What were they thinking? …

March 10, 2015

My work system was recently “upgraded” to Office 2013. Notice I highlighted “upgraded” because that is a very, very loose definition of what happened. My main focus here is Outlook.

There are some improvements, and some nice features that make it a little nicer to use, but in general it’s a major backward step from Outlook 2010, and there is one major, very important, and vitally usable feature that has gone missing in the name of “upgrading”. I’m referring to “unified search”. On a windows 7 machine, with office 2010, you can use the search function in the bottom of the start menu in Windows, and it will find all documents, including emails, that contain the key word you are searching for.

That has been removed, and now, with office 2013 on the machine, Windows 7 (and I believe 8.1 also but I’ll never use that) won’t find or show emails.

What the? …

That was probably the most heavily used function on my system. My documents and emails are my resource library to find information about our systems and customers, especially when looking for something like an issue that you think you may have dealt with before … now where was that email?

I am no fan of Microsoft, but am forced by corporate (at the moment) to use a PC, and have developed my workstyle to use this feature heavily. In fact I rely on it more than my own memory (which is pretty dodgy to say the least). So now, in the name of an “upgrade”, I’ve lost a major useful feature in my day to day work life. What a pain in the neck.

So while I was googling to try and find a way to fix this scenario (don’t mind the odd hack here and there), it came to mind that maybe we have done, or do, the same thing.

Have we taken away something you need, use or like in our software or controllers? I can think of a few things we’ve done that have upset customers, but I’d love to hear from the punter out there slogging away building systems exactly what it is that we’ve done that makes us look like Microsoft and their Outlook “upgrade”.

Throw them at me folks – warts and all.



Is RAID really that boring? …

March 5, 2015

The lads in our marketing department obviously have too much time on their hands (not), and have been watching youtube … specifically looking at RAID videos. They’ve had the bright idea that “hey, we could do that!” and pulled my name out of the hat to do this stuff. Considering it was my hat and my name was the only one in there I didn’t stand too much of a chance.

There are lots of videos out there. From snappy little graphics-only talk-fests to ancient old hands-on demonstrations in noisy labs where you can’t hear a word the presenter is saying, through to death-by-powerpoint gabfests that had me nodding off by slide 3.

Now I know that the subject matter is known to me, so I’m not going to find this stuff all that interesting or challenging, but I wanted to get a look at presentations styles … what works and what doesn’t, how the angles and views work, and what level the videos are pitched at. So after an afternoon of trolling youtube, getting sidetracked on a regular basis, and falling asleep several times, I’ve come to the conclusion that there is no real “best” way to do this – and that all videos are boring and RAID is mind-bendingly dull.

So how do we intend to (a) make a better video, (b) make it interesting and (c) keep the camera off my ugly-mug … I don’t know. This is going to be quite a challenge. Stay tuned for some laughs I’m sure.

Of course, if there are subjects (legal and ethical) that you want to see a video on, drop us a line and give us your suggestions. Damn, I’m going to have to put a shirt on for this stuff :-)



A mild fixation …

February 27, 2015

Here goes with another controversial blog for Product Marketing to ponder …

Customers have a fixation on port numbers. I find it a bit unusual because we tend not to have the same sort of fixation on anything else we do in life. However when it comes to port count on RAID controllers or HBA’s we definitely have a fixation.

Example: I have 2 x SSD – hmm, you don’t have a 2-port controller so I”ll look at 4-port instead. I’ll never even think about looking at 16 port controllers because I’m fixated on the number of drives I currently have. That’s a shame because in fact it’s the 16-port controller that you need, whether you currently recognise it or not.

I’ll come back to that but let’s look at the rest of our life compared to RAID controllers. The speed limit in my country (on the open motorway) is 110km/h. So therefore why do I need a motorbike that does more than 110km/h? Why on earth would I own a Ducati Monster that’s capable of around 265km/h (don’t tell the wife that).
I recently upgraded the suspension on my 4WD – I could have standard height, 30mm lift or 60mm lift? Hmmm, I mostly drive on the road so I could stick with the standard height, but guess what – the wife now needs a step ladder to get into the car because it’s had the 60mm lift :-)

So I have no fixation on the limits imposed by the law, or the limits imposed by common-sense when it comes to my vehicles, but I certainly have one (as do most customers) when it comes to choosing RAID cards.

You guessed it – I’m banging on about the 71605E again – a 16 port “entry” card that is absolutely perfect for RAID 10 on SSD – fast, capable and cheap(ish). But do customers ever look at it? No, because it’s 16 ports and they are fixated on 4 and 8 port controllers. So I own the vehicles that suit my needs, not vehicles that are dictated to me by random numbers imposed by the law or my wife’s height. Funny enough that’s the way we should look at controllers – what suits my “performance” requirements, not what suits my “numbers” requirements.

If our marketing department was based in Australia we’d run an ad campaign entitled: “who gives a *^%&$ how many ports the thing has?”. Can’t really see that ever happening in this company, but at the end of the day that’s what needs to be embedded in customer mindsets – stop thinking about the number of drives you have, and start thinking about what controller has the processing performance to handle your requirements. This is mostly addressed at SSD users because while they have made up their mind to use a faster device, they still haven’t changed their mindset about which controller card they should use – and they need to big time.

Using my bike as analogy again … I can buy cheap tyres, or I can buy ridiculously expensive Pirelli’s that are far more capable than my riding ability – and guess what I buy (certainly not the cheap and nasty) – I want to give my bike the ability to perform to it’s full potential – even if the rider isn’t as capable as he once was :-)

So stop thinking port count … and start thinking performance (7 and 8 series).



I feel the need for (read) speed …

February 23, 2015

I was sitting up ridiculously late the other night chatting to my PMC mate in Germany who has developed a customer test lab where vendors send us their latest and greatest and he puts them through their paces (more about the lab in future blogs).

While chewing the fat and discussing all things technical, he mentioned to me the new Toshiba PX03SN range of SSDs he’s been testing. Are they fast I ask? 1100MB/sec read speed was the answer.

STOP. Have I fallen asleep during this phone call and am now dreaming of SSD or did I hear that correctly?

Yes, I heard it correctly. 1100MB/sec read speed. OK, the write speed is only 380MB/sec, but who cares … with 100,000 4K IOP read speed and 26K IOP write speed, these things are amazing. Of course you need a Series 8 12Gb controller to make these work, and yes 6 of them will saturate the controller, but it’s not actually the controller that saturates – it’s the PCIe bus. Imagine that, PCIe 3.0 is not fast enough already. No idea when we’ll see 4.0 if ever, but 3.0 (8 lanes) has a maximum throughput of around 6,600MB/sec, which we used to need 16 drives to easily hit. My German mate is telling me he can do this straight out of the box with 6 drives now.

I wonder how fast one of these things will boot Windows? :-)



The KISS principle …

February 12, 2015

(regarding product lines that is) …

Was just reading an excellent article – a bit dated time-wise but the story never gets old …

Why does this come to mind right now? Two recent personal issues have shown Apple’s direction to be the right one in my mind, and a lot of other organisations might take note.

1. The daughter’s phone was stolen. That in itself is traumatic enough for a 20-year-old, but dealing with the phone company on deciding a new plan made my blood boil.

2. My mother’s electricity provider. Mum asked me to look at her provider and make sure she was getting the best deal (she wants to change to another provider because my son works for that provider and she’d like to support him) – not the greatest of reasons but who am I to argue. So off to the electricity provider in question to look at what “deal” best suits.

So by now I’m ready to kill the first person who gives me a choice. Luckily I cook dinner in our house, because if my wife asked me whether I wanted x or y, I think I’d end up in goal.

The premise of the Techcrunch article is simple, even if a bit controversial. People want choice? Rubbish, and I 100% agree with that – people want a product that does most of the things they want very well, reliably and simply, and they will either put up with, gripe and whine, or just ignore the things that product does not do (ie they will make do). When I walk into a fast food vendor (any one, take your choice), I look at the board above the counter and just glaze over. Normally by the time I’ve absorbed the first set of choices, some clever electronic screen has rolled over to a completely new set of choices – so I end up ignoring the whole thing and buying what I normally buy because I just can’t be bothered trying to work it all out.

I get where the phone and electricity companies are coming from … they want to use the FUD principle (Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt) to make you spend more than you actually need to or should – they are experts at extortion (they like to call it customer service but in reality it’s extortion). But what about everyone else? What about Adaptec? We have an awful lot of products – with the aim of course to make a product for every conceivable niche market we can sell in to.But do people really want such a range? In my experience, no, but as you can tell I don’t make the product marketing decisions around here.

When I go food shopping (which I do regularly), I can go to the supermarket that has 47-different kinds of preserves, or I can go to the German-owned worldwide organisation that has 1 type of strawberry jam – yes folks, there is only one of everything. You guessed it, I spend my life in the simple supermarket because it makes my life a whole lot easier. I prefer the KISS principle (Keep It Simple Stupid) nearly every time.

So let me know your thoughts … do you really need such a large product range from any organisation that you deal with? Or are you like me when I’m asked whether I want a cup of coffee or tea? … “Yes please” does it every time :-).

Wonder if this one will get published.



Another week, another trip …

January 30, 2015

Just finishing up a week in India (Bangalore this time around), and once again I’ve been nothing but impressed at the rapid rate of growth and development in this country. The IT industry is booming over here, and the Indian IT industry is charging ahead with software and hardware solutions that match anything I’ve seen in my travels.

On top of that they are the most friendly and welcoming people I know, which makes a week away from home a little less painful (when you feel so welcome).

Many colleagues in the industry have a somewhat biased view of different country’s IT lifecycle and development … and always seem to put the US at the top of the tree … thinking they are the innovators and leaders in this industry. While that may be true to some extent, when you visit a customer in a small building in downtown Bangalore, to find they are developing Petabyte-capable systems using their own innovative software and are implementing our new Flashtec acceleration devices (http://pmcs.com/products/storage/flashtec_nvram_drives/), you realise that looks count for little, and that maybe, just maybe, there are some brilliant minds in other parts of the world who are leading the charge in Cloud infrastructure development and performance, and it’s not just the big wigs in the fancy offices in the US who are moving us in the right direction.

Can’t wait to be back here in 3 months to see how much has changed again.

Of course, we just flogged them at cricket so it’s always an easier trip when my side is winning :-)



Discrepancies …

January 29, 2015

I’m back in India talking to customers about RAID and HBA products (what’s new), however had a bit of an eye-opener yesterday.

We were discussing the uptake of SSD, and how in my opinion they should be wiping out the 15K SAS HDD market due to pricing and performance advantages.

What? Pricing advantage? (that came from the customer I was talking to). Suppose I should have checked my facts before opening my mouth (bad habit), but I was working on the basis of what I see in Australia … that SSDs are price competitive with SAS hard drives, and are in fact pretty much wiping out the 15K SAS HDD market (and hurting 10K SAS HDD pretty badly as well).

But in India, just as in China, the problem here is price. It’s not that the SSDs are drastically expensive, it’s more like the fact that SAS HDD seem to be far cheaper than they are at home. So they still hold a good price advantage of SSD, and that’s keeping the SAS HDD in the marketplace longer than it should be (imho).

However, even though they are cheaper to buy, with the power consumption and heat generation of SAS HDD being a major problem in Indian datacenters, there is still room for discussion regarding the TCO of using SSD in place of SAS HDD.

It just makes me wonder what the drive vendors are up to … are they (a) ripping us off in Australia with high prices on SAS HDD, or (b) dumping older technology drives into the growing marketplaces to keep their profit margins high? Now that sounds cynical, and I could never be accused of being that, but I can see this as a barrier to developing high-performance datacenters in this country.

India’s IT marketing is growing at a phenomenal rate. No idea what Gartner and the lads are saying officially, but with the excitement in the country generated by the new Prime Minister (Mr Modi), the country is on a high and is booming in infrastructure, along with IT and software.

Shame that they are struggling with the same major move to SSD like a lot of other regions are doing (due to price that is).



But I don’t want a 12Gb controller! …

January 21, 2015

I hear this all the time. Adaptec makes two series of cards that are very similar in function and nature … take, for instance, the 6Gb/sec 7805 and the 12Gb/sec 8805. Both are 8 port fully-featured RAID cards – but one is 6Gb (Series 7) vs the other at 12Gb/sec (Series 8).

Now most drives on the market today are 6Gb/sec, so buyers go looking for 6Gb/sec cards to fulfill their needs. When I point out that the 8805 is slightly cheaper than the 7805 (apart from the one dodgy seller on Amazon who is promoting this card $10 cheaper than we sell it to the market for – complete with the wrong picture) then it starts to get people’s attention … but they still come back to me and say “but I don’t want a 12Gb controller!”

So … with our 8805 (12Gb/sec) controller, if you plug 12Gb SAS SSD into it then it’s a 12Gb controller … but if you only plug 6Gb/sec drives into it then it’s a ??? controller? You guessed it … the speed of the drives dictate the connection speed so in effect the 8805 works as a 6Gb controller.

Function is the same, and IOP performance is far greater than the 7 series controller – for slightly less price, but guess what I still hear???…

“I don’t want a 12Gb controller!”

It gives me the irits sometimes to try and understand the mentality of people who are blinded by the numbers on the box, and don’t think about “what is right for the system (or their customer)” … they just go off the numbers because that’s what they know.

So is it a problem to have a faster card than you really need? Is it ever a problem to have something fast? Only if it costs an arm and a leg … and the 8805 doesn’t.

So when looking at 8 port controllers, especially when SSD are involved, take the blinkers off and look at the 8805 … you might just come out in front.



Meet the twins … (or the world according to Neil)

January 15, 2015

Adaptec “Q” cards have been around in a few variants for quite a few years now, and we have quite a few devotee customers who think this technology is the ducks guts. So I think it’s time to introduce our two newest, and only required, “Q” twins … this of course doesn’t change our official card names in any way shape or form – it’s just my personal way of naming things for easy reference…

Qi and Qie

No, they are not my Chinese cousins, they are in fact the 81605ZQ and 8885Q cards respectively.

Qi = 81605ZQ

Qie = 8885Q

So why the names? Basically because I’m Australian and we tend to give nicknames to everything. In fact I’m so bad at this that I have a habit of forgetting people’s real names and only remembering their nicknames. This can get embarrassing because some of the nicknames I give people and things should never be repeated to those individuals :-)

Anyway, back to the subject. In reality I believe the only two “Q” cards you need to consider are these two 8 series products. Pricing wise they are the right cards to buy. Performance wise they are the right cards to buy. Feature wise they are the right cards to buy. In fact, imho they are the only “Q” cards you need to consider. So let’s look at my logic …

Qi (the “i” stands for “internal” and therefore of course the “e” stands for “external”). If you are looking to improve the performance of your storage system on drives internal to the server, then this card fulfills all your requirements. If you have an 8-bay server then fill it up with big hard drives. You can fit SSDs just about anywhere in your server … there are even adapters that let you put ssds into the place of slimline CDROMs (which are not required any more in servers as you can install your OS from USB stick). So basically you can treat the card a 10-drive adapter (8 x hdd in hot swap and 1 or 2 SSD anywhere in the server).

Of course, if you have a 16-bay server then this card can also cope with that many drives directly. So who cares if it has more ports than you need – the price/performance/function is right.

If you are going outside the server to JBODs then the Qie is the right card as it lets you do such crazy things as fill your head unit up with SSD, and attach lots and lots of HDD in the JBODs … the drive combinations for your caching or tiering requirements are pretty much endless with this card.

So meet the twin … Qi and Qie … they are worth getting to know. In reality I’m sick of trying to roll 81605ZQ/8885Q quickly off the tongue … Qi/Qie is much easier to say :-)

As an aside, Australian’s have a weird sense of humour (and spell using the Queen’s English, which this spell-checker is having problems with). We tend to speak to one another in derogatory terms and use nicknames/slang to the point where most people don’t understand a word we are saying. So, to the American lad (won’t use the Australian slang for Americans here as it can be construed in way too many ways), I’ll have this to say:

“Australia and America are two countries separated by a common language!”



Hybrid Drives – how to make just a “little” bigger …

December 10, 2014

We all know and love Hybrid Hard Drives from various disk vendors. They combine flash memory with spinning media to give you a good mix of capacity and performance. However they have a few issues …

1. Not redundant – this is only a single drive so what happens when it fails
2. Capacity – again it’s only one drive so how do I add more space

So … What I want is a Hybrid Drive that I can:

1. Specify the size – especially of each component – I determine how much flash memory and how much spinning media is in the drive
2. Trust – I want the various components within the drive to be safe – if something fails then I want it to keep working.

Well … you can have your cake and eat it too … maxCachePlus on Adaptec Series 8 RAID card gives you exactly this – a tiered volume that in effect is exactly the same as a Hybrid Drive, but is flexible in size (you can specify how much flash and how big the spinning component is), and it’s safe – each component (flash and spinning media) are protected against component failure by redundancy in the drive configurations.

So … Why not a 20TB drive that is made up of 2TB of flash and 18TB of spinning media. Sounds pretty damned fine to me. So check out maxCachePlus from Adaptec on our Series 8 controllers … note you need to look for an “8” on the front of the controller and a “Q” on the end – maxCachePlus is only available on our Series 8”Q” controllers.

Worth looking at.