Simplifying Storage

Storage Management
Simplifying Storage
Storage virtualization technology that sits in front of existing assets can ease management and maximize capacity

By Cara Garretson

Perhaps one of the most essential technologies to help federal agencies grapple with storage management issues is storage virtualization. Closely aligned with cloud storage, storage virtualization will no doubt also play a significant role in the Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative outlined by Federal CIO Vivek Kundra. Yet the lack of budget to accommodate up-front storage virtualization costs, as well as not enough trained staff to maintain the technology, is rendering it under-utilized, at least for now.

According to the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA), the primary benefit of storage virtualization is to help the overall management of storage. In the long term, the technology offers significant cost benefits as well.

“Today, storage infrastructures represent one of the most heterogeneous environments found in modern IT departments, with a multitude of different systems at all levels of the stack – file systems, operating systems, servers, storage systems, management consoles, management software, etc.,” reads the SNIA Technical Tutorial on storage virtualization, which is available here (http://www.snia.org/education/storage_networking_primer/stor_virt/sniavirt.pdf). “This complexity has become a hindrance to achieving business goals such as 100% uptime.”

Storage virtualization addresses these issues by providing a less costly way to eliminate the single point of failure within a storage-area network; improving storage performance and managing that performance in real time; offering more affordable disaster recovery and data archiving than traditional options; and reducing poor utilization of storage that leads to unnecessary hardware and management costs, according to the tutorial. SNIA has developed the Shared Storage Model that illustrates how layering technology in modern storage architectures creates a complete range of storage functions. (see graphic).

The Storage Networking Industry Association’s Shared Storage Model 
Storage Management: Application 

In addition, virtualization vendor VMware says storage virtualization can help increase storage utilization by allowing administrators to dedicate more storage than there is actually capacity for, helping to cut down on unused space while eliminating the need to fully dedicate capacity up front. Storage virtualization can also enhance application uptime by doing away with the need to provision more capacity from time to time, which can require coordination among application owners, virtual machine owners, and storage administrators that often results in application downtime, says VMware.

But despite these benefits, storage virtualization adoption still lags significantly behind other forms of virtualization – server, in particular.

“I would say for server virtualization we’re well down the path, but with storage virtualization we’re still at the beginning, the efficiencies are in front of us,” says Mark Weber, president of NetApp’s U.S. Public Sector division.

Once agencies realize the benefits that storage virtualization offers in being able to use existing heterogeneous storage assets but manage them in a unified way, and given the efficiencies that model offers, the technology will see significant upticks in deployment, says Weber. Another piece in the puzzle is desktop virtualization – which hasn’t seen significant adoption in the federal market either – that allows for IT departments to stop having to manage all the disk drives on desktops deployed throughout the organization. “Instead, all of that data becomes part of the storage infrastructure,” he says, and as such becomes significantly easier to manage.