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What Is Software Defined Storage?

One of the major trends in IT storage today is the accelerating growth of software defined storage (SDS). According to market research firm MarketsandMarkets, the market for SDS products will grow from $4.72 billion in 2016 to $22.56 billion by 2021. That’s an outstanding compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 36.7%.

But many IT leaders, even storage professionals, remain unsure of exactly what the term SDS really signifies.

Actually, that confusion is not surprising. As with many new technologies that begin to expand their market share, some storage vendors have taken the opportunity to break out the software component of existing products and call it SDS. And, of course, their definition of SDS just happens to precisely match the feature set of the product they are trying to sell.

Contrary to what some skeptics claim, however, SDS is much more than just the latest marketing buzzword. In fact, many proponents see it as the vanguard of a revolutionary advance in how enterprise storage is managed and delivered.

SDS Defined

The Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA) defines SDS as “virtualized storage with a service management interface.”

Although storage virtualization has been in use for some time, SDS takes it to a new level. The distinctive feature of SDS is the decoupling of the intelligence of the storage system from the underlying hardware. This means SDS is storage-agnostic – it isn’t tied to any particular type of hardware or media. Instead it treats all the devices it controls, whether spinning disks, flash memory arrays, or even entire SAN or NAS subsystems, as part of a single storage pool. Users and applications (via standard APIs) can access storage through a consistent software interface without needing to have any knowledge of what hardware is actually storing the data.

One of the major benefits of the storage heterogeneity SDS allows is that costly special-designed storage appliances are not required (though, of course, they can be used if desired). Instead, inexpensive commodity hard drives attached to x86 hosts can be used, mixed in with higher performance technologies such as flash memory arrays as necessary. The SDS software has the intelligence to use tiering and caching functions to dynamically assign particular sets of data to the appropriate storage devices based on the performance demands of the workload being run.

The result of hiding all the storage hardware behind the SDS software interface is that flexibility, scalability, and control are maximized, while costs for hardware, maintenance, and storage management are minimized.

Spreading the MAGIC of IBM i

MAGICOne of the newest Power Systems/IBM i users’ groups is the Mid-Atlantic Group of IBM i Collaborators – or MAGIC for short. Serving Virginia Beach and the Chesapeake Bay area, MAGIC brings education and networking to this community. To learn more about MAGIC, visit www.magic-ug.org.

Thank you to Laura Hamway for answering a few questions regarding the group.

Why do Power Systems and IBM i users need MAGIC now?

MAGIC and all user groups are needed to help assist the user base with the latest offerings in the IBM i world. Currently many users are not aware of technologies available on the i. For example, open source, PHP etc. Even the advancements in RPG, utilizing RDi. These developments play a significant role in staying current. Also, user groups are great for networking. The knowledge you can learn from your peers is tremendous, and these groups bring people together to share what they have done and what issues/challenges they may face.

What gives MAGIC it’s “magic”?

MAGIC is made up of very enthusiastic IBM i users, and they want to see the platform succeed and expand. We want to educate and bring more IBM i users together. Additionally, we want to share with everyone what a great platform this is and that the IBM i can do everything other platforms can do.

What are the most important IT issues facing MAGIC members?

Currently staffing is a huge concern for IBM i shops. The user group provides a place to learn new techniques on the IBM i, and in return, this opens up the talent pool. Taking advantage of PHP, .Net and other technologies means these IBM i shops do not need to only look for RPG talent. For individuals currently on the IBM i, this means you do not have to just work in RPG. You have an opportunity to learn and utilize other great technologies and enhance your skill level.

MAGIC covers a wide geographic area. How will the organization bring its members together?

Most meetings will be online with several satellite locations. All meetings will utilize webcam. The use of the webcam will make the meetings more personable. Attendees agree that watching a presenter while they are speaking is more engaging then just watching a screen and hearing a voice. We also utilize a webcam at the satellite locations so the presenters can see how the audience is reacting and if people have questions. This method has proven to be more interactive. With this methodology, we can reach a wider audience. If you are able to attend one of the satellite meetings – that is great. You get to network with your fellow IBM i peers. If you cannot make it to a satellite location, then you can participate online. Our focus is to get the most information out to all that want to participate.

Can you share a fun or inspiring story from one of your first events?

MAGIC ConferenceOur first annual event was in Virginia Beach, a two-day conference. The challenge was getting the word out. We were new and didn’t have a name yet, but we knew there were users that would benefit. Usually Virginia Beach is beautiful with fall weather temperatures in the 70s. We thought…what a great place to come for a conference, a small beach town. A hotel right on the beach! We confirmed Charlie Guarino as a speaker at the conference. He was excited to stay in the area with the beach and sunshine. Mike Larsen even extended his trip through the weekend to take in all the sites of Virginia Beach. Well, then Hurricane Matthew decided to threaten the area. The weather was horrible! It was windy with rain the entire time. Charlie luckily got out after the conference. I think Lee Paul was stuck due to weather, and Mike got to spend the weekend in a flooded hotel! It was a conference to remember!

Besides the weather, with some cancelling due to the storm, we had a great turn out. The event was a success, and the users were fired up about all the possibilities on the i. They couldn’t wait to start a new user group. During the conference, we had a competition to see who could come up with the name for the group. Tom Rainey suggested MAGIC – Mid-Atlantic Group of IBM i Collaborators.

MAGIC is holding a Modernization Seminar on March 30, 2017. Click here to learn more.

Open Source on IBM i

Open Source Video

Speaker: Jesse Gorzinski

In this recording, Jesse explains the newest developments to Open Source on IBM i. Learn about the major Git enhancements and other new features added in 2017 for 5733OPS. It is a great way to gain knowledge about the IBM i Open Source community and how you can participate in this exciting frontier.

Topics covered:

  • Git
  • rsync
  • Wget
  • cURL
  • GO LICPGM

About the Speaker

Jesse GorzinskiJesse Gorzinski works for the IBM i development lab in Rochester, MN. He is the Business Architect of open source technologies. Jesse, who was doing RPG programming at the age of 18, is an expert on application development on IBM i, as well as system access and modernization.

What’s New in DB2 for i

DB2 Video

Speaker: Scott Forstie

During this 40 minute recording, Scott explains the new and enhanced DB2 for i features being delivered on March 31, 2017 to IBM i 7.2 and IBM i 7.3.

Database enhancements are delivered via the DB2 PTF Group SF99702 (IBM i 7.2) and SF99703 (IBM i 7.3), scheduled to coincide with Technology Refreshes (TRs).

DB2 for i continues to deliver new SQL programming capabilities, DBE improvements, IBM i Services and other high priority enhancements.

About the Speaker

Scott ForstieScott Forstie is the DB2 for i Business Architect at IBM. He has worked on IBM operating system development since joining the company in 1989. In addition to his development responsibilities, he is the IBM i developerWorks content manager and IBM i Technology Updates wiki owner.

Available Scholarships to COMMON’s Annual Meeting and Exposition

In just a couple of short months, COMMON’s Annual Meeting and Exposition will bring together authorities in the industry on IBM i for four days of education and networking. Each year in conjunction with COMMON, the COMMON Education Foundation (CEF) awards scholarships that recognize contributing members of the COMMON community, and those committed to the IBM i platform. This year, once again, the CEF will be offering the Al Barsa Award scholarship, open to all COMMON members. Al was fiercely dedicated to i. As such, he was an overall advocate for the community and mentor to others. This scholarship honors an individual who exemplifies Al’s commitment and support of IBM i. Award of the scholarship is based on candidate’s commitment and dedication to the i Community, volunteer record and history as an advocate for i. The recipient of this award receives a conference registration to the 2017 COMMON Annual Meeting and is presented with a plaque during the event’s Opening Session. Candidates may nominate themselves or may be nominated by another individual. If you know of someone deserving of the award or would like to nominate yourself, go to www.commoneducationfoundation.org to apply. Deadline for submission is Friday, April 07, 2017.

In addition, the CEF also awards the John Earl Memorial Scholarship by nomination only. Earl was a dedicated speaker and Subject Matter Expert for COMMON for over two decades. His dedication to knowledge sharing and mentoring helped make the community grow. He, along with the former IBM Partners in Education program planted the initial seed for what would become the COMMON Education Foundation. John was a tremendous influence in the community throughout his years and the memory of his dedication and accomplishments still live on today. With the help of HelpSystems, this scholarship has been established in John’s name to recognize a member of the COMMON community that exemplifies John’s dedication to the growth of the IBM i community. Scholarship is by nomination only and covers the Registration expenses for COMMON’s Annual Meeting and Exposition.

Both awards, in addition to those awards dedicated to the educators that teach IBM i in colleges, will be awarded at COMMON’s Annual Meeting and Exposition’s Opening Session in Orlando on May 7, 2017.

IBM’s Watson Gets Busy This Tax Season

IBM’s Watson is probably best known as the computer that beat Jeopardy’s smartest contestants. Now, you can sit next to Watson and watch it work in person as it uses its awesome computing powers to help prepare your tax returns.

H&R Block has teamed up with IBM to bring Watson’s cognitive computing powers to the tax preparation field. Watson will help 70,000 tax professionals at 10,000 H&R Block offices across the country find tax breaks and increase refunds for customers.

Watson and Artificial Intelligence

Watson remembers everything. Watson uses artificial intelligence methods such as natural language processing to sort through and classify extensive amounts of information. It is able to detect even the slightest patterns in data that mere mortals might miss.

The same technology that helps doctors diagnose cancer and rare diseases was also used to digest 74,000 pages of the federal tax code, thousands of yearly tax law changes, and 60 years of tax preparation questions and answers in H&R Block’s data.

Tax professionals at H&R Block worked directly with Watson to teach it how to understand the complex world of tax preparation. In doing so, Watson proposed questions to tax pros about specific filing situations. The tax pros let Watson know when it was right and corrected it when it was wrong.

Over time, Watson honed its skills through the machine learning process. Its answers became better and more attuned to specific occupations and individual financial situations. It learned how to analyze situations that often affect tax filings, such as home purchases, the birth of a child, and marriage. And, Watson will continue to learn as it assists H&R Block’s customers in getting more money back with their tax returns.

Watson Is an Interactive Assistant

Watson isn’t replacing the human role in tax preparation. Rather, it is serving as an always-on, brilliant assistant. In a switch from ways of the past, you’ll be able to watch your taxes being prepared on a monitor in front of you as Watson works simultaneously with the tax preparer. The screen displays your tax filing information as Watson searches for credits and deductions available to you.

This may be many people’s first in-person introduction to Watson, but it will undoubtedly not be their last interaction with artificial intelligence as it continues to work its way into our everyday lives.

Watson - Block
On February 1, 2017, H&R Block CEO Bill Cobb (left) and IBM SVP David Kenny (right) announced that H&R Block’s tax professionals at approximately 10,000 branch offices across the U.S. will use a new, consumer-facing technology that incorporates IBM Watson - the largest deployment of Watson in retail locations. The new technology will help H&R Block tax professionals deliver the best outcome for each client's unique tax situation. (Photo by Guerin Blask) Source: http://newsroom.hrblock.com/media-library

Public vs Private Cloud Technologies

Both public and private cloud hosting solutions greatly benefit any growing business requiring expansion capabilities. Leveraging this technology is key to improving many aspects of your business strategy including revenue growth and employee morale, but the debate continues as to which is superior. Thus, the beauty is in the eye of the user. Choose the one that’s the most pertinent to your company’s needs. If you’re having trouble deciding, here are some comparative features to help you make a more informed decision.

Public Cloud

The public cloud is an environment containing multiple users whereby each user purchases their own piece of the cloud server. The commune of the cloud computing world, public clouds are convenient in that they rarely require any type of contract and generally run pay by the hour services. Also a perk for some, public clouds are self managed, giving the user the freedom to set up and manage their own particulars.

The drawbacks, however, generally pertain to security. The public cloud provider customarily designates the hardware and network your virtual server relies on. Because other users in the cloud also share these facets, compliance requirements such as SOX or PCI are rarely possible. Therefore, development systems and web servers employing a business model that does not require security and compliance are the best candidates for public cloud computing.

Private Cloud

As the name suggests, the private cloud hosting environment caters to a single user. Your own personal computing residence, the private cloud provides your company with dedicated hardware and secure data storage capabilities that none of the center’s other clients can access. Security compliance standards are therefore easily achieved. An additional benefit is that the private cloud’s hardware, network and storage performance are also highly customizable.

This is a higher-end, more specialized service that aptly tends to cost more. Though you’re gaining many advantages over the public cloud, the resources provided in the private cloud are numerous and can potentially be under-utilized by smaller businesses. It’s also pertinent to consider many private clouds potentially require a contractual obligation.

As with any tech upgrade for your business, doing your due diligence is crucial to finding the solution that’s right for you.

2017 Annual Meeting Venue: Loews Sapphire Falls Resort in Orlando

May 7-10 will be a great time of year to visit Universal Orlando™. Loews Sapphire Falls Resort opened in July 2016 as the fifth hotel within the massive entertainment complex. With a Caribbean theme, the hotel offers 1,000 rooms and the largest hotel pool within the theme park, complete with water slides. The hotel also offers waterfront dining at the Amatista Cookhouse and, like all good Caribbean resorts, is home to both a poolside bar and a rum lounge.

Each hotel room has a mini-fridge to stow away any leftovers and in-room WiFi is also included at no additional charge. Rooms range in size from 529 square feet to 1,353 square feet. Universal theme park characters often make appearances in the hotel and their voices are used for wake-up calls in the hotel.

Russ Dagon, Vice President and Executive Project Director of Universal Creative, describes the hotel as follows: “it’s a different place, so we wanted to make sure we provided that respite from the theme park, but, at the same time, embrace the fact that we are so close to the theme park.”

From the hotel there are three easy and free connectors to Universal theme parks and City Walk – water taxi, shuttle, and a short walking path. Guests at the hotel receive a one-hour-early admission benefit at the Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios. Hotel guests also have resort-wide charging privileges to their rooms, complimentary delivery of merchandise purchased throughout the resort, and complimentary shuttle service to Wet ‘n Wild®, SeaWorld®, and Aquatica™.

Our conference room rate of $190 is valid from May 1st through 17th. We look forward to seeing you in May and hope you can stay for a few extra days of vacation.

Learn More about the 2017 Annual Meeting and Exposition.

How IBM Power Systems Are Challenging x86 Servers in the Corporate Data Center

Intel’s x86 architecture has long been dominant in the corporate server marketplace for good reason. Chips based on the x86 framework have been at the heart of personal computers and other devices for more than three decades, and a standardized, widely adopted infrastructure for development and support of x86-based products is in place. The head start x86 enjoys over any potential challengers is immense.

But that hasn’t stopped IBM from joining the fray.

In 2014, IBM sold its x86 server business to Lenovo and pinned its hopes for increasing its penetration of the enterprise and cloud server markets on its upgraded Power Systems line. At that time the consensus in the media and among competitors was that IBM’s efforts would be too little, too late. Intel’s x86 standard was simply too well entrenched to be displaced.

But that assessment is beginning to change. Servers based on the company’s Power8 RISC processor seem to be gathering momentum in the marketplace. In 2015, IBM’s financial results revealed that it had enjoyed revenue growth in its Power Systems line for the first time in four years.

Key to that growth, say analysts, was IBM’s decision to add Linux as an alternative to its proprietary AIX operating system. There are now thousands of ISVs (independent software vendors) developing new Power8 Linux applications or working to port existing x86-based Linux applications to the Power environment. And, IBM claims, it has demonstrated some very good reasons for its customers to do exactly that.

In a June, 2015 conference presentation, the company revealed certified benchmark test results showing that Power8 servers significantly outperformed x86 servers in running financial workloads. In fact, an IBM Power System 824 server more than doubled the performance of a best-in-class x86 machine.

Says Terry Keene, CEO of Integration Systems, LLC,

“Comparing the x86 and Power processors on a micro-benchmark level will show little raw performance advantages for either. Comparing the two using enterprise workloads will demonstrate a significant advantage for Power in data workloads such as databases, data warehouses, data transaction processing, data encryption/compression, and certainly in high-performance computing.”

IBM is aggressively pursuing its objective of gaining a double-digit share of the server market by 2020. And with its even more powerful Power9 chips due out in 2017, the company seems well positioned to reach that goal.

Why x86 Servers Continue to Dominate the Data Center

It wasn’t that long ago that there was a widespread expectation that x86-based servers would soon be displaced in corporate data centers, and in the cloud, by servers that use ARM processors. But so far, things haven’t turned out that way. Servers using x86 chips still maintain a more than 90 percent market share. As Intel spokesman William Moss notes, “There has been a lot of hype about ARM in the datacenter, but very few deployments.”

ARM chips, which are RISC (Reduced Instruction Set Computer) processors, already dominate the mobile device market. They are widely used in such products as smartphones, laptops, and tablet computers. But their penetration of the server market has so far been minimal. And Linus Torvalds, the creator of the Linux kernel, thinks he knows why.

“What matters is all the infrastructure around the instruction set, and x86 has all that infrastructure,” Torvalds says. “Being compatible just wasn’t as big of a deal for the ARM ecosystem as it has been traditionally for the x86 ecosystem.”

In the world of Android-based mobile devices, the environment in which ARM chips have flourished, there is little standardization between manufacturers. Because the chipsets and hardware configurations of the various smartphones and tablets are unique to single products or product lines, the support infrastructure for ARM implementations is very fragmented. For example, it’s not possible to create a single Android update build that can be deployed across the devices of multiple manufacturers.

On the other hand, the x86 ecosystem has more than 30 years of development behind it, and standards are well understood and widely adhered to. That means it simply takes a lot less time and expense to develop and support x86 server environments than if ARM processors were used.

That’s not to say that the dominance of x86 in the data center is unassailable. IBM, for example, is making a determined effort to grab an increasing share of the server market with its own line of RISC processors, the Power8 and upcoming Power9 products.

But for the moment, x86 remains king of the data center realm.

Come back Thursday to read “How IBM Power Systems Are Challenging x86 Servers in the Corporate Data Center”.