A Collective Hive for HCI – Maxta MxIQ Briefing Note

Hyper-converged Infrastructure (HCI) simplifies many things for busy IT professionals. As their environment grows, HCI automatically scales with it, adding performance and capacity with each additional node. However, an area where HCI falls short, along with many other storage systems, is in helping those same busy IT professionals manage their environment. An effective management platform may be even more critical in an HCI environment since it converges computing, storage, and networking making problem isolation more difficult.

The challenge of managing an HCI cluster drives many formerly software only HCI vendors to a turnkey software-hardware model. If the HCI vendor owns both, it makes it simpler for them to manage the software licensing, server BIOS compatibilities, host bus adapter, and network inconsistencies as well as firmware and drivers for all the various components. The turnkey vendor attempts to reduce the conflicts that these different components create by standardizing on one hardware platform. The problem is that standardization limits customer flexibility in adding nodes with different capabilities or nodes from other vendors.

Even in a turnkey HCI environment or a software-only environment that is up and running there is a need to proactively analyze the environment. While concerns like drive incompatibility is less of a concern, being able to predict when additional nodes are needed to address capacity and performance concerns is a need for any HCI customer. Also critical is being able to analyze drive response times to determine if a drive is failing or being impacted by a runaway application. Broadly if the HCI vendor can correlate data across its customers to identify trends, it can proactively eliminate problems before they occur.

Downtime is something that all data centers want to prevent but performance slow-downs or unexpectedly running out of capacity invokes almost the same reaction from users. A collective hive type of solution provides the proactive capabilities that organizations need. HCI has the opportunity to collect a tremendous amount of data both from the computing and storage tiers. HCI vendors need to correlate and mine that information to help IT professionals deliver better results for their organizations.

Introducing Maxta MxIQ

Maxta is one of those few remaining software-only HCI vendors but it also provides turnkey solutions through its partners. To combat the hardware inconsistencies problem as well as provide additional proactive management value for their customers, Maxta recently announced MxIQ. The MxIQ product solution is a data analytics-driven call-home feature, for storage administrators, which uses not only analytics from the user’s environment, but from the entire community of Maxta users for collective insight. It collects all of this data within the Amazon AWS cloud and leverages Amazon computing servers to create a collective hive mind to provide proactive support across the entire Maxta customer base.

Within five minutes of installation, the solution completes its log analysis. Within four hours it completes its capacity and performance analysis, and within 24 hours it provides complete cluster, licensing and VM information. MxIQ provides alerts on cluster and node health, as well as licensing information. It also provides server (node) hardware inventory so IT can make sure that HBAs, NICs, firmware, and driver versions are in alignment.

MxIQ can also provide proactive support for customers. It collects logs and provides insight to assist with troubleshooting. It uses alerts and events to provide notification of issues encountered within the Maxta cluster. MxIQ also provides data analytics like capacity and performance trend information to help IT pin down hot spots.

The customer can also control who has visibility into the MxIQ portal. The customer can control and manage all the clusters that they own. They can also grant access to a partner or Maxta itself. The Maxta partner has visibility into any of their customers that grants them access. Maxta can have visibility into all Maxta clusters worldwide if granted by the customer.

StorageSwiss Take

Even with the continued growth of data and the increased demand for performance, addressing these concerns is relatively straightforward for IT today. The challenge is how to manage all of this data and make sure that the system runs smoothly and how to proactively address concerns over performance and capacity. MxIQ addresses these challenges and leverages the entire Maxta customer base so it can provide more proactive support of its customers.

Maxta will want to talk about the collective mindset, and that is important, but the hardware inventory is also critical, especially for Maxta. Maxta’s HCI solution is software only, which means the customer is free to mix and match hardware which can cause issues as different firmware and drivers begin to interoperate (or not). The hardware interoperability issue is why so many HCI vendors provided turnkey hardware solutions to reduce the number of support issues. MxIQ allows Maxta to continue to enable their customers to use the hardware of their choice but to alert them of potential conflicts pro-actively.

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Twelve years ago George Crump founded Storage Switzerland with one simple goal; to educate IT professionals about all aspects of data center storage. He is the primary contributor to Storage Switzerland and is a heavily sought after public speaker. With over 25 years of experience designing storage solutions for data centers across the US, he has seen the birth of such technologies as RAID, NAS and SAN, Virtualization, Cloud and Enterprise Flash. Prior to founding Storage Switzerland he was CTO at one of the nation's largest storage integrators where he was in charge of technology testing, integration and product selection.

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