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Storage Strategies - Thursday, July 15, 2004
 

You Had Me At I/O:  A Love Story

The time for application-centric storage performance monitoring is now

By Jon William Toigo

While I am not a Tom Cruise fan, per se, there is a line from his film,
Jerry McGuire, that has become as identifiable as Bogart's "Here's
looking at you, kid."  The memorable line is spoken by the attractive
female lead, who concedes with affection to Cruise, "You had me at
'Hello.'"  (Story continues below)

Today, rarely is a storage deal consummated between a sales person and
prospective customer immediately following an introduction.  It seems
that despite the ceaseless courting of customers by order-hungry
storage vendors, most vendors just aren't "feeling the love" from
customers that they enjoyed back in 2000.  

The reasons are simple.  Having failed to deliver on nearly every
aspect of the Enterprise Network Storage Architecture (ENSA) vision,
substituting in place of "a dynamic and intelligent storage pool" a
clumsy fabric of compatibility-challenged switches and HBAs, the
vendor's current approach, though filled with flowery words and sugar-
coated value propositions, just isn't resonating.  

If you think I am exaggerating, read a SAN brochure some time.  Vendors
have dedicated a lot of ink to articulate a value proposition for their
technology, stating that FC SANs will do everything from enabling the
consolidation of servers and reducing the propensity for storage
downtime, to providing the realignment of IT with business and
safeguarding the CEO from 20-year prison sentences.  

The problem with this appealing (if fictional) SAN value proposition is
that hardly anybody reads anything without the words "Harry Potter" or
"Bill Clinton" in the title.  Moreover, virtually everyone I know is
following the diet du jour that has them abstaining from unnecessary
carbohydrates, including sugary sweets.  (If I'm lucky, they find time
between all the unsolicited e-mail to travel to this site and read what
I've written here -- and I'm not selling anything.) 

In their failure to execute on promises, all that vendors seem to be
successful in doing is alienating their customers with half-baked
technology, vendor infighting, and boundless hype.  Maybe what is
needed is less "relationship building" and more product performance. 
Just maybe the slow adoption of Fibre Channel fabrics is a consumer
response.  Customers are telling vendors (to paraphrase the pop song),
"If you want to be with me, you have to do the J-O-B."

An example of the right approach for cultivating consumer interest can
be taken from some correspondence I received recently from Tom West of
HyperI/O.  What he wrote in his e-mail actually made me want to contact
the guy to learn more about his technology.  You might say, to
paraphrase the movie quote, "He had me at 'I/O.'"

West's e-mail began in a familiar way, with complementary remarks about
this column and its stalwart stance in favor of the storage technology
end user.  However, it quickly evolved into a deeper discussion of
points that we had covered in our last piece on Information Lifecycle
Management (ILM).  West agreed that there is a huge gap in any ILM
scheme that lacks granular data on access frequency:  you need to know
how often a file is accessed, and whether it is modified or referenced,
in order to pick the appropriate platform on which to store the data
itself.  Said West, "Problem is that no one is tracking I/O speeds and
feeds."

West, whose burgeoning company develops products in the I/O measurement
space, noted that he sought to contribute his technology to SNIA's
Storage Management Initiative Specification (SMI-S), an effort with
which he is in philosophical agreement.  But, he notes, his efforts
have met with utter silence from that body, silence that he has
interpreted as disinterest.  His question (and ours) is why the storage
industry association doesn't perceive the important connection between
storage performance and storage management.  He said he didn't want to
speculate about their reasons.

Instead, he told us about his product, hIOmon, which is essentially a
performance analysis software utility that enables us to measure and
monitor disk I/O performance at the individual file level quickly and
easily. The product can provide file I/O operation performance metrics
on both a detailed ("somewhat akin to a MVS GTF trace in mainframe
parlance") and summary basis at the level of a discreet file.  It can
do its magic in either in real-time or "replay" (historical) display
modes.  In effect, hIOmon helps provide an answer to the question: "How
fast are my files?"

In addition, the latest hIOmon release introduces support for "process-
based" file I/O operation-performance metrics.  That is, discrete file
I/O performance metrics can now be collected together and associated
with a specific process.  That means you can use the tool to discern,
characterize, and highlight the behavior of the data generated and
processed by specific applications based upon actual file I/O
performance.  Using this new hIOmon feature enables you to tell what
specific files are associated with a particular process as well as the
particular processes associated with a specific file.  Users can tell
with just a glance how their applications are performing (from a file
I/O performance perspective) using a top-down approach.

I have no commercial involvement whatsoever in West's products, which
are discussed in greater detail on his Web site
(http://www.hyperIO.com).  I may buy a copy shortly so I can assess the
usability of its Java GUI and command-line interface in my lab.  On its
face, it seems like a sensible tool to use in my own storage assessment
information collection effort.  

Bottom line:  I like the concept ... a lot.  I hope that HyperI/O's is
just one of many products that will come to market shortly, because I
believe that such utilities are vitally needed to address both
strategic and tactical storage planning requirements. 

For one thing, reliable I/O performance data is hard to come by from
vendors.  While some publish SPEC.org or Storage Performance Council
test results, these results are subject to considerable "performance
engineering" and are only useful or relevant to the extent that the
test conforms to the real-life situation (the actual applications and
configuration parameters) in your shop.  The best way to learn about
I/O speeds and feeds is to test equipment yourself, under actual
workloads.  

However, organizations that perform such testing (and that number is
falling fast, given how many IT departments have lost their testing
resources to budget cuts) are often close-lipped about results.  Part
of the reason is that some vendors have written what may be
appropriately termed "gag orders" into their product warranty. 
Customers are restricted from speaking publicly about the performance
they see in their platforms on pain of losing warranty coverage.  In
other cases, customers do not speak of their performance numbers
because they fear that poor results will suggest some lack of skill or
knowledge on their part.

Whatever the reason, limited objective data on performance mitigates
our ability to compare solutions on an apples-to-apples basis and to
predict what benefits will accrue to the selection of product X versus
product Y.  Without performance data, there can be no intelligent
strategic storage-product selection and no reasonable ROI or payback
analysis with which to vet solutions.

There can be no Information Lifecycle Management either.  We need to
know how many times a file is accessed (regardless of whether it is
modified) if we want to decide whether it is a suitable candidate for
migration to another storage tier or for archiving.  None of the ILM
schemes out there does this right now.  Products such as HyperI/O's
promise to provide a potential fix to this problem, moving us closer to
true ILM and capacity-utilization efficiency.

Tactically, I/O measurement, mapped to discrete business processes and
their supporting applications, would be of enormous value in storage
infrastructure optimization and management.  This data would better
enable us to tune storage to meet the special needs of applications on
a one-off basis.  Moreover, it would be of enormous assistance in
localizing and troubleshooting chokepoints in networked storage.

The time for application-centric storage performance monitoring is now.

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Copyright 2004 101communications LLC.
 

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Last Modified: March 9, 2008