Managers ready to start storage virtualization push

With major vendors starting to offer storage virtualization technology, many IT managers at last week's Storage Networking World conference in the US said they're ready to begin testing the waters in hopes of increasing their storage capacity utilization rates and automating more operations.

For example, Lynn Neal, a senior systems integrator at Sprint Corp., said she's pushing the idea of virtualization to upper management because of its potential to create a more automated way of provisioning storage on the company's 160TB storage-area network.

Neal added that she's particularly interested in network-based virtualization technology that could let users reach across a myriad of storage devices from different vendors. "That will be where we'll be able to achieve the functionality we want," she said.

One potential roadblock is corporate reluctance to spend money on new technologies (see story above). But virtualization software, which makes the storage space on different disks look like a single pool, is becoming the cornerstone of efforts to develop more automated storage infrastructures.

Most products now on the market support virtualization on a single disk array or server. Network-based virtualization promises to allow disk storage devices across an entire SAN to be centrally managed as a single entity.

Cisco Systems Inc. and Brocade Communications Systems Inc. are both building network-based virtualization capabilities into their storage switches. Meanwhile, Hewlett-Packard Co., Sun Microsystems Inc. and IBM Corp. are shipping or will soon ship products that support virtualization approaches, though initially for their own storage devices only.

Rod Lucero, chief IT architect at Conseco Finance Corp. in St. Paul, Minn., said virtualization tools are helping the company save money. That's particularly important as Conseco Finance seeks to emerge from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, which it filed for in December along with parent company Conseco Inc.

Last year, Lucero installed a virtualization appliance made by Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based DataCore Software Corp. to pool together 70TB of storage on EMC Corp.'s Symmetrix and Clariion arrays. Since the rollout, Lucero said, storage utilization rates on the SAN have increased from about 55 percent to 85 percent. In addition, the time it takes to provision storage space for new applications has been cut from four days to one hour.

The US$190,000 that Conseco Finance paid for the DataCore software has already been recouped by the company threefold through cost savings, Lucero said. For example, it was able to postpone plans to buy an additional 3TB of capacity, saving about $280,000. "The next thing to move toward . . . is the ability to have a single interface that allows me to see my infrastructure from end to end," Lucero added.

Currently, no top-tier vendors sell network-based virtualization products that support rival storage devices. But HP and EMC have both said that they plan later this year to make their storage management software available on new switches made by San Jose-based Brocade that support virtualization on multivendor SANs.

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