Stockpiling success with virtual storage

Until recently much discussion on the benefits of storage virtualization focused on the technology’s ability to streamline routine tasks such as backup, archiving and recovery.

Important as these capabilities are, however, they are just the tip of a much larger iceberg, say industry analysts.

They say by treating storage as a single logical entity without regard to the hierarchy of physical media that may be involved or may change, storage virtualization can deliver a much broader array of benefits to the enterprise.

These include improvements to database performance, capacity utilization, and application availability.

Another overarching benefit, they emphasize, is that storage virtualization significantly reduces complexity by enabling applications to be written to a single programming interface rather than to the details of the various disk, tape and optical devices that are used.

In that respect, storage virtualization is different from other paradigms such as storage area networks (SAN), direct attached storage (DAS) and network attached storage (NAS), according to Gartner research vice-president for storage Phil Sargeant.

In a SAN, DAS, or NAS environment the focus is on multiple physical boxes, he says. However, when you make storage virtualized you create a mechanism to look at it from “logical” perspective. “The net effect is to make what appears to be complex, less complex – as far as applications and users are concerned.”

An IDC analyst echoes this view, and adds that less complexity means enhanced capacity utilization and lower costs.

Storage virtualization enables companies to optimize use of existing storage resources thereby saving on capital costs, says Graham Penn, IDC associate vice-president for storage in the Asia Pacific, says. “You get better use of what you’ve already got because it is all together, and you can manage it from a single point with the same tools, which helps reduce operational costs and manpower,” Penn says.

He says for most companies that implement storage virtualization, initial significant savings are in data migration – taking data from where it is to somewhere else in the pool. Once you have done that you have the ability to effectively manage the excess capacity, he says.

This ability is vital given the exponential rate at which enterprise data is increasing. Penn says if IT managers and CIOs aren’t worried about the storage, they should be. “Storage does not have elastic walls and it will continue to be a concern.”

With the cost of new storage decreasing by about 30 percent a year, it is hardly surprising that many companies have opted to buy more cheap capacity rather than deploy complex network storage architectures. But eventually, the IDC analyst says, companies will reach a point where they have too much capacity to manage.

Penn says many enterprises have not reached the critical point, but predicts that “in the next five years all medium and large organizations will encounter the issue – depending on the type of data they have.”

Helping enterprises respond to the challenge of implementing and managing storage environments, is one of the aims of San Francisco-based Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA).

A vendor-neutral trade organization, SNIA’s mandate is to make storage networking technologies understandable, simpler to implement, easier to manage, and recognized as a valued asset to business.

As part of this objective, among other things, SNIA is working to achieve consistency in terminology and standards, particularly relating to storage virtualization technology and its operation within a SAN environment.

“SNIA’s model offers an architectural view of how various layers of technology should fit together in a SAN, and storage virtualization is one such layer,” says Garry Barker, chairman of the SNIA (Australia and New Zealand).

The association offers several vendor-agnostic tutorials on storage virtualization on its Web site (, with more due over the coming months.”

“Storage virtualization means you can do non-disruptive data movement and isolate the outside world from caring about what vendor provided the storage,” Barker says. “This makes it to easy to change vendors for pricing and functionality, and use mixed vendor environments. It also gives you the option to choose the best vendor for your needs.”

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