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Preparing customers for storage virtualization

Storage virtualization promises big benefits for your customers, but preparing them for it will take some work. Follow these four steps to make the move to storage virtualization trouble-free.

Service provider takeaway: Service providers can follow these four steps to prepare their customers for the move to storage virtualization and make the migration a manageable task.


Storage virtualization is enticing to IT people at all levels of an organization. The storage geeks are interested because it unifies administration. The storage manager is keen on using it to simplify migrations. The IT director needs to maintain storage brand heterogeneity for leveraged purchasing, and the CIO is driving to improve utilization and lower costs.

While the promise of virtualization is compelling, reality has set in and customers realize that the world of virtualization isn't perfect just yet. The market hasn't exactly stabilized, and client IT leadership will continue to question product viability in the marketplace. Many shops are concerned because virtualization usually introduces yet another thing in the data path that can fail. Also, complexity is the enemy of stability; while most storage virtualization solutions simplify daily administration, they make supportability, interoperability and complex operations difficult.

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SAN-based storage virtualization: Five benefits for your customers

All is not lost; like server virtualization, storage virtualization will hit its stride and become the standard storage architecture. Deploying storage virtualization when your customer is ready will be much easier if you prepare by taking the following four steps first.

1. Educate customers about their technology options.
Host a storage virtualization "lunch and learn" session for your customers. Most of them will jump at the chance. Start the session by describing the three types of virtualization: host-based, array-based and network-based. Then describe the products in each area and cover the advantages and disadvantages of each. Make the event a low-pressure one and position it as an opportunity for customers to prepare for future storage virtualization.

2. Help your customers get current.
It is almost impossible for an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) to complete interoperability testing for new products with anything but the latest or most common data center components. Virtualization providers probably won't support older host bus adapters (HBAs), firmware and drivers, so upgrade them now. Do the same for operating system versions and patch levels. Get the storage network and array hardware refreshed to current, replacing any gear that has passed the manufacturers' end of service life. Finally, check the support matrices for the favored virtualization solutions and find conflicts with existing infrastructure long before they become a problem. This service will be of real value to your customers and will probably drive additional sales.

3. Centralize the storage infrastructure.
Network- and array-based storage virtualization will require some form of centralization to be effective. Encourage your customers to prepare by moving to a shared storage model, where multiple applications share storage. Application owners sometimes get a little fussy about this, and it's usually helpful to introduce them to the concept slowly. Rushing it could hamper future virtualization projects.

4. Move customers to a tiered storage architecture.
Begin giving application owners tiered storage offerings, each of which has a different cost and service level. Moving the storage infrastructure away from a model in which a customer knows the serial number of the array where his application lives, and into a model in which he only knows that he subscribes to the "gold storage service," will go a long way toward making the infrastructure easier to virtualize.

After these storage virtualization preparation steps are complete, the customer will be ready for a relatively painless move to virtualization. The project will go more smoothly with better internal customer acceptance. Take the time to get the infrastructure in order while the technology matures.

About the author
Brian Peterson is an independent IT infrastructure analyst, with a background in enterprise storage and open systems computing platforms. A recognized expert in his field, Brian has held positions of responsibility on both the supplier and customer sides of IT.


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