Variable elimination isn't perfect. The challenge with appliances is that it costs the manufacturers money and at some point they have to change the hardware to keep up with processing upgrades and network I/O upgrades. When there is a platform refresh it also causes challenges within your data center. First you have to allow a potentially foreign platform manufacturer into your data center, or, even more ironically, you may pay extra for a platform that you already have. You also need power, cooling, and rackspace for the appliance. As server virtualization becomes common and, in fact, integrated into the OS, why can't the manufacturers simply provide images? This still delivers a common platform for them to support -- the hypervisor -- keeping support costs down. This can be delivered as a server image that can be installed into the virtualization OS. True, you would have to learn how to get the image loaded and start the virtual machine. It might cause some extra steps on the networking side, but these struggles are far offset by having a solution that can be delivered simply and without using additional power, cooling, or rackspace. Storage hardware manufacturers can and will eventually participate in this situation, and some already are. There are a few manufacturers that already allow their software to run as a virtual machine. There are a few that will allow other virtual machines to run on their appliances. Realistically, there will be a need for customized hardware for storage performance for the foreseeable future. The unique hardware requirement will be the shelf itself; the software IP can live as a series of virtual machines on a group of Virtualization hosts.
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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.