Virtualization technology: Addressing future data storage needs

Virtualization technology is no longer an overhyped technology for storage area networks (SANs). It's being used to address customers' pressing data storage needs.

Storage Virtualization: Technologies for Simplifying Data Storage and Management
This excerpt was written by by Benjamin F. Kuo, product marketing manager, Troika Networks, from the book Storage Virtualization: Technologies for Simplifying Data Storage and Management , by Tom Clark and courtesy of Addison-Wesley.

Future directions for virtualization: A foundation for the future

As with any technology, virtualization technology has gone through the usual hype cycle—where it is first touted for technology's sake as the "next great thing," then oversold by marketers and analysts, maligned by the early adopters when it doesn't meet their expectations, and finally finding its niche with customers who have ignored all the hype and found where the technology really fits. It looks like virtualization has finally found its niche, which is not as a standalone technology, but as an enabler to the next level of storage applications.

Customers are now finding that the benefits that virtualization provides— which include consolidation of resources, easier management of infrastructure, and simplification and centralization of storage applications— are being incorporated not only into standalone products, but integrated into solutions across a wide spectrum. Software providers who spearheaded the original push to add virtualization to storage area networks have gone beyond promoting "virtualization" as a technology and instead have learned that what customers really care about: solving their pressing data storage needs. When it comes down to buying solutions, they are less concerned about the whiz bang technology of "virtualization," and more concerned about if those solutions can provide them with the ability to protect and manage their data better. Whether a product helps them manage their data center better through virtualization or any other technology, when it comes down to the bottom line, customers are only concerned about how well it helps them achieve their goals.

To a large part, you can see that companies have learned this lesson well. Instead of selling "in-band" and "out-of-band" virtualization, companies instead are pointing out how features such as snapshot, mirroring, and replication (running on top of virtualization capabilities) help the process of backing up and protecting data. Instead of debating philosophy on which virtualization technique is the "right one," companies have realized that it's the performance, features, and reliability of their solutions that determine if customers will buy their products. Companies, of course, haven't given up on using their particular technology mix as a differentiator, but the industry has matured enough that companies understand that virtualization isn't what brings customers to the table—it's the benefits that virtualization techniques bring to features running on top of it.

If you review the marketing materials and websites of companies that several years ago were on the virtualization bandwagon, instead of talk about virtualization techniques, you see focus on disk utilization, reduced backup times, better tolerance for planned and unplanned downtime, centralized management, and better management of disk storage growth.

Where does this put virtualization in the future? Clearly, virtualization technology is now becoming a mainstream, required function of nearly every component in a storage area network. It's now becoming apparent that virtualization functionality is also key to such emerging movements as information lifecycle management. Information Lifecycle Management (ILM), sometimes referred to as Data Lifecycle Management (DLM), strives to allow customers to optimize their use of storage, mostly through both policy and products that move data between different tiers of storage, depending on the value of that data and its age. ILM is expected to help companies manage their costs by putting less accessed and important data on cheaper disk and tape, instead of keeping expensive primary enterprise storage locked up with unimportant data. It's clear that one of the major enablers of information lifecycle management is the ability to move data from one storage device to another. Virtualization is a key way this can happen. In fact, there are startup companies that are designing software that moves data on a block-by-block level, making it possible to distribute difficult-tomanage data such as databases across multiple tiers of storage. Virtualization is a key enabler to making data portable enough to be moved readily in the context of the emerging concept of ILM.

Virtualization is now expected to be included as a standard part of array, in the network as an appliance, or in an intelligent switch. Many storage array controllers have moved to, or will soon move to some level of virtualization— beyond the inherent virtualization they've always had in aggregating individual disks into RAID sets and volumes—including the ability to virtualize storage volumes across physically separate controllers. Some storage array providers have even touted the ability to also create volumes from competitive array providers—again, just another spin on basic virtualization techniques. Even the Fibre Channel switching providers are in the business of virtualization, with all of the major manufacturers saying they will include basic virtualization capability in what they are calling "intelligent switches." These intelligent switches will include either blades or ports that support the basic capabilities of virtualization, and either integrated as part of the switches or in tandem with third-party software, they will essentially provide virtualization techniques as part of a fabric. Other spins on virtualization show that it is becoming a basic functional add-on to any storage network—with specialized hardware appliances giving the ability to add virtualization to any storage network; specialized boards with acceleration of virtualization functionality; and even chips and network processors that give any hardware provider the ability to integrate storage virtualization functionality into their network switches, storage arrays, or servers.

All of this leads to one conclusion. Storage virtualization has now gone from "hot new technology" to a required piece of the storage solution puzzle. It's pretty clear that future products will simply adopt virtualization as a required part of the storage picture, and the technology will continue to play an important role in the future of storage.

This excerpt was written by by Benjamin F. Kuo, product marketing manager, Troika Networks, from the book Storage Virtualization: Technologies for Simplifying Data Storage and Management, by Tom Clark and courtesy of Addison-Wesley. If you found this book excerpt helpful, purchase the book from Addison-Wesley.

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