Over the last five years, the terms 'server' and 'desktop virtualization' have permeated almost every conversation in the IT arena, with much being said about the wealth of benefits both can offer enterprises.
While IDC statistics indicate Australia has the highest rate of server virtualization penetration in the world, the country is yet to warm to storage virtualization. That’s surprising, as if careful implemented, the technology can help manage persistent data management issues.
It’s even more the case as IDC statistics also suggest that data will grow some 44 times larger than it is today during the next decade, while alarmingly, the average number of storage administrators managing that data will only grow 1.4 times.
Clearly, it’s time more attention was paid to storage virtualization. But, as IBRS advisor, Kevin McIsaac tells it, a lot of the blank stares usually encountered when the technology is mentioned could be due to the fact that storage virtualization isn’t necessarily the easiest concept to grasp. For one thing, there is no clear product segment for the technology and, in a way, every aspect of storage is some form of virtualization.
“I don’t see storage virtualization as a product,” he says. “I see it as a bunch of features that add different types of storage virtualization to an existing product that you need to evaluate.”
IDC senior program manager, Matt Oostveen, agrees, describing storage virtualization as a “spectrum of technologies that roll up into virtualization”. That spectrum encompasses the likes of thin provisioning, de-duplication, hypervisors and forms of middleware located between the storage area network (SAN) and servers.
Either way you slice it, storage virtualization, for those that have made the leap, has enabled some pretty dramatic changes. With some 350,000 customer worldwide, Australian online hosting company Melbourne IT is no stranger to complex storage networks. The company’s dynamic storage environment has around 800 terabytes (TB) of available content which is projected to break above a petabyte at some stage this year.
The organisation turned to virtualization early taking its storage virtual in 2007 with the implementation of IBM’s SVC (SAN Volume Controller). The rollout virtualised 26 SAN controllers across multiple data centres into single views of its storage infrastructure.
Initially, the technology acted as a migration tool, enabling 300TB of content to be migrated across during business hours. Three years on, the company hasn’t looked back, though is 12 months into a migration of storage from IBM to EMC with completion due in the second quarter of this year.
In addition to being an essential data migration tool, storage virtualization technologies can also help organisations save dollars and increase efficiency, availability and flexibility.
Melbourne IT’s chief technology officer, Glenn Gore, says the technology serves a significant purpose in his organisation, allowing staff to manage the storage and data centres as a single “blob” rather than individual and ultimately more complex silos.
With the advent of virtualization technologies, Gore says he now has the ability to move data between SANs without an outage and can move that storage across different LUN (logical unit number) or RAID (redundant array of independent disks) groups. Storage can also be assigned across different performance or availability tiers to the applications when needed, providing the on-demand capabilities customers require in a Cloud-enabled world.
“Being a hosting company, we always have new customers coming on board,” Gore says. “We also have existing customers who are always looking to grow, are requesting more storage or installing different applications with different performance requirements.
"There are occasions where customers no longer need their applications as they move or upgrade to newer services, meaning there’s always new storage being provided, old storage coming offline and being recycled for new customers.”
For organisations with disparate storage spread across two or more locations, storage virtualization is a no-brainer, says Gore, as it simplifies the management of storage across the locations, adding freedom and agility in the same way as server virtualization.
He notes that since going virtual, both density and utilisation are up, total cost of ownership models have vastly improved and the cost per gigabyte of storage to the customer has decreased.
“When customers need that high performance level, which unfortunately does come at a higher cost, they only have to use it for the periods they require, so there’s some very real savings that can be realised particularly in the larger storage environments,” he says.
In the case of Western Australia’s Edith Cowan University (ECU), flexible storage has consistently been a key priority, says manager of IT infrastructure, Angus Griffin. The university's large number of systems change regularly, requiring the institution to scale storage depending on project load and specifications.
Edith Cowan's also went virtual with its storage in 2007 with the 15-month deployment of IBM’s SVC, replacing an ageing, outsourced EMC Clarion system.
“We were looking for a system that gave us flexibility and the capability to move storage around live while our systems were running," Griffin says of the upgrade.
The technology allows the university to isolate the back-end disk system from the servers, enabling movement of storage from slower to faster disks and vice versa without interrupting the servers. It also enables replication between the different campuses and the ability to take data snapshots for disaster recovery.
“Without storage virtualization the end user would constantly experience service interruptions caused by a poorly performing application as a result of the application being on an inappropriate tier of storage,” Griffin says. “To shift the application to the correct tier, the student record system would need to be switched off each time, causing a disruption. Virtualised storage technology allows the application to be moved while the system is live.”
Next: When to go virtual