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Issue of May 2005 
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Virtualisation

Virtualisation is misunderstood

Jon Murray, Regional Programme Manager, Business Continuance, EMC South Asia, tells Anil Patrick R about the roads that an enterprise can take when it comes to consolidation and virtualisation

What are Indian enterprises looking for from storage today?

Indian businesses are seeing exceptional growth, and this is driving the need for added functionality. Through better education and painful experiences from earlier projects, buyers are finding that the criteria for storage acquisitions have dramatically changed.

If organisations grow without any consolidation, centralised management or virtual understanding of what they are planning to do, they are going to get into real trouble

Today, technological considerations such as price, performance, capacity and connectivity have become merely entry-level discussions. Now discussions are more about investment protection and flexible infrastructures that can accommodate changes in the application infrastructure. This is why we approach the application requirements first. It is impossible to have a technology discussion with an enterprise unless you understand the application. So, like it or not, an organisation such as ours is forced to understand the customer's pain points before we talk technology.

Therefore, I tell organisations not to let any vendor talk to them just about their technology. Vendors should ask organisations about their applications. Only that kind of a discussion will give organisations the right technology for their requirements.

How have the functionality requirements of storage changed?

Much of the functionality discussion is moving away from pure-play storage functionality. Now it is more about functionality at network and switch levels. The needs are workflow-related: depth of software functionality, integration with applications, and virtual infrastructure that allows plug and play.

Integration of components from multiple vendors into a visible, easily managed and highly controlled information flow state is vital. For example, three to four years ago, many of the customers I used to meet would say that they had three or four servers; this is why they preferred to buy storage as silos. Today, the same customers have 40-50 servers through departmental acquisitions and newer projects. It is common to find them saying that although the earlier approach is still working, it has started to crack.

So if organisations keep growing like this without any consolidation, centralised management or virtual understanding of what they are planning to do, they are going to get into real trouble.

Inter-operability is still distant; most products are unable to communicate, despite the presence of standards. Would you like to comment?

Yes. Today there are more ‘standards’ than just a single ‘standard.’ For us, the need is not only to connect, but also activate functionality on non-EMC products. That functionality is now at the storage layer, not in the server layer, and is heading to the network layer. This is to enable centralised control of servers, networks and storage in a virtualised-computing environment. It makes more sense for buyers in terms of investment. Hence, virtualisation is the current favourite for many vendors.

However, this does not mean that I can buy a virtual box, put it on the network, and control all disparate servers and storage boxes. I probably could, but I cannot make the replication functionality of a storage product better just because I have control of the network. Its characteristics are its own and I cannot make it perform faster or do faster copy.

Again, a significant trend is the huge growth in the mid-tier space. Businesses in the mid-tier segment are now experiencing issues similar to what enterprise customers did earlier. This again brings up a new and different set of interoperability standards to walk through.

So what exactly is happening on the virtualisation adoption front?

To be honest, many of the customers today who ask us about virtualisation are still talking about centralised, consolidated and managed storage environments. But what about your secondary applications running on, say Windows NT? Are they virtualised or controlled through this? What about your NAS, IP traffic or IP users? The answer is usually “Not yet, I’m still talking enterprise,” or “That’s a separate project.” This is not virtualisation. Virtualisation should extend to the second and even third tier of applications.

In the adoption sequence, consolidation definitely comes first. It is a driver and is not just about tidying up the data centre

Customers are realising that many of the virtualisation claims made are far from delivery. In addition, some of the true virtualisation needs are at the enterprise level and not necessarily at mid-tier where they are being discussed. For example, many people need centralised managed storage with the levels of functionality and flexibility that they thought virtualisation would bring.

At what level of size or complexity does an enterprise decide whether it has to centralise or virtualise storage?

Whether to centralise or virtualise cannot be measured just in terms of the enterprise’s size or complexity. I think virtualisation technology is too early in its evolution path to decide what businesses need from it and what they can get from it right now.

In Asian enterprises, projects are mostly towards consolidation, centralised management, backup recovery and disaster recovery (DR). Most businesses want better control, centralised DR or business continuity.

In the adoption sequence, does consolidation come first?

Consolidation is definitely first. It is a driver and is not just about tidying up the data centre. Consolidation brings standards of operation, backup, protection, recovery, management and huge investment protection. It also brings far better utilisation of assets. Therefore, consolidation, centralised management, DR and backup recovery are the four major projects around Asia right now.

What is your take on the status of technologies such as grid and utility computing in storage?

When you say grid or utility computing, there are two things happening. First, it is a way of keeping mindshare. Second, it’s a way of staying ahead of the technology curve.

I feel many vendors are discussing the future which is driving the grid and utility computing initiatives. However, there is still the lack of enough functionality, which is where today’s playing field lies.

Anil Patrick R can be reached at

anilpatrick@networkmagazineindia.com

 
     
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