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Balls of destruction CRUSH your fancy new storage systems ... better get used to it

Start planning for disruptive software upgrades

Storagebod Has EMC started an unwelcome trend? I had a discussion about roadmaps with a vendor this week, and its reps talked about substantial upcoming changes to their architecture. My questioning, "but surely that’s not just a disruptive upgrade but destructive?" was met with an affirmative. Of course, like EMC's XtremIO upgrades, the update would not be compulsory, but probably an advisable installation.

The interesting thing with this one is that it was not a storage hardware platform, but a software-defined storage product. And we tend to be a lot more tolerant of such disruptive and potentially destructive upgrades. Architecturally, as we move to more storage-as-software as opposed to being software wrapped in hardware, this is going to be more common, and we are going to have design infrastructure and applications to cope with this.

This almost inevitably means that we will need to purchase more hardware than previously to allow us to build zones of availability to allow upgrades to core systems to be carried out as non-disruptively as possible. And when we start to dig into the nitty-gritty, we may find that this starts to push costs and complexity up – whether these costs go up so much that the whole commodity storage argument starts to fall to pieces is still open to debate.

I think for some businesses it may well do, especially those who don’t really understand the cloud model and start to move traditional applications into the cloud without a great deal of thought and understanding.

Now this doesn’t let EMC off the hook at all, but to be honest: EMC has a really ropey track-record on non-disruptive upgrades in the past – more so than most realise.

Major Enginuity upgrades have always come with a certain amount of disruption, and my experience has not always been good; the levels of planning and certification required has kept many storage contractors gainfully employed. Clariion upgrades have also been scary in the past, and even today Isilon upgrades are nowhere as near as clean as they'd have you believe.

EMC could have, of course, got away with the recent debacle if it had simply released a new hardware platform, and everyone would have accepted that this was going to involve data migration.

Still, the scariest upgrade I ever had was an upgrade of an IBM Shark that failed halfway and left us with one node at one level of software and one at a different level. And IBM staff scratching their heads. But recently, the smoothest upgrades have been V7000 – so even elephants can learn to dance.

As storage vendors struggle with a number of issues – including the setting of the sun on traditional data protection schemes such as RAID – I would expect the number of destructive and disruptive upgrades to increase. And the marketing spin around them from everyone to reach dizzying heights. As vendors manipulate the data we are storing in more and more complex and clever ways, the potential for disruption and destructive upgrades is going increase.

Architectural mistakes are going to be made: wrong alleys will be followed. Great vendors will admit this, and support their customers through these changes. This will be easier for those who are shipping software products wrapped with hardware; this is going to be much harder for the software-only vendors. If a feature is so complex that it seems magic, you may not want to use it … I’m looking for simple to manage, operate and explain.

Is this an argument for the public cloud? Maybe, as this will take the onus away from you to arrange. Caveat Emptor, though, and this may just mean that disruption is imposed upon you, and if you’ve not designed your applications to cope with this … ho hum! ®

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