Tag Archive: Tech Field Day


I’ve been lucky enough to be selected again to attend one of Gestalt IT’s Tech Field Day events. These place a selection of IT community members with a selection of Vendors for a series of sessions that go beyond the usual sales pitch you might get a user group event. The are also a lot more interactive , with a roundtable discussion before , after & sometimes during a session. The events are recorded and streamed live , you can also keep with with what the kids at the back of the class are whispering to each other by following the #TechFieldDay hashtag on twitter.

 

This Event is to be held in Boston in just over 2 weeks time and has a particular focus on Virtualisation technology. Other events have been based around Networking & Wireless technology, or just general datacenter technologies. The delegates have been selected for their work within the Virtualisation community , featuring more than its fair share of VMware vExperts and of course the whole vSoup Podcast crew! We are aiming to be able to record & publish an episode of the show live from the event.

 

The Presenters

Solarwinds :

I have seen Solarwinds present before and I’m looking forward to their deep dive style – as veteran TFD Sponsors they know that talking geeky is going to get a good response from us. I would imagine there will be some good detail on the product that is the fruit of the Hyper9 acquisition.

Vkernel:

I’ve enjoyed a good relationship with Vkernel over the last couple of years , both as an end user and as a blogger. Its not their first appearance at a Tech Field Day event so I’m sure that we’ll see something new around their infrastructure optimisation product set.

VMware:

I’ve heard good things about this little start-up , they have something called a Hypervisor , which could go far Smile Is what I’d have said man years ago , but like an ageing relative I’m going to have to say “look how they’ve grown!” I shall be looking forward to meeting up with the Wookie of Virtualisation , John Troyer and seeing what VMware have to show us beyond the press release!

Symantec:

Tech Field Day usually attracts a mix of sponsors , from the very fresh start-up ( in fact there will be a start-up coming out of “stealth mode” at the event ) to the established company. Symantec will sit firmly in the latter of those two and In my opinion have a harder task at these events because they have a PR/Marketing/Community machine that is more used to higher level , PowerPoint rich communication ; which is something that Tech Field Day just isn’t about. I’d love to see a “big” sponsor present with the passion and in depth knowledge of a start-up.

Embotics:

I was lucky enough to meet up with a few of the Embotics guys in the last year and while I like their policy based Virtualisation management product its been something that’s been quite a hard sell back to management. I’ve heard they might have something in the pipeline that will really emphasise its value. Watch this space for more details….

 

There is one extra vendor to be announced in addition to the “stealth mode” start-up launching itself , which I’m particularly looking forward to.  I think its going to be the perfect mixture of catching up with friends within the community , meeting some new ones and submersing myself in some seriously good technology. For more details, check out www.techfieldday.com

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As the tweet above proves I’m about to out scoop Eric “Scoop” Sloof of ntpro.nl fame and would like to be the first to break the news on the innovative Pork Product Delivery system (PPDS)  from your favourite real time monitoring provider , Xangati.

 

In a recent briefing on the new VDI/VI Dashboards I was able to grab a screen shot as the present flicked to a preview screen that proves this to be the case.

 

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Not only is Xangati able to provide role based dash board of real time data about your VI environment that reflect the real health issues within a system , but they are able to monitor the Saltiness Levels for Admins ( SLA’s ) and trigger off an Automated Bacon Delivery Service (ABDS) provided via a network of bacon resellers ( ButcherNet). This was already been successfully beta  tested at Tech Field Day. Turkey based Bacon Substitute (TBBS) is available for environments that don’t dig on swine.

Reading , wRighting and Recording – Measure how your applications hit your disks!

I’ve spent the last week thinking more about storage than I usually would, particularly in the light of some of the conversations I’ve been having over Tech Field Day with the other delegates & sponsors who have had varying levels of interest & expertise within the storage world. If, like me you have a basic appreciation of storage but want to get in that little bit deeper , a good primer would be Joe Onisick’s storage protocols guide at DefinetheCloud.net

Admins working in smaller shops probably have a little closer control over the storage they buy as they are likely to be the ones specifying , configuring and crying over it when it goes wrong ; It’s one of the con’s of working for a large enterprise is that the storage team tends to be separate – they guard their skills and disk shelves quite closely , sometimes a little too closely – I do wonder if their school reports used to say “does not play well with others” . The SAN is seen as a bit of a black box by the rest of the department and generally as long as the required capacity is available to someone when they ask for it , be it a lun or VMware datastore , then everyone is happy to let them get on with it.

As soon as there is a performance issue however , that happy boat starts to rock .The storage team starts to get defensive, casting forth whitepaper & best practice guide as if they were a World of Warcraft character holding a last stand. At some point you may well find that you hit the underlying best performance of the SAN , no matter how well tuned it is. You are then left in a bit of a quandary of what to do, in the worst case you have to bite that bullet and move that application which looked like the lowest of the low hanging fruit back onto a physical server with direct attached storage , where it’ll smugly idle at 5% utilisation for the rest of its life , ever causing reproachful looks when you walk past it in the datacenter.

How do you avoid the sorry tale above ? In a nutshell, “Know your Workload!” When you start to map what your applications are actually using you can start to size your environment accordingly. One of the bigger shocks that I’ve come across when doing such an exercise is a much heavier proportion of writes than the industry would have us expect. This causes a big problem for storage vendors who rely on flash based cache to be able to hit their headline performance figures. When reading from a cache , of course the performance will be great , but under a heavy write intensive load the performance of the underlying disk starts to be exposed and it seems to come down to number and speed of spindles. Running a system that uses intelligent tiering to write hot blocks in the fastest way then cascade them down the array as they get cooler could help in this instance. Depending on your preference for File or Block level storage , there are a number of vendors who could help you with this, for example Avere Systems or 3PAR or the next Generation of EMC’s FAST technology.

At Tech Field Day , NetApp , VMware and Cisco presented on their flexpod solution for a scalable and secure multi tenant virtualised infrastructure. If you’d like to watch the recording of the presentation, its available here . What would appear to differentiate the flexpod from other products is that is a not a blackbox device , designed to drop into a data centre to provide X number of VM’s , when you have X+1 VM’s, you just go out and buy another device.

While you can approach a VAR and order a flexpod as a single unit , the design and architecture is what makes it a “flexpod” – being a single bill of materials that can be put together to give a known configuration. The view of this being that it offers a greater agility of design , for example using a NetApp VServer head to present storage from another vendor to the solution.

To me , this seems a little bit like buying a kit car.

imageYou get a known design and list of components you have to source – although the design may well recommend where you source the components. Sometimes you can get them part built or pre built, but if you want to run it with a different engine , you can drop one in should you so desire.

 

The VBlock from the VCE guys is a different kettle of fish – its not a design guide , its a product. You chose the VBlock that suits the size of deployment that you want to do , order it and sit back and wait for the ready built solution to arrive on the back of a lorry ( truck to our US friends ;) ) This is like ordering a car from a dealership.

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Of course you could just go to any reseller and buy a bunch of servers , network & hardware and then install ESX on it. The Stack vendors might compare this to trying to hand cast your car from a single block of metal !

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At the moment many of us who can already design a solution from scratch are at that hand casting level , and while I wont deny we’ve been through a few pain points , we’ve usually been able to fix them. Its part of the skill that keeps us employed. By going for an “off the shelf product” the pain of that part of a system design is divorced from the solution and perhaps it would allow focus on what may be the next part of the design at the service and application level –don’t worry about build a car , worry about driving it! . If you need a car to drive to work and do the weekly shopping in, you buy one from a dealership – but if you have a specific need , then you may have to get into the workshop and build a car that meets those needs.If you want to concentrate

When a prebuilt solution  develops a problem that requires support , the offerings from the major vendors seem to differ a little. If you have a VBlock, you have one throat to choke ( presumably not your own , its only a computer problem , don’t let it get to you ;) ) and one number to call. They will let the engineers from the different divisions fight it out and fix your problem , which is ultimately the only thing of concern to you as an owner.

The situation with a flexpod seems a little less intuitive. As its not a single SKU – you would require a separate support contact with each vendor ( of course this may be marshalled by the VAR you purchase through ) , You would initiate contact with the vendor of your choice – they then have a channel under the skin to be able to work with engineering functions of the other partners at the network, storage , compute & hypervisor arms as required. I would like to think this does not mean the the buck gets passed for a couple of rounds before anyone takes ownership of the problem , but I’ve yet to hear of anyone requiring this level of support. If you have and had a positive or negative experience , please get in contact.

If you have “rolled your own” solution , then support is up to you ! make sure that you have a similar SLA across the stack , or you could find yourself in a situation where you have a very fast response from your hypervisor people , but when they work out its your storage at fault , they might make you wait till the next day / end of the week. If this does happen to you , then I’m sure you’ll have plenty of time to clear your desk….

 

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I’ve almost recovered from my Hectic week of Jet-setting for this year , starting with the VCAP-DCD Beta Exam in Amsterdam and culminating in a few days of visiting vendors for talks and roundtables in Silicon Valley. It was my first visit to the west coast , so I was initially star struck by it all – names you only ever see as a URL on buildings really pushes home how close you are to the technology and its not hard to get caught up with the buzz of it – I lost count of the number of startup ideas I heard over the course of the event!

For those of you who haven’t heard of the Tech Field Day concept before , here is a brief guide.  Following on from a concept launched by HP , the field day brings a number of delegates from the user community together with a vendor or vendors for a session that should be a little bit more in depth that your average marketing pitch. The delegates are not there to buy anything , and are no way obliged to write about their experiences, although Food & Drink , Travel & Accommodation expenses are covered by the sponsoring vendors.

This particular event marked a new direction for TFD in that it was streamed live over the web via ustream.tv . This potentially changed things in a couple of ways – The cameras were far form hidden and I wonder if the fact that they were being broadcast affected some peoples candour and in a couple of circumstances the sponsors where prepared to say some things off camera that they were not prepared to when they were rolling. That said , the greater audience did mean that a few questions were asked that may have not been bought up had it not for being mentioned on twitter by someone watching the stream. I would like to think that I was as honest as I’d have been on and off camera!

I think the event is possibly better suited to the smaller vendors with a less refined marketing function – Of the larger vendors that we saw , the sessions felt a little pre-canned with PowerPoint hitting a critical mass at one particular site. Making use of an “Executive Briefing Centre” , while it gives you access to nice comfy rooms with wireless internet access does nudge conversations to wards that more marketing side of things. Just using a regular conference room facilitated a more in depth discussion and 2 way communication.Perhaps there is a case for presentations to be done “in the round” to use a theatrical example , with delegates sitting in a "”doughnut” around the presenter.Presenters that had a real passion about their product held the audience much better , a prime example of which was Dave Hitz – founder of NetApp. He was only booked in for a 15 minute slot , but stayed for most of the 4 hours session , which is a lot of time to dedicate for a guy in his position. Outside of his own slides he was active in the discussions around the topics. It was a shame he wasn’t able to stay for lunch, where I believe the best dialog with the NetApp guys occurred.

I my next few blog posts I’m going to try and write about subjects that came up during the sessions , rather than a summary of each session , which you would better off getting from watching the excellent recordings made by the PrimeImage Media guys.

 

For those that missed it , have a look at the following video from the day (my wonderful piece to camera is at about 1:41 )

Tech Field Day 4 – Day 1 – NetApp 2 from Stephen Foskett on Vimeo.

 

One last thing – you may well have noticed my fledgling upper lip furniture – I’m growing a moustache this month as part of Movember – donating my face to men’s health. If you would like to donate to help men who have problems growing good facial hair like myself , then my MoSpace page is at http://uk.movember.com/mospace/1067584/

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Not only will I be heading off to Copenhagen next week to try and cover as much of VMworld Europe as one Blogger can in 4 days , but I’ll have had barely time to get comfy on the Sofa before heading off to San Jose for the Fourth Enterprise IT Focussed Tech Field Day, Organised by Gestalt IT.

 

As of yet I don’t know who I’ll be meeting up with – San Jose not being short of a Tech Company or two, so there is a good chance they’ll be worth talking to! Going by previous delegates experiences it’ll be intense , but great fun with the chance to sit round with a number of vendors for some great conversation.

To see what the delegates from last year got up to head over to the Tech Field Day site !

http://gestaltit.com/field-day/2009-san-jose/