As the economy slows down and budgets tighten up, once again IT professionals are being asked to do more with less (does anyone remember when you were allowed to do less with more?). How can you tighten up your storage processes one more time? The first technology that I would count on to help is virtualization. For virtualization to truly pay off it must be more than just server virtualization.To really get more with less you need to virtualize at the infrastructure, storage, file services, and even backup virtualization levels. This virtualization stack allows for true amortization of the virtualized initiatives now occurring. This entry serves as a quick introduction to each platform in the stack.
Infrastructure virtualization provides the ability to virtualize the network itself, both messaging networks as well as storage networks. This allows you to move a failed server to a powered-off server in a matter of boot time. The infrastructure virtualization manages all the storage network LUN remapping and IP network subnet masks. The temptation with server virtualization is to design very flat and wide-open networks on both storage and messaging networks. Infrastructure virtualization allows you to follow networking best practices while at the same time keeping it simple to make sure the virtual server environment has the access you need to be valuable. Companies such as Scalent and Egenera provide infrastructure virtualization solutions.
Storage virtualization has actually been around for quite some time, even on open systems. In the late '90s, software-only companies were offering it as an opportunity to replace high-end disk manufacturers in an attempt to make disk purchases a commodity. While this strategy didn't take off, the concept has reached its maturation from companies such as 3PAR, Compellent, and Hitachi.
With Virtual Storage, similar to virtual servers, you don't create physical LUNs. You trust the system to do that for you. For example, if you define a 1 TB LUN, that LUN is divided up and scattered across many or, in some cases, all the drives in the environment. You may decide on a certain drive characteristic, fiber vs. SATA, but that is the extent of your concern. While some administrators struggle with the concept of not knowing exactly what drive contains their Oracle database, there are distinct advantages. Virtualization dramatically lowers time to provision and offers capabilities like Thin Provisioning. In a future entry I will discuss RAID rebuild issues, but virtualized storage systems are for the most part immune to RAID rebuild challenges because of the high number of drives involved in a virtualized LUN; virtualized storage systems offer some of the fastest RAID rebuild times in the industry.
File virtualization discussed in my earlier entry on Data Moveage, essentially a DNS server for files, provides incredibly powerful capabilities for the enterprise.
The final virtualization layer is the newest form, Backup Virtualization. Ironically this applies to the oldest problem in the data center ... protection. Backup virtualization provides a single target for backup applications to address and then manages the different hardware components in the background. This allows for the mixture of data deduplicated disk, high speed disk, different types of tape drive technologies, and even optical into a single target. Policies are then set on the virtualization appliance to move this data based on your requirements. Gresham Storage's Clareti Storage Director is an example of a Backup Virtualization solution.
Implementation of the entire virtualization stack creates a virtualized data center that can not only respond to and integrate new technology, it also optimizes old technology. Most important, it enables rapid response to changes in the business, making technology a competitive weapon.
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.