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Issue of January 2003 
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Techscope 2003: Storage Virtualization
The next 'killer app' in storage

A number of challenges arise as the amount of digitised data generated by an organisation increases. Could storage virtualization be the answer to all these problems? by Avijit Basu

'Storage' there's never enough of it. With businesses generating more and more data, and many islands of data storage sitting on servers and other secondary media, it is a nightmare for companies and their IT administrators to manage stored data effectively and efficiently.

Accessing data can be complicated, using it optimally is almost impossible, and taking backups can be tricky. But that's not all—the problems increase considerably as the amount of data stored goes on ballooning. In 2002 storage is poised for 6 - 18 percent growth, and this growth will increase to almost 30 percent by 2004.

The question is: Is it still viable for companies to use the traditional approach of discretely allocating specific storage devices to different, individual application servers?

Imagine being able to carve out space, expand storage, link to storage on other devices, and logically move terabytes of data in seconds with only a few keystrokes—all without bringing the system down. Storage virtualization allows you to do all this and more in a heterogeneous server environment. Virtualization in fact, is a pioneering technology, and it is helping to resolve many critical business issues.

Simply put, storage virtualization (SV) is the ability to utilize all available space in a central data storage pool, thus allowing data to be centrally managed and shared across the enterprise. Its purpose is to hide the complexities of the overall storage infrastructure of the enterprise from users and IT administrators. In other words, users no longer need to know where storage devices are kept, or what their capacity is.

For example, a user may think that his/her computer has a 100 GB disk attached for storing data, while in reality, the disk could be anywhere on the company network. It may not even be a single disk—it could be a cluster of different disks, or a part of different 'types' of disks including tape, magnetic or optical disks. To users, it is merely a single, large, attached disk. To IT administration, it is a standard environment for application development and a simplified and less expensive storage administration.

In its purest form, virtualization allows users to add storage capacity using inexpensive, commodity disk, tape drives and to dynamically manage those storage resources as virtual storage pools with little regard for what physically resides on the back-end.

Virtualization is the trend in the storage networking market right now, but it is not a new concept. The tools involved have existed in IT data centres for years. It pops up in applications, servers, file systems and volume managers. Storage virtualization is about creating and managing virtual storage devices by taking blocks of storage on the individual disk drives and presenting them as Logical Units of Storage, or LUNs. What system administrators then see are not the actual physical disk drives, but rather a simplified 'virtual' view of the physical storage across disk drives.

The difference between virtualization in the mainframe arena and virtualization as it exists today is that earlier it was proprietary where storage solutions from various vendors evolved within each vendor's favoured proprietary scheme, and were not necessarily interoperable. Today's virtualization platform is open.

Different Faces of Virtualization
Storage virtualization can be implemented with different schemes or standards. At present, many companies are designing and building solutions according to their ideas of virtualization. One apparent distinction is based on the architectural viewpoint, which offers three types of virtualization: host-based, storage-based and finally, network-based. Other important vendor distinctions for virtualization solutions are based on ease of use and maintenance.

Storage is becoming the largest slice of the pie in the IT manager's product budget chart, accounting for about 50 percent of total costs. Analyst had predicted a 30 percent storage growth in India in 2002 alone, increasing to almost 40 percent by 2004. And while IT budgets and available personnel are shrinking, the explosive demand for storage capacity and management remains. Virtualization allows for a huge amount of growth in storage, without adding management staff.

Virtualization greatly enhances the capabilities of storage administrators, whose ability to manage storage with a comprehensive virtualization tool set significantly drives down storage administration costs. A storage virtualization solution eases the task and cost of storage capacity planning. It allows usage of heterogeneous storage, empowering enterprises to leverage their current infrastructure and to make future purchases based on the best choices available rather than being tied to homogeneous proprietary storage offerings.

Virtualization enables implementation of enterprise-wide storage management. It can provide enterprise-wide manageability, allowing storage systems to be constantly available and scalable to meet future needs. It allows easy storage space reallocation with minimal impact to application servers, diminishing downtime and allowing enterprises to do business at optimum intensity, round-the-clock.

Virtualization is also fundamental in enabling business continuity functionality such as mirroring and remote backup.

Virtualization will enable any end-user anywhere to access and share any file regardless of the storage system used by them, the network, the operating system or applications, or the overall security of the system.

In terms of virtualization trends, many storage experts are of the opinion that the current period of budget tightening and the advent of the virtualization sub market will strain market growth of proprietary storage vendors, and there could be a shift in the leader board. Some also see integration and consolidation of network attached storage (NAS) with storage area networks (SANs).

There will be an increased focus on infrastructure, and more focus on integrating different servers, network attached infrastructures, and storage area network infrastructures. So, people can basically validate that the different technologies they're incorporating will work within an infrastructure. There will be a rapid pace of technological investment with more and more vendors trying to help customers protect their technology investments. Enterprises are no longer willing to pay large premiums for products, only to find them obsolete in 12-18 months. To enable that rapid evolution of technology, different vendors and different system vendors will begin to support upgrades and investment protection.

In terms of growth, it is going to be unprecedented. Soon, 85 to 90 percent of enterprises will be using some form of virtualized storage to take full advantage of the SAN technology. According to Gartner, the SAN market will grow to $40.40 billion in 2004. In fact, to sum it up, storage virtualization could be the 'killer application' of networked storage, and in the coming years, become a crucial factor in driving a company's choice of storage vendor.

The writer is Marketing Manager (NSSO), Business Customer Sales Organization, Hewlett-Packard India

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