprawl – lots of islands of XIV storage each requiring you to log on locally and manage it.  Again though, while this is clearly a drawback in many scenarios, many people are cautious about how big they want their storage arrays to grow.  The more capacity and IOPs you array has, the more of each you will use.  This naturally leads to having more and more customers and business units relying on it.  Which in turn makes scheduling firmware upgrades and hardware upgrade more challenging, not to mention the impact should the service ever go down :-S

Oh and if you like deep diving, whiteboarding and having lots of buttons to press, then XIV is downright boring 😉

Just my thoughts.  I can see the pros and cons of both approaches and Im not advocating either.  I just thought the comparison of fundamental principles between Vblock and XIV was interesting.

Courteous comments welcome, and please disclose if you work for a vendor.

You can follow me on Twitter and talk to me about technology semi-realtime – @nigelpoulton

Oh and finally, let’s all be grown up about this. These are my personal opinions and observations, and not the opinions of any of my employers, past present or future.  So please don’t get upset and spit your dummy out.

5 thoughts on “XIV the Vblock of the Storage World

  1. Jeramiah Dooley

    Nigel,
    (Disclosure: I work for VCE on the SP and Vertical Solutions team.)

    Your comparison with XIV is interesting. I think that both products are following the larger trend, which involves customers being more interested in the end result than the “nerd knobs” (to borrow again from Mr. Chambers). I think if you asked NetApp, HP and others they would all acknowledge that the consolidation and simplification of higher-order technology, especially when that tech includes kit from traditionally separate bundles, is a process that’s well underway.

    My only issue is with this sentence “Think of them as small medium and large (I’m somewhat oversimplifying but the principle remains) and there is precious little you can flex within the Vblock.” As part of the team who is responsible for building Vblocks to support specific application workloads, the amount of flexibility in the “personality” of a Vblock is significant. That’s not to say that we are interested in flexibility for its own sake, just that with the incredible technology that is at the core of the Vblock there are a tremendous amount of workloads that we can tackle. Need more cache, disks of different sizes, counts or RAID configurations? Need multiple tiers of compute? Need block or file storage, or maybe both? Need scale-out or scale-up? All of that and more are possible out of the same platform, and if that’s not flexibility we must be using a different definition. 🙂

    I haven’t had a chance to play with the XIV platform, so thank you for the overview and for holding it up for comparison to something I’m familar with!

  2. Pingback: XIV the Vblock of the Storage World | Storage CH Blog

  3. Chris M Evans

    Nigel

    Human nature dictates that we want things to be simplified.  However simple isn't always best.  XIV is extremely generic; if your workload profile fits that simple "genericness" then great.  However most environments simply aren't like that. 
    Also, I think there are lots of issues being missed as part of the discussion on vblock.  Even today I was listening to a podcast extolling the virtues of deploying a converged solution that (for example) didn't require flashing of all new HBA cards during installation.  However what happens after 12 months when upgrades are necessary?  The work still has to be done.  If the vendor is doing this, then you will pay.  What guarantees do you have that the vendor will fit around your company's inflexible change control process?
    XIV and Vblock may seem simple, but inevitably the overall process of delivering IT is complex.  If you can't understand your organisation's processes and touchpoints, then deploying a simplified architecture doesn't provide any help at all.
     
    Chris

  4. Steve Chambers

    Hey Nige, it's great to see you contributing to the debate on converged infrastructure.  🙂
    Although I appreciate XIV makes the storage layer simpler, I'm sure you appreciate that a Vblock is a little more complex 🙂  There's no small-medium-liar, there are different start points and different scaling increments, across network/compute/storage, so you can scale out and scale up, and change performance characteristics, according to known profiles and behaviours.
    Vblocks remove some complexity but not all – think of it as we give you an iPhone instead of a complicated Blackberry.  Still lots of options, but options that count instead of options that confuse.
    Cheers mate!
    Steve

  5. Manuel

    Hi Derrick,I agree on Stu that Cisco is targeting as much as polisbse Routes to market. The Cisco Strategy is since ever to become one of the Top 3 in each Market segment they enter, that was always John Chambers directive.The invest in VCE that is a Joint Venture for Cisco means only one part of the strategy, as it is with Flexpod. Also with Flexpod they don’t sell more Servers. They only leverage more people arguing for their products.Cisco also has invested in Vmware and holds a minimal stake.Nothing new to me as Cisco always acted in that way, look at theri different technology Areas. They always built that strong eco system with co-opetition.The clear battleground is to push Dell, HP and IBM Servers by side and become Nr.1 in the Server Business. They always tried to be everybodys darling in that perspective.

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