Storage Virtualization

More data, more storage, less funding but most experts in the sector claim existing capacity is under used. Ian Yates reports on an approach to maximising resources.

The benefits of storage virtualization include integrating storage products from multiple vendors, allocating storage resources on-demand, raising the level of availability and driving down the total cost of ownership. Vendors are chasing the holy grails of reliability, availability and scalability and each claims to have the best manageability for its offerings. However, the competing claims are often hard to distinguish and you need to establish your own criteria to decide on the best solution.

"The term 'storage virtualization' has a different meaning depending on who you talk to,” says Dimension Data's national business manager, Greg Bowden.

“Elements of storage virtualization have been in existence for many years such as volume management, where a storage array's physical drives are grouped in logical volumes and carved up to be served to different hosts.

"This type of storage virtualization provides many benefits and is the most widely used interpretation of storage virtualization today.”

Tom Buoicchi, VP at Brocade Communications, says there is still some way to go before the process is complete. “Virtualization as a widely adopted technology is still maturing,” Buoicchi says.

“Many appliance based solutions have existed for some time, and the movement toward fabric-based solutions is still in progress relative to production readiness by the solution vendors. We believe that the full benefit of virtualization is achieved when it can be leveraged across the entire storage environment.”

Simon Elisha, strategic technical architect for Veritas, says storage virtualization is not new. “It was first conceived 20 years ago in mainframe computing. Host-based solutions have been delivering cost-saving storage virtualization benefits for more than 10 years. The emergence of storage area networks, however, has increased the focus on storage virtualization technologies and has helped propel a greater understanding of the full value that storage virtualization can deliver.”

At a time when budgets are shrinking and businesses are scrutinising their spending, it is especially important to get the most out of every storage resource. The average customer will buy 100 percent more storage this year than last.

According to Gartner, every dollar spent on new storage requires five dollars of additional IT resources to manage it. Yet typically half of all IT budgets are spent on storage, while less than 50 percent of existing storage capacity is actually in use.

Rob Nieboer, StorageTek's Australian and New Zealand storage strategist, is convinced that storage virtualization is essential if we are to have any hope of managing the constantly growing mountain of data piling up on every corporate and government doorstep.

"I would suggest that the storage infrastructure is broken, it is stuffed,” Nieboer says. “Data volumes are growing faster than disk is growing cheaper, and faster than our ability to manage it, with budgets that are flat or declining. Storage virtualization is one of the technologies designed to help us manage more storage with fewer resources.”

A new technology relevant to virtualization has to do with connecting isolated resources. There are many political and technical reasons why storage has been deployed in islands, such as project-based buying and multi-vendor buying strategies. SANs were an improved solution to direct attached storage, and SAN routing is an evolution from today’s isolated storage environments allowing utilization and sharing to be further improved.

“With routing, a central shared service can be created, and using existing tools, the services can be seamlessly applied on a selective and secure basis,” Buoicchi says.

Not surprisingly, several vendors who have built their business on routing packets over the Internet are now offering their services in the area of data routing. The emphasis seems to be shifting from the traditional suppliers of hardware grunt, towards the suppliers of clever software. Of course the incumbent hardware vendors are not about to see their business vanish and they too are offering software solutions, which include data routing.

“Routing technology provides a foundation for delivering a truly shared service across multiple isolated environments,” Buoicchi says. “While overcoming the isolation is the main benefit, the secondary benefit is that instances of the virtualization solution can be greatly reduced. For example, with four business units in a data centre, using routing, one cluster can be securely shared across all four environments.”

A strategy for leveraging in virtualization is to create a shared service that can be seamlessly added to production. Consolidating an environment in preparation for virtualization can be more complicated and costly than living without virtualization, so routing is a strategy for delivering the benefit of the virtualization solution without having to overcome consolidation challenges.

“Data migration from old storage coming off lease to new storage can be very disruptive,” Buoicchi says. “A virtualization solution can help make the data movement easier, but by itself it cannot work if the new storage is inside another new SAN.

"Using routing overcomes the complications of otherwise merging the production environments.”

Calculating these benefits creates a business case where the cost of enabling routing in the environment is a mere fraction of the savings. “When the routing can be seamlessly integrated into the existing environment, customers can realise the benefits of the virtualization solution.”

Network routers proved their worth so long ago that we now take them for granted, and storage routers offer the promise of performing a similar advance in the quest for the ultimate storage virtualization solution. However, just because they are the latest and greatest offering doesn’t necessarily mean that you should rush out and buy one today. But you should include them on your shopping list. Taking control of your storage environment rather than being under the control of a particular vendor is the end result you should be aiming for, and that should influence your purchase even more than any particular technology promise.

"I am telling customers to take the opportunity to have storage that manages itself,” Nieboer says. “Don't wait for nirvana, start chipping away at the problem or in five years you are going to be stuffed. Virtualization is one of those tools that is going to help create a sustainable storage infrastructure by reducing costs and making management easier."

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