Network Times asked Herman van Heerden, MD of Starship Systems and Jim Holland, Axiz product manager, for their take on the future of storage virtualisation.
With virtualisation creeping into almost every aspect of IT, the storage industry is not immune to its influence, but will it have as dramatic an impact on this industry as it is and will on the server market? And who will the players be? Can the current storage heavyweights integrate virtual technology into their traditional solutions or will they be relegated to buying new technology to boost their flagging market relevance?
Herman van Heerden, MD of Starship Systems and Jim Holland, Axiz product manager offer their thoughts.
What virtualisation technologies are being applied in the storage world today?
Van Heerden: Storage virtualisation has come a long way in the past few years, tying together different technologies, seen or unseen by the business, into a more logical and coherent solution for use in any and all businesses that rely on networked server systems.
The core software vendors/contenders in the local and international market for storage are the same providers as system virtualisation, that is: VMware on the commercial side, with Microsoft trailing and still having to prove the worth of its Hyper-V, and Xen on the open source front.
Storage is never an alone standing function, but forms part of business and server systems. The ideal situation is to take the physical hard disks out of the equation. Offering storage allocated over multiple physical devices, is one of the corner stones of virtualisation.
The conglomeration of server processor and memory in the form of front-end virtual machine servers brings with it the need to expand on the place to store your server file systems. So, without a well thought-through storage solution virtual environments will not be viable.
Holland: The most popular point of implementation for storage virtualisation today is in the network fabric itself, often through a dedicated virtualisation appliance or an intelligent switch running virtualisation software. Network-based storage virtualisation is the most scalable and interoperable point of deployment, making it particularly well suited to storage consolidation projects. Host-based products are the least costly and easiest to deploy, but they are the least scalable.
What products/companies are taking advantage of virtualisation and what are they doing?
Van Heerden: A premise of storage virtualisation is to mask the complexity of storage use and simplify management; and for that reason all sorts of companies are engaging in storage virtualisation, across all types of sectors, using all sorts of technologies. They are taking advantage of the tremendous benefits virtualisation makes possible including the better utilisation of disk resources, high availability and disaster recovery; snapshot and replication for rapid recovery and the central management of storage.
For example, Nissan South Africa has implemented a complete VM solution with redundancy to cut cost on hardware expansions and upgrades of existing server systems; EMI Music Publishing uses VM to increase the efficiency of server hardware while reducing the costs associated with IT equipment, power, and data centre real estate; Engen has used VM to enable centralised management of remote sites and facilitate server consolidation; Hewlett-Packard VM implementation eliminates a large amount of costs for hardware contracts and ups the utilisation of the servers; and at Merrill Lynch developers avoid downtime and bring products to the market faster with virtual machines
Holland: HP has a family of enterprise virtual array (EVA) products which automate and aggregate storage management to reduce complexity and increase productivity. The HP StorageWorks Command View EVA Software reduces IT costs, simplifies repetitive tasks, offers flexible connectivity with expanded multiSAN discovery and performance bottlenecks.
How does the business benefit from this?
Van Heerden: Storage virtualisation enables companies to keep pace with the increasing storage and service-level demands; it overcomes hardware complexities and delivers improved agility and significant cost savings.
Real cost-cutting benefits include:
* CPU utilisation and power consumption - Storage virtualisation reduces your company's eco-footprint by reducing electricity-hungry hardware which is on average idle for 60% of the time.
* Companies can now invest in more low-grade, low cost hardware; rather than having less high cost equipment. Virtualisation technology also allows systems to be distributed and increases reliability, which was only available to very large corporates 10 years ago. For example, Google, runs on simple, low cost desktop machines worldwide, offering higher uptime and redundancy than other companies that invest in high performance servers which might fail less, but are not affordable enough for redundancy. Highlighting this benefit is the trend in hardware sales: SCSI is taking a backseat to the more affordable SATA drives. The growth of SATA hard drives has expanded, even though its technology might perform a bit slower than SAN (storage area network) devices, it offers much more technical expansion than SAN and server environments.
All of these benefits put data centres and server farms in the reach of SMEs, narrowing the gap between the service offering of smaller and corporate companies.
Holland: Today, few consolidation initiatives are complete without virtualisation. It allows companies to handle more work with less equipment. Not only does virtualisation make storage easier to track and manage, it also makes better use of available storage, forestalling the expense of unnecessary disk or storage platform purchases. True storage virtualisation can improve scalability, performance, availability and manageability of data that is embedded in SANS.
Will we see a reduction in storage hardware sold due to virtualisation?
Van Heerden: No. Storage will sell more. Server virtualisation is a catalyst for new storage spending and increased adoption of networked storage. The difference will be to pay less Rand per terabyte, putting storage farms and data centres in the reach of the average company.
Holland: No. There are many factors which drive and will continue to drive the increased need for storage, such as data mining, compliance, data growth and the need for disaster recovery.
And as always, what about skills in this part of the world?
Van Heerden: 2008 is the year of the VM 'tips and tricks' professionals - with virtualisation moving centre stage and becoming a real business need: The whole world is readying itself for virtualisation, and with the worldwide energy shortage, not just in South Africa, the need for virtual machine (VM) technology is growing.
South Africa is gearing up, the same as the rest of the world, and in the next year or two VM workers and professionals will be ranked in the same class as system and network managers are now.
Local experts are few and far between; and companies should use these guidelines when reviewing and selecting a virtualisation expert:
* Can the solutions provider support more than a single guest operating technology (not just UNIX or Microsoft Windows)?
* Can your solutions provider offer more than just virtualisation technology configuration; but offer virtual environment architecture and supporting technologies to ensure your cross- over of existing technologies and support alongside? No company in today's high tech environment can just offer a single part of a solution, or demand your technology change to be facilitated; and
* Can your solutions provider ensure that your virtual ecosystem runs optimally without guessing, but offer the knowledge and tests to prove an optimum environment?
Holland: The talent pool for certain IT skills, like storage virtualisation, remains shallow. Cross-training is critical to the retention of skills. Good programmers, however, can learn fast and adapt to changes in technology relatively easily, provided they have good basic skills.