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Dell VP on virtualization, EMC and support

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DARREN THOMAS, Dell's VP and general manager, enterprise storage, spoke to us about dealing with the complexities of virtualized storage, the future of Fibre Channel and Gigabit Ethernet, his company's relationship with EMC, and why some users say they're disappointed with Dell's storage product support. (Note: This interview took place before Dell announced its acquisition of EqualLogic.)


Q: How do you manage the additional complexity that virtualization brings to the storage environment?

Thomas: It's hard. Virtualization just means you can create abstraction layers above the hardware and set divisions not limited by sheet metal. But by creating one big storage pool out of a bunch of different vendor products that all have different capabilities--one can replicate, another can't, one has a limited number of snapshots--being able to keep track of all this convolution is hard. Now you get down to having to manage things by their capabilities.

We had the ability to virtualize storage a long, long time ago. We could add and subtract LUNs--something that servers are just learning how to do--but the way we did it was to virtualize islands with different types of storage capabilities. This island had this capability and that island had another capability, and now we're saying we're virtualizing across islands and the complexity

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has grown immeasurably. It's very hard to manage such a storage environment. There must be boundaries to your virtualization enthusiasm.

No customer I've ever met says they're going to put everything into a big applesauce pool. Instead, customers will take, for example, their CRM system and build a very manageable, scalable virtual storage environment. And no one would mix a Symmetrix and one of my JBOD boxes in the same virtualized storage pool and turn off all of their million-dollar Symm features. Instead, they would create virtualized islands to support applications requiring different performance and protection levels.

Virtualization of the server is a slam dunk. Customers are lowering their power and cooling bills; they're saving on licenses and consolidating storage. VMware is making it possible for small- to medium-sized companies to move to a SAN and consolidate their storage. On the other end of the spectrum, Microsoft has rewritten Exchange so big companies can use dumb storage to run it--mission-critical on a JBOD. If you're as old as I am, you've seen everything three times.


This was first published in January 2008

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