I've moved -> basraayman.com

By Renegade on Monday 8 February 2010 11:18 - Comments (10)
Category: General, Views: 7.110

Or actually, my blog moved. I decided to purchase my own domain and moved my blogging activities to http://basraayman.com

Hope to see you around on my new domain! :)

The thing about certifications and flowers

By Renegade on Thursday 3 December 2009 16:39 - Comments (4)
Category: Certification, Views: 4.691

A discussion on Twitter got me thinking about certifications.

The discussion itself wasn't that new, but this was at least the second time I've seen the subject pop up, and more interestingly it were the same people talking about the same subject.

Things kicked off with a tweet from StorageMonkeys asking the following:
"Just curious... why would anyone get a storage certification when employers really don't care about them?"
storagebod and CXI responded and gave various opinions on the pro and contra of being certified.

This whole discussion probably boils down to two main questions, namely:
  • Will a certification add value for me?
  • Is a certification a proof or acknowledgment of my capabilities?
Now, to answer those questions, we need to put some things in perspective. I managed to become a certified ISO 9001:2000 lead auditor some years back. For those who are not familiar with this standard, it's about quality management.

Now, let's use the example of a shipping and forwarding company that transports fresh flowers from Russia to China by truck. Said company is looking to get an ISO 9001:2000 certification.
That's not that big of a problem.

So, let's take it one step further and say that this company actually ships these flowers in three months in a heated truck. The flowers probably won't survive the trip you say. But can they still get or keep their certification?

Yep, no problem at all. As long as they meet the requirements described in the standard and keep to their quality management procedures they will have no problem getting certified. It doesn't mean that business will be booming, or that they deliver a quality product or service. It just says that they keep certain standards for the way they work, and that they try to improve on those defined standards.

It's the same thing for certifications in general, or for IT certifications that were discussed in the start of this blog post. So, to come back to my two basic questions:

Will a certification add value for me?

Let's not be shy here. It can! But your mileage will vary.
For one, your certifications mainly show that you are able to learn the answer to some questions, and you are smart enough to click on some buttons in a test. Some test will actually need you to have had some hands on. For example the Microsoft tests changed a lot from the NT4 age to the Windows 2000 or Windows 2003 era. The new tests require a lot more hands on experience, and the chances that you are able to pass the test by just studying the correct answers has decreased quite a bit.

But that does not mean that all certifications will require hands on. There are plenty of institutes out there that will have you take a test, and they will only show you that you are able to memorize facts. And usually memorizing facts only works for a while. Talk about the same things again in three months and most of it, if not even all of it, will be long gone.

Then there's the fact that most certifications will only be valid for a certain amount of time. Technology evolves and things change. It's good that way, but a certification doesn't always have an expiration date and a certification will not show if people actually updated their knowledge to reflect those changes. Stuff you learned five years back might not be what you need to know on that topic now, which brings me to the other point:

Is a certification a proof or acknowledgment of my capabilities?

No way! Yes of course! Pick one...

There are a lot of people who will have the knowledge required for a job, that haven't even seen a test center on the inside once in their life. These guys and galls are just as able as the certified person. And the same can be said the other way around, where I would not even let a certified person near my systems because their certification isn't worth the paper it's printed on.

This situation is largely based on the institute or company that actually created the curriculum and the test, and is largely dependent on the acceptance of the certification. The MCP program that Microsoft has is well-recognized and will most likely increase your market value when applying for a job. People take one look and recognize the program. And even if it won't upgrade your value, it can help you get picked out of a bunch of applications since the people over at Human Resources usually scan for these type of things.

Something like a Cisco CCIE certification is hard! It's probably one of the toughest certifications out there and can add quite a lot of value to your resumé. But it will also help that Cisco is well-known and a very commonly used IT supplier.

As far as I know there is no such thing as for example a [url=http://www.3par.com]3PAR[/a] certification. And if one were to be created now, it probably won't increase your value one bit, except for the possibility of gaining new knowledge.

So what's it all about?

Well, that one is pretty easy to answer.

For one, you will always learn new stuff when aiming for a certification. Independent from the fact if you perhaps want to know which questions you answered wrong during your test. Or perhaps even trying to find out why someone wants you to give incorrect answers (based on your experience) in a test. Or by learning because you want to prepare for a certification.

Secondly, you will always see that you increase your value. Be it because you have more knowledge than before, even when you should flunk a test, or be it because they just might pick up your resumé when they look at certifications.

I don't think that anybody out there will know how much a certification is worth, and that won't change. It's something dynamic and will usually only give you a certain amount of recognition among those peers who have the same accreditation. But you will benefit from getting certified either way.

GestaltIT TFD - Day 2: Top secret at Data Robotics?

By Renegade on Tuesday 24 November 2009 12:13 - Comments are closed
Categories: Gestatl IT, NAS, Views: 6.614

So, during the afternoon of the GestaltIT Tech Field Day, we were invited to join Data Robotics for something that would turn out to be quite interesting. Since pictures say more than words I didn't want to hold back this picture from you guys just to show that we are all work and no play:

So, once we pulled Greg Knieriemen off of the sign, we went inside and entered a meeting room where we had the next issue with some signs:

How's that for a greeting....? Yeah, I thought so.

So, once everyone settled down things got a little more interesting.

Now, in case you don't know Data Robotics yet, they have built quite a name for themselves with two products called the "Drobo" and the DroboPro.
Basically the Drobo is a small NAS device that holds up to four drives and offers you a Fire-wire 800 and a USB 2.0 interface. Besides that you get a connector for your power supply and a hole to plug in your Kensington lock.
The DroboPro is something that will offer you a bit more. It has bays for 8 drives, a Gbit Ethernet interface that allows you to use iSCSI. The other features are more or less the same, although this unit can be rack-mounted and even supports a dual parity setup (RAID6) and smart volumes.

So, one of the features that Data Robotics advertises with is something called "BeyondRAID", or as Data Robotics CEO Geoff Barrall states "The core differentiator for Drobo is BeyondRAID. BeyondRAID is what Drobo think RAID would be if RAID were designed today".

That's a bold statement to make, but the numbers that were presented seems to show that this product is in high demand, and it's gaining momentum quite rapidly.
Data Robotics actually had 100% growth in 2009 over 2008 with over 85,000 units shipped in just two years. Of those 85,000 there were more than 5,000 DroboPro's, and that's just since April.

Now, they also mentioned that the future market for the Drobo is seen in the SMB storage market, or to be more specific, they will focus on sub $15,000.- DAS and SAN attached storage market.
This brought up questions what will happen with the DroboShare that didn't receive as warm a welcome by customers as the Drobo itself. No real statement was made about the future of the DroboShare, but with a focus on the SMB, one can only assume that there is an uncertain future for the DroboShare.

So, after a quick introduction we finally got a clearer view of what was so top secret. Two new units the were actually introduced yesterday. The Drobo S and the DroboElite.

The Drobo S has some small but welcome changes. The number of drives has now been upgraded to a total of five. Besides the FireWire 800 and the USB 2.0 interface, you can also hook up your Drobo S via eSATA which should make a lot of people happy, even though eSATA is not available on any of the Apple Macs that are released to date. Supposedly you will get up to 50% more performance when compared to the regular Drobo.

The new unit also increases it's redundancy so you can actually lose (or pull out) two drives at the same time and continue to work with the data that is stored on it.
I should note that pulling all drives at the same time will actually stop you from accessing the data on the unit, as tested by Devang Panchigar, but since the disk layout and parity is stored on the disks, you can just power off the unit, insert all disks back in and your data will be back once you powered it back on.

The theoretical limit for the amount of storage is only limited by the size of the drives that are currently for sale, but the number of volumes also changed from just one 16TB volume on the Drobo to up to 15 on the Drobo S.

The DroboElite has some nice new changes that include a dual Gb Ethernet port with iSCSI support that will allow up to 16 hosts to connect to the unit. The number of volumes has been increased from 16 on the DroboPro to 255 on the DroboElite. All in all nothing to really shock anyone on this unit, but the dual interface is something that a lot of people will probably be quite happy about.

Pricing will start at $799.- RSP for the Drobo S and at $3499.- RSP for the DroboElite, but you will probably find other prices through various other channels.

I will do a deep dive in to the technology behind BeyondRAID as this is probably something that is interesting to a lot of people, and I will make sure to add a comparison to that which comes up quite regularly. "Can't I do the same much cheaper and easier with Linux and an LVM". The short answer is just a simple "No.", the longer answer will be contained in the post BeyondRAID post, so stay tuned!

GestaltIT TFD - Day 2: Wind instruments and data deduplication

By Renegade on Wednesday 18 November 2009 16:58 - Comments (7)
Category: Gestatl IT, Views: 7.017

Excuse me if I'm going back and forth in the GestaltIT Tech Field Days timeline, but I wanted to start the series of articles with a post of one of two presentations that made the biggest impact on me.

So, let's get things started with a company that shares it's name with an "ancient flute-like wind instrument" and instead of being a windbag actually does some pretty nifty things:

Ocarina Networks, or Ocarina as they are usually called are a company that specialize in a thing called data deduplication and compression. Basically you can think of it as removing all the data that you find more than once and replacing all duplicates with a pointer to just one original version of the data. This can be done on multiple levels, and the most 'simple' version would be to use a corporate mailbox as an example.
Say you would send out a mail to 5 colleagues with a Powerpoint presentation you want them to review. Normally each recipient will have a copy of this file in his or her mailbox and consume the space for the attached file. A deduplication solution could for example look and find that the same file exists 5 times. It saves one version and has the others just point to this one file.

Now, you could try and do the same thing on different layers. One of those layers is for example the storage system. There the various vendors look for similar chunks of data and see if there are comparable patterns and then use the same pointer technique. There is one drawback of doing it at that level though. As soon as you have the same presentation and one of the people changes it, the disk footprint of the file changes in a way that avoids deduplication. That is quite odd considering that they probably just edited some small things and a lot of slides, logos and pictures will remain unchanged.

Ocarina actually found a way around that by working on a different layer. This also provides some other benefits, and fortunately one of the other attendees, Simon Seagrave of TechHead brought along his Flip camera (I forgot mine) and recorded Ocarina's CTO Goutham Rao as he explained what their product does and where the advantage in their product can be found.

Now, as you have heard, this is actually an optimizer that is content aware. To pick up on the example above, the optimizers created by Ocarina look at the files. They will actually go into files and check their content for duplicate chunks. Think of the example that Goutham mentioned of a corporate logo that appears in various unrelated files. The Ocarina optimizers are actually able to find such examples and effectively reduce the total footprint by combining deduplication and compression.

For a rough drill down in the areas of compression and deduplication I would recommend you bring some time and watch the following video, but be sure I warned you since it's roughly 40 minutes long. It's absolutely worth it though!

And yes, you did hear that right. One of the first compression algorithms was the Morse code. For more information on that and a further intro in to compression you can find some more information here.

Now, all of this technology is packed into two rack mountable housings called "optimizers". You will currently find two versions of these optimizers. The first one is the 2400 and you can find the 3400. Main differences include the amount of CPU's which is only natural when you take the amount of number crunching that is being done into account. Other differences are among others the amount of RAM, the size (1U vs. 2U) and the built in disks.

Now, Ocarina actually makes some pretty big claim as to how they perform. If you read along on Twitter you will have seen the following picture already that shows the dedupe and compressed dedupe results when compared to a NetApp FAS. My apologies about the bad quality of the picture by the way. I didn't bing a decent camera along and only had my cellphone handy at the time.

All of the above was crammed in to a few hours, combined with some hand on and a challenge which I already wrote about. The challenge actually showed us some interesting things about the optimizers.

First and foremost, this stuff actually works, and works quite good! Because you reduce the footprint of the data going over the line, you actually use less space in all areas. I have seen a reduction in footprint of up to 70% which can make a lot of people very happy. Your storage, network and backup admins will probably be first in line to thank you for using such a product.

Second, it does have it's weaknesses. Depending on the existence of for example duplicate files, encryption and the dictionary used, your results may vary. One of the attendees brought along a small USB stick with 2GB of data on it consisting of ESX install iso files. The compression rate on them? None whatsoever.
Yes, that's right. None at all. But that might be due to the fact that we did not have duplicate files, and we just simply didn't have a dictionary for iso files. One of the advantages is that since we are dealing with software, the chances of Ocarina adding such support is not too bad. Especially since they will probably mull on the results of our datasets.

All in all I have to say that this was one of the best presentations during the GestaltIT Tech Field Days, and it's probably something that can be used as an example for future similar events.

My guess is we will be seeing a lot more from Ocarina networks in the future, and since this technology allows us to save on almost all fronts, I would assume that it won't be too long before we will be seeing similar systems that were created by other companies. I'm looking forward to see the potential of this technology unfold further and would love to see some of your comments on the product.

Oh, and last but not least a big thank you to Simon for letting me use his footage! :)

GestaltIT Tech Field: Day 0 - It started with a haiku.

By Renegade on Tuesday 17 November 2009 15:20 - Comments are closed
Category: Gestatl IT, Views: 3.805

I'm back! And what a ride it was. *O*

But, let's start at the beginning, which in my case was November 11th.

I needed to get up early to catch my flight from Frankfurt at 11:40. International flights will require you (at least here in Germany) to be at the airport at least 2 hours before takeoff, and you need to get yourself at the airport somehow.

After the usual paranoia at the airport and the extensive security checks which you will encouter when using a wheelchair, I was able to get on to the first stint of my flight which would take me to New York, or JFK airport to be more precise. Since you get couped up in your seat for some hours you have the time to do some thinking. You know, just the typical airline stuff that will get you wondering.

In my case this mostly happened on the second part, the trip from JFK to San Francisco, where we were told that we'd have the option of getting a snack from Delta's highly successful "EATS" program. So, there you are, stuck on an airplane for 6.5 hours without something to eat besides the (let's not get started on the taste) products offered in the EATS catalog.

No Wonder it's successful, what options do you have?! Get out and visit the Burger King on the right wing of the plane? |:(

Oh, and there's the fact that you will see advertisements in the magazines for noise canceling headsets from Bose or Sony. They promise to give you the sound experience of a lifetime. Too bad that nobody mentions the crappy audio source in the airplanes which will give you a perfect sounding low pitch sound of the movie your neighbor is watching. Excellent stuff! :+

So, that was the first part of the trip, and you get to wonder if this is just the start of it all. If it can only get worse from now on.

Luckily that wasn't the case. After a short trip from the airport I arrived at the hotel where I was one of the last to arrive. Thankfully they had ordered me something to eat, and after a steak and some beer we started off with the first introductions and some discussions.

I was expecting to meet some people who were nice and knew how to write, but I had no idea of how knowledgeable each and every one of them was! The learning began on that night for me, and it only partially ended after the event. I'm still processing the things I learned and the conversations we had. The evening was topped off with a small Haiku game that won me a Canon Powershot A1100 IS with a 4GB SDHC card. Nice!

You can expect to see some of my posts going on-line in the course of this (and the following) week, and you will be able to find the other posts by the people attending by going to the aggregate link on the Gestalt IT site.

One thing I can tell you already is that these events are great! And they show that communicating is key.

Hopefully you will enjoy my next posts, and we can get you psyched about the event even if you were not there! :)