Processing Big Data with Cognitive Systems that THINK

hal9000For years Hollywood has been enamored with the idea of artificial intelligence. Beyond tabulating, beyond programmed responses, what would happen if a computer could learn, reason, analyze, predict? In short, what could computers do if they could think? Sadly, more often than not, Hollywood’s answer resulted in some kind of disaster. skynet-terminatorIn 2001 a Space Odyssey, the HAL 9000 computer decided to kill the astronauts on Discovery One. In the 1983 film WarGames, the WOPR computer played games with global thermonuclear war, and in the Terminator franchise of movies, SkyNet attempted to exterminate the human race.  Ugh!!

I’m proud that I work for a company who has a very different perspective on the potential of cognitive computing. Instead of blowing people up, IBMers around the world are developing cognitive systems to help us make better decisions.

Leading the Way to a New Computing Era
Number one on my list of Top 5 Observations from IBM Edge 2013 had to do with the cultural changes driving Big Data. The thing about big data is that, in large part, we don’t yet know what we don’t know. To make sense of the deluge of complex information, we need more than just programmed responses. We need a new type of computing system to help process and analyze.

IBM supercomputer WatsonThe IBM Watson system and its victory on Jeopardy marked a significant step forward on the path to the cognitive era of computing. We showed that cognitive systems could use advanced learning and reasoning algorithms to sense, predict and derive insights from Big Data. Equally as important, we showed that cognitive systems could interact naturally in partnership with people.

IBM’s Viewpoint
Now it’s time to put cognitive systems to work on more than just game show problems. The possibilities are as endless as the questions that get asked and answered every day. To tackle some of the more interesting possibilities, scientists and engineers at IBM are forming collaborative partnerships with organizations in many industries.Cognitive systems

  • In healthcare estimates are that by 2020 doctors will face 200x the amount of medical data and facts that a human could possibly process. By 2020, I’ll be reaching an age where I’ll want my doctor to have insight from all that data when treating me 🙂  IBMs partnership with Cleveland Clinic is working on this exact problem.
  • In finance, organizations want to better interact with their customers by analyzing in real-time market conditions, the client’s past decisions, recent life events, and available offerings. IBMs partnership with Citigroup is exploring these possibilities.
  • In call centers, Fortune notes that cognitive systems “will now be employed in customer service centers, used as a tool for both representatives and consumers to get fast, data-driven responses.” The new IBM Watson Engagement Advisor, a first of a kind cognitive system, will enhance customer service by delivering informed, data-driven answers or by sitting directly in the hands of consumers, in a mobile device.

It’s quite a different outcome than depicted by Hollywood, and it’s kind of exciting.  Join the conversation. What kinds of questions do you think would be cool for cognitive systems to help with?

Outside The Line — an Interview on Virtualization Optimization

In my role, I get to spend a lot of time with customers and I also do a lot of reading. Over the years, I’ve developed a good bit of depth on most storage topics but one of the things I love is the pace of innovation going on all around me. There’s never a shortage of new things to learn. Occasionally I run across something particularly interesting that I want to talk about, but it’s a bit outside my area of direct expertise. This is one of those topics. To help me out, I’m going to reach outside The Line to get insights from real experts. Please let me know what you think of the format.

Several months ago IDC published an interesting Market Analysis Perspective: Worldwide Enterprise Servers, 2012 — Technology Market that uncovered something quite contrary to conventional wisdom when it comes to virtualized server environments. IDC - MAP Worldwide Enterprise Servers, 2012 — Spend 238530Server virtualization, or software defined compute (SDC) as it is coming to be known, promised to control server sprawl and return balance to the portion of the IT budget allocated to servers. The IDC research confirms that the controlled server sprawl part of the promise has largely been realized. Since 2000, the worldwide spend on x86 stuff has actually declined from $70B to about $56B. Equally as important, environmental spending on power and cooling has leveled off too. The revelation that surprised most folks was the dramatic expansion in spend on management. Since 2000, spend on management has more than tripled reaching $171B and now accounts for 68% of IT spend on x86 infrastructure.

These days the measuring stick for server virtualization seems to be around VM density, or the number of virtual machines that can be supported on a single physical server. The theory has been that as VM density increases, management costs decline. Most IT managers I talk to can point to fairly good and increasing VM density in their environments. So what’s causing associated management costs to increase so much and what can IT managers do to improve the situation?

IBM Virtualization OptimizationRecently I sat down with a group of product managers who are directing IBM SmartCloud work in the area of optimizing the management and administration of VMware environments.  Collectively, these guys are thinking about everything from virtual image construction and patching security vulnerabilities to planning capacity, charging for usage and recovering from failures.

The Line: Guys, let’s talk for a minute about this IDC research. Do you really see the cost of management and administration becoming a central issue in SDC environments today?

Tom Recchia: Absolutely.  Virtualization has introduced a pile of new challenges. Instead of server sprawl, we now talk about image sprawl. IT managers have to think about virtual data protection, performance, security compliance and cost management for all these images. Virtual machines can become dormant leading to out-of-date software versions, security issues, and just paying for things you aren’t using. The clients I talk with bought in to virtualization to improve costs and agility but they are realizing management challenges are slowing service delivery and constricting their return on investment.

Brooks York:  I agree. Virtualization has certainly helped optimize the use of physical resources. But the management improvements for the guest operating systems (OS) haven’t been nearly as dramatic. On the flip side, virtualization has made it much easier to create new OS instances leading to VM sprawl. IT managers are ending up with a lot more OS instances, each of which aren’t much easier to manage than they used to be. That’s leading to higher overall management costs.

The Line:  Say more about what you are learning from your client conversations. What kinds of specific issues are causing this rise in cost?

Alex Peay: Here’s one concrete example. Virtualization makes it easy to create a new image designed to deliver a service. Increasingly, IT managers are coupling that capability with a self-service portal. All of a sudden, the customers of IT are off and running creating new images almost at-will. New terms like image sprawl and image drift enter the vocabulary. Pretty soon you have unneeded images, duplicate resources, increased maintenance, rising storage costs for wasted space and a general lack of understanding of what all is in the environment. While clients have gained control of their physical environments they have lost control of their virtual environments.

Brooks: I often hear that the image sprawl is also creating issues with software licensing costs and with OS or system administrator costs. Remember, all those images have an operating system and some application software, and they need to be administered by somebody.

Mike Gare: That’s one of those double edged swords that comes with the flexibility of virtualization, isn’t it? Clients create all kinds of VM templates and disk images to support self-service provisioning. These things have to be properly managed or organizations risk virus outbreaks, hacking and the potential loss of intellectual property. With virtualization and these self-service portals it’s relatively easy to spin up a new VM from a template or clone in less than an hour. That’s cool from the rapid service delivery perspective but IT managers still need to concern themselves with patching, securing, and updating the applications on each VM in order to address potential security gaps.  This is especially true as virtualization moves from development and test environments where VM’s are often on separate networks and only live for a few hours or days, to production environments where VM’s are more persistent.

Kohi Easwarachandran: Image sprawl hits data protection too. An organizations data needs to be protected regardless of whether it is being operated on by an application on a physical server or a virtual machine. Before virtualization, the dominant method for protecting data was to have a backup agent on each OS image. Unfortunately, many IT managers carried this model forward with virtualization, loading a backup agent on each VM. As VMs proliferate so do backup agents and, well, the task of managing and troubleshooting this style of backup in a virtualized environment can be quite draining and expensive.

The Line:  So, increasing VM density is good from a hardware efficiency point-of-view, but the point you guys are making is that the things on those images – operating systems, application software, backup agents, patches, etc. – all still have to be tracked and managed by someone, and that’s contributing to the rising costs. Tom, what about managing those costs? It seems that with SDC, IT managers need to shift from planning budgets around physical servers to planning budgets around application instances that are packed together on physical servers as VM density increases. What impact are you seeing from that shift?

Tom: Over the years, most IT managers had developed tools for measuring usage of physical infrastructure. But it’s more difficult to manually keep track of VM usage. Fortunately there is cost management software that will automatically collect virtualized environment usage and even apply rates. I’ve seen this automation reduce finance staff labor costs up to 25%. Maybe the bigger thing though is that it can let that finance staff show the multiple users of a virtual environment what they are consuming

The Line: So it’s not just the cost IT managers incur for managing the VMware environment, it’s also a matter of how to account for who is consuming what in the virtual environment?

Tom: That’s right. This is a really important thought. When one application ran on one server and it was owned by one business line, tracking costs was sort of straight forward. With increasing VM density, tracking costs in a shared virtual environment is harder. But it’s still an incredibly powerful tool in the quest toward a culture of efficiency and freeing up unused resources. The next step can be actually charging end users for the resources or the services they use. This sets up IT to be a service provider rather than just a cost center.

The Line: Okay, I think we’re getting a good picture of the problem. So what are you guys cooking up that can help IT managers improve the situation?
Alex: One thing we are working on is providing insight through analytics.  Today, we are able to run real time analytics against a virtual environment and show IT managers where they have duplication in programs or files and even trace the ancestor of a specific image. This information helps determine which images to keep, which images to toss and when something new really needs to be created.

Brooks: Alex is right. Analytics is where a lot of our effort is. Beyond simply reporting the news about what’s going on in an environment, we are deriving insight about the interworkings of the environment to help optimize both the physical and virtual side of the datacenter. That drops costs.

Mike: Datacenters are being transformed in more ways than just virtual servers. Most IT managers that are concerned with virtualization are also dealing with cloud, mobile devices and BYOD (bring your own device). So, we’re opening the aperture a bit, taking many of the capabilities we have developed for virtual machine management and applying them to other endpoints like mobile devices and cloud.

Kohi:  For virtual data protection, we are helping clients move away from the old unsustainable approach of having a backup agent in every VM. The new approach snapshots whole VM estates, only captures incremental changes – forever – and deduplicates what it captures. We’ve just sidestepped the entire image sprawl issue and created something that is more efficient than the physical environment used to be.

The Line: Tom, Alex, Brooks, Mike, Kohi… thank you for spending a few minutes with me and sharing insights on where you are taking IBM SmartCloud offerings for virtualization optimization.

If you want to join the conversation or have a question for any of the team, please leave a comment below.  

Forrester’s Take on Enterprise Backup and Recovery

Recently, Forrester published The Forrester Wave™: Enterprise Backup
And Recovery Software, Q2 2013. I wasn’t surprised by their suggestion that “CommVault [Sympana 10.0], EMC [Avamar 7.0 and NetWorker 10.1], IBM [TSM 6.4), and Symantec [Netbackup 7.5] lead the pack. It’s a tight four-horse race for the top honors — [they] all scored high on strategy and current offerings.” These are the four vendors that are always pushing and shoving on each other in analyst comparisons. The thing that caught my attention in this report was the expert job analyst Rachel Dines did in pealing back a complex market space to uncover some important strategic observations about each vendor.

After having participated in the IBM response to the investigation Forrester did, I have to give a shout out to Rachel for being thorough. Like most analyst studies, the Forrester Wave was backed by a detailed questionnaire. But Rachel went one step further requiring an exceptionally thorough live demonstration. You can watch the somewhat raw 1-hour TSM demonstration that IBM did.

Forrester’s punch lines

“CommVault excels with an integrated platform.” I’ve been watching CommVault for years and agree with Rachel’s punch line. CommVault established their position in the market by unifying such disciplines as backup and archive in a single interface and targeting jack-of-all-trades administrators in small and medium businesses. In recent years, they have carried that unified focus into the upper end of medium businesses and a healthy number of enterprises.

“EMC focuses on hardware and software integration.”  EMC is continuing to do what I think I would do if I were in their shoes. In most segments, their disk array business enjoys leading market share. So when it comes to software, they tend towards clothing their disk install base. It’s the “Would you like fries with that hamburger?” model. A vendor-centric closed loop strategy like that can result in some nice solutions but some customers will weigh the value vs. the circular lock-in it creates.

“Symantec reinvents itself and refines focus.” I’ve also been watching the Symantec backup business for years. , and I think Rachel sums up what they need at the moment – some reinvention and solid execution. When Symantec acquired VERITAS in 2005, they got some good technology. The downside of the merger was that VERITAS’ laser focus got watered down and the portfolio has struggled.

“IBM simplifies management, focuses on cloud.” Sometimes I wish I had a crystal ball to look into the future, but who has one of those? Maybe a magic eight ball will have to do. 8-ballRachel points out that “…many firms are weary of the constant battle with their backup software and are looking for a change.” The battle is with deploying agents, managing backup windows, resolving failed backups, upgrading and patching software, and performing restores.
Magic eight ball, when will IT managers just give up? IBM shares Rachel’s point-of-view that IT managers are already giving up in places – running old versions of software, letting maintenance contracts lapse, and even stopping backups on certain systems.
Magic eight ball, what are IT managers going to do instead? There is a lot being said about cloud backup, but mostly in the context of where backup copies should be stored. Everything on premise for quick restore, everything off premise in the public cloud for cost efficiency, or some hybrid of the two? I think the storage location will work itself out as IT managers balance economics and recovery time objectives. Hybrid storage models will ultimately prevail. But that doesn’t address the real question.
Magic eight ball, if IT managers are giving up on traditional management of backup systems, what are they going to do instead? Rachel picked up on two important strategic bets IBM is making with TSM.

  1. The generation of storage scientists that have managed backup, and all storage for that matter, are aging (like me). I talked about this phenomena in my post Do IT managers really “manage” storage anymore? So, for those firms who choose to continue the battle on their own, IBM, with a lot of help from its clients, is addressing the problem with an entirely new approach to storage administration.
  2. Rachel also observed that there are a good number of IT managers who are tired of the battle. This is where I differ from the pundits on cloud and backup. In this context, I think cloud is less about a storage location and more about a management model. Do I want to continue doing backup on my own (after all, as Rachel points out “it is painful, slow, and expensive, and seems to provide zero strategic business value”), or do I want to outsource it to a management provider in the cloud? IBM is spending a lot of time working with managed service providers who will take over all the day-to-day headaches of meeting backup service level agreements (SLA’s), most in any combination of on premise, public cloud, or hybrid storage configurations you want. Here are just a few.

Watch the LiveStream of Cobalt Iron CEO Richard Spurlock as he talks about the synergies between these two strategic bets.

At IBM, this entirely new approach to administration and focus on cloud as a management model are being coupled with a technology suite that Rachel says brings “…strengths in deduplication, manageability (due to significant improvements in TSM Operations Center), continuity, and restore features” and “…excels in extremely large and complex environments…”. Magic eight ball, do you know of an IT manager who would say “gee, my environment isn’t complex at all. It’s just downright simple”?

Whether you intend to continue the battle on your own or let a cloud service provider take over the headache, it’s worth looking into a software suite that excels at the kind of environment you have.