Yottabytes: Storage and Disaster Recovery

December 30, 2011  10:29 AM

Don’t Take This Disaster Recovery Facility for Granite

Sharon Fisher Sharon Fisher Profile: Sharon Fisher

Fall River, Massachusetts: Textile mills. Lizzie Borden. Disaster recovery.

Disaster recovery?

Yep. A new data center, Granite Block Global Data Center Inc., which is intended to provide application hosting, colocation and disaster recovery services to businesses in the financial services, healthcare and high technology industries, has opened up in a former textile mill in the venerable Massachusetts city.

And “Granite Block” isn’t just a colorful New England name. The walls of the facility are made of four-foot-thick solid granite, which the company says is virtually impenetrable.

Repurposing former industrial facilities into data centers has been an increasing trend in the past few years. Companies and cities looking for data center facilities are realizing that their business-convenient downtowns are often already the home of large, frequently empty, buildings. And not only do the buildings typically have a great deal of power capacity but companies can often get tax breaks for investing in what are considered distressed urban areas.  Around the world, data centers are now moving into paper mills, tanneries, department stores, warehouses, and even churches and bomb shelters.

Now a 163,000-sq. ft. former textile mill in Fall River — a city previously famous for being the home of accused ax murderer Lizzie Borden — is joining them, with Granite Block investing $5 million in the project, amid hopes that other abandoned textile mills in the New England area could serve the same purpose. Open Cape, a fiber company, has already said it intends to move into the facility — which will also give other tenants an additional connectivity option.

In addition to making use of the large power capacity the building already has, Granite Block intends to install wind turbines for energy and 400-foot artisan wells for geothermal cooling. The company has also added two 2-megawatt generators and says it has enough fuel on-site to run them for six days.

The facility is starting with 20 jobs, but could bring up to 70 jobs to the area, as well as visitors. A similar data center in Boston, which is just 40,000 square feet, brings in 500 to 700 visitors monthly, meaning the Fall River site could see three times that amount, said Granite Block President Roland Patenaude.

December 23, 2011  12:48 AM

Solid-State Storage Gets Boost From Flooding

Sharon Fisher Sharon Fisher Profile: Sharon Fisher

The Thailand flooding that’s boosted the price of hard disk drives may have an unintended benefit — at least if you’re a manufacturer or user of solid-state flash drives.

This nuance came out earlier this month in connection to Intel issuing an earnings warning.

“[Intel CFO Stacy] Smith, meanwhile, said the average selling price for chips should be higher in the period as low-end PCs, which have the least expensive chips, take the biggest hit from the hard-disk drive shortages. He added that solid-state drives, which use flash memory, should see an increase in demand,” said the Wall Street Journal.

Analysts such as Oakshire Financial delved into the issue in more detail, noting that this could be an investment opportunity.

If you believe the comments of Intel’s CFO and think that solid-state drives are the future, consider the following: In addition to Intel, OCZ Technology Group (NASDAQ:OCZ) is one of the primary (read: overly hyped) makers of solid-state drives. Seagate (NASDAQ:STX), Western Digital and SanDisk all manufacture solid-state drives as well.

In fact, while hard disk drive prices have been going up, the prices of solid-state drives have been going down, notes Idealo. Moreover, regardless of the flood, solid-state drives are on track to match the price of hard disk drives in less than a year, the site notes. Previous predictions had been it would take two years for prices to equalize, the site added.

December 19, 2011  1:08 AM

Heck With Nasuni’s Top 6; Let’s Hear the Bottom 10

Sharon Fisher Sharon Fisher Profile: Sharon Fisher

Maybe people like to hear about losers? That’s the conclusion after Nasuni Corp. released its State of Cloud Storage Providers Industry Benchmark Report. Over a period of 26 months, the company stress-tested a total of 16 cloud storage vendors to find out how well their services performed under pressure.

Of the 16, only 6 passed, according to Nasuni —  Amazon S3, AT&T Synaptic Storage as a Service (powered by EMC Atmos), Microsoft Windows Azure, Nirvanix, Peer1 Hosting (powered by EMC Atmos), and Rackspace Cloud.

Moreover, the company is not releasing the names of the ten vendors that failed. According to Bloomberg Business Week:

Which 10 failed? Nasuni spared those names, and for good reason. It wants them to get better, not go away.

Well, okay, though if people gravitate toward the six winners Nasuni did publicize, that’s not exactly going to be good news for the 10 losers anyway. (Do they, themselves, even know who they are? If not, how can they get better?) And, without knowing what Nasuni considers as a cloud storage provider, an awful lot of vendors stand to be tarred with the “loser” brush, notes Charles Babcock of Information Week.

There’s also the question of Nasuni’s own motivation. Bloomberg continues:

The Natick, Massachusetts-based startup provides storage technology and services built on top of existing cloud infrastructure. So the more providers in the market the better the competition and the more prices likely fall for Nasuni, which buys cloud storage and bundles in its proprietary technology to then sell to customers.

A company is ranking providers in a market in the hopes of being able to get a good deal from one of them? I’m sure Nasuni’s motivations are nothing but honorable, but the perception is that there easily could be some quid pro quo going on — “Sure, I’ll give you a good ranking, in return for a good deal.”

It’s great that someone is providing such testing, and the report and its methodology is interesting reading, including details about which service performs which functions the best. Still, it would be better if the tester wasn’t a company that stood to benefit from the results.

December 9, 2011  12:46 AM

Intel, Micron Double Flash Capacity

Sharon Fisher Sharon Fisher Profile: Sharon Fisher

This past summer, we started hearing about developments that would make it possible to have a 1-terabyte drive on a laptop.

The heck with that. How about a 1-terabyte thumb drive?

Not quite yet, but soon. Intel and Micron, which just finished putting out a 20nm 64-gigabit NAND flash device not so long ago, has now developed a 20nm 128-gigabit NAND flash device, which means a 128-gigabyte solid state drive can be put together with eight of the things, in the size of a fingertip, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The announcement is another indication that companies keep packing more transistors on chips–roughly in keeping with the pace that industry pioneer Gordon Moore described in what Silicon Valley denizens call his law. The new chips are built from circuitry measured at just 20 nanometers–a level of miniaturization that some experts once projected would be too small for NAND flash technology to keep working.

The companies were able to do this in two ways, they say.

The companies also revealed that the key to their success with 20nm process technology is due to an innovative new cell structure that enables more aggressive cell scaling than conventional architectures. Their 20nm NAND uses a planar cell structure – the first in the industry – to overcome the inherent difficulties that accompany advanced process technology, enabling performance and reliability on par with the previous generation. The planar cell structure successfully breaks the scaling constraints of the standard NAND floating gate cell by integrating the first Hi-K/metal gate stack on NAND production.

The chips are expected to be shipped in sample quantities to system makers in January and reach mass production in mid-2012. They are expected to be used in mobile devices, portable gaming systems, and solid-state drives.

November 30, 2011  5:23 PM

Mitt Romney Takes Lesson from Mike Huckabee on Disk Drives

Sharon Fisher Sharon Fisher Profile: Sharon Fisher

A Republican presidential candidate, a former Governor, is being slammed in the press due to accusations that, when he left the governor’s office, he ordered information from computers in his office destroyed.

No, not Mike Huckabee. It was Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, who added a new wrinkle: 11 staffers purchased 17 hard disks from government computers when departing. A spokeswoman for the campaign told the Boston Globe, which broke the story, that the former aides did nothing wrong and had “complied with the law and longtime executive branch practice” — at which point the Globe interviewed several past governors who said that, no, their staffers had never purchased state hard drives and in fact had never heard of such a thing.

Moreover, in September 2006, the Governor’s office began submitting requests to the Records Conservation Board to destroy some documents, such as “vendor invoices, intern files, and accounting records – and those involving topics such as “travel expense records,’’ “pardon/commutation records,’’ and “individual appointment requests,”” the Globe reported. The upshot is that no records are available of email sent during Romney’s four-year term.

Now, it’s certainly true that e-Discovery experts advise that their clients have a regular program of destroying files as they reach a certain age, partly to prevent a legal fishing expedition should the company go to court. But typically, public servants are held to transparency laws that require them to save and archive such messages — President George W. Bush, for example, was required to have his office search for email messages when millions of them were found to have been deleted.

As with Huckabee’s disk drive destruction, Romney’s office at first claimed the disk drives were purchased because of the sensitive nature of the information on them. In a later interview, however, Romney cited another reason: keeping potentially damaging information out of the hands of his opponents.

In fact, radio station WBUR has since ascertained that Romney’s office had shortened the lease of the computer equipment. “The new lease could be a completely innocuous attempt to give the new governor fresh computers. But it was standard practice to scrub the hard drives once a lease had expired, so changing the lease also allowed Romney’s staff to order the hard drives scrubbed before returning the old computers.”

Romney’s claim is that the Massachusetts public records law does not cover the Governor, but that his office voluntarily donated some 700 boxes of records to the state archives — of course, on paper, which would make them virtually unsearchable by journalists or a court. In fact, they are said to be particularly disorganized.

To add insult to injury, Romney’s office is claiming that this is all a plot cooked up by the current Massachusetts Governor, Democrat Deval Patrick, and the campaign of Democratic President Barack Obama, and is filing its own records request for communication between the two offices.

Two other Republican Governors who are or who have considered running for President, Texas Governor Rick Perry and South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, have also been observed deleting records from their time in office.

What I said about Huckabee earlier this year is just as valid for Romney now, as well as for any other government official: Regardless of whether the data on the hard drives was incriminating or merely sensitive, the appearance is an issue. As the saying goes, in politics perception is more important than reality, and even if Romney had nothing but the best intentions in mind, his destruction of the disks gives the perception that he was hiding information that should legitimately be available to the people of Massachusetts and the U.S. With legal experts now saying that governments are subject to the same electronic discovery requirements as any corporation, Romney’s actions could be considered suspect or legally liable.

November 27, 2011  12:54 AM

Arbitrator Awards Seagate $525 Million in Western Digital Trade Secrets Case

Sharon Fisher Sharon Fisher Profile: Sharon Fisher

What the hell can one guy know that’s worth half a billion dollars?

That’s Western Digital’s reaction to a decision this week of an arbitrator to a case where a Seagate employee who joined Western Digital is accused of having brought trade secrets with him. Though it was Western Digital’s idea in the first place to keep it secret four years ago when the case first came up, the Irvine, Calif. company has now publicized the award, along with saying it intends to fight the decision — though since it’s binding arbitration, they may be out of luck. To add insult to injury, the award also includes 10% interest per year.

“The case stems from a lawsuit filed by Seagate in Hennepin District Court in October 2006 against Western Digital and former employee Sining Mao, alleging misappropriation of confidential information and trade secrets,” writes the Star Tribune in Minneapolis, where the case was filed because Seagate has a lot of employees there. “Mao, 48, was an engineering manager at Seagate before departing for Western Digital in October 2006, where he’s now a vice president. After the suit was filed, Mao filed for arbitration in June 2007, and a motion to compel arbitration was granted by the court in September 2007, according to a Western Digital securities filing. The arbitration hearing began in May and continued through July of this year,” the Star Tribune continued, adding that Western Digital has more than $3 billion in cash on hand.

According to his LinkedIn profile, Mao was at Seagate for more than 11 years in positions of increased responsibility, and is still at Western Digital. He holds bachelor and masters degrees in physics from Peking University, and a doctorate in physics from the University of Maryland. His research topics cover the advanced nanotechnologies including GMR, TMR and BMR, as well as longitudinal and perpendicular recording, and he has more than 170 scientific papers and 50 conference presentations on magnetic thin film materials and devices, according to his bio for the Silicon Valley Technology Innovation and Entrepreneurship Forum. He also holds 57 patents in the field.

This isn’t the first time Seagate has attempted to keep one of its high-level people from going to Western Digital. In 2004, the company sought an injunction to keep Peter Goglia, executive director of the Recording Head Operation, from joining Western Digital. This attempt failed; according to his LinkedIn profile, he became a vice president of R&D at Western Digital for three years before moving on to two other companies in the field.

This hasn’t been a great year for Western Digital; the company was also affected by the Thai flooding, to the extent that it could lose its first place position in the disk drive market and could cut its revenue by more than half. However, the company also said that the judgment wouldn’t affect its ability to purchase Hitachi GST, announced in March. Analysts quoted by Reuters, however, said misappropriation of trade secrets cases are hard to prove and that it doesn’t affect the company’s ability to compete.

November 18, 2011  6:46 PM

Yes, It’s That Time Already: E-Discovery Predictions for 2012

Sharon Fisher Sharon Fisher Profile: Sharon Fisher

In the same way that Costco and Big Lots have had Christmas stuff out since before Halloween, it’s not even Thanksgiving yet and there’s already at least three predictions of 2012 e-Discovery trends out there. Lord help us.

(One could conjecture that it’s because e-Discovery comes from the legal profession, and it’s their job to do planning, and come out with surveys, but as it happens, the storage industry is starting to come out with predictions, too. It’s just that there aren’t three of them to make a trend yet.)

Daegis, an e-Discovery vendor, came out with its predictions on Wednesday:

  1. Litigants will Focus On Leveraging Knowledge Gained In Prior Reviews
  2. Out with the Old Pricing Model, In with the New
  3. Cloud and Social Media Make Privacy, Security Issues Foggy
  4. The Human Element Returns to eDiscovery
  5. Judges, Regulators Increase Focus on eDiscovery Rules

Meanwhile, the nonprofit blog Metropolitan Corporate Counsel came out with its five predictions on Thursday.

  1. The Cloud is here to stay
  2. Big data and business intelligence meet eDiscovery
  3. New technology drives real changes in how data is identified, collected, processed, reviewed, analyzed and produced
  4. Data collection continues to become more complex
  5. Continued maturation of corporate e-Discovery processes
Not to be outdone, e-Discovery vendor Symantec has come out with ten e-Discovery predictions for 2012:
  1. Technology Assisted Review (TAR) Gains Speed
  2. The Custodian-Based Collection Model Comes Under Stress
  3. The FRCP Amendment Debate Will Rage On – Unfortunately Without Much Near Term Progress
  4. Data Hoarding Increasingly Comes Under Pressure
  5. Information Governance Becomes a Viable Reality
  6. Backup Tapes Will Be Increasingly Seen as a Liability
  7. International e-Discovery/e-Disclosure Processes Will Continue to Mature
  8. Email Becomes “So 2009” – As Social Media Gains Traction
  9. Cost Shifting Will Become More Prevalent – Impacting the “American Rule”
  10. Risk Assessment Becomes a Critical Component of e-Discovery

Some of these are kind of no-brainers and there’s a fair amount of overlap between the three sets. The cloud and social media are going to continue making e-Discovery more complex. E-Discovery processes continue to mature, which means judges will increasingly rely on rules and new ones are likely to be created. Things keep getting more expensive. And the more data you have, the more likely it is that something in there is going to come back and bite you.

See how easy it is? I just made four predictions of my own and I wasn’t even trying.

On the other hand, we’ve got one prediction saying e-Discovery is going to become more human, and another saying there’s going to be more machine-aided review as the custodian model comes under more stress. How to reconcile that, I don’t know.

November 14, 2011  6:23 PM

What Nationality is Your Data, Round Two

Sharon Fisher Sharon Fisher Profile: Sharon Fisher

A group of major U.S. vendors such as Google, Microsoft, Citigroup, IBM, and GE, working under the aegis of the National Foreign Trade Council, is urging the United States to fight for trade rules that protect the free flow of information over the Internet, and against “digital protectionism.”

Such actions include requirements that companies locate data centers in a country to provide services there, as well as blocking access to services such as Facebook, Twitter, WordPress, and YouTube, according to the Reuters writeup of the group’s recommendations, which they issued in a report called “Promoting Cross‐Border Data Flows: Priorities for the Business Community.”

Ironically, this is happening at the same time that European countries — which have much higher levels of data privacy than the U.S. — are issuing their own reports talking about the risks of “life logging” systems such as Facebook, and generally asking why everybody can’t be more like Europe in terms of personal data privacy.

Similarly, as we discussed a few months ago, a number of non-U.S. countries are concerned about the possibility of their data virtually “entering” the U.S.consequently becoming subject to laws that would enable the U.S. government to seize the data — perhaps without the parent company even knowing about it.

And in the same way the U.S. thinks the Europeans are being awfully stuffy about laws protecting things like data privacy, there’s likely to be a number of countries that think the U.S. is being awfully stuffy about laws protecting things like copyright, patents, and ownership, yet oddly there don’t seem to be too many business groups suggesting that those laws be relaxed.

Numerous other worldwide business organizations are also weighing in on how countries should make it easier for them to conduct business over the Internet. The European Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development has issued its own report calling for European governments to promote cross-border data flows. And a new law that was supposed to protect Europeans from cookies is thought to be so strict that its implementation is being put off for a year while they try to figure out a better way to do it.

Just how exactly countries are supposed to make the Internet more open to business, while still protecting business ownership of content, and hopefully not throwing consumer privacy under the bus in the process, is going to be an interesting juggling act.

November 7, 2011  4:07 PM

Why Broadband Won’t Kill Local Storage

Sharon Fisher Sharon Fisher Profile: Sharon Fisher

I usually really like material from Om Malik and his staff at GigaOm, but he posted something recently that had me shaking my head, When will broadband finally kill local storage?

Today, there is very little need for me to have any in-home storage. My documents live in Dropbox and Google Office. My photos get backed up to iCloud. Radio comes from Pandora. On-demand music comes from Spotify. Movies come from Netflix. TV comes from Hulu. The home phone is Skype. And for everything else, there’s Amazon.

Well, that’s very nice, and I’m glad it’s working for him. But let’s talk about why Malik is a very, very special case.

What happens when he loses his Internet feed or there’s a service outage? Increasingly, we’ve been seeing these this year, even with companies as big as Amazon.

What happens when he travels? Sure, he doesn’t have to carry a hard disk, but what if he can’t get Internet access? How does he get access to his documents, his applications, or even his music or movies?

What about security? Isn’t he worried about sending all that stuff back and forth and it being available on the cloud? To what degree can he depend on his vendors to protect his data?

What about privacy? Not to suggest that Malik is doing anything nefarious. But increasingly, governments are watching what people are doing, and bills currently under discussion would even give corporations that power — if not against individuals like Malik himself, against his providers.

What if one of his providers goes out of business? Granted, he seems to be working with pretty big vendors right now, but if Netflix goes belly-up, what does he do for movies?

Does everyone really want to juggle all those providers? True, he doesn’t have a single point of failure — but instead he has multiple points of failure. How does he keep up with all those vendors, the updates, the renewal fees, and so on? Granted, my big brick (a 2-terabyte NAS) could die — but it’s all in my hands and in my control.

What about cost? As discussed a few months ago, storage is actually getting cheaper faster than bandwidth. (Of course, that was before the flooding in Thailand — and boy, am I glad I already have my 2TB brick.)

And finally, the biggest issue of all — as Malik casually refers to it in the story, “My 100 Mbps broadband connection without any caps.” He goes on to say, “Now I understand that today not everyone in the U.S. can get a 100 Mbps connection to their home, and even when they can, it’s an expensive proposition.”

You think?

Also, I disagree with his handwaving contention that surely everyone will be able to get such a connection in a few years. Check out the most recent Akamai Technologies State of the Internet report, as written up in the Huffington Post.

The United States was found to be in 12th place globally, with an average connection speed of 5.8 Mbps — much better than the global average of 2.6 MBps, but less than half as fast as the South Korea which boasts an average speed of 13.8 MBps. One possible reason that the U.S. has relatively slow internet as compared with other developed nations is because the governments in some countries, such as Japan, require broadband companies to use the newest internet technology to guarantee the best service. The U.S., by contrast, “generally relie[s] on the marketplace to determine the cost and quality of broadband,” MacWorld reports.”

And how realistic is it, even if the average person could get a pipe of 100 mbps, that there won’t be caps? If anything, we’ve been seeing more instances recently of users running into caps on their data and even getting cut off from the Internet altogether.

In short, it sounds like a great idea, but it’s unrealistic for the near future — and perhaps for the far future as well.

October 31, 2011  4:23 PM

Storage Industry Hit by Thai Flooding

Sharon Fisher Sharon Fisher Profile: Sharon Fisher

The storage industry is getting hit again. Just a few months after the Japan earthquake affected flash storage manufacturing, the devastating Thai floods show signs of affecting hard disk drive manufacturing down the road.

Of course, the effect on the industry is minor compared to the effect on the Thai people themselves, where so far nearly 400 have died in what is said to be the worst flooding in 50 years. But as the worst of the flooding appears to be over, the country is beginning to examine the economic effects — which could end up being nearly as damaging as the economic unpleasantness a few years back, according to component research firm iSuppli:

“As a result of the flooding, the HDD industry in the fourth quarter will suffer its worst downturn in three years. HDD shipments in the fourth quarter will decline to 125 million units, down 27.7 percent from 173 million in the third quarter, as presented in the figure attached. The drop is the largest sequential decrease on a percentage basis since the fourth quarter of 2008 when shipments fell 21.2 percent during the worst point of the last electronics downturn. IHS estimates that 30 percent of HDD production in the fourth quarter this year will be lost because of the disaster. This will result in a significant shortage of HDDs. Because of the shortage, HDD inventories will be depleted and will cause average HDD pricing to rise by 10 percent in the fourth quarter compared to the third.”

Thailand is the world’s second-largest provider of hard disk drives, after China, and has manufacturing facilities for Western Digital and Toshiba, iSuppli goes on to say. And while Seagate has an operating plant in the area, it may face a shortage of parts, according to Reuters.

In fact, the effects are likely to be so devastating that they will change Western Digital’s status in disk drive manufacturing, iSuppli says. “Western Digital is likely to lose its status as the world’s largest shipper of HDDs, with its rank expected to fall two positions to third in the fourth quarter, down from first place in the third quarter. Toshiba’s rank could fall to fourth place, down from fifth.”

Slowdowns are particularly likely to occur in notebook PCs in the first quarter of next year, iSuppli said, because some components are stockpiled and the market will likely adjust to use different sources by the second quarter. Several notebook providers, including Compai, said their quarterly earnings might be lower as a result of lower shipments due to the lack of disk drives. (Though, if the Japanese flash storage manufacturers recover, perhaps this will push a faster-than-expected switch to flash storage in notebooks?)

Part of the blame goes to increasingly tight “just in time” manufacturing supply chains, where parts are shipped essentially as they’re needed rather than being warehoused, Reuters noted.

Iain Bowles of ProBrand had even more dire predictions, of price increases of up to 25 percent. In fact, shortages from the Thai natural disaster could be worse than the Japan earthquake because stockpiles are smaller, he said. Moreover, he believes it could extend into the second quarter of next year as well, and that the recovery is likely to be slower than in Japan.

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