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In Person: Storage Virtualization

'An on-demand environment needs to have autonomy'

There are many benefits of having your entire IT infrastructure as a virtual environment. Ooi Sze Kai, Brand Executive, Storage Systems Group, Asean/SA elaborates on IBM's efforts in this direction with their on-demand strategy for storage virtualization. by Anil Patrick R

What is IBM's On-Demand Vision?

According to IBM's On Demand vision, an enterprise should achieve a total integration. The integration should be end-to-end of its company processes from the supplier to the customer. If the customer has established this capability, then the benefits are many. He/she is now able to react with great flexibility and speed to the evolving changes in the market place.

For example, in the manufacturing sector you have just in time. This is the ability to bring in just enough supplies to meet exactly what the customer is buying. Similarly, a business using on-demand is one that has totally integrated its entire processes. So the change on this side flows right down to the entire process. With this he/she has a real competitive edge over the competition and high efficiency. IBM wants to provide products and solutions to achieve this, and services to help the customer during his process.

What are the requirements for an enterprise to grow to the on-demand environment?

In order for businesses to grow to the on-demand environment, there should be some provisions created in this environment or infrastructure.

First of all, there must be a tight integration between processes and data infrastructure. Processes must be end-to-end. Second, the customer must establish a completely open infrastructure. It should be possible to put disparate stuff together and integrate them together. This is possible only if standards are open. The third area is to put intelligence to make a virtual environment. It is necessary to transform the entire setup to appear like a cloud, so that it is virtualized. This is similar to the Internet world. Anybody plugging into that cloud knows for a certain fact that he will be able to communicate irrespective of the hardware he uses.

An on-demand environment needs to have autonomy. Autonomy means making the cloud so intelligent that it can sense and respond to the changing demands of the user. When you have such a big cloud, it has to manage itself. In storage, once the cloud is created, it must be able to sense, respond, protect, and tune itself. It must know when a user comes in, what resources to give, protect, ensure service levels for the user/server/client that is plugging in, etc.

These four attributes are true whether it is establishing an on-demand environment for servers, storage,
or network.

What are the major components of storage on-demand, that you have just announced?

The first announcement is a virtualization capability called the IBM TotalStorage Virtualization family. The products are the SAN volume controller and the SAN integration server.

The second area is the announcement of a common file system. The product is announced as the IBM TotalStorage SAN file system.

The third product is a common management system that allows open management of devices. We have announced a common management tool so that any manager can manage any resources as long as Storage Management Initiative Specification (SMIS) standards are adopted. They can be managed by a common agent.

What can the Volume Controller and Integration Server provide?

The SAN Volume Controller is an appliance server to provide virtualization capability. The second product is an integrated version called SAN Integration Server. Inside the server, there is a combination of volume controller put by the engine, along with a switch and SAN switches. If block aggregation can be virtualized, the capability to present a physical disk as a logical volume to the server is possible. This is the first step, which is done by the virtualization engine.

Everything can be done at the top itself by moving intelligence to the network. The SAN Volume Controller does standardization at the top itself, which is not possible with traditional methods. This is enough to present logical volume to the top, and attach to different device or server types. It is also enough to do advanced functions like mirroring, copying, snapshots, etc.

What are the advantages of putting the intelligence at the network level instead of at the disk level?

The biggest advantage is that intelligent disks can be done away with. More flexibility comes in. It is possible to transform the meshed environment into a cloud. The virtualization engine inside the cloud provides all these capabilities. All the servers on top can map into the logical volume below by working through the cloud.

Another advantage is improved administrator productivity. Using the cloud, all that the administrator has to do is manage the engine. Physical and transparent management from the application server is possible. All the application servers talk to the engine and are presented with a logical volume. The importance of this is that if a server needs more capacity, it can be done on the fly. In this environment, the virtualization engine performs all the background work. The application does not even need to know since it still sees a logical view and the connection is not lost. This literally translates to higher availability.

The second advantage is much higher efficiency and utilization. In the earlier days of SAN, even though organizations could share data, what actually happened was a concept called 'Zoning.'

Lots of free space had to be provided in case the application server went down. The extra space cannot be shared since it is related to the direct line of connection. This leads to a situation where the SAN utilization of the physical device is very low. Now in the virtualized environment, the actual relationship is only between a server and a logical volume. There is no need to partition free space related to one device since free space can be shared by all servers. Therefore, we find that typically in moving from a SAN into a virtual storage environment, you can actually increase utilization in a major way.

It will also enable a common platform for copy services like mirroring. Organizations with large availability need to have data exactly the same way at their disaster recovery (DR) center. This means each disk has to mirror another copy elsewhere. Every disk vendor has their own mirroring formats with different licenses, software, etc.

By going in for virtualization, since the engine is managing the relationships, it just has to talk to the engine on the other side. The advantage of this is that I can mirror an expensive device into an inexpensive device, since the DR site will not need cutting edge devices. It also means lesser licenses and lesser manpower to manage them.

What benefits can the TotalStorage SAN file system provide?

There are different file systems out there leading to multiple copies. The common file system addresses the capability to share different kinds of files.

By doing this it is possible to really extend the value of virtualization right down to the file level. This is most important because the system administrator gets the capability of more volume no matter how many platforms he runs. This is where the common file system can really help. It is basically a metadata server to keep information about files. It will then guide you to the virtualization engine, which will find the file for the user.

What happens is that there is an agent that is installed in each of these different servers for the common file system. Whenever an OS or an application wants to open a file, the agent will direct him to talk to the metadata server. The metadata server will translate it and tell the OS from then on how to get along with the file and what to do. This means that the storage administrator can now define policies at a file level. From a single point he can now control the policies for all the files in the enterprise. This is very useful in terms of aspects like file access, security, backups, heterogeneous file sharing, etc.

Anil Patrick can be reached at

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