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Softcat Tech Update: SS19

SS19 Tech Update

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With the never-ending reel of the same-old daily news, our spring/summer 2019 tech update is here to put a smile back on your face. With Intel updates, news on file storage and a reminder on best practice around software, we think this is definitely news that’s worth reading!

Intel news

We can always rely on Intel for some good tech news, and their most recent announcement is the launch of their Datacenter collection. The two big portions of this were the second-generation Xeon Scalable Platform CPUs, and Optane storage class memory. In the Xeon SP family, it’s much the same: up to 28 cores, memory capacity and bandwidth improvements and clever instruction tweaks for technical computing. Oh, and a bewildering array of SKUs!

“But Lodz!”, I hear you cry! “I am a grown adult and can read, and there’s SKUs on there with more than 28 cores, but you said they maxed at 28, you buffoon!”

Just checking you’re keeping up… Yes, because there was a real dearth of complex numbers, the SKUs are now over nine thousand! Well I’m sorry to report that these chips aren’t on a single die. It’s a density play, gluing two Xeon SP dies together on a BGA package. Due to this, you’ll have to buy them OEM, you can’t just throw them into a standard LGA socket. Customisation is the name of the game here. When you look at the SKU list, there are some really odd ones in there that may not make complete sense. Now bear in mind that Gen 1 Xeon SP was the fastest ramp-up in Intel Xeon history which, looking at the overall market and the channel, combines with the SKU list to make it very clear that it is the Hyperscalers and the FANG companies that are buying these chips, and Intel is responding with more specific packages. 

What (some of) these CPUs also support is Optane DC, formerly known as 3D Xpoint. High level, you get up to 512GB of persistent memory per Stick, they sit in the DRAM channel, and offer far lower latency than SSD. There are some interesting population rules though, so be sure to speak to our presales teams if you want to deploy it!

Finally, a footnote, but Intel also announced their new series of Agilex FPGAs, the first fully Intel-developed FPGA line since the company acquired Altera. These are pretty niche but have huge potential in specific applications. It’s indicative of the widening chip market away from pure x86. 

File under N for News

Aside from those essential files we kept handy to smooth down the razor-sharp edges of rackmount cases, file storage has had a significant footprint for decades, and is undergoing something of a resurgence. Merger and Acquisition is always a good indicator, and we’ve seen a lot of activity of late.

April saw the acquisition of small Swedish file software solutions company, Compuverde by Pure Storage. Compuverde’s software powers IBM’s spectrum NAS, and their specialism in developing software for file storage in hybrid clouds has boosted Pure Storage’s offering for cloud architectures with data tools like Cloud Data Services.

Quantum’s partnership with Excelero has resulted in a new NVMe flavoured array, targeted at those using StorNext, but who need more blisteringly fast performance. Lenovo have also partnered with Excelero, using the same NVMesh software to roll in NVMe-oF technology to its portfolio.

Microsoft launched Azure Data Box Edge, a smart storage gateway with an FPGA in there to allow for pre-processing at the edge before moving data up into the bit barn. AWS’ Snowball edge offers similar functionality if they are your cloud of choice.

Software is eating common sense

Software is rapidly taking over every aspect of our lives, and the increasing digitisation of the world is bringing forward tremendous opportunities and challenges. However, our experience is that most companies are not at the cutting edge in their technology stack and have more legacy systems than they may care to admit. But we understand that every legacy system exists for a reason. There are a huge number of factors that influence technology choice, and even minor decisions can spiral out of control and have huge unexpected results.

Back in March, Ethopian Airlines flight 302 tragically crashed shortly after take-off, in similar circumstances to the Lion Air crash previously. Multiple experts quickly identified a system known as MCAS to be the potential culprit, and the 787 MAX aircraft is grounded worldwide at time of writing.

The 737 family is a very popular aircraft, and many airlines wanted a new, more efficient version, but with minimal requirement to retrain and recertify pilots. This, combined with the nearly sixty-year-old airframe design and numerous other decisions, has led to this Frankenstein product, that unfortunately may have contributed to the loss of many lives.

But while most IT environments do not hold life and death in their hands, they are still subject to similar challenges and pressures. In an increasingly hybrid model, how you manage security, performance, cost, location, compliance, integration and more is a real challenge, and very small issues can spiral out of control. My mind immediately jumps to the use of SMB1 in malware attacks; one legacy protocol that spawned Wannacry and other attacks besides. The 737 is the only major plane where faults are not immediately displayed, instead pilots must refer to a manual. Boeing charge extra for advanced diagnostics. A lack of documentation, inadequate tooling and cost cutting may be something we are all familiar with.

Though this is a bit of a stretched metaphor, it serves to highlight the importance of best practices and looking at the whole environment, and the interaction of all systems, rather than on a granular basis. Plan, test, and consider the consequences of everything that you do.


Lastly, here’s a roundup of the best of the rest.

  • Proceedings are under way in the high court in the case of HPE vs Mike Lynch and Sushovan Hussain, with HPE seeking damages over the Autonomy deal. This one will drag on for a while, but it’s a fascinating insight into one of the biggest, and most disastrous acquisition deals ever in the industry.
  • Speaking of acquisitions, as a result of the Pure Storage/Compuverde acquisition, we can expect some months of radio silence, followed by a widening of the Pure portfolio, likely to complement FlashBlade and Object Engine.
  • F5 has acquired Nginx, the popular open-core web server firm, expanding out F5’s presence in the Application and Dev-Ops/Net-Ops space.
  • HPE have agreed a deal to sell Nutanix on Proliant/Apollo servers, via their Greenlake consumption model. What this means for Simplivity is anyone’s guess.
  • Despite renewed processes and efforts to avoid the issues of the Windows 1809 updates, a raft of updates from the 9th of April has caused issues to customers running older OS versions, particularly those running Sophos and Avast antivirus software. Contact us for more information if you experience issues.
  • Microsoft have also unveiled their new version of Edge browser, based on the chromium engine. If you’re brave, sign up to the Canary release channel and watch the browser evolve on a daily basis.

Get in touch

Well that’s your tech update for now. As always, if you’re interested in finding out more about how these updates may affect or improve your IT environment, or if this has sparked your intrigue in new services, do get in touch with your Account Manager, or hit the button below.