My WalkAbout in Las Vegas: Gartner Data Center Expo 2013

Gartner Data Center Conference Las Vegas 2013

Gartner Data Center Conference Las Vegas

Last week we saw the annual convergence of 2500 of our closest friends tasked to deliver data center services to many of the largest companies in the USA. This is Must-See TV at its finest. The attendee roles ranged from systems administrators and data center managers to CIOs and everything in between. This is primarily an IT show, so not much in the way of new cooling devices or generators here, but we did see a wealth of cool new offerings on display from a number of high-visibility providers, established and startups alike.

The data center is transforming. Tactical responses are being replaced with strategies and planning, and most of the new generation of IT professionals in attendance at the show will look back in horror at our Data Center Wild-West days (circa 1985-2005) . I can picture water-cooler stories of truck-rolls, 2am pager calls and screw-driver gymnastics  being all the rage, and are already becoming folklore. What we are seeing now is the roots of that change. The components and concepts of the next generation of data center, where cost becomes paramount, and choices abound. The world is finally connecting. Imagination is the big opportunity now that technology to do (practically) ANYTHING exists!

With more than 125 vendors on the show floor, here is a list of the dozen or so (mostly) startups that caught my eye.

  • Cirba – One of the most established virtualized workload management plays in the market, they were showing their Automated Capacity Control and new Reservation Console. This enables workloads to be planned, executed and shifted as needed across the physical structure, regardless of where it resides. Cirba claims that in the Global 2000 deployments they have, end-users see a 40-70% improvement in efficiency through much higher VM density and more predictable operations. VMware shops owe it to themselves to take a deep look at how they are managing virtualized capacity and then start plumbing in SOMETHING now.
  • FalconStor – De-Dupe has been all the rage for a number of years now, and FalconStor was promoting what they call Global De-Duplication, which takes into account the constraints of the WAN and dialogs with remote data stores before any actual payload data is traversed on the WAN. In doing so, they claim a ton of improvements over traditional file or block level (only) de-dupe approaches. Global de-dupe is a clever approach that could deeply impact the perceived performance of geographically dispersed environments.
  • Nimble Storage – On display were the CS 200/400 appliances which are flash-optimized storage based upon their proprietary cache-accelerated technology. They understand the difference when using flash for READS versus WRITES, so their technology optimizes each separately. They claim their customers access data on average TEN TIMES faster, with a READ latency of .67mS and WRITE latency or .5 mS. Flash storage has become a cornerstone for the enterprise, and Nimble’s approach seems to have some solid legs, attaining Gartner’s “Visionary” status on the latest disk magic quadrant!
  • StackIQ – A server management player around for quite some time, StackIQ has been traditionally focused on HPC computing and is now applying their technology to the other areas of a data center. Essentially StackIQ assures that servers start and remain configured over long periods of time. They derive their core from the open-source ROCKS project, commercializing and tuning it for enterprise-class computing. In practice, it allows you to describe the ‘perfect’ server you want, and then let StackIQ make that perfect server happen. All the software, the applications, the setup and configuration, everything that you described will be maintained… and you can do this for hundreds or thousands of servers, each the same or different.
  • Simplivity – One of the hottest modular plays in the IT side of the house. With about $100Million of funding, this high-profile Boston startup carries two flags; Convergence and Federation. They converge the key IT functions of processing, storage and networks in a single rock-solid appliance designed for great IO performance. Then, any number of these appliances can be deployed or  added at any time. Along with their incredible IO performance due to purpose-built hardware, the rest of their secret sauce is their FEDERATION technology that makes ALL of these appliances (regardless of where they are deployed) appear as a single pool of global resources. Very cool, like drops of mercury that can be squeezed together at will, resulting in an indistinguishable single larger drop. Simplivity enables well-defined chunks of computing to be added at any time, anywhere.
  • IO – Over-built brick and mortar data centers are dead. Today, nobody wants to build a massive 100,000 square feet of DC space that will hopefully be used over 10 years. The industry wants space on demand. Just enough at just the right time. In 120 days, the folks at IO will bring any number of 500kW chunks of computing to your site or theirs, ready for you to install your favorite brand of server. New at the show, IO.Cloud offerings which pair their modular offerings with Open Compute servers to provide a plug-in and go data center, just add power. Also, check out their CEO’s discussion of information “Custody and the Cloud” for some great perspective on a little known topic that will affect all of us.
  • Synapsense – Reinvention seems to be look good on Synapsense. For the past half a dozen years they honed their core competencies around low-power wireless sensor technologies, they have now applied their highly capable sensing and visualization to tackle the need for energy-saving, roll-your-sleeves-up control. Synapsense’s new Active Control enables their sensors to influence the ‘set-points’ of the co-resident HVAC gear, essentially driving down the cost side of the model. Not just reporting and visualization any longer, their new Active Control holds a great deal of promise… As soon as data center operators are ready for their next level of intelligent data center-specific BMS, which Synapsense is banking on.
  • Nlyte – A long time player in the crowded DCIM space, Nlyte was showing both their recently released V7.3 Enterprise offering, as well as their new On-Demand SaaS offerings. In Nlyte V7.3, Nlyte now offers enhanced workflow, cable management and hyper scale, with end-user deployments exceeding more than 25,000 racks , according to Nlyte. With the new Nlyte On-Demand SaaS offering, potential customers can begin using the same Nlyte within a matter of days, rather than weeks or months. And for existing Nlyte customers, they also announced SaaS options for testing new versions and supporting disaster-recovery plans.
  • Skyera – Skyera was showing both their skyHawk storage appliances as well as their essential SeOS control OS. The key to using flash in storage applications, according to Skyera, is to eliminate the use of expensive SLC flash memory chips, instead opting for much lower cost MLC flash… only possible when the OS has been tuned to do so. One of the key challenges they have solved is the number of WRITE cycles a piece of Flash memory can handle. They call it Life Amplification and claim 100X increase in the effective life. Bottom line: high-speed and secure, low-latency Flash at the SAME price of spinning disk, with long lifespans.
  • Cloud Cruiser – I was quite impressed by this vendor’s focus on the economics of using Cloud services. Their software offering allows highly details analysis, charge back and show back amongst a ton of other capabilities including service analysis, demand forecasting, and consumer analysis. It was a pleasure to see a vendor solely focused on the business side of the Cloud, rather than the technology side. Best of all, it comes ready to work with VMware, MS, AWS, HP, Cisco, OpenStack, Rackspace and BMC.
  • Plexxi – On display was their Application-Centric series of switches which are traditionally grouped into the Top-of-Rack category. Plexxi now goes farther and takes these devices to the next level with higher level abstractions beyond what VLANs and ACLs can deliver. They make the point that all configuration of devices must be initiated upstream and in direct support of specific application needs, rather than tactically at the edge (which becomes a support nightmare). Something they call “Affinity SmartPath” rounds out their offerings by providing intelligent path selection and real-time balancing to assure applications get the network ‘they need’
  • OptiCool – Continuing to be seen in the data center shows, cooling doors always seem to make sense. Frankly, the monster IT vendors have dabbled in this for years, trying to extract heat from as close as possible to the source of that heat. OptiCool is a set of low-pressure close-coupled heat transfer technologies that can be deployed into any data center rack configuration to effectively eliminate heat at the source. Think of this systems as a refrigerant pump, which feeds a large number of heat-exchanging panels mounted inside your existing racks. When using this system, they claim 95% energy efficiency, 500% more gear capacity, and 90% less data center footprint. According to OptiCool, some of their existing users deploy in racks up to 20kW.
  • Nebula – A relatively new player, Nebula was showing their 2U appliance that is central to their entire Cloud ONE system. The controllers each manage up to 20 processing nodes, and up to 5 of these controllers can be bound together to provide a 100 node tightly coupled private cloud system. Each Cloud Node is x86 based and are connected to their respective controller via multiple 10GbE. In full deployment, this turnkey private cloud contains 1600 cores, 9600GB of memory and 2400TB of storage, all managed in real-time as a single entity. API interfaces to Openstack and AWS as well.
  • Virtual Instruments – I continue to be impressed by the maturity of Virtual Instruments and their VirtualWisdom analytics offering. Essentially VI looks at customers’ physical, virtual and private cloud computing environments, and then measures the performance, utilization and overall availability and health of the infrastructure from individual components to high-level business services. Using software probes, they can sense virtual server status, and with hardware probes can sense SAN and SAN performance. Purpose built and clearly valuable for the large production SAN/VMware shop.

Now its important to also mention the larger, mostly publicly traded IT vendors who also had interesting wares; VMware (software defined everything), HP (ARM-based moonshot and SDN), BMC (service management), IBM, DELL, Symantec (storage), EMC, Microsoft, Cisco, Juniper and Extreme (the blended Extreme / Entersys story). Many of these were clearly heading toward immediately supporting the modular, low-power and software-defined phenomena.

Add to this a few good dinners, the Cirque-de-Soleil style “Le Reve” at the Wynn, a couple $30 taxi rides, and one of the best bowls of Matzah-ball soup I have ever had (at the Venetian’s Deli) and my WalkAbout was a huge success…

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Mark Harris Fremont, CA
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One Response to My WalkAbout in Las Vegas: Gartner Data Center Expo 2013

  1. ed sterbenc says:

    Almost makes me wish I was there …

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