Users not ready to jump on the virtualization bandwagon

When IBM announced its latest high-end and midrange disk storage systems last week, it also hyped its SAN Volume Controller (SVC) appliance for users to pool other vendors' storage behind their boxes as a way to create a single view of all storage and consolidate assets in a heterogeneous environment.

But when John Dick, CIO at Regions Financial -- one of IBM's representative customers at the event -- was asked if virtualization interested him, his response was, "I don't think it's really a big deal for us."

Dick isn't alone. While users say virtualization may someday help them consolidate and prolong the life of their storage assets by creating a layer of abstraction between their management software and the boxes behind it, few are rushing to plug into the technology.

In fact, if you asked any of the top storage vendors to provide customer examples of heterogeneous storage environments that are pooling assets through virtualization, they would be hard-pressed to find you one.

"I've not spoken to any customer using SVC in a heterogeneous environment," said Tony Asaro, an analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group. "Every customer I speak to, it's just not something they want."

Customers shy from virtualization technology as much for political as ttechnical reasons, Asaro said. For example, if a systems administrator puts EMC's Clariion arrays behind a TagmaStore array from Hitachi Data Systems, which company do you call when the Clariion has a hiccup? Asaro said users are also wary of voiding their warranties by plugging together devices from different vendors.

IBM is just the latest of the top external storage vendors to claim virtualization victory.

This past spring, EMC said at its annual user conference in Orlando that it's developing an enterprise-class "storage router" device that will include virtualization software. EMC said this week that the router is in beta testing and will be generally available in the second quarter of 2005.

Not to be outdone, Hitachi last month introduced along with its new TagmaStore Universal Storage System an application called the Universal Virtualization Layer (UVS) to pool storage from IBM, EMC and other vendors.

Currently, Hitachi's software only pools storage from its own arrays, but Chief Technology Officer Hu Yoshida said yesterday that UVS will virtualize competitors' arrays by the end of the year.

Yoshida said Hitachi offers the only software that doesn't create a "bump" in the network because its software is loaded directly onto the controller in the TagmaStore array and doesn't reside on an appliance or switch.

"It doesn't void the warranties the way we do it. It's attached to external storage through the Fibre Channel standard. It's no different from (Veritas Software's) Volume Manager software. We're not cracking the box open or changing anything in the box," he said.

Analysts agree that virtualization technology is the cornerstone to creating an information life-cycle management architecture, the policy-based management of data backup and archiving across tiers of storage for economy and efficiency.

"Virtualization is key to getting an affordable environment in place," said Marc Farley, president of Building Storage, a consulting company that specializes in network storage.

But like any new technology, Asaro said, it takes a long time before the adoption cycle is mature and widespread.

"We're beginning to see early adopters see real benefit from virtualization, where they can quantify cost savings and efficiencies," he said. "This is something that changes the way we do storage networking."

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