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Honestly, do you really know what storage virtualization is?

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The VersaStor Executor uses asymmetrical virtualization in its implementation. This approach basically means that the appliance isn't in the data path of the SAN. By choosing to do things this way, Compaq claims that it eliminates any single point of failure, and doesn't introduce latency into the data path.

In contrast to some other implementations, the VersaStor Executor uses policy management to simplify administration and guarantee Quality of Service (QoS). Compaq implements policy management by allowing users to specify attributes such as capacity, server availability, data availability, RAID protection level, performance characteristics and storage pool hierarchy location. Then during the virtualization process, the VersaStor Executor software automatically distributes the physical blocks based on the specified attribute information. The VersaStor Executor is presently in the alpha test stage of development and will be introduced later in 2002.

The storage router
Vicom Systems, Fremont, CA, offers a different implementation - it uses a router as the hardware platform rather than a PC or a server. Vicom claims that its Storage Virtualization Engine (SVE) gives users greater scalability and better performance than engines implemented on PCs or server-based appliances.

Vicom's SV Router is a processing platform that is distributed throughout a SAN between an individual server and multiple

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storage devices. The intelligence of the virtualization system, in the form of firmware, resides in the router. Sun Microsystems is using Vicom's SV router in its StorEdge 6900 to provide virtualization.

Waiting in the wings
IBM is currently working on solutions for block-level and file-level virtualization, according to Mike Zisman, director of the software business unit of the software systems group. The file-level solution, called Storage Tank, is a few months away from release - the block-level version is a little further down the line. IBM says it will handle the virtualization solutions and will look to its Tivoli subsidiary and other partners for storage applications that will be integrated with the virtualization tools. The block-level solution will be an in-band appliance packaged as part of a SAN operating system, according to Zisman.

Another interesting offering from TrueSAN is Cloudbreak, a suite of storage management software products that implement virtualization as a symmetric solution and features policy-based management. Cloudbreak is in the beta phase of development.

The future of virtualization
The consensus among storage networking mavens is that the next step in the evolution of virtualization will be to move the storage virtualization software onto an intelligent switch. The early players in the area will be San Jose, CA-based Brocade Communications, with its Fibre Channel switches; Pirus Networks, Acton, MA, with its multiprotocol PSX-1000 switch; and Veritas, which has been working closely with Brocade in this area. The advantages claimed for this approach are better security, performance that's far superior to other approaches - symmetric and asymmetric - and a better ability to collect management data to monitor the health of the SAN (see "SAN switches get smarter").

Another player is McData's fabric virtualization. McData, Broomfield, CO, defines this technique as "virtualizing the fabric" as opposed to the physical storage, according to Brendan Hoff, senior manager of strategic marketing. More specifically, "it is the ability to perform route management, performance-based auto-provisioning and QoS services on-the-fly in a networked storage environment." Still confused? It's OK to admit it. Virtualization is a very confusing concept. But help is on the way: vendors are starting to get the message and tone down their virtualization hype. They are beginning to talk about how virtualization can help solve a user's storage management problems rather than the technique itself. Stay tuned.

This was first published in June 2002

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