Monthly Archives: July 2010

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SAN Tips - Storage Repository Design

Back with another Moose Logic video for your viewing pleasure. In this installment, our own Steve Parlee, Moose Logic’s Director of Engineering, talks about SAN storage repository design concepts, and the effects your design choices have on things like snapshots, disk usage, and overall performance. In the process, you’ll also learn what we consider to be “best practice,” and some of the reasons why. As always, your comments will be appreciated. Enjoy!

iSCSI vs. Fibre Channel

We’ve had several posts here about storage virtualization (a.k.a. SANs) and the role that storage virtualization plays in both server and desktop virtualization. We made the decision some time ago to promote iSCSI SAN products rather than fibre channel, primarily because iSCSI uses technologies that most IT professionals are already familiar with - namely Gigabit Ethernet and TCP/IP - whereas fibre channel introduces a whole new fiber optic switching infrastructure into your computing environment, together with the new skills required to manage it.

But there are many who maintain that, although a fibre channel SAN infrastructure may be more expensive, and may require a different set of skills to manage, it offers superior performance.

So I was particularly interested to run across an article by Greg Shields on entitled “Fibre Channel vs. iSCSI SANs: Who Cares?” I would encourage you to click through and read this article in its entirety, although you may have to register and give up your email address to do so. But here are a couple of tidbits from the article to whet your appetite:

iSCSI vs. Fibre Channel: Who cares?
The answer: Statistics suggest that it doesn’t really matter…In most real-world scenarios, the performance difference between Fibre Channel and iSCSI SANs is negligible. Partisans will extol the raw performance statistics of their favorite SAN type, but it’s fantastically difficult to translate raw performance specifications into real-world user experience…

Performance alone may not be a decisive factor, but a SAN’s ease of administration can be. The management tools and techniques for Fibre Channel and iSCSI storage infrastructures are substantially different…the skills and experience required to run a Fibre Channel storage infrastructure are difficult to come by - often requiring additional consulting support for most implementations to start correctly. On the other hand, iSCSI SANs lean heavily on the existing TCP/IP protocol. If you have network engineers in your environment, they probably possess most of the necessary skills to successfully manage an iSCSI storage infrastructure.

So, while I would once again encourage you to read Greg’s post in its entirety (so you can assure yourself that I’m not quoting him out of context), I must say that I find his comments gratifying, because they tend to reinforce our own conclusions: unless you already have a fibre channel SAN infrastructure, there’s no compelling reason not to go with an iSCSI solution, and several reasons in favor of doing so, including cost and simplicity of management.

Anybody out there disagree? And, if so, can you tell me why, exactly, you feel that fibre channel is superior?

Citrix Has Your Back - Again

I just read an interesting blog post over on ZDnet, entitled The Changing Face of IT: Five Trends to Watch. As I read through the article, I was struck by how Citrix solutions can enable IT organizations to deal with these trends. Consider:

  1. The consumerization of IT - “Workers are bringing their own laptops and smartphones into the office and connecting them to corporate systems. More people than ever are telecommuting or working from home for a day or two a week. And, the number of Web-based tools has increased dramatically…”

    Yep. In fact many companies are instituting “BYOPC” (Bring Your Own PC) policies, because in the long run it can be less expensive to give employees a fixed allowance and allow them to buy whatever they want than it is to issue - and maintain - a company-owned laptop. Citrix themselves instituted this policy a few years ago.

    If you’re using XenApp or XenDesktop to provide access to your key line-of-business applications, you don’t care what the endpoint is. If your employee prefers a MacBook, fine. Want to use an iPad? No problem. Connecting in from your home PC because your kids are sick? We’ve got that covered, too. Just install the Citrix Receiver and you’re good to go.

  2. The borderless network - “…today’s IT security model is more about risk management than network protection. Companies have to identify their most important data and then make sure it’s protected no matter who’s accessing it and from wherever and whatever device they’re accessing it from.”

    Citrix likes to say that their products are “Secure by Design,” meaning that security is built into them from the ground up. First of all, when you’re accessing your virtual desktop remotely, or running a published application from a XenApp server, the data never leaves the data center. The remote endpoint (whatever it is) is just sending keystrokes and mouse movements to the data center and getting back pixel updates. On top of that, we can encrypt that data connection using the Citrix Access Gateway.

    Citrix also gives you very granular control over whether files can be copied between client and server, and/or whether print jobs can be directed to a client-attached printer. In fact, using Advanced Access Control policies, those controls can be context-sensitive, i.e., you might allow files to be copied to the client device if the client device is a company-owned laptop, but not if it is a home PC; or you might allow client-attached printing if the client is connecting from a branch office, but not if the same user, using the same client device, is connecting from home, or from a hotel.

  3. The cloudy data center - Let me go on record as saying that the most cloudy thing about the cloud is trying to understand what someone means when they say the word. Not unlike the word “portal” a few years ago, the first question that usually needs to be asked in any discussion about cloud computing is: “When you say ‘cloud,’ what exactly do you mean?”

    But the point to remember is that when you’re delivering applications via Citrix, users don’t know and don’t care where the data center is or where the applications are being executed. It doesn’t matter. Want to move your entire infrastructure to a co-lo? Fine. Want to have multiple data centers with automatic failover from one to the other? We can do that, too. By some definitions of the term, we’ve been building “private clouds” since the release of WinFrame back in the mid-90s.

  4. The state of outsourcing - “Outsourcing is thriving in many different forms, and it’s reasonable to expect that it will accelerate.”

    We made the point above that users don’t know and don’t care where the data center is. The fact is, for about 90% of what they need to do, neither do the administrators. Virtualization in general, and Citrix products in particular, make it very easy to administer, troubleshoot, and repair issues remotely. We built the entire Evans Fruit Company infrastructure without ever having our engineer set foot on site. In fact, actually dispatching an engineer to a customer location is now the exception rather than the rule.

  5. The mobilization paradigm - “While PCs still make sense on the desks of knowledge workers, for all of these other workers who regularly move around as part of their daily job, the stationary PC often changes the natural flow of their routine because they have to stop at a system to enter data or complete a task. That’s about to change. Mobile computers in the form of smartphones and touchscreen tablets (like the iPad) have taken a big leap forward in the past four years. They are instant-on, easy to learn because of the touchscreen, and they have a whole new ecosystem of applications designed for the touch experience…”

    Very true…but these same users are going to still need to access your traditional line-of-business applications, which will not be transformed overnight into touchscreen enabled apps. It is axiomatic that, in IT, nothing ever actually goes away - instead, new technology just gets layered over the top of old technology…which is why you’ll still find applications running on big mainframes in a lot of enterprises. So how do you manage that transition?

    Once again, Citrix comes through. There’s a Citrix Receiver for the iPhone, one for the iPad, one for Windows Mobile phones, one for the Android, and just a couple of months ago, Citrix released a version of the Receiver for BlackBerry devices. And, of course, Receivers for Windows, Mac, and Linux PCs have long been available. I don’t know of any other product or technology that offers this kind of flexibility in delivering applications to users regardless of location, connection, or endpoint device.

  6. So a big “Thank you!” to Jason Hiner for an excellent post. You’ve just described, in a nutshell, why Moose Logic is still excited to be a Citrix partner after all these years. Just remember, as you work to adapt to all of these trends that are indeed changing the IT landscape, we’ve got your back.

Just Sign the Check Right Here - We’ll Fill In the Amount Later

Back in the old days of minicomputers and mainframes, we used to joke about IBM’s ability to, for all intents and purposes, get the customer to sign a blank check. They were better than anybody I’ve ever seen at getting people to commit to a solution when they really had no idea what the ultimate cost would be - and they were successful because of another cliche (which became a cliche because it was so accurate): “Nobody ever got fired for buying from IBM.” The message was basically, “Yes, we may be more expensive than everybody else, but we’ll take care of you.”

For the most part, those days are long gone, which made it all the more amazing to me to read that VMware is adopting per-VM licensing for most of its management products.

The article nails the basic problem with this licensing approach:

You know how many processors you have on a system, and that’s a fixed number. But the number of VMs on one host — let alone throughout your entire infrastructure — is regularly in flux. How do you plan your purchasing around that? And how do you make sure you don’t violate your licensing terms?

Hey, it’s easy - you just let VMware tell you what to put on your check at the end of the year:

You estimate your needs for the next year and buy licenses to meet those needs. Over the course of those 12 months, vCenter Server calculates the average number of concurrently powered-on VMs running the software. And if you end up needing more licenses to cover what you used, you just reconcile with VMware at the end of the year.

And, before you ask, no, you don’t get money back if you use fewer licenses than you originally purchased.

Sounds to me like a sweet deal - for VMware.

By comparison, the most expensive version of XenServer is $5,000 per server (not per processor, not per VM), and all of the management functionality is included. And the basic version of XenServer, which includes live motion, is free, and still includes the XenCenter distributed management software. (Here’s a helpful comparison chart of which features are included in which version of XenServer.)

A number of years ago, I attended a seminar that discussed the product adoption curve, and how products moved from the “innovation” phase to the “commodity” phase. The inflection point for a particular market was referred to as the “point of most” - where most of the products met most of the needs of most of the customers most of the time. When this point is reached, additional feature innovation no longer justifies a premium price.

The fact is that XenServer and Hyper-V are rapidly achieving feature parity with VMware. If we haven’t reached the “point of most” yet, we certainly will before much more time goes by. So even if you have a substantial investment in VMware already, at some point you have to re-examine what it’s costing every year, don’t you? Or are you OK with just signing a check and letting them fill in the amount later?

Is Office 2010 Worth It?

Every time Microsoft releases a new version of Office, we all have to ask ourselves whether there is enough business value in the new and improved version to justify the time and effort of rolling out the upgrade, listening to our users complain about the things that may not work the way they used to, and helping them through the rough spots.

Since Moose Logic is a Microsoft Partner, we don’t have to pay for the Office licenses we use internally. Moreover, it’s important for us to actually use the technology that we’re promoting to our customers, so that’s another reason for us to upgrade. Even so, it costs us time and effort to upgrade everybody, and we have other critical applications that depend on Office - like the Word merge app that allows us to print quotes and sales orders from our MS-CRM records - so we have to make sure that those dependencies don’t get broken. So, like you, we have to ask, “Is it really worth it? Is there that much difference between Office 2007 and Office 2010?”

Well, actually there’s more than you might think, and J. Peter Bruzzese wrote an article about it over on earlier this week. Here’s just a quick bullet list of his “top 25″ new Office 2010 features. If any of them catch your eye, I’d encourage you to read his article for a more detailed description:

  1. Universal ribbon - the ribbon interface is now part of every Office application.
  2. Customizable ribbon - don’t like the defaults? Customize it.
  3. Backstage view (behind the “File” tab of an application)
  4. Paste preview
  5. Office Web Apps
  6. Protected View
  7. More themes
  8. Insert a screenshot
  9. Crop images to a shape from within the app
  10. New photo-editing options in Word
  11. Navigation pane in Word
  12. “Sparklines” (Excel)
  13. “Slicers” (Excel)
  14. 64-bit support, which allows for Excel workbooks larger than 2 Gb
  15. Video editing from within PowerPoint
  16. Broadcast slideshows (PowerPoint)
  17. Distribute slideshows as video (PowerPoint)
  18. Animation painter (PowerPoint)
  19. Sections (PowerPoint)
  20. Transition improvements (PowerPoint)
  21. Outlook conversation view
  22. Outlook MailTips
  23. Outlook Social Connector
  24. Outlook “quick steps”
  25. Outlook “Clean Up”

So, a tip of the antlers to Mr. Bruzzese for coming up with a great list. Again, if any of these catch your interest, I’d encourage you to read more about these features in the InfoWorld article.