Storage virtualization gains momentum
Storage virtualization delivers cost savings, reduced management complexity, flexibility
Storage virtualization has long been considered a necessary companion to server virtualization in the data center. But, while server virtualization is now thought to average in the 35 to 40 percent range for data centers and most organizations that are planning for it, storage virtualization has lagged.
Reasons for this are unclear, as storage virtualization provides much the same benefits – cost savings, reduced management complexity, flexibility – that have been driving its server equivalent. However, it finally looks like storage virtualization is catching up.
“Year-on-year we’re seeing a big jump in those who are deploying storage virtualization,” said Laura DiDio, principal analyst at Information Technology Intelligence Consulting. “In our last survey (in 2009) only 14 percent of organizations were using it, and now that’s up to just under 40 percent.”
DiDio believes the lag was due to the overall economic downturn, when people were intent on spending their money only on essentials. In terms of data-center upgrades, server virtualization was seen as the thing that would have the most immediate impact.
But data volumes are exploding, she said, particularly those for unstructured data associated with the use of smart phones and video downloads. In the government you have something similar happening, especially in places such as the Defense Department through its use of aerial surveillance and other sensors that are generating scads of photos and videos.
“There’s no wiggle room left,” DiDio said. “Storage needs are doubling every year, at the least, and it’s no longer the case that organizations can deal with that by just maxing out the storage they already have.”
Organizations can’t simply add more disk drives or RAID arrays. That just adds to the complexity that already exists with storage in the enterprise, plus direct attached storage or even storage area networks (SANs), the way they are now configured, are incompatible with virtualized servers.
As with servers, storage is virtualized using software to create an abstraction layer between the physical or virtual servers and the physical storage. That instantly separates storage from any specific location and makes it available for use by any application operating on any server, anywhere in the enterprise.
It also makes existing storage easier to use. Most enterprises use storage from different vendors, and each of those have certain characteristics that have to be catered to in order to be utilized effectively. Virtualization removes that need, so provisioning can be done the same way across all of the storage.
Likewise, virtualization makes it much easier to classify storage into various tiers. That’s done with SANs now in order to make storage more cost effective. Long-term archival data is put onto slower, lower-cost storage while mission critical data that has to be available instantly is put onto the fastest, but most costly data. There are a number of tiers to accommodate various classes of data.
In a non-virtualized environment, administrators have to constantly analyze how data is used and then manually move data over to the appropriate tier. In a high-performance virtualized environment, where server and storage assets have to be allocated on the fly, that kind of slow and labor-intensive method isn’t feasible. Virtualization enables the automated tiering of storage required.
Other things also are pushing the greater use of virtualized storage. The cloud requires data to be much more mobile, something virtualization ensures. Data deduplication is gathering steam as a way of eliminating redundant data and making the most efficient use of storage, and building that into the virtualization abstraction layer would greatly simply things. And automatically duplicating and allocating data to virtual storage helps with backup and disaster recovery.
There are lots of takers now for storage virtualization because storage has become one of the main pain points in the network, DiDio said. That’s the reason why it has leapt to second on the enterprise list of must-dos to just behind server virtualization.
“We fully expect storage virtualization to grow unabated at least through 2013,” she said. “In our latest survey, some 64 percent of respondents said they are planning to deploy storage virtualization in the 2010/2013 timeframe. They have a lot of catching up to do, and there’s now a real urgency behind this.”