Step right up: Why I’m excited about VMworld 2014.

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In about two weeks, somewhere between twenty and thirty thousand IT professionals will descend on the Moscone Center in downtown San Francisco for what is arguably the largest spectacle of enterprise technology that exists today.  VMworld is enormous.  It is high-profile.  It is information dense, and it is a worthy recipient of many a professional development travel allowance for 2014.

This will be my second time at VMworld, and my first time as a presenter and exhibitor.  In asking people what to expect, I’ve repeatedly been told to anticipate that the show is going to be a complete circus.  There will be a huge amount of excitement and energy, plenty to see and do, and then it will be done.  I wanted to take a little time before the event to talk about what Coho will be showing in our booth(835), and to talk about why I’m so excited about being there.

Enterprise versus the cloud

So here’s a theme that I’ll be approaching VMworld with as an attendee:  VMworld, as a showcase of VMware (specifically: packaged commercial virtualization software) is increasingly at odds with itself.  Enterprise computing everywhere is doing one of two things, it is moving to the cloud, or it is borrowing techniques from the cloud.  On one hand — moving to the cloud — there is the thing that we’ve been seeing for several years now, which is that a lot of enterprise customers, both large and small, are thinking seriously about moving their applications to hosted infrastructure such as Amazon’s AWS.  They are deciding that IT operations and datacenter upkeep are not a core competence in their organizations, and they are recognizing a bunch of value by outsourcing the bottom end of their IT stacks to providers that are very good at it.  After all, a strategy that works for NetFlix and the CIA must have something to it, right?  I’m looking forward to seeing vendors talk about this at VMworld, and learning more about how the interaction between private and public cloud is going to continue to develop over the next few years.

On the other hand, there is the fact that in many enterprise environments, it will continue to make loads of sense — both economically and functionally — to continue to maintain their own IT operations.  Examples here include environments that are large and sophisticated and who already have great economies of scale in-house.  Examples also environments with specific constraints on data privacy or access latency, which demand that IT not be pushed out over a WAN link to a third-party facility.  The interesting aspect of this end of enterprise technology, to me at least, is the percolation of software technologies that were developed in cloud environments back out into packaged offerings.  I expect that three years from now, we’ll likely see half-rack offerings of solid-state storage and associated compute capacity that do tens of millions of IOPS over multiple petabytes of data, and it’s exciting to see how packaged offerings (including Coho’s!) are evolving to support this.

A rewarding thing that I’ve experienced as Coho has evolved over the past few years is that we have customers on both sides of this divide:  On one hand, we deal with both application and infrastructure hosting providers, who look to scale out storage to meet the needs of their own customers in the face of growth rates that may be hard to predict from quarter to quarter.  On the other hand, we work with a number of private clouds (both large and small) that want a commodity-based solution to scale both capacity and performance as demand changes.

I’m really excited to see new vendors at VMworld.  The entire enterprise IT stack, from the hardware that it is built on to the applications that run on it are in the midst of massive change, and I’m really looking forward to seeing transformative technologies that are catalyzing these changes.  I obviously believe that Coho is one of these, but we are hardly the only example and I expect VMworld to be a lot of fun in this regard.

Coho’s themes at VMworld: Fast, Flexible, and Forever

The Coho booth (835) will have a bunch of exciting new stuff at it, primarily around three themes.

First, we’ll be demonstrating how Coho’s scale-out approach to enterprise storage is fast. For us, “fast” isn’t just a performance thing.  In the past, I’ve talked a lot about how, by converging network and storage technologies, Coho’s architecture delivers scalable performance in the face of problematically fast storage media like NVMe flash.  But by “fast”, we are also talking about the speed and efficiency with which our system can be installed and managed.  Unboxing, racking, and configuring a Coho DataStream as a VMware datastore is frequently completed by our customers in less than an hour.  Moreover, significant portions of that hour are spent drinking coffee, while the system sets itself up.  Monitoring, managing, and scaling the system reveals similar efficiencies for administrators’ precious time because we have built a packaged storage utility that is truly elastic: Coho’s architecture does away with primitive storage abstractions (like volumes, or RAID groups) that really just distract administrators from the application workloads that they are responsible for supporting.

Second, we’ll be demonstrating the flexibility of Coho’s storage platform.  On one side, this will mean showing off how a scalable, economic, NFS-based platform represents a great storage offering not just for VMware, but also for OpenStack (which we now support through OpenStack Cinder), and also for performance-demanding virtualized and non-virtualized workloads like Oracle.  We will also demonstrate some of the really exciting new work that’s gone into Coho’s technology for intelligent workload analytics and CASCADE technology for automated tiering.  The intelligent analytics is really, really cool — it performs continuous analysis of your application workloads and helps you understand exactly how much high-performance flash memory you need to trade off performance and cost.  It also helps identify the workloads in your environment that are most challenging to serve from a performance perspective: this isn’t just a matter of IOPS or latency, but involves the detailed modeling of a concept called working set, understanding exactly what data an application needs to run well at a given point in time.  Our customers are excited about it because it lets them spend time focused on their customer concerns around optimizing storage performance, rather than wasting that time on the challenges of operating their own storage systems.

The third aspect of what Coho will be presenting at VMworld is the fact that Coho Storage is not a hardware appliance that you retire in three to five years; it is a software-based storage utility that is designed to last forever.  I know this is a pretty lofty claim — I’ve jokingly talked about our system as “the last storage you’ll ever own” in presentations — but it’s also a core value of scale-out architectures.  Coho-based storage is intended not just to grow in response to your individual environment’s needs for capacity and performance, but also to outlive any of the individual hardware components that we ship.  Flash memory prices are falling in half every 18 months, and Coho is designed to let you take advantage of those economies by purchasing just the storage hardware you need, as you need it.  On this front, we’ll be previewing our next generation of storage hardware, including both an all-flash scalable performance node, which combines tiers of PCIe and SAS flash into a single high-performance Coho microarray, and also our new capacity-oriented offering, which aggregates 70 spinning disks into a 4u enclosure that offers up almost half a petabyte of raw capacity as an erasure coded object store for cold data.  The exciting part of both of these new systems is that they can be installed along side, and incorporated in to existing Coho installations in order to seamlessly expand those storage offerings.  This idea of storage and data as an incrementally scalable and evolutionary aspect of IT infrastructure is central to everything we do at Coho.

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The main attraction: The attendees are the show.

So as I’ve said above, I’m excited to go to the show.  I’m really looking forward to see what everyone is doing and to show off some of the bigger things that we’ve been working on over the past year.  But beyond all of this, the thing that I am most excited about is the opportunity to talk to IT practitioners.  The most formative aspects of the technology that we have built over the past few years at Coho have all fallen out of customer conversations and evaluation deployments.  The biggest value for me, by a long distance, to being at VMworld, is the opportunity to meet with and talk to so many IT professionals over a short period of time.

I’ll be in our booth for the whole show.  If you have interesting challenges, specific pain points, or just want to chat generally about the changing face of enterprise IT, then I’d love to talk to you — please drop by the Coho booth (835) in the exhibition hall for a chat.  I’ll be there until Wednesday night, when the big top finally comes down.

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