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Managing storage for virtual server environments

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Anatomy of a plug-in

The joining of the storage and virtualization layers allows the virtualization admin to stay within the context of the virtual management user interface (UI) without having to grant access to a specialized storage management UI. Most of the storage plug-ins let you define credentials for the storage arrays that will be managed inside the virtualization management console. This allows seamless integration between the two consoles, and it’s also good from a security perspective as you don’t have to grant virtualization admins direct access to the storage management console.

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Hewlett-Packard (HP) Co.’s approach to the integration of storage management into vCenter Server was to leverage its Insight Control management console and integrate portions of it within vCenter Server as a plug-in. In addition to a module to manage HP storage, the company included a module to manage HP server hardware. So both server and storage hardware can be managed from a single console. When the plug-in is installed, it creates a special HP storage privilege within vCenter Server that allows access to be granted to the HP storage plug-in. The plug-in brings storage management into virtualization but not vice versa. vCenter Server has very granular permissions and roles can be defined so access to storage-specific information can be granted to storage admins. This allows storage admins to have a single console to all the storage arrays integrated with vCenter Server.

The HP Insight Control Storage Module for vCenter Server currently supports the firm’s EVA, P4000, P9000/XP and P2000/MSA storage arrays. The plug-in creates an HP Insight Software tab in vCenter Server that appears whenever a VM, host or cluster is selected; it also offers a menu option for actions such as cloning/creating virtual machines or creating datastores. The tab provides a storage overview of the object selected, such as storage provisioned to a host, and storage provisioned by a host and the arrays it’s connected to; it also provides links to directly launch the storage management console for an array. There are various views you can select to see different information such as storage disks and host bus adapters (HBAs) and paths; in addition, you can customize the columns and choose from the many detailed storage fields that are available. Sections allow you to see specific storage objects related to the object you’ve selected such as virtual machines, hosts and datastores.

Single-console control

In addition to information about storage arrays, there are storage tools that can perform actions such as cloning a virtual machine by utilizing array-based replication, creating batches of new virtual machines, or provisioning storage and creating VMFS volumes. While these tasks can be accomplished within vCenter Server, the HP plug-in provides automation and offloads the tasks to the storage array, which can handle it more efficiently.

The marriage of storage and virtualization in a single console allows for tighter management integration, which benefits virtualization admins, but is less beneficial to storage admins. Virtualization admins can get more involved with some of the storage-related functions, but those are traditionally handled by storage admins who may be reluctant to give up their control of provisioning and managing storage resources. Demonstrating the integration and features, and granting storage admins access to the virtualization console may help convince them to empower the virtualization admin to perform some basic storage management. Even if virtualization admins aren’t allowed to manage storage resources, being able to view detailed storage array information is advantageous by itself.

While there are plenty of management apps that integrate with VMware, there are plug-ins available for other hypervisors like EMC Corp.’s Virtual Storage Integrator for Hyper-V, which integrates with System Center Virtual Machine Manager (SCVMM). Vendors have focused on VMware because of its popularity and because VMware has a deeper and more mature set of APIs and SDKs. The storage integration plug-ins that are available for virtualization are relatively new and vendor offerings are still evolving with more features and better integration. No matter what hypervisor you have, storage plug-ins are a must-have for any virtualization environment, as they provide better visibility and integration, and enhance your ability to monitor, manage and troubleshoot your critical storage resources.

BIO: Eric Siebert is an IT industry veteran with more than 25 years of experience who now focuses on server administration and virtualization. He’s the author of VMware VI3 Implementation and Administration (Prentice Hall, 2009) and Maximum vSphere (Prentice Hall, 2010).

This was first published in June 2011

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