Dropbox’s Magic Pocket: Power of Software Defined Storage

Background

Dropbox is one of the poster boys of the modern-day tech start-ups, similar to the Uber’s and the Netflix’s of the world that was founded by engineers using their engineering prowess to help consumers around the world address various day to day challenges using technologies in a novel way. So, when I was informed that not only Dropbox would be presenting at the SFD15, but we’d also get to tour their state of the art data center, I was ecstatic. (perhaps ecstatic is an understatement!). I work with various technology vendors, from large vendors like Microsoft, Amazon, VMware, Cisco, NetApp…. etc to little known start-ups and Dropbox’s name is often mentioned in event keynote speeches, case studies…etc by most of these vendors as a perfect example of how a born in the cloud organisation can use modern technology efficiently. Heck, they are even referenced in some of the AWS training courses I’ve come across on Pluralsight that talk about Drobox’s ingenious way of using AWS S3 storage behind the scene to store file data content.

So, when I learned that they have designed and built their own Software Defined Storage solution to bring back most of their data storage from AWS on to their on data centres, I was quite curious to find out more details of the said platform and the reasoning behind the move back to on-premises. Given it’s the first time their engineering team openly discussed things, I was looking forward to talking their engineering team at the event.

This post summarises what I learnt from the Dropbox team.

Introduction

I don’t think it’s necessary to introduce Dropbox to anyone these days. If, however you’ve been under a rock for the past 4 years, Dropbox is the pioneering tech organisation from the Silicon Valley that built an online content sharing and a collaboration platform that allows you to synchronise content between various end user devices automatically while letting you access them on any device, anywhere. During this process of data synchronisation and content sharing, they are dealing with,

  • 500+ million users
  • 500+ Petabytes of data storage
  • 750+ billion API calls handled

When they first went live, Dropbox used AWS’s S3 storage (PaaS) to store the actual user file data behind the scene, while their own web servers were used to host the metadata about those files and users. However, as their data storage requirements grew, the necessity to change this architecture was starting to outweigh the benefits such as the agility and ease provided by leveraging AWS cloud storage. As such, Dropbox decided to bring this file storage back in to their own data center on-premises. Dropbox states 2 unique reasons behind this decision: Performance requirements and the raw storage costs. Given the unique use case they have for block storage at extremely high scale, by designing a tailor-made cloud storage solution of their own engineered to provide maximum performance at the lowest unit cost, Dropbox was planning on saving a significant amount of operational costs. As a private company that is about to go in to a public IPO, saving costs was obviously high on their agenda.

Magic Pocket: Software Architecture

While the original name came from an old internal nick name to Dropbox itself, Magic Pocket (MP) now refers to their custom built, internally hosted, software defined, cloud storage infrastructure that is now used by Dropbox to host majority of their user’s file data. This is multi-exabytes in size, with data being fully replicated for availability and has a high data durability (12 x 9’s) and high availability (4 x 9’s).

Within the MP architecture, files are stored in to blocks and replicated across their geo boundaries within their internal infrastructure (back end storage nodes) for durability and availability. The data stored in the MP infrastructure consist of 4mb blocks that are immutable by design. Changes to the data in the blocks are tracked through a File Journal that is part of the metadata held on the Dropbox application servers. Due to the temporal locality of the data, bulk of the static data that are cold, are stored on high capacity, high latency but cheap spinning drives while meta data, cache data & DB’s are kept on high performance low latency, but expensive SSDs.

Unlike most enterprise focused Software Defined Storage (SDS) solutions that utilises some kind of quorum style consensus or distributed coordination to ensure data availability and integrity, MP utilises a simple, centralised, sharded MySQL cluster which is a bit of surprise. Data redundancy is made available through…yeah you guessed it! Customised Erasure coding, similar to many other enterprise SDS solutions however. Data is typically replicated at 1GB chunks (known as buckets) that consist of random, often contiguous 4K blocks. A bucket would replicate or Erasure coded across multiple physical servers (storage nodes) and a set of 1 or more buckets replicated to a set of nodes makes up a volume. This architecture is somewhat similar to how the enterprise SDS vendor Hedvig store their data in the back end.

In Dropbox’s SDS architecture, a pocket is similar to a fault domain in other enterprise SDS solutions and is a geographical zone (US east, US west & US Central for example). Each zone has a cluster of storage servers and other application servers and data blocks are replicated across multiple zones for availability. Pretty standard stuff so far.

Dropbox has a comprehensive Edge network which is geographically dispersed across the world to funnel all customer Drobox application’s connectivities through. The client connectivity path is Application (on user device) -> local pop (proxy servers in an edge location) > Block server > Magic Pocket infrastructure servers > Storage nodes. While the proxy servers in edge locations don’t store any caching of data and can almost be thought of as typical Web servers the clients connect through, the other servers such as Block/MP/Storage nodes servers are ordinary X86 servers stores within Dropbox’s own DCs. These servers are multi sourced as per best practise, and somewhat customised for Dropbox’s specific requirements, especially when it comes to storage node servers. Storage nodes are customised, high density, storage nodes with a capacity to have around 1PB of raw data in each server using local disks. All servers run a generic version of Ubuntu and runs bare metal rather than as VM’s.

Inside each zone, application servers such as Block & Magic Pocket app & db servers act as gateways for storage requests coming through the edge servers. These also hosts the meta data mapping for block placement (block index) in the backend and runs sharded MySQL clusters to store this information (running on SSD storage). Cross zone replication is also initiated in an asynchronous manner within this tier.

A cell is a logical entity of physical storage servers (a cluster of storage nodes) and that defines the core of the Dropbox’s proprietary storage backend which is worth a closer look. These have very large local disks and each storage server (node) consist of around 1PB of storage. These nodes are used as dumb nodes for block level data storage. Replication table, which runs in memory as a small MySQL DB stores the mapping of logical Bucket <-> Volume <-> Storage nodes. This is also part of the metadata stack and is stored on app / db servers with SSD storage.

Master is the software component within each cell that is acting as a janitor and performs back end tasks such as storage node monitoring, creating storage buckets, and other background maintenance operations. However the Master is not on the data plane so doesn’t affect the immediate data read / write operations. There’s a 1:1 mapping between master : Cell. Volume manager (another software component) can be thought of as the data movers / heavy lifters responsible for handling instructions from Master and performing operations accordingly on the storage nodes. Volume manager runs on the actual storage nodes (Storage servers) in the back end.

The front end (interface to the SDS platform) supports simple operations such as Put, Get and Repair. (Details of how this works can be found here)

Magic Pocket: Storage Servers

Dropbox’s customized, high density storage servers make up the actual back end storage infrastructure. Typically each server has a 40GB NIC, around 90 x high capacity enterprise SATA drives as local disks totalling up to around 1PB of raw space per node, runs a bare metal Ubuntu Linux with the Magic Pocket SDS application code and their life cycle management is heavily automated using proprietary and custom built tools. This set up provides a significantly large fault domain per each storage node given the huge capacity of each, but the wider SDS application and network load balancing capabilities architected in the application itself ensure mitigate or design against a complete failures of each server or a cell. We were treated to a scene of observing how this works in action when these engineering team decided to randomly pull the networking cables out while we were touring the DC, and then also cut the power to a full rack which had zero impact on the normal operations of Dropbox’s service. That was pretty cool to see.

My thoughts

Companies like Dropbox inspire me to think outside of the box when it comes to what is possible and how to address modern day business requirements using innovative ways using technology. Similar to the session on Open19 project (part of the Open Compute Project) from the LinkedIn engineering team during SFD12 event last year, this session has also hugely inspired me about the power of software & Hardware engineering and, the impact initiatives like this can have on the wider IT community at large, that we all live and breathe.

As for the Magic pocket SDS & HW architecture… I am a big fan and its great to see organisations such as Dropbox and Netflix (CDN architecture) who epitomises extreme ends of certain use cases, publicly opening up about the backend IT infrastructure that are powering their solutions so that 99% of the other enterprise IT folks can learn and adapt from those blueprints where relevant.

It is also important to remember though, for normal organisations with typical enterprise IT requirements, such custom-built solutions will not be practical nor would they be required and often, the best they’d need can be met with a similarly architected, commercially available Software Defined Storage solution and tailor to meet their requirements. The most important part here though is to realise the power of Software Defined Storage here. If Dropbox can meet their extreme storage requirements through a Software Defined Storage solution that operate on a lower cost premium than a proprietary storage solution, the average corporate or enterprise storage use cases do not have any excuse to keep buying expensive SAN / NAS hardware with a premium price tag. Most enterprise SDS storage solutions (VMware vSAN, Nutanix, Hedvig, Scality…etc.) all have a very similar software and a hardware architecture to that of Dropbox’s and carries a lower cost price point compared to expensive hardware centric storage solutions from the big vendors like EMC, NetApp, HPe, IBM…etc. So why not look in to a SDS solution to if your SAN / NAS is up for a renewal? You can very likely save significant costs and at the same time, benefit from a software defined innovation which tends to comes quicker when there’s no proprietary hardware baggage.

Given Dropbox’s unique scale and storage size, they’ve made a conscious decision to move away for the majority of their storage requirements from AWS (S3 storage) as it they’ve gone past the point where using cloud storage was not economical nor performant enough. But it is also important to remember that they only got to that point through the growth of their business which at the beginning, was only enabled by the agility provided by the very same AWS S3 cloud storage platform they decided to move away from. Most organisations out there are nowhere near the level of scale like Dropbox and therefore its important to remember that for your typical requirements, you can benefit significantly through the clever use of cloud technologies, especially PaaS technologies such as AWS S3, AWS Lambda, Microsoft O365, Azure SQL that provide a ready to use technology solutions platform without you having to build it all from the scratch. In most cases, that freedom and the speed of access can be a worthy trade-off for a slightly higher cost.

Keen to get your thoughts – get involved via comments button below!

Image credit goes to Dropbox!

Chan

Storage Field Day 15 – Watch Live Here

Following on from my previous post about the vendor line-up and my plans during the event, this post is to share the exact vendor presentation schedule and some additional details.

Watch LIVE!

Below is the live streaming link to the event on the day if you’d like to join us LIVE. While the time difference might make it a little tricky for some, it is well worth taking part in as all the viewers will also have the chance to ask questions from the vendors live, similar to the delegates onset. Just do it, you won’t be disappointed!

Session Schedule

Given below is the session schedule throughout the event, starting from Wednesday the 7th. All times are in Pacific time (-8 hours from UK time)

Wednesday the 7th of March

    • 09:30 – 11:30 (5:30-7:30pm UK time) – WekaIO presents
    • 13:00 – 15:00 (9-11pm UK time) – IBM presents
    • 16:00 – 18:00 (12-2am 8th of March, UK time) Dropbox presents

Thursday the 8th of March

  • 08:00-10:00 (4-6pm UK time) – Hedvig presents from their Santa Clara offices
  • 10:30-12:30 (6:30-8:30pm UK time) NetApp presents from their Santa Clara offices
  • 13:30-15:30 (9:30-11:30pm UK time) – Western Digital/Tegile presents from Levi’s Stadium
  • 16:00-18:00 (12-2am 9th of March, UK time) – Datrium presents from Levi’s Stadium

Friday the 9th of March

  • 08:00-10:00 (4-6pm UK time) – StarWinds presents in the Seattle Room
  • 11:00-13:00 (7-9pm UK time) – Cohesity presents at their San Jose offices
  • 14:00-16:00 (10pm-12am UK time) – Huawei presents at their Santa Clara offices

Storage Field Day 15 – Introduction

Having attended the Storage Field Day 12 edition at the invitation of the chief organiser Stephen Foskett back in 2017, I was really looking forward to attending this popular event again. Luckily my wishes have been answered again this year where I’ve been invited again to attend the SFD15 with an exciting line up of various enterprise storage vendors. This post is a quick intro about the event and the schedule ahead.

SFD – Quick Introduction!

Storage Field Day is a part of the popular, invitees only, Tech Field Day series of events organised and hosted by Gestalt IT (GestaltIT.com). The genius idea behind the event is to bring together innovative technology solutions from various vendors (The “Sponsors”) who will be presenting their solutions live to a room full of independent technology bloggers and thought leaders (The “delegates”), chosen from around the world based on their knowledge, community profile and thought leadership, in order to get their independent thoughts (good or bad) of the said solutions. The event is also streamed live worldwide for anyone to tune in to and is often used by various technology start-ups to announce their arrival to the mainstream markets.

There are various different field day events organised by Gestalt IT such as Tech / Storage / Cloud / Mobility / Networking / Virtualisation / Unified Communications / Wirelesss Field Day events that take place throughout the year with respective technology vendor solutions showcased in each. It’s organised by the chief organiser Stephen Foskett (@SFoskett) and has always been an extremely popular event amongst the vendors as it provides an ideal opportunity for them to present their new products and solutions to a number of thought leaders and community influencers from around the world and get their valuable thoughts & feedback. It is equally popular amongst the attending delegates who gets the opportunity, not only to witness brand new technology at times, but also be able to critique and express their valuable feedback in front of these vendors.

During each day, the delegates and the organisers (Steve along with few of the supporting crew members such as the camera crew) would travel to each of the participating vendors offices (often in the Silicon Valley) where the technology & business leaders would be presenting there’s solutions to the audience. Typically, this whole session is streamed live thanks to the SFD camera crew and each session is also recorded to be posted on to various video sharing sites for subsequent viewings. I would seriously recommend have a look at their YouTube channel https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCSnTTyp4q7jMhwECxXzMAXQ/featured for past session recordings if you are a technology person with a keen interest in enterprise technology solutions.

SFD15 – Schedule & Vendor line-up

SFD15 is due to take place in the Silicon Valley between the 7-9th of March 2018. From what I understood, SFD15 has been a fiercely competitive event in terms of the sponsor slots by various vendors due to high popularity and I’ve noticed the participating vendor list changing few times up until now, presumably due to increasing competition. The list of vendors confirmed (as of today-17.02.2018) are as follows

  • Cohesity:    
    • Cohesity is a relatively new, secondary storage vendor that I’ve been keeping a close eye on for a while now. I know their offering and their value proposition fairly well and am looking forward to understanding what’s new and their future plans.
  • Hedvig:    
    • Hedvig is a Software Defined Storage company started about 5 years ago in the Silicon Valley by an ex engineer with distributed file system and database design experience at AWS and Facebook who invented Amazon DynamoDB & Cassandra. I’ve reviewed Hedvig’s technology quite closely in the past and have liked what I’ve seen. So, I’m very keen to see what they have to say this time around their latest offering and the future plans.
    • While I had come across these guys before, I didn’t know the details of their offering other than that they claim to be an (better) alternative typical converged and Hyper-Converged solutions out there. So looking forward to finding out a bit more about their offering.
    • This will likely be the Tegile offering that was procured by Wester Digital. Looking forward to this.
    • Huawei is the popular Chinese data center IT behemoth that is growing in popularity each year. Incidentally, Huawei is a vendor partner of my employer and have a growing presence in the UK public sector due to their lower costs on infrastructure. While they manufacture everything from servers to software Defined Networking controllers, I’d presume the focus of their session during SFD15 would be on their storage offering. I am personally not fully familiar with Huawei’s storage offerings so this could be a great opportunity for me to right that wrong.
  • IBM:
    • No introduction necessary for this one . Not sure what IBM storage solution they’ll be covering during SFD15
    • StarWind who is a HCI solution vendor, presented in the last SFD12 I attended and its good to see them come back to SFD15 again. Keen to get an updated view on things.
  • WEKA.IO:    
    • These guys claim to have the world’s fasted parallel file system and are totally new to me. So I am really looking forward to finding out the details of their offering and its value proposition.

My Plan

I will be travelling to San Jose from London Heathrow on the 6th with a view to catching up with this year’s delegates over the evening meal on the 6th which is always fun. There are some familiar faces from last years SFD12 as well as few new faces (to me) so looking forward to meeting these girls and boys. I am due to fly back to London on Monday the 12th and I expect to have some intimate knowledge of these solutions. I am aiming to provide some posts on most of the interesting solutions I come across to provide a deep dive and my independent thoughts on them during and after the event, which will all be published here on my blog.

If you are interested in attending a future TFD / SFD event, all the information you need to know can be found here at http://techfieldday.com/delegates/become-field-day-delegate/.

If you are interested in watching these sessions / presentations live, you can find the schedule and the live stream link information at http://techfieldday.com/event/sfd15/. I would seriously encourage you to watch the event live and do take part in the live questions as well.

 

SFD12 Posts

As mentioned above, I learnt a lot during the SFD12 participation last year about the storage industry in general as well about the direction of a number of storage vendors. If you are interested in finding out more, see my #SFD12 articles below

 

 

 

 

 

VMworld 2017 US – VMware Strategy & My Thoughts

This is a quick post to summerise all the key announcements from VMworld 2017 US event and share my thoughts and insights of the strategy and the direction of VMware, the way I see it.

Key Announcements

A number of announcements were made during the week on products and solutions and below is a high level list of those to recap.

  • Announced the launch of the VMware Cloud Services which consists of 2 main components
    • VMware Cloud on AWS (VMC)
      • Consist of VMware vSphere + vSAN + NSX
      • Running on AWS data centers (bare metal)
      • A complete Public Cloud platform consisting of VMware Software Defined Data Center components
      • Available as a
    • A complete Hybrid-Cloud infrastructure security, management & monitoring & Automation solution made available through a Software as a Service (SaaS) platform
      • Work natively with VMware Cloud on AWS
      • Also work with legacy, on-premises VMware data center
      • Also work with native AWS, Azure and Google public cloud platforms
  • Next generation of network virtualisation solution based NSX-T (aka NSX Multi hypervisor)
    • Version 2.0 announced
    • Supports vSphere & KVM
    • Likely going to be strategically more important to VMware than the NSX-v (vSphere specific NSX that is commongly used today by vSphere customers). Think What ESXi was for VMware when ESX was still around, during early days!

 

 

  • Next version of vRealize Network Insight (version 3.5) released
    • Various cloud platform integrations
    • Additional on-premises 3rd party integrations (Check Point FW, HP OneView, Brocade MLX)
    • Support for additional NSX component integration (IPFIX, Edge dashboard, NSX-v DFW PCI dashboard)

 

  • VMware AppDefense
    • A brand new application security solution that is available via VMware Cloud Services subscription

 

  • VMware Pivotal Container Services (PKS) as a joint collaboration between VMware, Pivotal & Google (Kubernetes)
    • Kubernetes support across the full VMware stack including NSX & vSAN
    • Support for Sever-Less solution capabilities using Functions as a Service (Similar to AWS Lambda or Azure Functions)
    • Enabling persistent storage for stateful applications via the vSphere Cloud Provider, which provides access to vSphere storage powered by vSAN or traditional SAN and NAS storage,
    • Automation and governance via vRealize Automation and provisioning of service provider clouds with vCloud Director,
    • Monitoring and troubleshooting of virtual infrastructure via VMware vRealize Operations
    • Metrics monitoring of containerized applications via Wavefront.

 

  • Workspace One enhancements and updates
    • Single UEM platform for Windows, MacOS, Chrome OS, IOS and Android
    • Integration with unique 3rd party endpoint platform API’s
    • Offer cloud based peer-to-peer SW distribution to deploy large apps at scale
    • Support for managing Chrome devices
    • Provides customers the ability to enforce & manage O365 security policies and DLP alongside all of their applications and devices
    • Workspace One intelligence to provide Insights and automation to enhance user experience (GA Q4 FY18)
  • VMware Integrated OpenStack 4.0 announced
    • OpenStack Ocata integration
    • Additional features include
      • Containerized apps alongside traditional apps in production on OpenStack
      • vRealize Automation integration to enable OpenStack users to use vRealize Automation-based policies and to consume OpenStack components within vRealize Automation blueprints
      • Increased scale and isolation for OpenStack clouds enabled through new multi-VMware vCenter support
    • New pricing & Packaging tier (not free anymore)
  • VMware Skyline
    • A new proactive support offering aligned to global support services
    • Available to Premier support customers (North America initially)
    • Requires an appliance deployment on premise
    • Quicker time to incident resolution

Cross Cloud Architecture Strategy & My Thoughts

VMware announced the Cross Cloud Architecture (CCA) back in VMworld 2016 where they set the vision for VMware to provide the capability to customers to run & manage any application, on any cloud using any device. This was ambitious and was seen as the first step towards VMware recognising that running vSphere on premise should no longer be VMware’s main focus and they want to provide customers with choice.

This choice of platform options were to be,

  • Continue to run vSphere on premise if that is what you want to do
  • OR, let customers run the same vSphere based SDDC stack on the cloud which can be spun up in minutes in a fully automated way (IaaS)
  • OR, run the same workload that used to run on a VMware SDDC platform on a native public cloud platform such as AWS or Azure or Google cloud or IBM Cloud

During that VMworld, VMware also demoed the capability of NSX to bridge all these various private and public cloud platforms through the clever use of NSX to extend networks across all of those platforms. Well, VMworld 2017 has shown additional steps VMware have taken to make this cross cloud architecture even more of a reality. VMware Cloud on AWS (VMC) now lets you spin up a complete VMware based Software Defined Data Center running vSphere on vSAN connected by NSX through a simple web page, much similar to how Azure and AWS native infrastructure platforms allows you to provision VM based infrastructure on demand. Based on some initial articles, this could even be cheaper than running vSphere on-premise which is great news for customers. In addition to this price advantage, when you factor in the rest of Total Cost of Ownership factors such as maintaining on premise skill to set up and manage the infrastructure platforms that are no longer needed, the VMC platform is likely going to be extremely interesting to most customers. And most importantly, most customers will NOT need to go through costly re-architecting of their monolithic application estate to fit a native cloud IaaS platform which simplifies cloud migration of their monolithic application stack. And if that is not enough, you also can carry on managing & securing that workload using the same VMware management and security toolset, even on the cloud too.

When you then consider the announcement of VMware Cloud Services (VCS) offering as a SaaS solution, it now enables integrating a complete VMware hybrid cloud management toolset in to various platforms and workloads, irrespective of where they reside. VCS enables the discovery, monitoring, management and securing of those workloads across different platforms, all through a single pane of glass which is a pretty powerful message that no other public cloud provider can claim to provide in such a heterogeneous manner. This holistic management and security platform allows customers to provision, manage and secure any workload (Monolithic or Microservices based) on any platform (vSphere on premise, VMC on AWS, native AWS, native Azure, Native Google cloud) to be accessed on any device (workstation, laptop, Pad or a mobile). That to me is a true Cross Cloud vision becoming a reality and my guess is once the platform matures and capabilities increase, this is going to be very popular amongst almost all customers.

In addition to this CCA capabilities, VMware obviously appear to be shifting their focus from the infrastructure layer (read “virtual machine”) to the actual application layer, focusing more on enabling application transformation and application security which is great to see. As many have already, VMware too are embracing the concept of containers, not only as a better application architecture but also as the best way to decouple the application from the underlying infrastructure and using containers as a shipping mechanism to enable moving applications across to public cloud (& back). The announcement of various integrations within their infrastructure stack to Docker ecosystem such as Kubernetes testifies to this and would likely be welcomed by customers. I’d expect such integration to continue to improve across all of VMware’s SDDC infrastructure stack. With VMware solutions, you can now deploy container based applications on on-premise vSphere using VIC or Photon or even VMC or a native public cloud platform, store them on vSAN with volume plugins on premise or on cloud, extend the network to the container instance via NSX (on premise or on cloud), extend visibility in to container instance via vRNI and vROPS (on premise or cloud) and also automate provisioning or most importantly, migration of these container apps across on-premise or public cloud platforms as you see fit.

NSX cloud for example will let you extend all the unique capabilities of software defined networking such as micro-segmentation, security groups and overlay network extensions to not just within private data centers but also to native public cloud platforms such as AWS & Azure (roadmap) which enriches the capabilities of a public cloud platform and increases the security available within the network.

My Thoughts

All in all, it was a great VMworld where VMware have genuinely showcased their Hybrid Cloud and Cross Cloud Architecture strategy. As a technologist that have been working with VMware for a while, it was pretty obvious that a software centric organisation like VMware, similar to the likes of Microsoft was always gonna embrace changes, especially changes driven by software such as the public cloud. However most people, especially sales people in the industry I work in as well as some of the customers were starting to worry about the future of VMware and their relevance in the increasingly Cloudy world ahead. This VMworld has showcased to all of those how VMware has got a very good working strategy to embrace that software defined cloud adoption and empower customers by giving them the choice to do the same, without any tie in to a specific cloud platform. The soaring, all time high VMware share price is a testament that analysts and industry experts agree with this too.

If I was a customer, I would want nothing more!

Keen to get your thoughts, please submit via comments below

Other Minor VMworld 2017 (Vegas) Announcements

  • New VMware & HPe partnership for DaaS
    • Include Workspace ONE to HPe DaaS
    • Include Unified Endpoint Management through Airwatch
  • Dell EMC to offer data protection to VMC (VMware Cloud on AWS)
    • Include Data Domain & Data protection app suite
    • Self-service capability
  • VCF related announcements
    • CenturyLink, Fujitsu & Rackspace to offer VCF + Services
    • New HCI and CI platforms (VxRack SDDC, HDS UCP-RS, Fujitsu PRIMEFLEX, QCT QxStack
    • New VCF HW partners
      • Cisco
      • HDS
      • Fujitsu
      • Lenovo
  • vCloud Director v9 announced
    • GA Q3 FY18
  • New vSphere scale-out edition
    • Aimed at Big data and HPC workloads
    • Attractive price point
    • Big data specific features and resource optimisation within vSphere
    • Includes vDS
  • VMware Validated Design (VVD) 4.1 released
    • Include a new optional consolidated DC architecture for small deployments
  • New VMware and Fujitsu partnerships
    • Fujitsu Cloud Services to delivery VMware Cloud Services
  • DXC Technology partnership
    • Managed Cloud service with VMC
    • Workload portability between VMC, DXC DCs and customer’s own DCs
  • Re-announced VMware Pulse IoT Center  with further integration to VMware solutions stack to manage IoT components

 

Cheers

Chan

Introduction To VMware App Defense – Application Security as a Service

Yesterday at VMworld 2017 US, VMware annouced the launch of AppDefense. This post is a quick introduction to look a little closely at what it is & my initial thoughts on it.

AppDefense – What is it?

AppDefense is a solution that uses the Hypervisor to introspect the guest VM application behaviour. It involves analysing the applicaiton (within guest VM) behaviourestablishing its normaly operational behaviour (intended state) & once verified to be the accurate, constantly measuring the future state of those applications against the intended state & least privilege posture and controlling / remediating its behaviour should non-conformance is detected. The aim is increase application security to detect infiltrations at the application layer and automatically prevent propogation of those infiltrations untill remediation.

AppDefense is a cloud hosted managed solution (SaaS) from VMware that is hosted on AWS (https://appdefense.vmware.com) that is managed by VMware rather than an onpremises based monitoring & management solution. It is a key part of the SaaS solution stack VMware also announced yesterday, VMware Cloud Services. (A separate detailed post to follow about VMware Cloud Services)

If you know VMware NSX, you know that NSX will provide least privillege execution environment to prevent attacks or propogation of security attacks through enforcing least privillege at the network level (Micro-Segmentation). AppDefense adds an additional layer by enforcing the same least privillege model to the actual application layer as well within the VM’s guest OS.

AppDefense – How does it work?

The high level stages employed by AppDefense in identifying and providing application security consist of the following high level steps (based on what I understand as of now).

  1. Application base lining (Intended State):  Automatically identifying the normal behavious of an application and producing a baseline for the application based on its “normal” behavioural patters (Intended state).                                                    This intended state can come from analyzing normal, un-infected application behaviour within the guest or even from external application state definition platforms such as Puppet…etc. Pretty cool that is I think!  
  2. Detection:  It will then constantly monitor the application behaviour against this baseline to see if there are any deviations which could amont to potential malicious behaviuours. If any are detected, AppDefense will either block those alien application activities or automatically isolate the application using the Hypervisor constructs, in a similar manner to how NSX & 3rd party AV tools auto isolate guest introspection using heuristic analysis. AppDefense uses an in-memory process anomaly detector rather than taking a hash of the VM file set (which is often how 3rd party security vendors work) which is going to be a unique selling point, in comparison to typical AV tools. An example demo showed by VMware was on an application server that ordinarily talks to a DB server using a SQl server ODBC connectivity, where once protected by AppDefense, it automaticlaly blocks any other form of direct connectivity from that app server to the DB server (say a Powershell query or a script running on the app server for example) even if that happened to be on the same port that is already permitted. – That was pretty cool if you ask me.  
  3. Automated remediation:  Similar to above, it can then take remediation action to automatically prevent propogation.

 

AppDefense Architecture

AppDefense, despite being a SaaS application, will work with cloud (VMware Cloud on AWS) as well as on-premises enviornment. The onpremises proxy appliance will act as the broker. Future road map items will include extending capabilities to non vSphere as well as bare metal workloads onpremises. There will be an agent that is deployed in to the VM’s (guest agent) that will run inside a secure memory space to ensure it’s authenticity.

For the on-premis version, vCenter is the only mandatory pre-req whereas NSX mgr and vRA are optional and only required for remediation and provisioning. (No current plans for Security Manager to be available onsite, yet).

AppDefense Integration with 3rd parties*

  • IBM Security:
    • AppDefense plans to integrate with IBM’s QRadar security analytics platform, enabling security teams to understand and respond to advanced and insider threats that cut across both on-premises and cloud environments like IBM Cloud. IBM Security and VMware will collaborate to build this integrated offering as an app delivered via the IBM Security App Exchange, providing mutual customers with greater visibility and control across virtualized workloads without having to switch between disparate security tools, helping organizations secure their critical data and remain compliant.
  • RSA:
    • RSA NetWitness Suite will be interoperable with AppDefense, leveraging it for deeper application context within an enterprise’s virtual datacenter, response automation/orchestration, and visibility into application attacks. RSA NetWitness Endpoint will be interoperable with AppDefense to inspect unique processes for suspicious behaviors and enable either a Security Analyst or AppDefense Administrators to block malicious behaviors before they can impact the broader datacenter.
  • Carbon Black:
    • AppDefense will leverage Carbon Black reputation feeds to help secure virtual environments. Using Carbon Black’s reputation classification, security teams can triage alerts faster by automatically determining which behaviors require additional verification and which behaviors can be pre-approved. Reputation data will also allow for auto-updates to the manifest when upgrading software to drastically reduce the number of false positives that can be common in whitelisting.
  • SecureWorks:
    • SecureWorks is developing a new solution that leverages AppDefense. The new solution will be part of the SecureWorks Cloud Guardian™ portfolio and will deliver security detection, validation, and response capabilities across a client’s virtual environment. This solution will leverage SecureWorks’ global Threat Intelligence, and will enable organizations to hand off the challenge of developing, tuning and enforcing the security policies that protect their virtual environments to a team of experts with nearly two decades of experience in managed services.
  • Puppet:
    • Puppet Enterprise is integrated with AppDefense, providing visibility and insight into the desired configuration of VMs, assisting in distinguishing between authorized changes and malicious behavior

*Credit: VMware AppDefense release news

Having spoken to the product managers, my guess is these partnerships will grow as the product goes through its evolution to include many more security vendors.

 

Comparison to competition

In comparison to other 3rd party AV tools that have heuristic analysis tools that does similar anomaly detection within the guests, VMware AppDefense is supposed to have a number of unique selling points such as the ability to better understand distributed application behaviours than competition to reduce false positives, the ability to not jut detect but also take remediation orchesatration capabilities (through the use of vRA and NSX) as well as the near future roadmap to use Machine learning capabilities to enhance anomaly detection within the guest which is pretty cool.

Understanding the “Intended state”

Inteded state can come from various information collected from various data center state definition tools such as vCenter, Puppet, vRealize Automation & othr configuraoin management solutions as well as devlopper workflows such as Ansible, Jenkins…etc.

App Defense agent (runs in the guest OS) runs in a protected memory space within the guest (via the hypervisor) to store the security controls that is tamper proof (secure runtime). Any attempts to intrude in to this space are detected and actioned upon automatically. While this is secure, it’s not guranteed at the HW layer (Think HyTrust that uses Intel CPU capabilities such as TXT to achieve HW root of trust), though I suspect this will inevitably come down the line.

 

AppDefense – My (initial) Thoughts

I like the sound of it and its capabilities based on what I’ve seen today. Obviously its a SaaS based application and some people may not like that to monitor and enforce your security, especially if you have an on-premises environment that you’d like to monitor and manage security on, but if you can get over that mindset, this could be potentially quite good. But obviously if you use VMware Cloud Services, especially VMware Cloud on AWS for example, this would have direct integration with that platform to enforce application level security which could be quite handy. As with all products however, the devil is normally in the detail and the this version has only just been released so the details available is quite scarse in order to form a detailed & an accurate opinion. I will be aiming to test this out in detail in the coming future, both with VMware cloud on AWS as well as On-Premises VMware SDDC stack and provide some detailed insights. Furthermore, its a version 1.0 product and realistically, most production customers will likely wait until its battle hardened and becomes richer with capabilities such as using Hardware root of trust capabilities are added before using this for key production workloads.

However until then, its great to see VMware are focusing more on security in general and building in native, differentiated security capabilities focusing on the application layer which is equally important as the security at the infrastructure layer. I’m sure the product will evolve to incorporate things such as AI & machine learning to provide more sophisticated preventive measures in the future. The ability to taken static applicatio / VM state definitions from external platforms like Puppet is really useful and I suspect would probably be where this would be popular with customers, at least initially.

Slide credits go to VMware.!

Cheers

Chan

VMworld 2017 – vSAN New Announcements & Updates

During VMworld 2017 Vegas, a number of vSAN related product announcements will have been made and I was privy to some of those a little earlier than the rest of the general public, due being a vSAN vExpert. I’ve summerised those below. The embargo on disclosing the details lifts at 3pm PST which is when this blog post is sheduled to go live automatically. So enjoy! 🙂

vSAN Customer Adoption

As some of you may know, popularity of vSAN has been growing for a while now as a preferred alternative to legacy SAN vendors when it comes to storing vSphere workloads. The below stats somewhat confirms this growth. I too can testify to this personally as I’ve seen a similar increase to the number of our own customers that consider vSAN as the default choice for storage now.

Key new Announcements

New vSAN based HCI Acceleration kit availability

This is a new ready node program being announced with some OEM HW vendors to provide distributed data center services for data centers to keep edge computing platforms. Consider this to be somewhat in between vSAN RoBo solution and the full blown main data center vSAN solution. Highlights of the offering are as follows

  • 3 x Single socket servers
  • Include vSphere STD + vSAN STD (vCenter is excluded)
  • Launch HW partners limited to Fujitsu, Lenovo, Dell & Super Micro only
  • 25% default discount on list price (on both HW & SW)
  • $25K starting price

           

 

  • My thoughts: Potentially a good move an interesting option for those customers who have a main DC elsewhere or are primarily cloud based (included VMware Cloud on AWS). The practicality of vSAN RoBo was always hampered by the fact that its limited to 25 VMs on 2 nodes. This should slightly increase that market adoption, however the key decision would be the pricing. Noticeably HPe are absent from the initial launch but I’m guessing they will eventually sign up. Note you have to have an existing vCenter license elsewhere as its not included by default.

vSAN Native Snapshots Announced

Tech preview of the native vSAN data protection capabilities through snapshots have been announced and will likely be generally available in FY18. vSAN native snapshots will have the following characteristics.

  • Snapshots are all policy driven
  • 5 mins RPO
  • 100 snapshots per VM
  • Support data efficiency services such as dedupe as well as protection services such as encryption
  • Archival of snapshots will be available to secondary object or NAS storage (no specific vendor support required) or even Cloud (S3?)
  • Replication of snapshots will be available to a DR site.

  • My thoughts: This was a hot request and something that was long time coming. Most vSAN solutions need a 3rd party data center back up product today and often, SAN vendors used to provide this type of snapshot based backup solution from the array (NetApp Snap Manager suite for example) that vSAN couldn’t match. Well, it can now, and since its done at the SW layer, its array independent and you can replicate or archive that anywhere, even on cloud and this would be more than sufficient for lots of customers with a smaller or a point use case to not bother buying backup licenses elsewhere to protect that vSphere workload. This is likely going to be popular. I will be testing this out in our lab as soon as the beta code is available to ensure the snaps don’t have a performance penalty.

 

vSAN on VMware Cloud on AWS Announced

Well, this is not massively new but vSAN is a key part of VMware Cloud on AWS and the vSAN storage layer provide all the on premise vSAN goodness while also providing DR to VMware Cloud capability (using snap replication) and orchestration via SRM.

 

vSAN Storage Platform for Containers Announced

Similar to the NSX-T annoucement with K8 (Kubernetes) support, vSAN also provide persistent storage presentation to both K8 as well as Docker container instances in order to run stateful containers.

 
This capability came from the vmware OpenSource project code named project Hatchway and its freely available via GitHub https://vmware.github.io/hatchway/ now.

  • My thoughts: I really like this one and the approach VMware are taking with the product set to be more and more microservices (container based application) friendly. This capability came from an opensource VMware project called Project hatchway and will likely be popular with many. This code was supposed to be available on GitHub as this is an opensource project but I have not been able to see anything within the VMware repo’s on GitHub yet.

 

So, all in all, not very many large or significant announcements for vSAN from VMworld 2017 Vegas (yet), but this is to be expected as the latest version of vSAN 6.6.1 was only recently released with a ton of updates. The key take aways for me is that the popularity of vSAN is obviously growing (well I knew this already anyways) and the current and future announcements are going to be making vSAN a fully fledged SAN / NAS replacement for vSphere storage with more and more native security, efficiency and availability services which is great for the customers.

Cheers

Chan

 

VMworld 2017 – Network & Security Announcements

As an NSX vExpert, I was privy to an early access preview of some of the NSX updates that are due to be announced during VMworld 2017 Vegas – This is a summary of all those announcements and, while I prepped the post before VMworld announcements were made to general public, by the time this post is published and you read this, it will be all public knowledge.

Growing NSX market

    

  • NSX customer momentum is very good, with around 2600+ new NSX customers in Q2 which is twice that year ago.
  • Typical customer sectors are from all around, Service providers, healthcare, Finance, Technology, Public sector…etc
  • Typical use cases belong to Security (Micro-Segmentation, EUC & DMZ anywhere), Automation and App continuity (DR, Cross cloud)

Since I work for a VMware partner (reseller), I can relate to these points first hand as I see the same kind of customers and use cases being explored by our own customers so these appear to be valid, credible market observations.

Network & Security New Announcements (VMworld 2017)

Given below are some of the key NSX related announcements that will be / have been annouced today at VMworld 2017 Vegas.

  • NSX-T 2.0 release
    • On-premise network virtualisation for non-vSphere workloads
    • Cloud Native App framework (K8 integration)
    • Cloud integration (Native AWS platform)
  • VMware Cloud Services
    • Number of new SaaS solution offerings available from VMware
    • The list of initial solutions available as SaaS offering at launch include
      • Discovery
      • Cost insights
      • Wavefront
      • Network insight
      • NSX Cloud & VMware Cloud on AWS
        • Well, this is not news, but been pre-announced already
      • VMware AppDefense
        • A brand new data center endpoint security product
      • Workspace One (Cloud)
  • vRealize Network Insight 3.5
    • vRNI finally expanding to cloud and additional on-premise 3rd party integrations

NSX-T 2.0 release (For secure networking in the cloud)

So this is VMware’s next big bet. Simply because it is NSX-T that will enable the future of VMware’s cross cloud capabilities by being compatible with all other none vSphere platforms including public cloud platforms to extend the NSX networking constructs in to those environments. Given below are the highlights of NSX-T 2.0 announced today.

  • On-premise automation and networking & Security (Support for KVM)
    • Multi-Domain networking
    • Automation with OpenStack
    • Micro-Segmentation
  • Cloud Native Application Frameworks
    • VMs and containers
    • CNI plugin integration for Kubernetes
    • Micro-Segmentation for containers / Microservices via NST-T 2.0 (roadmap)
    • Monitoring & analytics for containers / Microservices via NST-T 2.0 (roadmap)
  • Public Cloud Integration
    • On-prem, Remote, Public & Hybrid DCs
    • Native AWS with VMware secure networking – Extends out NSX security constructs to legacy AWS network

NSX-T integration with Container as a Service (Kubernetes for example) and Platform as a Service (AWS native networking) components a NSX container plugin and the architecture is shown below.

  

 

VMware Cloud Services (VCS)

This is a much anticipated annoucement where NSX secure networking capabilities will be offerred as a hosted service (PaaS) from VMware – Known as “VMware Cloud Services portal”. This will integrated with various platforms such as your on-premise private cloud environment or even public cloud platforms such as native AWS (available now) or Azure (roadmap) by automatically deploying the NSX-T components required on each cloud platform (NSX manager, NSX controllers & Cloud Services Manager appliance…etc). This is TOTALLY COOL and unlike any other solution available from anyone else.

As a whole, VCS will provide the following capabilities on day 1, as a SaaS / PaaS offering.

 

Key capabilities this PaaS provide include the below, across the full Hybrid-Cloud stack.

  • Discovery
  • Networking Insights
  • Cost management / insight
  • Secure Networking (via NSX Cloud)

The beauty of this offering is this will provide all the NSX natice capabilities such as distributed routing, Micro segmentation, Distributed switching, data encryption and deep visibility in to networking traffic will all be extended out to any part of the hybrid cloud platform. Ths enables you to manage and monitor as well as define & enforce new controls through a single set of security policies, defined on a single pane of glass, via Cloud Services portal. For example, the ditributed  firewall policies that block App servers from talking direct to DB servers, once defined, will apply to the VMs whether they are on premise on vSphere or moved to KVM or even when they reside on AWS (VMware cloud or native AWS platform). All of this becomes possible through the integration of NSX-T with cloud platforms that enables additional services using network overlay. In the case of public cloud, this will provide all these additional capabilities that are not natively available on the cloud platform which is awesome.!

I cannot wait for VCS to have Azure integration also which I believe is in the roadmap.

I will be doing a detailed post on VCS soon.

VMware Cloud on AWS

  

Well, this is NOT news anymore as this was annouced last year during VMworld 2016 and since then technical previews and public beta of the platform has already been available. So I’m not going to cover this in detail as there are plenty of overview posts out there.

However the main announcement today on this front is it is NOW (FINALLY) GENERALLY AVAILABLE for customers to subscribe to. Yey!! The minimum subscription is based on 4 nodes (vSAN requirements).

 

VMware App Defence

A brand new offering that is being annouced today that will extend the security layer to the applications. This is pretty cool too and I’m not going to cover the details here. instead, I will be producing a dedicated post to cover this one later on this week.

Summary

All of these annoucements are the implementation milestones of the VMware Cross Cloud Architecture (CCA) initiative that VMware annouced during last year’s VMworld where VMware will enable the workload mobility between on-premise and all other various public cloud platforms, primarily through the use of NSX to extend the network fabric acorss all platforms. Customers can build these components out themselves or they can simply consume them via a hosted PaaS. I am very excited for all my customers as these capabilities will help you harness the best of each cloud platform and new technology innovations such as containers without loosing the end to end visibility, management capabilities and security of your multi-cloud infrastructure platform.

Cheers

Chan

Heading to VMworld 2017 in Vegas

For the 2nd year running, I’ve been extremely lucky to be able to attend the VMware’s premier technology roadshow, VMworld in the city that never sleeps. This is my 6th consecutive VMworld where I’ve attended the 2012-2015 events at Barcelona and the 2016 event in Vegas. Similar to the last year, I’ve been extremely lucky to be selected and be invited by VMware as an official VMworld blogger due to my vExpert status to attend the event free of charge. (Also well done to my fellow Insight teammate & vExpert Kyle Jenner for being picked to attend VMworld 2017 Europe as an official blogger too). Obviously we are both very lucky to have an employer who value our attendance at such industry events and is happy to foot the bill for other expenses such as logistics which is also appreciated. So thanks VMware & Insight UK.

I attended the VMworld 2016 also in Vegas and to be honest, that was probably not the best event to attend that year in hindsight as all the new announcements were reserved for the European edition a month after. However this year, the word on the street is that VMworld US will carry majority of the new announcements so I am very excited to find out about them before anyone else.!

VMworld 2017 Itineraries

Most people attending VMworld or any similar tech conference overseas would typically travel few days earlier or stay behind few days after the event to explore things around. Unfortunately for me and my in-explicable dedication to playing league cricket between April-September, I am only able to travel out on Sunday the 27th after the game on Saturday. Similarly I have to get back immediately after the event in time for the following Saturday’s game. Silly you might think! I’d tend to agree too.

  • Travel out: Sunday the 27th of August from Manchester to Las Vegas (Thomas Cook – direct flight)
  • Accommodation: Delano Las Vegas (next door to event venue which is Mandalay Bay Hotel)
  • Travel back: Thursday the 31st of August from Las Vegas to Manchester (Thomas Cook – direct flight)

 

Session planning

one of the most important thing one planning on attending VMworld should do (if you wanna genuinely learn something at the event that is), to plan your break out sessions that you want to attend in advance using the schedule builder. This year, I was very luck to be able to get this booked in almost as soon as the schedule builder went live. However even then, some of the popular sessions were fully booked which shows how popular this event is.

Given below is a list of my planned sessions

  • Sunday the 27th of August
    • 4-4:30pm – How to Use CloudFormations in vRealize Automation to Build Hybrid Applications That Span and Reside On-Premises & on VMware Cloud on AWS and AWS Cloud [MMC1464QU]

 

  • Monday the 28th of August
    • 9am-10:30am – General session (you can find me at the specialist blogger seats right at the front of the hall)
    • 12:30-1:30pm – Accelerate the Hybrid Cloud with VMware Cloud on AWS [LHC3159SU]
    • 2:30-3:30pm – Addressing your General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) Challenges with Security and Compliance Automation Based on VMware Cloud Foundation [GRC3386BUS]
    • 3:30-4:30pm – Big Data for the 99% (of Enterprises) [FUT2634PU]
    • 5:30-6:30pm – VMC Hybrid Cloud Architectural Deep Dive: Networking and Storage Best Practices [LHC3375BUS]

 

  • Tuesday the 29th of August
    • 9am-10:30am – General session (you can find me at the specialist blogger seats right at the front of the hall)
    • 1-2pm – A Two-Day VMware vRealize Operations Manager Customer Success Workshop in 60 Minutes [MGT2768GU]
    • 2-3pm – AWS Native Services Integration with VMware Cloud on AWS: Technical Deep Dive [LHC3376BUS]
    • 3-6:30pm – VMware NSX Community Leaders (vExperts) Summit at Luxor hotel
    • 7-10pm – vExpert Reception – VMworld U.S. 2017 at Pinball Hall of Fame
    • 10pm-12am – Rubrik VMworld Party (Featuring none other than Ice Cube) at Marquee @ Cosmopolitan

 

  • Wednesday the 30th of August
    • 10-11am – Automating vSAN Deployments at Any Scale [STO1119GU]
    • 11-12am – Creating Your VMware Cloud on AWS Data Center: VMware Cloud on AWS Fundamentals [LHC1547BU]
    • 12:30-1:30pm – 3 Ways to Use VMware’s New Cloud Services for Operations to Efficiently Run Workloads Across AWS, Azure and vSphere: VMware and Customer Technical Session [MMC3074BU]
    • 3:30-4:30pm – Intriguing Integrations with VMware Cloud on AWS, EC2, S3, Lambda, and More [LHC2281BU]
    • 7-10pm – VMworld Customer Appreciation Party

 

  • Thursday the 31st of August
    • 10:30-11:30am – NSX and VMware Cloud on AWS: Deep Dive [LHC2103BU]

 

I have left some time in between sessions for blogging activities, various meetings, networking sessions and hall crawl which are also equally important as attending breakout sessions (If anything those are more important as the breakout session content will always be available online afterwards)

Thoughts & Predictions

VMworld is always a good event to attend and going by past experience, its a great event for finding out about new VMware initiatives and announcements as well as all the related partner ecosystem solutions, from the established big boys as well as relatively new or up and coming start-up’s that work with VMware technologies to offer new ways to solve todays business problems. I don’t see this year’s event being any different and my guess would be a lot of focus would be given to VMware’s Cross cloud architecture (announced last year) and everything related to that this year. Such things could include the availability of VMware Cloud on AWS and potentially some NSX related announcements that can facilitate this cross cloud architecture for the customers. We will have to wait and see obviously.

I will be aiming to get a daily summary blog out summarising key announcements from the day and any new or exciting solutions I come across. You can follow me on Twitter also for some live commentary throughout the day.

If you are a VMware customer or a partner, I would highly encourage you to attend VMworld at least once. It is a great event for learning new things, but also most importantly, its a great place to meet and gain access to back end VMware engineering staff that average people never get to see or interact with. This is very valuable if you are a techie. Also if you are a business person, you can network with key VMware executives and product managers to understand the future strategy of their product lines and also, collectively that of VMware.

 

Apple WWDC 2017 – Artificial Intelligence, Virtual Reality & Mixed Reality

Introduction

As a technologist, I like to stay close to key new developments & trends in the world of digital technology to understand how these can help users address common day to day problems more efficiently. Digital disruption and technologies behind that such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), IoTVirtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR) & Mixed Reality (MR) are hot topics as they have the potential to significantly reshape how consumers will consume products and services going forward. I am a keen follower on these disruptive technologies because the potential impact they can have on traditional businesses in an increasingly digital, connected world is huge in my view.

Something I’ve heard today coming out of Apple, the largest tech vendor on the planet about how they intend on using various AI technologies along with VR and AR technologies in their next product upgrades across the iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, App store, Mac…etc made me want to summarise those announcements and add my thoughts on how Apple will potentially lead the way to mass adoption of such digital technologies by many organisations of tomorrow.

Apple’s WWDC 2017 announcements

I’ve been an Apple fan since the first iPhone launch as they have been the prime example when it comes to tech vendors who utilizes cutting edge IT technologies to provide an elegant solution to address day to day requirements in a simple and effective manner that providers a rich user experience. I practically live on my iPhone every day for work and non-work related activities and also appreciate their other ecosystem products such as the MacBook, Apple watch, Apple TV and the iPad. This is typically not because they are technologically so advanced, but simply because they provide a simple, seamless user experience when it comes to using them to increase my productivity during day to day activities.

So naturally I was keen on finding out about the latest announcements that came out of Apple’s latest World Wide Developer Conference event that was held earlier today in San Jose. Having listened to the event and the announcements, I was excited by the new product and software upgrades announced but more than that, I was super excited about couple of related technology integrations Apple are coming out with which include a mix of AI, VR & AR to provide an even better user experience by integrating these technology advancements in to their product offerings.

Now before I go any further, I want to highlight this is NOT a summary of their new product announcements. What interested me out of these announcements were not so much the new apple products, but mainly how Apple, as a pioneer in using cutting edge technologies to create positive user experiences like no other technology vendor on the planet, are going to be using these potentially revolutionary digital technologies to provide a hugely positive user experience. This is relevant to every single business out there that manufacture a product, provides a service or solution offering to their customers as anyone can potentially look to incorporate the same capabilities in a similar or even a more creative and an innovative manner than Apple to provide a positive user experience in a similar fashion.

Use of Artificial Intelligence

Today Apple announced the increased use of various AI technologies everywhere within the future apple products as summarised below

  • Increased use of Artificial Intelligence technologies by the personal assistant “Siri”, to provide a more positive & a more personalised user experience
    • In the upcoming version of the Watch OS 4 for Apple Watch, AI technologies such as Machine Learning is going to be used to power the new Siri face such that Siri can now provide you with dynamic updates that are specifically relevant to you and what you do (context awareness)
    • The new iOS 11 will include a new voice for Siri, which now uses Deep Learning Technologies (AI) behind the scene to offer a more natural and expressive voice that sounds less machine and more human.
    • Siri will also use Machine Learning on each device (“On device learning”) to understand specifically what’s more relevant to you based on what you do on your device so that more personalised interactions can be made by Siri – In other words, Siri is becoming more context aware thanks to Machine Learning to provide a truly personal assistant service unique to each user including predictive tips based on what you are likely to want to do / use next.
    • Siri will use Machine Learning to automatically memorise new words from the content you read (i.e. News) so these words are now included on the dictionary & predictive texts automatically if you want to type them

 

  • Use of Machine Learning in iOS 11 within the photo app to enable various new capabilities to make life easier with your photos
    • Next version of Apple Mac OS, code named High Sierra, will supports additional features on the photo app including advanced face recognition capabilities which utilises AI technologies such as Advanced convolution Neural networks in order to let you group / filter your photos actually based on who’s on them
    • Machine learning capabilities will also be used to automatically understand the context of each photo based on the content of the photo to identify photos from events such as sporting events, weddings…etc and automatically group them / create events / memories
    • Using computer vision capabilities to create seamless loops on live photos
    • Use of Machine Learning to activate palm rejection on the iPad during writing using the apple Pen
    • Most Machine Learning capabilities are now available for 3rd party programmers via the iOS API’s such as Vision API (enables iOS app developers harness machine learning for face tracking, face detection, landmarks, text detection, rectangle detection, barcode detection, object tracking, image registration), Natural Language API (provides language identification, tokenization, lemmatisation, part of speech, named entity recognition)
    • Introduction of Machine Learning Model Converter, 3rd party ML contents can be converted to native iOS 11 Core ML functions.

 

  • Use of Machine Learning to improve graphics on iOS 11
    • Another Mac OS high sierra updates will include Metal 2 (the Apple API that provides app developers near direct access to the GPU capabilities) that will now integrate Machine Learning to graphic processing to provide advanced graphical capabilities such as Metal performance shaders, Recurrent neural network kernels, binary convolution, dilated convolution, L-2 norm pooling, Dilated pooling etc. (https://developer.apple.com/metal/)
    • Newly announced Mac Pro graphics powered by AMD Radeon Vega can provide up to 22 teraflops of half precision compute power which is specifically relevant for machine learning related content development

 

Use of Virtual Reality & Augmented Reality

  • Announcement on the introduction of Metal API for Virtual Reality to be used by developers – That includes Virtual Reality integration to Mac OS High Sierra Metal2 API to enable features such as VR-optimised display pipeline for video editing using VR and other related updates such as viewport arrays, system trace stereo timelines, GPU queue priorities, Frame debugger stereoscopic visualisation.
  • Availability of the ARKit for iOS 11 to create Augmented Reality straight out of iPhone using its camera and built in Machine Learning to identify contents on the live video, real time.

 

Use of IoT capabilities

  • Apple Watch integration for bi directional information synchronisation between Apple Watch and ordinary gym equipment so that your apple watch will now act as an IoT gateway to your typical gym equipment’s like the Treadmill or the cross trainer to provide more accurate measurements from the apple watch and the gym equipment will adjust the workouts based on those readings.
  • Apple watch OS 4 will also provide core Bluetooth connectivity to other devices such as various healthcare tools that open the connectivity of those devices through the Apple Watch

 

My thoughts

The use cases for digital technologies, such as AI, AR & VR in a typical corporate or an enterprise environment to create a better product / service / solution offering like Apple has used them, is immense and is often only limited by one’s level of creativity & imaginations. Many organisations around the world, from other tech or product vendors to Independent Software Vendors to an ordinary organisation like a high street shop or a supermarket can all benefit from the creative application of new digital technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, Augmented Reality and Internet Of Things in to their product / service / solution offerings to provide their customers with richer user experience as well as exciting new solutions. Topics like AI and AR are hot topics in the industry and some organisations are already evaluating the use of them while some already benefit from some of these technologies made easily accessible to the enterprise through platforms such as public cloud (Microsoft Cortana Analytics and Azure Machine Learning capabilities available on Microsoft Azure for example) platforms. But there are also a large number of organisations who are not yet fully investigating how these technologies can potentially make their business more innovative, differentiated or at the very least, more efficient.

If you belong to the latter group, I would highly encourage you to start thinking about how these technologies can be adopted by your business creatively. This applies to any organisation of any size in the increasingly digitally connected world of today. If you have a trusted partner for IT, I’d encourage you to talk to them about the same as the chances are that they will have more collective experience in helping similar businesses adopt such technologies which is more beneficial than trying to get their on your own, especially if you are new to it all.

Digital disruption is here to stay and Apple have just shown how advanced technologies that come out of digital disruption can be used to create better products / solutions for average customers. Pretty soon, AI / AR / IoT backed capabilities will become the norm rather than the exception and how would your business compete if you are not adequately prepared to embrace them?

Keen to get your thoughts?

 

You can watch the recorded version of the Apple WWDC 2017 event here.

Image credit goes to #Apple

 

#Apple #WWDC #2017 #AI #DeepLearning #MachineLearning #ComputerVision #IoT #AR #AugmentedReality #VR #VirtualReality #DigitalDisruption #Azure #Microsoft

 

VMware vSAN 6.6 Release – Whats New

VMware has just annouced the general availability of the latest version of vSAN which is the backbone of their native Hyper Converged Infrastructure offering with vSphere. vSAN has had a number of significant upgrades since its very first launch back in 2014 as version 5.5 (with vSphere 5.5) and each upgrade has added some very cool, innovative features to the solution which has driven the customer adoption of vSAN significantly. The latest version vSAN 6.6 is no different and by far it appears to be have the highest number of new features announced during an upgrade release.

Given below is a simple list of some of the key features of vSAN 6.6 which is the 6th generation of the products

Additional native security features

  • HW independent data at rest encryption (Software Defined Encryption)
    • Software Defined AES 256 encryption
    • Supported on all flash and hybrid
    • Data written already encrypted
    • KMS works with 3rd party KMS systems
  • Built-in compliance with dual factor authentication (RSA secure ID and Smart-card authentication)

Stretched clusters with local failure protection

With vSAN 6.6, if a site fails, surviving site will have local host and disk group protection still (not the case with the previous versions)

  • RAID 1 over RAID 1/5/6 is supported on All Flash vSAN only.
  • RAID 1 over RAID 1 is supported on Hybrid vSAN only

Proactive cloud analytics

This sounds like its kind of similar to Nimble’s cloud analytics platform which is popular with customers. With proactive cloud analytics, it uses data collected from VSAN support data globally to provide analytics through the vSAN health UI, along with some performance optimization advice for resolving performance issues.

Intelligent & Simpler operations

Simpler setup and post set up operations are achieved through a number of new features and capabilities. Some of the key features include,

  • Automated setup with 1 click installer & lifecycle management
  • Automated configuration & compliance checks for vSAN cluster (this was somewhat already available through vSAN health UI). Additions include,
    • Networking & cluster configurations assistance
    • New health checks for encryption, networking, iSCSI, re-sync operations
  • Automated controller firmware & driver upgrades
    • This automates the download and install of VMware supported drivers for various hard drives and RAID controllers (for the entire cluster) which is significantly important.
    • I think this is pretty key as the number of vSAN performance issues due to firmware mismatch (especially on Dell server HW) has been an issue for a while now.
  • Proactive data evacuation from failing drives
  • Rapid recovery with smart, efficient rebuild
  • Expanded Automation through vSAN SDK and PowerCLI

High availability

vSAN 6.6 now includes a highly available control plane which means the resilient management is now possible independent of vCenter.

Other key features

  • Increased performance
    • Optimized for latest flash technologies involving 1.6TB flash (Intel Optane drives anyone??)
    • Optimize performance with actionable insights
    • 30% faster sequential write performance
    • Optimized checksum and dedupe for flash
  • Certified file service and data protection (through 3rd party partners)
  • Native vRealize Operations integrations
  • Simple networking with Unicast
  • Real time support notification and recommendations
  • Simple vCenter install and upgrade
  • Support for Photon 1.1
  • Expanded caching tier choices

There you go. Another key set of features added to vSAN with the 6.6 upgrade which is great to see. If you are a VMware vSphere customer who’s looking at a storage refresh for your vSphere cluster or a new vSphere / Photon / VIC requirement, it would be silly not to look in to vSAN as opposed to looking at legacy hardware SAN technologies from a legacy vendor (unless you have non VMware requirements in the data center).

If you have any questions or thoughts, please feel free to comment / reach out

Additional details of whats new with VMware vSAN 6.6 is avaiable at https://blogs.vmware.com/virtualblocks/2017/04/11/whats-new-vmware-vsan-6-6/

Cheers

Chan

 

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