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The Forgotten Part Of Storage Unification

The focus of storage unification has for the most part been protocols. Leveraging a NAS to also serve up a SAN protocol (fibre or iSCSI) and as I discussed in my last entry there is definitely a place for that. The forgotten part of storage unification however is unifying all the storage that already exists in the data center; this is typically done through a form of storage virtualization.
The focus of storage unification has for the most part been protocols. Leveraging a NAS to also serve up a SAN protocol (fibre or iSCSI) and as I discussed in my last entry there is definitely a place for that. The forgotten part of storage unification however is unifying all the storage that already exists in the data center; this is typically done through a form of storage virtualization.Storage virtualization of this type basically abstracts the storage hardware from the storage software. The storage software is after all where much of the magic happens; snapshots, replication and thin provisioning for example. If you abstract it from the actual hardware you then enable the use of multiple storage hardware manufacturers. Since many data centers have multiple storage hardware within their walls, this is also a valuable aspect of unification to explore.

Interestingly many of the major manufacturers offer some form of storage virtualization. NetApp, IBM, HP, HDS all have a customized piece of hardware that can be positioned between the servers and the storage to abstract the storage software from it. This allows for older storage hardware to be integrated into the same storage management and software umbrella as the new storage you may be buying. The strategy is to keep you from throwing out your old storage as you migrate to new storage from one of these vendors.

There are also the stalwarts of the industry like DataCore and FalconStor that are now joined by companies like Nexenta and Starwind Software to provide a software only storage virtualization solution. These systems drive down costs even further by turning storage into an application, from there you provide the storage and the server to run the software. The server in some cases can even be run on a virtual machine in server virtualization environment.

If unification is key on your list of things in the data center it makes sense that you would also want to consider unifying the storage software that controls the various storage hardware in your environment. There are companies in this group that are more focused on the first shared storage and budget needs of an SMB like Nexenta and StarWind and there are those that are focused on the needs of an enterprise like NetApp, HP, IBM and HDS. Finally companies like DataCore and FalconStor believe they can scale from the SMB all the way to the enterprise.

As it pertains to the broader discussion of storage unification of protocols within this type of storage virtualization, there are companies that are more focused on SAN based I/O, some on file I/O, while others can do a mix.

Is there a time where no unification is better? Can specifically designed storage controller hardware, matched with disk and software offer an alternative? We will discuss un-unification next.

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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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