The Elephant in the Data Center

Posted January 18, 2018 by Ben Gitenstein — Vice President of Product Management. Filed under Trends.

Once upon a time a man went to the market and was offered a very cheap elephant. He immediately took the offer. You can’t pass up a great deal, right?

He took the cheap elephant home and discovered that it needed to be fed, watered, and cared for. Not only that, it shit all over his house. He had to go back to the market and buy a bigger shovel.

When a storage vendor offers you a cheap elephant, what is the TRUE cost? Will you also end up buying a shovel to clean up the mess?

Many storage vendors focus on what’s easiest to characterize in a system when they give you a quote, which is typically raw storage capacity. In this article, I’m going to talk about what’s not in the quote. The hidden costs of storage can be major expenses when it comes to actually running your data center.

What is the cost of usable capacity vs raw capacity?

Raw capacity, as quoted by a vendor, does not tell you how much space you’ll actually have for your users’ files. Efficiency lowers costs. Ask your vendor:

  • What percentage of raw capacity will be available for user files after accounting for data protection?
  • Can I fill my disk to 100%, or do you recommend or require me to keep some of my capacity empty? If so, how much do I need to reserve? For example, some vendors explicitly do not recommend filling an array more than 70 or 80% full.
  • Is the storage efficiency of small files the same as large files? If not, what is the storage efficiency of small files? For example, some vendors store small files with much less efficiency than large files.

Once you know the answers to these questions, you know the “true usable capacity” available to you. This is critically important data to use when comparing cost per usable terabyte for competing systems.

What are the environmental costs?

To assess environmental costs, ask questions such as:

  • How much will power and cooling cost?
  • How much rack space will I need?
  • What is the cost of network ports? Often, organizations have a dedicated networking team, separate from the storage team, and they charge some flat rate to manage each port.

A system that draws a lot of power and uses a large number of network ports isn’t the bargain you might think.

What are the time management costs?

The value of your time won’t be reflected in a vendor’s quote, but the time you spend deploying and managing infrastructure is a real cost to your business. Ask your vendor the following:

  • How long does it take to set up a cluster?
  • What kinds of tools are available to diagnose problems? How long does it take to diagnose a performance bottleneck? How long does it take to provision a user storage quota?
  • What kind of help can I expect if I have problems? Either you’ll have to hire people with expertise in areas such as networking or performance, or the vendor provides them. The costs of customer support can be very high.

What are the costs of lost productivity for end users and under or over-provisioning?

Ultimately, we buy infrastructure to get a job done. The productivity of end users is an important variable in the cost equation. Before committing to a system, make sure you understand:

  • What’s the cost of downtime to my business? How much downtime can I expect?
  • What tools do I have for capacity planning? If you can plan sensibly for capacity you don’t have to overprovision or be faced with telling your users that it’s going to take three months for the new nodes to arrive so they either have to stop work or delete their files.
  • Will the system’s performance handle my workloads? Is this system recommended for my workload?

Join our April 5th for more on how to determine the TCO of your storage quote

The Qumulo advantage

Qumulo won’t sell you an elephant for your data center. With Qumulo, you won’t need a shovel. We’ve built our product from the ground up-- with significant new technology-- with the goal of saving you time and money well after the initial purchase.

True usable capacity vs raw capacity

Qumulo File Fabric (QF2) uses raw capacity very efficiently with state-of-the-art data protection that can leave 85% of raw capacity available for user files.

With QF2 you can use 100% of provisioned usable capacity for your files, and not just 75% to 85% as with other vendors. QF2’s efficient use of raw storage means that you don’t need as many nodes as you would with other storage vendors. Fewer nodes means you spend less for power and cooling, you save on rack space, and you don’t need as many network ports.

QF2’s superior storage efficiency is due its innovative Scalable Block Store (SBS), which provides a transactional virtual layer of protected storage blocks. The SBS moves data protection beneath the file system, to the block level. QF2’s block-based protection requires no user-provisioned capacity for reprotection, other than a small amount of space for sparing, which is excluded from user-provisioned capacity.

QF2’s Scalable Block Store handles small files and large files with equal efficiency. It also gives you the ability to scale both capacity and number of objects. These qualities are a part of the QF2 software and do not require custom hardware.

Environmental costs

In addition to being more efficient, QF2 runs on modern, standard hardware. This hardware requires less power and cooling than that of legacy, custom systems, is much denser in terms of rack space and its use of networking ports.

Time management costs

For data center installations, QF2 is extremely simple to install. Once the nodes are racked and cabled, all an administrator has to do is sign the end-user license agreement (EULA), name the cluster, set up an admin name and password and perhaps enter some IP addresses. From the moment QF2 is unboxed to when it can start serving data is a matter of hours, not days. The SBS makes this possible because the nodes ship with the block protection system in place. It is even easier to create a QF2 cluster in the public cloud.

Diagnosing problems in QF2 is very straightforward because of another QF2 component, called QumuloDB, which enables QF2’s real-time analytics. QumuloDB collects information about the file system as changes occur. Various metadata fields are summarized inside the file system to create a virtual index. The performance analytics that you see in the GUI are based on sampling mechanisms that take advantage of these summaries. For example, Nick Rathke, Assistant Director, Information Technology at SCI Institute, “It’s impossible to make smart decisions about data when your storage is a figurative black box. QF2 lets me tell in an instant how the data is used, who touches it and how often, so storage is no longer a technical issue but a management decision.”

Because QumuloDB is an integral part of the QF2 file system, administrators can simply look at their QF2 dashboard to understand what’s happening rather than having to parse through pages of log files or run separate programs. For example, an administrator can immediately see if a process or user is using too many system resources and, in real-time, apply a capacity quota.

Finally, Qumulo Care is staffed by experienced system administrators who can help you get to the bottom of any problems you can’t solve yourself. Qumulo’s responsive, personal customer care has one of the highest Net Promoter Scores (NPS) in the industry and excellent reviews on Gartner Peer Insights. The cost of Qumulo Care, including 24-hour cloud monitoring, is already a part of your subscription and not an extra charge, separate from the initial quote.

End-user productivity and system provisioning

QF2’s real-time analytics, powered by QumuloDB, helps you keep your users productive. For example, from the dashboard, select Capacity Explorer to see a graphical view of how capacity is used on your system, down to the file level. Select Capacity Trends to see a graphical view of how your capacity is being used over time. You can select different time periods and see both changes in capacity over time and the total data consumed in the file system over time. You can drill down to get details about specific paths. In addition, in Qumulo Trends (our mobile-friendly cross-cluster analytics service), we use predictive analytics to estimate when you will likely run out of space given recent usage. With these tools, you can make realistic plans for how much storage you’ll need in the future and not have to overprovision.

Analytics will also let you see how well the system handles your workloads. From the dashboard you can get get immediate information about cluster activity, activity by path, activity by client, throughput hotspots and IOPS hot spots. Our customers use these views to quickly diagnose performance problems and improve their workflows.

Through our capacity and performance analytics, Qumulo provides real-time insight into the performance and capacity usage of your system. Our customers use these views to make better business decisions about architecting workflows, and to buy only the storage they need. When was the last time your storage vendor went out of their way to sell you less storage?

Platform life cycle

QF2 uses modern, standard hardware. This means you can take advantage of the falling prices of hard drives and SSDs, as well as improvements in these technologies. For instance, with QF2’s all-flash P-series, you get the latest NVMe technology instead of a hardware interface designed for spinning disks. (Here’s a great introduction to the advantages of NVMe.)

Also, as part of your QF2 subscription, you frequently get updates with new capabilities and performance improvements. Typically, storage appliances becomes less valuable over time because your software is aging as your workloads become more demanding. Similarly, other storage vendors charge for new features in “add-ons” and complex licensing schemes. Qumulo flips that on its head-- every few weeks, you have the chance to add features and improve performance, and you get all those features for free as a subscriber.

QF2’s comprehensive REST API means that any information on the QF2 GUI is also available programmatically. You can create your own reports and dashboards so that, no matter how your workloads change, you can always get the information you need.

QF2 also runs in the public cloud, with continuous replication among QF2 clusters no matter where they run. QF2 is the only way to get truly scalable performance for NFS and SMB-based file storage in the public cloud today and the only way to create a universal file fabric that bridges the divides created by geography, data center locations and run-time environments. The QF2 REST API means that you can easily use QF2 with automation platforms such as Terraform for a modern DevOps approach to system administration.

With these modern tools and capabilities, QF2 is a platform built for the next 5 years not the last 5 years. This means that our customers know they won’t have to start the storage buying process over again in just 2 years.

Don’t take my word for it...

So, if you want to avoid the elephant in the data center, make sure that you ask the right questions before you buy any file storage system.

Contact your Qumulo sales reps and ask them to help you calculate the cost of a QF2 subscription and how much you’ll save compared to other vendors.

If you’re interested in learning more about how the QF2 architecture can save you money while giving you capacity and scalability, read Qumulo File Fabric Technical Overview.

Ben Gitenstein
Vice President of Product Management
Qumulo is the only product that offers file at the scale of object, on the hardware you want to use, and with analytics that save customers time and money. But maybe most excitingly, Qumulo runs in the cloud and on-premises, because we believe that the cloud is a platform for innovation not just a dumping ground for old data.

Ben Gitenstein runs Product at Qumulo. He and his team of product managers and data scientists have conducted nearly 1,000 interviews with storage users and analyzed millions of data points to understand customer needs and the direction of the storage market. Prior to working at Qumulo, Ben spent five years at Microsoft, where he split his time between Corporate Strategy and Product Planning.

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