The maturing acceptance of virtualization in networked storage environments is allowing organizations to take the next step toward significant improvements in returns on their storage investments and reductions in storage management costs. According to Rich Vining, director of networking for KOM Networks, Inc. (Kanata, Ontario), virtualization is the enabling technology for policy-based storage resource management, including the automatic provisioning of additional capacity.
"There is still some confusion in the market in terms of block-level virtualization versus file-level virtualization," he says. "There is also some confusion in regard to where you put the virtualization-at the server, at the storage, or on the network. But at the base level, people are starting to understand that virtualization is a good thing, regardless of how you deploy it. It provides users with better utilization of their storage."
Virtualization also enables new levels of data management, allowing users to automatically store different classes of data on the most appropriate and cost-effective storage resources. For example, automated policies for storing last year's data on secondary systems greatly reduces the need to grow expensive, high-performance capacity, while also reducing the cost and performance impact of backing up these primary storage systems.
A Storage State Of Mind
Chris Gahagan, senior VP of storage infrastructure software at EMC Corp. (Hopkinton, MA), believes that virtualization is more a state of mind than a single product. "Another way to say that is 'We believe virtualization has to happen at every layer within the storage infrastructure,'" he says. "You have to have a virtualized environment. On the host, there has to be a layer of virtualization. Ultimately, the storage, the host, and the network all have to be coordinated with a set of management tools."
Gahagan feels the array part of virtualization is mature and well understood. The host side of virtualization is also well developed with a number of technologies that already exist. But the area that has the most room for growth in the whole concept of virtualization is the network. "Over the next few years, the maturity and the sophistication of solutions in the network will start to complete that virtualization triad," he says. "Customers will then have virtualization on the host, in the network, and within the storage device."
Gahagan believes VARs should build a set of offerings around the three virtualization domains. For now they should concentrate on the array and the host because that is where the real solutions currently exist. But over the next year or two they should be on the lookout for technologies that virtualize the network as well.
Provisioning Plays A Role
Jean Banko, product marketing manager for Fujitsu Softech (Sunnyvale, CA), believes a lot of hype surrounding automated provisioning (assigning storage to the applications that need it) and using policy-based engines to do it occurred last year. "A lot of companies announced the technology but were not really delivering it," she says. "We look at the policy-based solutions as providing a very application-centric or logical view of the environment. The technology sets policies at the application level that demand certain performance and availability levels. Customers that require 100% availability of their data don't want to shut down applications and will therefore set capacity thresholds they can monitor. When thresholds are reached, auto provision uses a provisioning engine to serve up additional capacity to the application server and will expand the existing file system's volume at that level."
Storage provisioning, since it is a pooling concept, will require customers to re-engineer their environment. If a customer is in a direct attached or SAN (storage area network) environment today, there are still some services involved with going into a pooled, centralized network storage environment. VARs can now go in and do the storage assessment, perform the services around migrating the data, and then re-architect the environment into a virtualized SAN.
Integrated Solutions Add Value
Ken Horner, VP of marketing for DataCore Software (Fort Lauderdale, FL), believes the next 12 months will really separate the competitors from the pretenders in the storage management and storage networking software space. "We try to stay away from the word 'virtualization' because it is really more of a technique than a product delivery," he says. "But clearly one of the things we do with this solution is virtualize storage. What we see going on is a true, enterprise-class deployment of this type of technology in the software arena. Twelve months ago we were really seeing just the tip of the iceberg. The deployments were very departmental or project oriented."
Horner argues there is also a significant shift in the perception of both customers and the market itself to the value of software versus hardware to manage storage-related concerns and challenges within environments. "I think that is why you see a higher degree of value placed upon software by customers and partners and vendors," he says. "When VARs integrate software as part of a solution, they have the opportunity, as a partner, to differentiate their solution from others. That is one of the true value adds the software extends to the market at the vendor, customer, and VAR levels."
Another trend starting to emerge from the software space is the adoption of characteristics we have seen in hardware for years. Having a robust, fully functional feature set with features such as asynchronous disaster recovery, performance, and the ability to build a stable and safe storage environment form a software base. Horner believes this is another opportunity for VARs to build value and gain a significant amount of account control. "In the past, we have seen VARs that have been linked to hardware platforms," he says. "When they move from one platform to another, they give up their customer base. By having software as a layer to build infrastructure upon, they gain a significant amount of account control and leverage."