Nova Scotia pulls ahead with storage virtualization

The Government of Nova Scotia has burst out from the pack of provincial governments with a bold virtualization strategy that involves an aggressive storage virtualization solution, and, said their data centre services manager, “virtualizing everything!”

Kevin Tillman, who works out of the province of Nova Scotia’s corporate IT operations, said that the government and its data centre had been experiencing some serious growth over the last few years.

“We were at 100 per cent growth on a yearly basis,” said the data centre services manager. “We had to find a way to deal with the constant growth, and when it came to managing that IT infrastructure, we had the same team and resources to work with from one year to the next.” Tillman and his team of 14 are in charge of the storage and virtual servers for the provincial data centre (which also handles co-location for different IT groups in the province and hosting applications).

“What they needed was something that would do a more efficient job of utilizing what they already had,” said IBM platform leader for system storage, John Cardoulis. Storage virtualization, however, is one of the babies of the group when it comes to virtualization, he said.

And, according to IDC Canada research, Canada is especially behind in this area, said senior research analyst Philip Barnes. “Canada is definitely lagging the United States, particularly in comparison to server virtualization (which is more on par). Many advanced storage solutions have sputtered in Canada adoption, such as tiered and hierarchal storage, provisioning, and Information Lifecycle Management—the uptake’s just not there,” said Barnes.

This, he said, comes down to a confusion over what storage virtualization really means, and a professed lack of need for it. Said Barnes: “It can thus be hard to articulate the value of it.”

The long-time IBM customer decided to strike out into this relatively new territory, and hi up Big Blue for some offerings for a System Storage SAN Volume Controller and System Storage DS4800 disk storage, along with the System Storage Productivity Center and Tivoli Storage Manager software. (New infrastructure additions included another four DS3400 systems.)

The implementation—which was done over 2007 and this year—was pretty easy, said Tillman, due to the commonalities between the physical products and the virtual ones. It lessened the pressure to squeeze in more data, but with this increased storage space comes more governance responsibility. “As a central agency for the government, we don’t have the governance in place to put a policy on our department, but the individual departments can try and put (due diligence) around their own data,” he said.

Significant performance gains have resulted, along with tonnes more storage space, and easier data migration between different devices. It also can aid with integration problems, according to Cardoulis, who said, “It makes things more manageable—when you’re adding servers and storage to the data centre, it can often be difficult getting them working together.”

Staffing worries have also abated. Said Tillman: “The amount of (budget) money hasn’t increased, but the data has, so a big benefit is being able to grow without having to hire additional support staff. As a government agency, we really have to consolidate and make better use of everything.”

Tillman and company are continuing on this consolidation quest by spending the next year, he said, “virtualizing everything!” This will include all their servers (from Unix to Windows), and are in the testing period of balancing the load between two data centres through mirroring and provisioning technology. “That will feed right into our disaster recovery plan,” said Tillman.

While the Nova Scotia government is on the cutting edge, other organizations and businesses are following suit, albeit slowly. The thing that seems to be starting the acceptance is the growing familiarity with and excitement around server virtualization, along with the skyrocketing data storage needs. The latter can mean big costs, and could help turn the tide toward more aggressive storage virtualization, a la the Nova Scotia data centre implementation. Said Barnes: “If you can redeploy existing technology, there’s no need for a rip-and-replace.”

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