ONE STOP SHOP
But some vendors, such as HP, say that organisations can derive just as much benefit from virtualising across the drives in a single storage array. "SAN-wide virtualisation appears to be the utopia customers are interested in," storage marketing manager for HP, Mark Nielsen, said. "But that's only relevant for a small number of very large organisations that have multiple arrays from multiple vendors."
"We tend to break it off into chunks that people can actually use," he said. "It shouldn't just be a technology for high-end customers."
But network-based virtualisation vendors and niche virtualisation vendors such as Falconstor argue that the limited functionality of RAID controllers should not be called virtualisation, and that such simplification is blurring its definition. Semple argues that all the vendors have different approaches, and whether they are appropriate depends entirely on the needs of an individual customer.
"There is no underlying panacea," he said. "All the vendors have a part of the puzzle."
In order to bring the pieces of the virtualisation puzzle together, there are increasing calls for the development of storage standards that will future-proof customer investments.
The standards proposed thus far had not been adopted by the whole industry, Sun Microsystems storage and data mananagment practice manager, Dan Kieran, said.
There had been a number of examples of market-leading vendors releasing products based on proprietary technology that had inevitably been abandoned as the rest of the industry matured a standard, Kieran said. "Customers get left hanging."
"As a customer I wouldn't want to go near anything that doesn't comply with SNIA standards," he said.
But the standards effort is missing its share of big league storage players, and even integrators such as Enstor suggest that SNIA is still a long way off having anything concrete.
Semple said all a customer could do when choosing a solution was to analyse what vendor products were already in use within the organisation and make inquiries as to what virtualisation products work for the majority of them.
"Not all the virtualisation products will work with all hardware platforms," he said. "It's important as integrators that we keep up to date on this."
Because of the large amount of integration work required to make storage virtualisation a reality, there is a lot of opportunity for channel partners with integration or development skills. Sales director of storage integrator Tripoint Corporation, Nigel Peach, there were many storage companies in the industry selling individual components that make up a storage virtualisation solution but very few have the ability to put the building blocks together.
Semple said margins were being squeezed on storage hardware products, and to a lesser degree on software, but integration skills were still in high demand. Neither vendors nor customers tended to have the skills or the tenacity to take on such integration work.
"IT administrators don't have the integration or SAN-specific skills to do it alone, whereas we are rolling out 20 and 30 SANs a month," he said.
"These things are complex and the level of consulting required is massive. Vendors don't tend to understand their competitor's products very well, to our benefit," he said.