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10/2/2009
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Selecting A Storage Foundation for Virtualized Servers

The storage component of a virtualized server infrastructure has been labeled as complex. The storage and server virtualization suppliers have both tried to deliver solutions that reduce storage complexity in server virtualization projects. The challenge for virtual infrastructure administrators is that there are so many options that it can be confusing. There are several steps to take when selecting a storage foundation for virtualized servers and our next series of entries will cover these ste

The storage component of a virtualized server infrastructure has been labeled as complex. The storage and server virtualization suppliers have both tried to deliver solutions that reduce storage complexity in server virtualization projects. The challenge for virtual infrastructure administrators is that there are so many options that it can be confusing. There are several steps to take when selecting a storage foundation for virtualized servers and our next series of entries will cover these steps.Many vendors will state that selecting a storage protocol should be your first choice. With most virtualization software you have three choices available today; Fibre, iSCSI or NFS. While protocol is important, I don't think it is the first decision to be made, the first should be on the storage system itself. Does it provide the ability to make your virtual infrastructure better and easier to use? Which protocol that storage uses to be sharable is an important but second step.

The most important aspect to understand, ironically has little to do with ease of use. It is will the system that you are looking at provide you with the performance you need today and can it scale to meet those needs in the future? Simplicity is important but if you get simple and sacrifice performance your going to replace that simple system quickly. Alternatively if you decide to "fine tune" the simple system to deliver performance, you likely will end up with an even more complex mess. At the same time don't buy more performance than you will ever need, look for something that will give you reasonable performance as the environment scales over the next few years and then be prepared to replace it.

For many data centers, most storage systems will provide the performance that is good enough for their environment. The next step is to look for something that has the feature set you need in virtual infrastructures. Thin provisioning, as we discussed in our "Thin Provisioning Basic's" article, should be high on the list in a virtual infrastructure as should replication, high availability and snapshots. As we discussed in our prior entry "The End of Storage Volumes" look for storage systems that don't force you to manage every single disk in the array, but allow you to just manage overall capacity.

Finally look at the integration between the storage platform and your server virtualization infrastructure. While I don't see this as the be all end all that some manufacturers claim, some integration is nice but this is less of a necessity than the basic ease of use features and performance listed above. Vendors have spent time integrating storage management as a tab in VMware's vCenter or have provided integration with VMware snapshots. Each of these can add additional value to your storage selection.

Selecting a storage platform can be a paralyzing event. There are so many choices and vendors available and there is a belief that the platform you select is the one you are stuck with forever. Making a wrong storage platform choice for your virtual infrastructure is not the end of the world, undoing that choice may take some doing but you don't have to be perfect. We have seen many virtual infrastructures convert from one platform to another and live to tell the tale.

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George Crump is founder of Storage Switzerland, an analyst firm focused on the virtualization and storage marketplaces. It provides strategic consulting and analysis to storage users, suppliers, and integrators. An industry veteran of more than 25 years, Crump has held engineering and sales positions at various IT industry manufacturers and integrators. Prior to Storage Switzerland, he was CTO at one of the nation's largest integrators.

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