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Address Hybrid Cloud Storage Management Priorities With IBM Hyper-Scale Manager

An interview with Andy Walls, IBM Fellow, CTO and Chief Architect, IBM FlashSystem, who discusses management of storage in a hybrid cloud.

Coils of light meet in the middle of a black screen, looking like a double helix.

Nick Harris is the storage team lead in the IBM Competitive Project Office. Nick wrote this article on behalf of IBM Systems Magazine.

In a previous interview with Andy Walls, IBM Fellow, CTO and Chief Architect, IBM FlashSystem, we discussed the new demands being made of storage infrastructure as data spreads throughout hybrid clouds. We focused on the growing need to discriminate between workloads based on performance, capacity, scale and the need for data reduction to reduce cost and footprint.

In this interview we will discuss management of storage in a hybrid cloud. Ease of use is cited as a key priority in many research papers. An IDC Opinion paper “Customer Storage Priorities—Breaking down Storage Tradeoffs” discusses a survey of 254 businesses across the U.S. and Europe, and poses the question, “Which of the following features and capabilities are the most important when purchasing storage systems?” Reliability came in highest, with ease of use and consistent system performance tied for second highest ranking.

Nick Harris: What are the recent changes for FlashSystem A9000/A9000R, XIV and Spectrum Accelerate?

Andy Walls: In the past six months, IBM has made some significant upgrades to how you manage IBM’s Spectrum Accelerate powered offerings in an Enterprise Hybrid Cloud.

In February 2015, we announced Spectrum Accelerate as a software only version of this product. This provided our customers with both pre-integrated (IBM XIV) and SDS versions of the same product base. This enabled clients to visualize what a capacity based hybrid cloud could look like, as it included both on-premises or off-premises forms.

In 2016, we filled the growing performance gap in hybrid cloud that could not be fulfilled by a capacity-based solution. IBM FlashSystem A9000 and IBM FlashSystem A9000R provided the highly reliable microsecond latency demanded as enterprise solutions transitioned to hybrid clouds. At the same time, we also shipped IBM Hyper-Scale Manager V5. As we progressed through 2016, we announced that this new version of Hyper-Scale Manager would replace both the existing Hyper-Scale Manager and the IBM XIV User Interface.

NH: Why did IBM decide to replace the existing GUI that came from IBM XIV?

AW: The IBM XIV GUI has been extremely popular, and it was a big part of the success of the XIV platform. In fact, we ported it to Spectrum Virtualize, IBM Flash System 900 and the DS8000.

One of the benefits of having the broadest portfolio of storage is that IBM has the ability to inherit the best of breed technology across all platforms. This is exactly what we did with the famed IBM XIV GUI.

As IBM XIV grew as a major solution for the VMware client base, the number of XIV devices being managed by customers and service providers mirrored this growth. Being able to manage multiple XIVs across disparate environments became critical, and IBM Hyper-Scale Manager was born. IBM knew having two different user interfaces was going to be a challenge as clients moved forward to hybrid clouds.

NH: What did IBM do to understand this new way of working?

AW: We knew there needed to be a change in operational technique. We had a product with outstanding ease of use for managing single instance, simplicity of management for dozens of systems, in a highly secure multi-tenancy storage cloud.

Any new UI would need to be user and task centric. After 10 years of working with IBM XIV, and more recently Spectrum Virtualize and DS8000 series, we came to the conclusion that we needed to innovate to meet the new needs of our customers.

We visited customers and watched them working in their environments, from single systems to managed service providers with multiple storage boxes. We concluded that although we had a very simple UI, our customers’ work style and flow had changed. We also found that the existing UI design was not that simple in the case where the workflow is complex, or where multiple boxes are involved.

Our first task was to look at the way storage administrators and others are involved in storage infrastructure work. If you look at any TV news program, or hospital drama, hosts and staff rarely use fixed workstations. They can be seen walking around and interacting with data/information via a tablet. Today’s knowledge engineers will be agile and mobile, rather than limited to storage administrators. We opted for a tablet-friendly design with a flat UI that followed IBM’s design language for all software.

This starting point is very different from many other vendors. There is a definite sense of separation of domain in many storage products in the marketplace; you have a built for purpose on-premise solution, a completely separate SDS or cloud-based solution, and yet another solution for low latency. Each of these solutions has a different UI and different features—and mobile support is often considered an add-on, not the design point.

NH: Once you had talked to client teams, what was the next step?

AW: Our next area for consideration was how to adapt for the hybrid cloud era. We knew that we needed to combine everything into one homogenous application. What we have in the Spectrum Accelerate software is the versatility in a single storage solution to support flash, disk and software defined. We wanted a management interface that was multi-tier, seamless and intuitive, while giving users the feeling that they were managing the same family. If you look at a volume from A9000/A9000R and a volume from XIV, they are simply shown as two volumes in your new Hyper-Scale Manager environment. Both volumes can be moved, mirrored, mapped and changed in one click—something you cannot do with other storage management solutions.

Additionally, we found that in their workflow, customers were running around with notes, sheets and valuable information in their head that related to data objects, their relations and dependencies. Then, if they needed to monitor, troubleshoot, move or delete these objects, significant planning was required before actually doing any work. Even with planning, tasks might need to be canceled if an unknown dependency was discovered. This bump and restart style can become very time consuming and frustrating for administrators. Once this was understood and researched, it was clear that we needed to develop a new design. IBM researchers saw similar problems occurring in small or growing companies, and came up with an innovative solution that was not currently available in the storage management market.

IBM then started low level designs and developed infrastructure to support them, spending a year to run design validations with close to 50 customers. After two years of research, design and development, IBM launched the new Hyper-Scale Manager UI in the market along with the old UI. We tested it with several customers in its first year, built a roadmap to improve it and closed gaps of features from the old UI.

The new UI takes a highly user-centric, user-minded approach, and has been adapted to the new ways administrators (not just storage administrators) approach their tasks. It can make it easier for them to perform tasks, without the need to remember information, take notes or make sure they are working in a specific order. They can start their task flow at any step they prefer, and the application will make sure they finalize it along with the dependencies and prerequisites.

Also, we delivered new concepts to see and monitor a wide view of the hybrid storage environment through a mobile friendly graphical pane. For example, the Hub widget on the left in Figure 1 (it looks like an octopus) allows fast-path links to important system functions. Live tabs across to the right allow multiple systems to be viewed on the dashboard. Each tab is active, and the user can directly access the function or systems.

5Figure1.jpgFigure 1

After performing IBM internal studies, we believe the new UI can help the customer cut management total cost of ownership (by reducing number of clicks) in half. During all of this work on the new UI, IBM earned about 20 patents on its innovations.

NH: Can you give me examples of where the Hyper-Scale Manager UI meets the demands of working in this new hybrid environment?

AW: Yes, let’s look at a couple of features that spring to mind. The first is a new aspect of storage management that is evolving with storage clouds.

User-Centric Administration Is Needed in Hybrid Cloud Storage

As organizations continue to evolve to a hybrid cloud infrastructure, it's no longer just the storage administrator who needs access to the storage device. The lines are blurring between storage, database and systems administrators; and each will need to know more about their respective areas – and more. For example, when we look at converged and hyper-converged infrastructure, as hardware and management become more tightly packaged, the typical storage administrator will have to understand more about the virtualization and applications above the storage.

A very powerful role access and privileges mechanism has been built into the Hyper-Scale Manager to protect data and accommodate the reality of working in a hybrid cloud environment. Specifically, IBM defined 11 predefined user categories for XIV and Spectrum Accelerate. Six of those categories allow multiple users to adopt these privileges, and an additional five categories are primarily specialist or IBM Technical Support roles. The first six user categories have different management privileges, depending on the category selected. IBM defined eight categories for A9000; four that allow multiple users, and four support roles. This differentiates between the advanced privileges needed for storage administrators and more basic privileges for other types of administrators less familiar with storage. Most user interfaces simply offer global access and privileges, which allows any user to perform tasks outside their sphere of operation.

IBM Hyper-Scale Manager users actually adopt their roles and rights from the particular device (Spectrum Accelerate, XIV or A9000). For example, when a user is logged into the Hyper-Scale Manager and selects a particular system to perform a task, the Hyper-Scale Manager compares the system and the role, and then presents the appropriate UI and rights.

Spectrum Accelerate users are listed as: storage admin, application admin, read only, security admin, storage integration admin and operations admin. The technical support roles are: technician, xiv_development, xiv_maintenance, xiv-hostprofiler and hsa_client. A9000 has fewer but similar roles defined.

From the User's pane we can use the control bubble to add a new user (see Figure 2).

5Figure2.jpgFigure 2

The bubble is replaced with the Hub related to ‘Add User.’ In this case, the Hub displays links that apply to adding a new user role (system and user group). From the category pulldown we can select one of the User roles just described (see Figure 3).

Figure 3

When assigning access to the storage device, the storage administrator assigns a role based on the particular user’s needs.

It’s worth noting that most other storage vendors have not developed a role based management strategy and simply implement user ID access control. This means users could have storage control rights above their operations role and skill set, which introduces significant risk of error or inadvertent action impacting the infrastructure.

Task-Oriented Workspace Customization Aids Productivity in Hybrid Clouds

Once you have role-based access, the next design point is to acknowledge that these users will have different habits and task flows. Allowing the user to customize their workspace further enhances their productivity. For example, application administrator tasks will often revolve around copy and snapshot management. Their dashboard can have tabs that focus on these tasks.

Most storage management UIs follow a standard directory tree structure layout. This forces users to navigate up and down a static route to a task, and frequently track in and out of different areas of the UI to find information related to the task they want to perform. This approach has caused many admins to continue to use the Command Line Interface access method if available. This allows users to build a stock of text-based scripts to perform direct access to particular tasks or information, and saves many clicks up and down the User Interface access tree. The challenge with script-based tasks is that they require deep knowledge of the task syntax and are fraught with the possibility for errors.

Let me show you an example of running a task with the simplicity and information richness of the new Hyperscale Manager UI. If we want to perform a simple add volume, it may sound easy. But any volume has a potential for many characteristics and options; gathering and applying this detail can take a lot of time.

Even though adding a new volume is a pretty mundane task, doing so often involves choosing many options and properties. The new UI simplifies this task such that a novice could create new volumes easily. Once the user opts to create a new volume (see Figure 4), input fields for “Create Volume” and the Hub is displayed.

5Figure4.jpgFigure 4

Once the volume is created, the branches of the Hub become live links and contain all possible characteristics of a volume in one simple view. You can allocate any of the characteristics remaining in the current volumes view to finish implementing the new volume (see Figure 5).


Figure 5

One of the first tasks round the Hub is “Mapping.” This option is used to associate the volume with a host or cluster. Clicking the “Add” bubble will open an input dialogue below the Hub to complete the mapping. During the volume creation you remain in the same active pane, unlike old style UIs where you would be constantly backing in and out of different panes to perform each property task.

This is just one example of the simplicity and information richness delivered by the new Hyper-Scale Manager UI. It has a significant contribution to administrative efficiency and policy driven automation at any scale. Ease of use and efficiency add even more weight to the subject of our first interview, the growing need for consistency in performance from storage infrastructure on-premise and in the cloud.

The Spectrum Accelerate family excels thanks to its grid-based architecture and the MicroLatency of IBM FlashSystems. Combine the new UI with its native architecture, and you have a recipe for hybrid cloud storage success.

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