How your SAN will evolve


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Storage management
Storage management will get harder before it starts to get easier. Storage virtualization embedded into the SAN can simplify some aspects of storage management while server virtualization complicates it.

Server virtualization will continue to complicate storage management. "This is a new dimension for storage management," says Joseph Zhou, senior analyst, storage research at Ideas International Inc., Rye Brook, NY. Virtualization requires dynamic reprovisioning to accommodate changes to virtual servers. In five years, dynamic reprovisioning should be supported for leading hypervisors (see "Future directions: Server virtualization," below).

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Future directions: Server virtualization

Today, the basic challenges for storage posed by server virtualization are being resolved. VMware Consolidated Backup (VCB) acts as a backup proxy. And VMware is providing APIs to improve the integration of third-party backup tools with VMware. "In the future, administrators will be able to just click a box in the backup tool for the kind of backup and restore they want," says Jon Bock, VMware's senior product marketing manager. Administrators will have a choice of VM-level or file-level restores from a single backup pass.

It's difficult to provision storage for moveable virtual machines (VMs) today. VMware is refining the VMware Virtual Machine File System (VMFS) to abstract details of the underlying physical storage and limit the number of times storage administrators have to reprovision storage for VMs. For the future, "a planned set of APIs will allow storage and management vendors to better see how the VM uses storage allocated to it," says Bock. This will enable storage administrators, for example, to see and resolve LUN bottlenecks resulting from unexpectedly heavy VM activity.

VMware also recently announced the Virtual Datacenter Operating System (VDCOS) initiative, which has implications for storage. "It will provide interfaces to storage technology that will allow a range of storage activities," says Bock. These include thin-storage provisioning and deduplication for VMs (identifying commonalities in VMs).

Convergence of protocols over a unified fabric promises simplified management. "You will be able to manage across FC and iSCSI," says Mike Karp, senior analyst at Enterprise Management Associates, Boulder, CO. Unresolved is who will manage the FCoE network: network admins or storage admins.

"Intelligent storage is the management solution," insists Steve Luning, VP, office of the CTO at Dell. Storage intelligence could reside in the app, server, data, array, off in the cloud or some middle layer. "Maybe the hypervisor handles the management," suggests Luning.

But some storage management tasks aren't practical to automate. "You can automate the most common tasks, like backup, but these aren't what cause problems," says Schulz. Problems caused by increased complexity and products that comply with standards at a high level but break the standard deeper down will continue to make storage difficult to manage.

"Where vendors provide management tools, they're all stovepiped. Cisco or EMC can add management capabilities, but most often they only work in their environments. As soon as you go beyond the vendor, you lose the management benefits," notes StorageIO Group's Schulz, adding that "this is unlikely to change."

What's needed is a common storage management platform that's transparent from top to bottom. SMI-S doesn't do the trick, according to Toigo at Toigo Partners International. Instead, he envisions the SAN as a set of managed Web services.

This was first published in December 2008

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