Channel Expert Podcast, Part 1: Defining storage virtualization for customers

In this Channel Expert Podcast with consultant Tory Skyers and Irwin Teodoro from Laurus Technologies, find out what customers want to know about storage virtualization, how to define it for customers, how to pitch its benefits and how to determine which customers are a good fit for storage virtualization.

In this podcast, Tory Skyers, consultant for Sasha Company, digs down into the definition and benefits of storage virtualization and how to determine which customers are good candidates for storage virtualization, in a discussion Irwin Teodoro, Laurus Technologies' director of engineering and systems integration. Read the transcript below or download the podcast.

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With all of the buzzwords and all of the methodologies and the different ways we're approaching storage virtualization, from your perspective, what are customers asking you about storage virtualization?

Most of our clients that are approaching us around storage virtualization are asking us, "What's the definition of storage virtualization?" [Many of them] have attended some sort of conference or presentation on [it], but unfortunately, it's defined differently [by different vendors]. We represent some major vendors in storage virtualization, and each vendor defines it differently. So really one has to look at the type of solution that best fits your environment and from there [determine] what storage virtualization means for that particular solution. My own definition is the ability to manage your storage from a single pane of glass, the ability to have more management of your data across heterogeneous disk environments. The data mobility options that are inherent in most solutions is one way to define it. You have the ability to move between different tiers of storage within your SAN storage environment. [So], if a customer were to approach me and ask me, "What's your definition of virtualization in the storage area?" it would be the ability to have more flexibility, manageability and mobility of your data.

You're spot-on about the conferences and things of that nature, because being on both sides of that, talking to people and listening to questions about storage virtualization, the one thing I get the most from the consultant side of things is, "Is this VMware for my disk?"

Channel Expert Podcast Part 2
Management benefits of storage virtualization

You really can't look at it that way. One can't synonymize what one does with server virtualization to storage virtualization. They're similar concepts in the sense [that] server virtualization focuses on initially the consolidation of an environment. [For instance,] "I have 500 Windows servers. I can run them on 50." Storage virtualization isn't really about consolidation. It can be used as a tool for consolidation, but it isn't the overall end goal of [storage] virtualization. But [it gives] you the ability to leverage all your storage investment into one management interface.

So VMware has done a really, really good job of marketing [the virtualization] term. Citrix is hot on their heels. I realize we're talking about host virtualization, or server virtualization, when we talk about those two larger players in the game, but they've done a really, really, really good job of putting that term into just about everything, including breakfast cereal. So really we're trying to focus on the channel and how we can relate this message of "We're not really into consolidation." I 100% agree [that] storage virtualization is what you said, that it's putting flexibility into a system that really wasn't designed with flexibility in mind from the onset. But now they're realizing that it's really necessary. So from a channel perspective, when you start talking about things like storage as a service or service-oriented architecture (SOA), when you start talking about solutions and people start bringing up this VMware concept, what can we do, consultantwise, to help the channel get the message across that storage virtualization is not about consolidation at its core?

I think more than ever … customers are looking at storage virtualization and this whole SOA kind of thing [because] they want to leverage their investments. Sometimes they made the investment back in the time when storage purchases were more departmentalized or each business unit had their own budget for storage, which is the kind of thing we see today. Now [they're thinking], "Let's take all of our investment in storage, collectively from a macro level, and see what we can do to leverage that across the enterprise. That's what virtualization provides you. Based on the tool set and the benefits you get out of this, you could take five different storage vendors -- EMC, HDS, HP, whoever -- where in the past you had separate islands of not only management but tools, and the way you configured was different based on the ]various systems from different vendors in] the environment. Now you can single-handedly, through one management interface, have data mobility across different storage pools that you never had before. So this enables you to create some sort of shared model, if you will, across the enterprise. If you had an HDS pool of disk and somebody's traditionally on an EMC type of disk, you could now assign them that HDS disk and the end user wouldn't even know where the disk was coming from.

So what you just explained to me is leading us into that whole cloud concept, the idea of "Just give me some resources. I'm not even interested in where these resources are coming from, as long as they meet my particular performance envelope that I'm asking for. These resources could come from a huge group of NAS devices that you have on 10 Gig backbone. It doesn't really matter to me." So keeping this focused on our discussion about the channel, when a reseller or a VAR or anyone comes into play, that's a question that I have to field a lot, kind of have to translate from the end user out to our VARs. These folks hear "cloud" a lot, they hear "server virtualization" a lot. Now when it comes to storage virtualization or storage as a service, how are we best going to put that together in a coherent model and deliver it? So, let's do a little role playing. Talk me through walking into an opportunity and talk me through the idea of a cloud as it relates to storage virtualization.

A scenario that I can articulate for you is this: We have a SAN island, if you will, in an organization. Each business unit in the past was independent of a central architecture. So they standardize on a configuration, but that's not architecture. Architecture serves a macro level, and [there's] more benefit from an architecture than a configuration. So what you have out there is a lot of the same configurations but potentially different types of solutions. The importance of virtualizing, especially for the channel, is [that] you're trying to help your client or customer standardize or create some sort of shared model because it could help save them money but they need to alter their buying patterns. Do they always throw Fibre Channel disk at something? How to do they account for their disk purchases? When they need to upgrade, they [need] to buy that same kind of disk every time. So [with storage virtualization] -- and the SOA type of model -- it doesn't matter because as long as you have standardized on an infrastructure and an architecture, you could [use whatever disk you want].

So to your point, that it satisfies performance needs, that the customer's being serviced, another part of the equation that we really haven't talked about in this discussion is that what we find in a lot of storage pools and a lot of SAN islands is that you have a lot of allocated disk, but not a lot of utilized disk. So, business unit pays for 10 TB of disk, but at the end of the day is really only using 3 TB. So you have a lot of waste in an organization. So by going to a shared model or some sort of virtualization model, you're capturing efficiencies across all the disks. With [storage] virtualization, you have a feature called thin provisioning, or dynamic provisioning. If you came to me as a user and asked for 2 TB of disk, I could theoretically give you the 2 TB, but knowing what your utilization patterns are, I'll give you a terabyte of disk, but you'll think you have 2 TB of disk.

That is an absolutely fantastic way of explaining all of the buzz that's been going on around cloud and SOA and all these things that are out there. One things that you brought up really stuck in my mind: discovery practices. So what you mentioned was, in your selling, in your client, in your go-to-market, your discovery practices are key. Figuring out where this client or this opportunity is is key. And the other part that you touched on was, How much of their storage environment is actually being used, and how is it being used? I realize that it's a subset of the discovery, but sometimes I find myself starting there, starting with their SAN guy and saying, "Look, how much are you actually using here? What does your performance envelope look like? Do you have any hot spots? What does your provisioning model look like? What does your provisioning process look like?" What I'm hearing from you is that even from my micro level, down with the end user, sitting with the guy at the keyboard, that folds its way all the way up into presales, back into the channel when the channel is developing a strategy in order to sell into that prospect. That's some really powerful stuff.

I think from the channel perspective, if I were to look at a profile [of a storage virtualization user] -- because it's not for everybody, and that's one thing that I want to make clear. I still have many customers that I recommend that they stay with what's [been working] for them. If their environment is standardized on a certain storage vendor, [storage virtualization] would help you, but what's it really buying you? You're already using a universal tool because you're standardized across a storage platform that works for you.

So [storage] virtualization is not for everybody.

But for the people that have specific needs, I look for three things, [including] how heterogeneous is their disk environment? If I see different islands of disk, if I see multiple vendors, multiple types of storage, they're a great candidate for storage virtualization because if there's five different vendors -- guess what? -- there's five different tools. I also ask, "What's your buying pattern? How are you purchasing disk today?" [If they say], "If a project comes up, we always budget for disk." So that's a red flag. The third thing is I look at the resources that are managing the environment. In the past it was "I'm a small shop, have a small team." You're seeing big shops with small teams now. So [storage] virtualization can help you get ahold of some of the resourcing that you need to manage your environment.

I [also] look at some of their data replication scenarios. You have various ways of migrating data, moving data. How many different solutions do you need to migrate the data? Are they using five different solutions? That's five different licenses to replicate data. Now, through [storage] virtualization, you virtualize, one tool, one solution to move your data. [Finally], I look at how much [space] is allocated vs. how much is utilized. That is a red flag right away. You have some organizations that are a little bit tighter on that but once you see the [discrepancy between] what's allocated vs. what's utilized, you can pretty much steer your conversation toward storage virtualization.

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