Easing storage angst with virtualisation

Easing storage angst with virtualisation

Battling data bulge and high storage costs? Many organisations are turning to a diet of storage virtualisation in a bid to keep costs under control and simplify data administration. Virtualisation enables networked heterogeneous devices to act as one single pool of storage. Scattered data across different departments can be viewed and managed in a flexible storage environment via a single console.

IDC Asia-Pacific associate vice-president for storage, Graham Penn, said the technology was making great strides and had gained a spot on customer wish lists this year.

"We've been talking about storage virtualisation for 5-6 years now. Initially people were suspicious; they weren't sure if it worked," he said. "But we're through with the concerns over reliability.

"The technology is promising and has come a long way. This year, many users will have a place for it within their IT operations. It addresses data growth and capacity, offering better utilisation and pooled storage."

Dimension Data general manager datacentre solutions, Ronnie Altit, said the big area of opportunity for storage virtualisation is in the large enterprise. He singled out those that had undergone merger or acquisition activities as a hot spot.

"These companies have multiple storage platforms and vendors within the organisation and need it simplified," he said. "The concept hasn't taken off like server virtualisation, but it is starting to be a real topic of conversation. Customers are looking for a single interface for managing storage."

Hurdles to adoption
The move to a virtual storage environment doesn't come without a few hassles. IDC's Penn said one of the main challenges was that some apps weren't always tuned to a virtual world.

"Once you travel along the storage virtualization path, there's a certain degree of vendor lock-in, which many customers are concerned about," he said. "Security can be another issue [users have to patch the virtual machines]. Storage virtualisation also doesn't have to be on Fibre Channel but on IP. So how you isolate the storage network from everything else becomes an issue."

Market uptake has also been mired by the server virtualisation frenzy. Server virtualisation offers big cost savings and is particularly attractive given the proliferation of Intel-based kit and the bulging costs associated with managing sprawl. But there's a definite disruption to the network, which isn't always the case with a storage virtualisation job, Penn said. "The virtualisation push has been sandbagged by the hype surrounding server virtualisation and VMware," he said.

The late launch of EMC's Invista technology compounded confusion about storage virtualisation, Penn said. "Invista was late to market and expensive, catering to the top end [Telstra and financial institutions]," he said. "EMC ended up muddying the waters - as if storage virtualisation was VMware."

The vendor's purchase of file virtualisation vendor, Rainfinity, also caused problems, Penn said. "The EMC virtualisation story became confused. The message was, 'we have virtualisation if you want it. We have three different stories," he said. That being said, the differences between the two technologies and what is required is becoming clearer - as are vendor strategies and product positioning.

Market sweet spots
EMC IP solutions marketing director, Clive Gold, said the storage virtualisation market was ready for broader adoption, with the technology even making its way into the medium business segment. He said it was now seeing uptake for several reasons: the launch of second generation storage virtualisation tools, more end user confidence, and lower costs.

The path to virtualisation has become easier and less disruptive, Gold said. He highlighted tools such as PowerPath, a server-resident solution that enhances performance and application availability. It detects imbalances and automatically tunes up the storage area network (SAN) by selecting alternate routing paths for data.

According to IDC, enterprises have also had difficulty adopting storage virtualisation because the supporting software was absent.

Gold said myriad storage software improvements are now taking shape. EMC ControlCenter storage resource management (SRM) and device management software, for example, simplifies the most complex information infrastructures. It helps improve productivity, increase performance, and lower storage management costs; all while helping the organisation implement an information lifecycle management strategy that maximizes the value of the information.

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