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Thinking Cloud? Think Storage Virtualization

Talk to the CIOs in virtually any organization today and they'll tell you they're drowning in data--creating, consuming, and digitizing more existing content than ever before. They're also retaining data longer because of business and regulatory requirements. Many are still dealing with flat (or near­flat) budgets, so this explosive growth in data is a daunting challenge for them. They need a strategy for creating an agile storage infrastructure that enables them to proactively manage growth and change without increasing capital and operational costs.

The Constraints of Traditional Storage Environments
Traditional storage environments have several disadvantages, the most obtrusive one being inflexibility. Users and applications are discretely mapped to physical file storage such as file servers and NAS devices, which creates an intricate web of connections. That web gets more and more complex as user demand increases, more application instances are launched, and more storage devices are provisioned. When that happens, IT can't manage data effectively and perform tasks such as moving a directory, migrating data, decommissioning a file server, or provisioning new capacity without disrupting users. For every change, they have to manually reconfigure the environment, so backup windows increase, downtime keeps growing, and on and on it goes.

Advantages of Storage Virtualization
Storage virtualization, on the other hand, takes away all that complexity by creating a layer of abstraction that breaks the bonds between users or applications and physical file storage. With a virtualized storage layer, storage resources can be pooled so that many storage devices (including heterogeneous ones) appear as one, and data can move freely among devices. That means IT can do away with discrete mappings of users and applications to physical file systems and instead, map clients to the virtualization layer itself, which represents all of the physical file systems in the pool. With storage virtualization, users and applications are shielded from all the data management tasks that IT takes care of at the file system layer. Now users and applications aren't disrupted, and downtime starts to disappear.

However, a storage virtualization solution that only provides a virtualized storage layer isn't very effective. To truly help IT manage rising storage costs and get control of its data, the solution must:

  • Work across multiple operating systems, storage platforms, and file systems, because nearly every IT organization has a variety.
  • Provide an intelligent virtualized storage layer, meaning, it can monitor client capacity, resource capacity, and network conditions and respond to changes in real time.
  • Facilitate and automate tasks like storage tiering, which identifies the business value of data and matches it to the appropriate class of storage.

The value of storage tiering can't be overemphasized. With it, IT can retain high value data on high performance, highly available storage devices and automatically move lower value, less frequently accessed data to lower cost storage devices. Without it, identifying and moving data is a painful process--and one reason that many organizations just avoid it. Another benefit of storage tiering: it gives IT visibility into the composition of its data, for instance, what type of data is consuming the most storage capacity, how frequently data is being accessed, and who's consuming the most storage.

Storage Virtualization and the Cloud
As organizations start taking a closer look at deploying applications in the cloud, they're realizing that the cloud might also provide a viable storage alternative for them. However, because of the high overhead involved in identifying which data should be moved to the cloud, and the disruption that moving data might cause, many organizations are still not completely sold on the idea. Automated storage tiering will play a pivotal role in getting enterprises to move in that direction. The ultimate goal is for the cloud to become just one more class of storage to which IT can easily move data. To help enterprises achieve this goal, storage virtualization vendors must provide interoperability with third party, value added solutions that support powerful data management policies, giving enterprises more control of their data.

Posted by Karl Triebes on 11/02/2010 at 12:47 PM


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