Cohesity: a short intro

Cohesity, since its foundation in 2013, has become a popular name in the Enterprise Storage vendor landscape; although initially Cohesity might have been labeled like “just another backup vendor”, this misplaced and simplistic description has certainly been very unfair to them. Cohesity’s completeness of vision goes way beyond that of being just another backup solution provider, putting them instead at the forefront of the “Battle for Secondary Storage”.

The problem that Cohesity is trying to solve is one that is unfortunately very common: the sprawl of unmanaged, uncorrelated and often unused secondary copies of data endlessly generated by organizations. Multiple copies of the same data are created for backups, archives, test and dev, analytics and DR purposes, resulting into unmanageable, inefficient and complex data siloes. Cohesity can ingest all this data, consolidate it efficiently into one single logical container and make it available for any possible use you might think of. Cohesity is a true DataPlatform meant to enable efficient use of secondary storage. While this goal was initially achieved with software defined, hyper-convergent, scalable appliances, the next inevitable step for Cohesity was to abstract the platform’s capabilities from “the iron” and to develop a Virtual Edition of DataPlatform to address ROBO and IoT use cases and, lastly, a Cloud Edition capable of running on AWS, Azure and Google Cloud. All of these implementations share the same distinctive SpanFS File System and the same API-driven, policy-based management interface, enabling Cohesity’s capabilities to extend to any location your data lives on.

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I came across Aviatrix for the first time a few months ago, while I was knee-deep in the preparation of AWS Associate Exams and at the same time researching for a cloud migration project. AWS networking was a major topic of the exams and also an important research area for my assignment at work. It was very clear to me from the very beginning that Cloud Networking is inherently different from traditional networking. Of course, they share the very same foundations but designing and managing networks in any Public Cloud is a very different business than doing the same in your Data Center. In the Cloud there are no routers or switches you can log into, there are no console cables nor SFP connectors, but you have VPCs that you can literally spin up with a few lines of code with all their bells and whistles (including security policies for the workloads they contain).

This implies a few considerations. First and foremost, the expectations of Cloud Engineers are very different from those of Network Engineers: Cloud Engineers can set up VPCs in minutes but they can be easily frustrated by their on-prem Network counterparts lagging weeks behind to provide VPN connectivity and BGP route distribution to the Data Center. Then there is the skills gap to be filled: Cloud Engineering Teams are usually small and manned by all-round technologists rather than specialists, very often there is no Network Guru in Cloud Teams capable of citing RFCs by memory, so there is a need to keep things simple, yet they must work “as they should”. Finally, in Public Clouds is very easy to lose control and become victims of the VPC sprawl; managing Cloud Networking at scale is probably the biggest challenges of all.

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After discussing the technical side of VMworld 2017 in my previous posts, it is finally time to shift focus to my favorite topic: networking and community.

The real added value of VMworld is the infinite opportunities to interact with peers and build your own professional and personal network. I remember my first VMworld in 2011: I was nobody and I knew nobody. In 2017 I can list the achievements I “unlocked” as a direct consequence of that trip to Copenhagen:

1. I started attending VMUG meetings
2. I became a VMUG Leader and got the VMUG President’s Award in 2016!
3. I became a vEXPERT
4. I landed a job with VMware (although I am not there anymore, that was a life achievement!)
5. I started blogging
6. I became a Tech Field Day delegate
7. I attended VMworld 2017 as an Official Blogger
8. I learned a lot and became a way better professional
9. I met and shook hands with the best minds in the industry
10. I made lots of friends in the community <== This one’s the best!

Going to that VMworld in 2011 on my own money and leave days (my employer at the time wasn’t interested in having me attend conferences) was the best career and personal investment I could do, it all started from there.

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Being a long time VMworld attendee, I have learned with experience that Break Out sessions, although being of incredible educational value, can cannibalize all your available time if prioritized over other VMworld activities. Also, most if not all of the sessions are recorded and made available after VMworld for easy fruition from the comfort of your couch. For this reason I set a personal rule not to attend more than two sessions a day. I broke this rule this year and for one reason: VMware Cloud on AWS.

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The two VMworld 2017 editions (USA and Europe) are traditionally a couple of months away from each other; this always guaranteed staggered announcements and two events with distinct identity and purpose. Not this year, since the two events were held only a copule of weeks away from each other: this caused the audience to have understandably reduced expectations from the General Sessions, which have been perceived as a replay of what had been showcased in Las Vegas.

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Finally back home and well rested after a hectic and super-packed week in Barcelona, it’s time to collect the ideas and put together a comprehensive set of VMworld Europe 2017 recap posts. I will begin with an introductory one then break my stream of thoughts into more small posts to avoid overwhelming you with too much info all at once.

I have been a regular VMworld attendee since 2011, I only skipped the 2015 edition since… well… that was during my last week as a VMware employee. Since my first VMworld, I have seen it evolving and I have evolved too (immensely!) as an IT professional, so I can consider myself a veteran able to bring home the most from this experience.

VMworld is kind of a routine for me: the General and Break-Out Sessions, the Solutions Exchange, the Parties and, most importantly, the Networking part. The available time is always limited so I planned carefully a tightly packed agenda, to be sure I could be able to do all that was in my list. I wore different hats this time… first I represented my organization, so I had to be sure to gather and bring back information relevant to my day job, then – once again – I was there as a VMUG Leader and finally, as an official VMworld Blogger. It wasn’t easy to fill so many roles at the same time, but I think I managed it, at the expense of giving up on proper food and enough hours of sleep!

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ClearSky is a Boston-based startup founded in 2014 by industry veterans Lazarus Vekiarides and Ellen Rubin; ClearSky comes with a unique proposition, which – if successful – might revolutionize the way primary storage is consumed. I introduced ClearSky in my previous TFD14 preview article where I described their solution; the objective is to reduce drastically the Data Center footprint of traditional primary storage by shifting it to the Cloud while at the same time simplifying DR operations and ensuring accessibility of data from any location. This outcome seemed to be impossible to achieve due to the strict latency requirements that primary storage inherently carries, but ClearSky has found an elegant and effective solution to this conundrum. However, there is one caveat here and it will be evident in the following paragraph.

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This article is a follow up to my TFD14 Turbonomic preview; at that time I knew very little about Turbonomic and that post was a collection of thoughts and impressions I gathered looking at the product from a distance. I am happy to say that after the TFD presentation, my understanding of the solution is clearer and the initial good impressions are confirmed.

Turbonomic is – in their own words – an “Autonomic Platform”; the play on words here is the merge between Automation and Economy, that is because Turbonomic uses the “Supply Chain” metaphor, where every element in the infrastructure “buys” resources from the underlying components and “sells” upstream, leveraging at the same time automation to ensure that the apps are always performing in their “Desired State”.

The objective is to “assure the applications performance” regardless of where the app is running (in the Private, Public or Hybrid Cloud). Coming from an operations background I know well how difficult it is to keep an infrastructure running within ideal parameters: any single intervention – no matter how apparently insignificant – leads to an imbalance in the infrastructure and this, in turn, leads to a deviation from those optimal parameters. What happens is that app performances are less predictable and corrective actions must be taken to return to the “Desired State”. This is what is called the “Break-Fix” loop, which requires continuous human intervention.

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NetApp opened Tech Field Day 14 with a presentation by Andrew Sullivan and Kapil Arora, entirely focused on the company’s efforts in the Open Source field. One might imagine that a company like NetApp – or any other big IT vendor – would consider Open Source as a menace to their business or, in the best possible scenario, just as a fad worth to exploit until the advent of the next hype. Well, this could have made some sense until just a few years ago but today we live in the GitHub age and it is evident that no company can afford not to share some of their own open code with the public.

NetApp is no different from any other company and they are probably doing this for many reasons similar to those of their competitors – what it is worth investigating here is where their motivation comes from and what is driving their efforts.

NetApp’s involvement with Open Source begins in 2011 with their support to OpenStack and their contribution to the Cinder and Manila projects; the team has evolved – mostly in the past 18 months – into something bigger called the “Open Ecosystem”, also friendly referred to as “The Pub”. The focus has expanded well beyond OpenStack and now covers Containers, Automation and Orchestration, Configuration Management, CI/CD and Agile Development tools.

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In this third and last post of this Tech Field Day 14 Preview Series, I will focus on Datrium. Truth to be told, a fourth vendor was added at the last minute to the list of TFD14 presenters, and that is NetApp; interestingly enough their presentation will be DevOps oriented and I will report my impressions in a future post when I am back from Boston.

Back to Datrium then. Like myself, this will be the first appearance of Datrium at Tech Field Day, so there was no “TFD prior art” in the form of old presentation recordings I could leverage to get myself acquainted with their solutions, therefore my research was limited to browsing their company website. I hope I got everything right, but I can tell you what I found there was enough to tickle my curiosity; they seem to have an interesting approach to the solution of the converged data center problem, their own buzzword to define this is “Open Convergence”. What I see there is a mix of ideas already heard of before, but even if the ingredients are familiar, the recipe is different and the serving looks yummy! Enough with the gastronomic analogy, let’s talk tech.

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