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Storage virtualisation

01 Aug 11

Virtualisation is an important tool for IT people in today’s world where resource management and asset maximisation are the mantras of modern managers.
There are many good reasons why IT managers are adopting storage virtualisation – lowering asset costs and management overheads are two. However, there are also benefits to be gained in increased reliability, resilience and performance. The ability to abstract physical storage assets with a layer of virtualisation enables additional functionality to be added to the storage layer without affecting the hosts using it.
You couldn’t count the number of different approaches to virtualisation, it’s such a broad area. Almost all shared storage subsystems are capable of providing the basic functionality of a single pool of storage allocated to different machines so that many servers can share assets. And with ever-mounting pressure on storage, it is in this area IT managers can reap a host of benefits of which they need to be made aware.
The increasing use of laptops, tablets and smart phones has applied much of the pressure for storage virtualisation, as IDC discovered in its Digital Universe research. Workers are gathering more data and using it to create new business value – however it needs a place to live.
Virtualisation has an important role to play because budgets are shrinking while more people are on the move in an ever-increasingly mobile world and managers are having to cope with the growth and the additional functionality that business demands.
Save money – share with a ‘sibling’
IT managers are always looking for ways to reduce energy consumption. You can help them achieve those savings by highlighting the fact that storage virtualisation can offer environmental benefits and provide an important component of a green strategy. Virtualisation will almost certainly reduce the amount of storage hardware clients need to provide the services required, reducing not only energy costs but also capital and operational charges.
Hardware is effectively, but not physically, separated and shared among multiple servers for efficiency’s sake. Figures suggest that machine use can increase five or more times in a virtual environment. Storage virtualisation can include functionality such as deduplication which can increase utilisation by almost 1000 times.
These results are entirely possible where the technology is deployed appropriately and are especially useful for backup pools, and can also be appropriate for user file shares. Selling in, it’s important to highlight that managers can also allocate hardware resources in real time - when and where they’re needed, providing the foundation for building both private and public clouds.
There are also great gains to be had in staffing utilisation – in administration, software installation and configuration and in the number of staff needed to handle a large number of servers.
So the benefits of virtualised storage for IT managers are there. How can you get them there?
Just as with any major business decision, the text books advise undertaking storage virtualisation as a structured business project.  You can help clients by identifying the key headings in the project matrix:

  • Assess – how will it help them?

  • Delineate – what form of virtualisation architecture do they need?

  • Choose – both software and hardware.

  • Get on with it – move their existing storage across to the virtual environment.

  • Manage – what tools do they need to ensure smooth running of the system?

Best practice
Many of the best practices for physical storage also apply to virtual storage environments, although the architecture does become more complex so managers need to be vigilant when it comes to developments in storage virtualisation.Fundamental principles remainhowever.
Configure for performance
Imagine a six-lane highway that suddenly narrows to a single lane because of road works – an immediate bottleneck.  Likewise with storage virtualisation clients must first consider throughput for optimal I/O performance. It is critical to measure volume of traffic across all the users, at different times of the day/month, and understand all the components required to deliver this to ensure the output is enough to effectively meet business needs.
Applications must fit the role
Access to a shared storage system is available via many different methodologies that can be appropriate for many different requirements. Careful thought needs to be given as to which connectivity options (Ethernet, Fibre Channel, etc), networking options (NAS, SAN, etc) and potentially file system protocols (CIFS, NFS, etc) are appropriate to meet applications requirements.
Reliability appropriate to business risk
Most virtualised systems provide the ability to protect data internally (RAID, etc) as well as the ability to replicate data to a secondary system/location. Accurate knowledge of the risks the business is prepared to wear and the real costs if these risks eventuate is required in order to appropriately configure the system to meet needs.
Functionality requirements
A vast array of differing functionality is available. Many of these can provide business benefit, but which will provide business value? Thought should be given to future requirements also; as storage visualisation becomes the lynchpin of the architecture, the ability to easily federate to cloud environments or incorporate new features/functionality into the environment will hinge upon whether these are supported by the virtualisation layer.
Most technology younger than about five years can currently support some form of virtualisation. Public and private cloud computing has accelerated the requirement for businesses to understand their capability to adopt these paradigms, especially as virtualisation is a step towards the cloud.
In short, virtualisation provides many benefits to businesses today and will increasingly become required in order to reap the benefits of a burgeoning, dynamic, cloud-focused world in the future. Resellers need to understand the costs, benefits and the needs of their clients in implementing storage virtualisation.
New Zealanders have always been keen to turn their hands to innovations such as virtualisation, and hence our market does differ from others. Storage virtualisation has a big role to play in our ability to help clients to continue innovating in the future. 

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