“I’d like the ‘Meat on a Hot Stone,’ please.” Some words cannot be unsaid, some actions cannot be undone and some ideas cannot be eliminated. Unfortunately, as I learned one night, all the next day, and most of the following night – some food can be uneaten. Over and over and over again.
During my college years, Margo Seltzer rewarded her research group with a nice dinner at a lovely Spanish restaurant. Unfortunately, my dish required me to cook my own food – raw chicken, shrimp and fish – on a hot rock. As you may have already surmised, I didn’t cook my food long enough. And so the following 24 hours culminated in a moment of true clarity: “Do It Yourself” is often not good enough.
WARNING: “Your Mileage May Vary”
There is no phrase in the technical lexicon that infuriates me more. When I buy technology, I want to know how much load it can handle in my environment. Anything less and I feel like I’m getting some raw products and hot stone. And that’s why I am a true believer in the concept of an appliance.
For those of you who haven’t read about my background on this site, I joined NetApp straight out of school in 1997, when it was still Network Appliance. I loved the idea of being able to buy a pre-baked NAS solution instead of trying to “cook your own answer” with host-based file system software, volume managers and storage infrastructure. With an appliance, you knew the pieces would interoperate and you knew how they would perform, which meant you knew “your mileage wouldn’t vary much.”
However, as with so many IT terms (e.g., “social media,” “platform,” “cloud,” etc.), the meaning of “appliance” was diluted over time (often by clueless companies and well-intentioned media). Even more frustrating, the technology itself became so complex that you really didn’t know what you were getting from an appliance anymore. “Your mileage did vary.” And backup was one of the main causes. In fact, I still have nightmares…
Sales Rep (at deal close): “Of course you can store 1 billion files on this box.”
Customer: “Why don’t your backups run faster?”
Young Stephen Manley: “No, there’s no viable way to back up those 1 billion files via NDMP.”
Customer (clearly not listening): “Why don’t your backups run faster?”
Young Stephen Manley (aging quickly): “Because you’re running network backups over a 10-Mbit Ethernet to a DLT4000.”
Customer: “Well, we didn’t have enough money to pay for upgrading our backup environment.”
Young Stephen Manley (to himself): “Aaaauuuugggghhhh!!!!! Then what did you expect?!?”
The Rebirth of the Appliance
The introduction of converged infrastructure offerings like Vblock and FlexPod rekindled my faith in appliances; it was the first evolutionary step in years. As one customer put it, “Now I’m not just buying files in a box… I can buy a chunk of data center in a box.” Network, compute, storage and protection – proven to interoperate with qualified performance levels.
While Vblock represented the new wave of appliances that focused on simplifying your environment, it’s not a fit for everyone. We want to spread the “next generation appliance” to a wider audience.
Therefore, I’m very excited about our VSPEX launch. While VSPEX is not the sheet-metal-enclosed appliance form factor of my youth (things have evolved since then), it does deliver the appliance value proposition:
- Certified interoperability
- Validated to deliver specific performance/scale
Of course, the part I like best about VSPEX is that the appliance includes backup – Avamar or Data Domain, depending on the configuration. This is a huge leap forward for appliances. No longer is backup an afterthought to the solution. No longer are you condemned to deploy an environment that has only enough horsepower to serve the application, but not enough to protect it. And that sure beats trying to cook your own over a hot stone!