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Hot storage technologies for 2012

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5. Virtual storage appliances

With server virtualization firmly entrenched in data centers, server-based shared storage is making a significant mark in the form of virtual storage appliances (VSAs). These software-based systems enable the advanced capabilities of server virtualization without expensive, dedicated storage hardware. They run inside a virtual machine (VM) and create shared storage from the storage attached to the physical server a VM runs on. In 2012, we expect to see more companies -- especially small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) -- turning to server-based storage as an inexpensive way to support server virtualization.

Virtual storage appliances -- such as HP’s StorageWorks P4000 VSA Software and DataCore’s SANsymphony -- have been on the market for a number of years, but VMware Inc.’s rollout of its vSphere Storage Appliance is expected to inject more interest into this tech. vSphere Storage Appliance, which is targeted specifically at SMBs, runs across multiple hypervisors, aggregating direct-attached storage (DAS) into pooled storage.

“We’re going to see incredible evolution happen inside the virtual infrastructure by . . . vendors like VMware,” said Jeff Boles, senior analyst and director of validation services at Hopkinton, Mass.-based Taneja Group. “And the virtual storage appliance technology coming out for VMware . . . [is] just one more very innovative technology from one of the hypervisor vendors, and storage

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vendors better be reading between the lines.”

Others see VMware as leveraging its skill set in virtualization to broaden its technology’s appeal to more companies. “I think that VMware sees storage as a stumbling block keeping people from expanding their server virtualization capabilities, and to some extent [VMware] has decided to take it in their own hands to try and fix it,” said George Crump, founder and lead analyst at Storage Switzerland.

Virtual storage appliances make more sense for SMBs because they’re based on iSCSI rather than Fibre Channel (FC).

“You don’t find a whole lot of traditional businesses, traditional enterprises deploying VSAs,” Taneja Group’s Boles said. “If they’re traditional enterprises, [and] they’re doing some private cloud or public cloud stuff, you might find them deploying [virtual storage appliances] there.”

One vendor with a big footprint in the virtual storage appliance market is DataCore, with its SANsymphony-V software, which virtualizes storage across pools of heterogeneous systems, turning commodity servers into SANs.

Barren County Schools in Glasgow, Ky., turned to SANsymphony-V after a server consolidation project. The IT department had consolidated 30 physical servers to four running 30 VMware VMs. It then replaced EMC SANs with two Dell servers running DataCore software.

“[The EMC system] didn’t have the processes, the caching to do some of these more advanced features, so [the key] in looking at SANsymphony was the fact that they didn’t care what hardware [was used],” said Cary Goode, district technology service specialist at the Barren County Technology Office.

Barren’s IT department makes use of DataCore’s high-availability mirroring capabilities, resulting in 10 TB of usable storage in high-availability mode for redundancy. “We can use an entire node because the other node has the exact same data in a live environment,” Goode explained. “To get that out of a hardware system -- I can’t even imagine what the price tag on that would be.”

This was first published in December 2011

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