An Introduction to the Unified PowerFlex Manager Platform
Fri, 12 Aug 2022 14:17:18 -0000|
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We have all heard the well-known quote that “Change is the only constant in life”. Nowhere is this concept more apparent than in the world of IT, where digital transformation has become accepted as a fact of life and standing still is not an option. Anyone - or anything - that stands still in the world of IT faces becoming extinct, or irrelevant, when faced with responding to the ever-changing challenges that businesses must solve to survive and grow in the 21st Century. IT infrastructure has had to evolve to provide the answers needed in today’s business landscape – a world where Dev Ops and automation is driving business agility and productivity, where flexibility is key, and where consolidation and optimization are essential in the face of ever-shrinking budgets.
When dealing with the ever-changing IT landscape, software-defined infrastructure is ideally suited to delivering answers for business change. Indeed, many Dell Technologies customers choose PowerFlex as their software-defined infrastructure solution of choice because as a product, it has changed and evolved as much as customers themselves have had to change and evolve.
However, there are times when evolution itself is not enough to bring about inevitable changes that must occur - sometimes there must be a revolution! When it comes to IT infrastructure, managers are often given the “coin toss” of only being able to pick from either evolution or revolution. Faced with such a decision, managers often choose evolution over revolution – a simpler, more palatable path.
This was the dilemma that PowerFlex developers faced – continue with various separate management planes or unify them. Our developers were already planning to introduce several new features in PowerFlex 4.0, including PowerFlex File Services and NVMe/TCP connectivity. Adding new features to existing products generally means having to change the existing management tools and user interfaces to integrate the new functionality into the existing toolset. PowerFlex has a broad product portfolio and a broad set of management tools to match, as shown in the following figure. The uptake of customers using PowerFlex Manager was proof-positive that customers liked to use automation tools to simplify their infrastructure deployments and de-risk life-cycle management (LCM) tasks.
Figure 1: PowerFlex management planes, before PowerFlex 4.0
In addition to the multiple demands they had to contend with, the PowerFlex team was aware that new, as-yet unthought of demands would inevitably come to the surface in the future, as the onward progression of IT transformation continues.
Aiming to enhance the hybrid datacenter infrastructure that our customers are gravitating towards, simply evolving the existing management planes was not going to be sufficient. The time had come for revolution instead of evolution for the world of PowerFlex management.
The answer is simple to state, but not easy to achieve – design a new Management & Orchestration platform that reduces complexity for our customers. The goal was to simplify things by having a single management plane that is suitable for all customers, regardless of their consumption model. Revolution indeed!
Given a blank drawing board, the PowerFlex Team drew up a list of requirements needed for the new PowerFlex Management stack. The following is a simplified list:
- Unified RBAC and User Management. Implement single sign-on for authentication and authorization, ensuring that only a single set of roles is needed throughout PowerFlex.
- Have a single, unified web UI – but make it extensible, so that as new functionality becomes available, it can easily be added to the UI without breaking it. The addition of “PowerFlex File Services” with PowerFlex 4.0 is proof that this approach works!
- Create a single REST endpoint for all APIs, to ensure that both the legacy and the modern endpoints are accessible through a standardized PowerAPI.
- Ensure that the management stack is highly available, self-healing, and resilient.
- Centralize all events from all PowerFlex components – the SDS itself, switches, nodes, and resources, so that it simplifies the generation of alerts and call home operations.
Faced with this wish list, the team decided to build a new “unified” PowerFlex Manager to satisfy the “one management pane” requirement. But how to deliver a UI that is flexible enough to deal with serving different applications from a single web UI? How can this support a highly available and extensible management platform? It became clear to all that a new M&O stack was needed to achieve these aims and that the answer was to leverage the use of microservices, running as part of a larger, containerized platform.
Around the same time, the Dell ISG Development Team had been working internally on a new shared services platform. It was now ready for primetime. This Dell-developed Kubernetes distribution provides internal shared services that are required by nearly any IT infrastructure: logging services, database-as-a-service, certificate management, identity management, secrets management. It also manages Docker and Helm registries.
Using this new platform as a base, the PowerFlex Team then deployed additional microservices on top of it to micro-manage services specific to PowerFlex. Different micro-frontends can be called upon, depending on the operational context. While the overall PowerFlex Manager GUI application can be run as one “generic” UI, it can call out to different micro-frontends when required. This means that implementing and using microservices simplifies the transfer of previous element managers into the unified PowerFlex Manager world. For example, the traditional PowerFlex Block UI (the PowerFlex Presentation Server UI from PowerFlex 3.6) is now treated as one microservice, while the PowerFlex Manager Lifecycle Manager is now handled by several microservices all working in tandem. Plus, it becomes simple to add a new micro-frontend to handle the “PowerFlex File” functionality that has been released with PowerFlex 4.0 into the GUI as well. Because each GUI section now has its own micro-frontend, the UI now meets the “flexible and extensible” requirement.
This flexibility gives our existing PowerFlex customers assurance as they move from version 3.6 to 4.0. And equally important, it means there is now a single unified manager that can cover all consumption models, as shown in the following figure:
Figure 2. The unified PowerFlex Management Plane with PowerFlex 4.0
Finally, what does the new unified PowerFlex Manager look like? Existing PowerFlex users will be pleased to see that the new unified PowerFlex Manager still has the same “look and feel” that PowerFlex Manager 3.x had. We hope this will make it easier for operations staff when they decide to upgrade from PowerFlex 3.x to PowerFlex 4.0. The following figures show the Block and File Services tabs respectively:
Figure 3. The unified PowerFlex Manager 4.0 Dashboard
Figure 4. The unified PowerFlex Manager 4.0 – Resources
While we cannot stop progress, we can always excel when faced with an ever-changing landscape. Customers already choose PowerFlex when they want to deploy highly performant, scalable, resilient, and flexible software-defined infrastructures. They can now also choose to move to PowerFlex 4.0, safe in the knowledge that they have also future-proofed the management of their infrastructure. While they may not know what changes are in store, the unified PowerFlex Manager Platform will help ensure that those future changes, whatever they are, can be handled easily when deployed on top of PowerFlex.
The enhancements made to PowerFlex provide many possibilities for modern datacenters and their administrators, especially when faced with the constant digital transformation seen in IT today. This is seen in how the various PowerFlex management consoles have been unified to allow continued change and growth to meet organizations’ needs. Yet, there is also continuity with previous versions of the UI, ensuring an easy transition for users when they have migrated to 4.0. If you are interested in finding out more about PowerFlex and all it has to offer your organization, reach out to your Dell representative.
Authors: Simon Stevens, PowerFlex Engineering Technologist, EMEA.
Tony Foster, Senior Principal Technical Marketing Engineer.
Related Blog Posts
Introducing NVMe over TCP (NVMe/TCP) in PowerFlex 4.0
Fri, 12 Aug 2022 14:20:34 -0000|
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Anyone who has used or managed PowerFlex knows that an environment is built from three lightweight software components: the MDM, the SDS, and the SDC. To deploy a PowerFlex environment, the typical steps are:
- Deploy an MDM management cluster
- Create a cluster of storage servers by installing and configuring the SDS software component
- Add Protection Domains and Storage Pools
- Install the SDC onto client systems
- Provision volumes and away you go!!*
*No requirement for multipath software, this is all handled by the SDC/SDS
There have been additions to this over the years, such as an SDR component for replication and the configuration of NVDIMM devices to create finegranularity storage pools that provide compression. Also added are PowerFlex rack and appliance environments. This is all automated with PowerFlex Manager. Fundamentally, the process involves the basic steps outlined above.
So, the question is why would we want to change anything from an elegant solution that is so simple?
This is due to where the SDC component ‘lives’ in the operating system or hypervisor hosting the application layer. Referring to the diagram below, it shows that the SDC must be installed in the kernel of the operating system or hypervisor, meaning that the SDC and the kernel must be compatible. Also the SDC component must be installed and maintained, it does not just ‘exist’.
In most cases, this is fine and there are no issues whatsoever. The PowerFlex development team keeps the SDC current with all the major operating system versions and customers are happy to update the SDC within their environment when new versions become available.
There are, however, certain cases where manual deployment and management of the SDC causes significant overhead. There are also some edge use cases where there is no SDC available for specific operating systems. This is why the PowerFlex team has investigated alternatives.
In recent years, the use of Non-Volatile Memory Express (NVMe) has become pervasive within the storage industry. It is seen as the natural replacement to SCSI, due to its simplified command structure and its ability to provide multiple queues to devices, aligning perfectly with modern multi-core processors to provide very high performance.
NVMe appeared initially as a connection directly to disks within a server over a PCIe connection, progressing to being used over a variety of fabric interconnects.
Added to this is the widespread support for NVMe/TCP across numerous operating system and hypervisor vendors. Most include support natively in their kernels.
There have been several announcements by Dell Technologies over the past months highlighting NVMe/TCP as an alternative interconnect to iSCSI across several of the storage platforms within the portfolio. It is therefore a natural progression for PowerFlex to also provide support for NVMe/TCP, particularly because it already uses a TCP-based interconnect.
PowerFlex implements support for NVMe/TCP with the introduction of a new component installed in the storage layer called the SDT.
The SDT is installed at the storage layer. The NVMe initiator in the operating system or hypervisor communicates with the SDT, which then communicates with the SDS. The NVMe initiator is part of the kernel of the operating system or hypervisor.
Of course, because PowerFlex is so ‘flexible,’ both connection methods (SDC and NVMe/TCP) are supported at the same time. The only limitation is that a volume can only be presented using one protocol or the other.
For the initial PowerFlex 4.0 release, the VMware ESXi hypervisor is supported. This support starts with ESXi 7.0 U3f. Support for Linux TCP initiators is currently in “tech preview” as the initiators continue to grow and mature, allowing for all failure cases to be accounted for.
NVMe/TCP is a very powerful solution for the workloads that take advantage of it. If you are interested in discovering more about how PowerFlex can enhance your datacenter, reach out to your Dell representative.
Kevin M Jones, PowerFlex Engineering Technologist.
Tony Foster, Senior Principal Technical Marketing Engineer.
New File Services Capabilities of PowerFlex 4.0
Fri, 12 Aug 2022 14:25:22 -0000|
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“Just file it,” they say, and your obvious question is “where?” One of the new features introduced in PowerFlex 4.0 is file services. Which means that you can file it in PowerFlex. In this blog we’ll dig into the new file service capabilities offered with 4.0 and how they can benefit your organization.
I know that when I think of file services, I think back to the late 90s and early 2000s when most organizations had a Microsoft Windows NT box or two in the rack that provided a centralized location on the network for file storage. Often it was known as “cheap and deep storage,” because you bought the biggest cheapest drives you could to install in that server with RAID 5 protection. After all, most of the time it was user files that were being worked on and folks already had a copy saved to their desktop. The file share didn’t have to be fast or responsive, and the biggest concern of the day was using up all the space on those massive 146 GB drives!
That was then … today file services do so much more. They need to be responsive, reliable, and agile to handle not only the traditional shared files, but also the other things that are now stored on file shares.
The most common thing people think about is user data from VDI instances. All the files that make up a user’s desktop, from the background image to the documents, to the customization of folders, all these things and more are traditionally stored in a file share when using instant clones.
PowerFlex can also handle powerful, high performance workload scenarios such as image classification and training. This is because of the storage backend. It is possible to rapidly serve files to training nodes and other high performance processing systems. The storage calls can go to the first available storage node, reducing file recall times. This of course extends to other high speed file workloads as well.
Beyond rapid recall times, PowerFlex provides massive performance, with 6-nines of availability1, and native multi-pathing. This is a big deal for modern file workloads. With VDI alone you need all of these things. If your file storage system can’t deliver them, you could be looking at poor user experience or worse: users who can’t work. I know, that’s a scary thought and PowerFlex can help significantly lessen those fears.
In addition to the performance, you can manage the file servers in the same PowerFlex UI as the rest of your PowerFlex environment. This means there is no need to learn a new UI, or bounce all over to set up a CIFS share—it’s all at your fingertips. In the UI it’s as simple as changing the tab to go from block to file on many screens.
The PowerFlex file controllers (physical) host the software for the NAS servers (logical). You start with two file controllers and can grow to 16 file controllers. Having various sizes of file controllers allows you to customize performance to meet your environment’s needs. The NAS Servers are containerized logical segmentations that provide the file services to the clients, and you can have up to 512 in a cluster. They are responsible for namespaces, security policies, and serving file systems to the clients.
Each of the file volumes that are provided by the file services are backed by PowerFlex volumes. This means that you can increase file service performance and capacity by adding PowerFlex nodes to the storage layer just like a traditional block storage instance. This allows you to independently scale performance and capacity, based on your needs.
The following table provides some of the other specs you might be wondering about.
Max file size
# of files
# of ACLs
User File Systems
Snaps per File System
Beyond the architectural goodness, file storage is something that can be added later to a PowerFlex environment. Thus, you aren’t forced to get something now because you “might” need it later. You can implement it when that project starts or when you’re ready to migrate off that single use file server. You can also grow it as you need, by starting small and growing to a large deployment with hundreds of namespaces and thousands of file systems.
With PowerFlex when someone says “file it,” you’ll know you have the capacity to support that file and many more. PowerFlex file services provide the capability to deliver the power needed for even the most demanding file-based workloads like VDI and AI/ML data classification systems. It’s as easy managing the environment as it is integrated into the UI.
If you are interested in finding out more about PowerFlex file services, contact your Dell representative.
Author: Tony Foster
1 Workload performance claims based on internal Dell testing. (Source: IDC Business Value Snapshot for PowerFlex – 2020.)