Servers meet storage, virtually


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Performance issues
For some, the fact that VMware has yet to resolve these issues--that it's still immature--is making some organizations pause. Take Savvis Communications, for example. A service provider located in St. Louis, MO, the Savvis infrastructure is state of the art: server blades from Egenera Inc., Marlboro, MA; virtualized network switches from Inkra Networks Corp., Fremont, CA; and the InServ utility storage platform from 3PAR, also in Fremont, CA.

Savvis' issue with VMware is price/performance, says Rob McCormick, chairman and CEO. He admits that most of his customers don't need the performance of the minimum Egenera server blade (two 3GHz Xeon processors) configuration, but that at $3,000 for an ESX Server license, the additional cost does not outweigh the performance hit he would take by running operating systems in a virtual machine environment. Savvis uses VMware internally, McCormick says, for testing and development purposes.

Indeed, managing the performance of your virtual machines seems to be more of a sticking point with customers than anything else. Even with 80 blades running VMware, infrastructure architect Thomas still considers the virtual server environment to be "an emerging technology," where deciding which applications to run on a particular blade is still "more of an art than a science," adding that "not all workloads work well together."

Similarly, Oak Associates' Hill reports that

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he's had to fiddle with how to eke out decent performance for his SAN environment. One solution he says is to install multiple HBAs in the server--one dedicated to the VMware environment, another for the virtual machines' data traffic. That's not a solution VMware recommended, but a technique he developed over time for a better level of performance. And as users continue to deploy virtual machines and test their limits in production environments, best practices will continue to evolve.

The next frontier
Let's not forget that this is all a work in progress. EMC had many people scratching their heads last year when it first announced that it was acquiring VMware, and since then, the company hasn't publicly divulged a definite roadmap for VMware.

One thing EMC has talked about is its plans to develop what it is calling "Storage Router," VMware-inspired technology that applies to the storage network--an area which has yet to get much attention from virtualization technologies. But that's about to change, according to Howard Elias, executive vice president at EMC. "In our view, you're going to have virtualization at all layers of the stack." Virtualization will be used at the client level for server computing, at the network transport layer and for storage within the array.

Today, Elias continues, the storage network is in many respects still hard-coded. "If you want to add or move a server," he says, "there is configuration and change management that has to occur, and in the majority of cases it is disruptive."

EMC hopes Storage Router will change that. Ultimately, it will result in "more flexibility to move servers in and out of the fabric, for optimal asset utilization and performance, data mobility and migration," Elias says.

EMC and its subsidiaries also have big plans for VMotion to further automate the disaster recovery process. With its ability to move a live server, Legato CTO George Symons says VMotion is a natural for further integration with its Automated Availability Manager (AAM).

It's hard to say exactly what the future holds for virtual machine technology, but one thing is certain: It most definitely has a future. "For me, virtual machines are the way to go," says Oak Associates' Hill. Judging from conversations with his peers, vendors and analysts, Hill is not alone in his thinking.

This was first published in July 2004

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