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VMware storage issues may be solved by your array

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Anybody who has struggled with configuring storage for VMware virtual servers will be happy to hear help is on the way -- the solution to your problems may be hidden in your array.

By Jeff Byrne

From the moment server virtualization burst onto the scene nearly a decade ago, it has created significant challenges for data storage managers. And based on recent Taneja Group research, many of those challenges are far from being overcome.

In our most recent end-user survey on virtual server storage, we found more than half of storage administrators are experiencing one or more of the following storage-related issues in their virtual server environments:

  • Scalability: Server consolidation leads to contention for storage and I/O resources, limiting the number of virtual machines (VMs) that can be run productively on a given system.
  • Performance: The multiplicative effect of repetitive, small-block I/O operations -- driven by a hypervisor and performed across multiple VMs -- can have a crippling effect on storage performance.
  • Agility: In a heavily consolidated environment, common administrative tasks such as creating and provisioning a VM, migrating workloads to new servers and non-disruptively moving virtual machine disk files between arrays, can be quite tedious and time consuming.

These problems are exacerbated in a VMware vSphere/ESX environment because

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VMware's hypervisor-driven approach to storage creates some significant challenges for storage providers. VMware Virtual Machine File System (VMFS) imposes an additional layer in the stack connecting virtual servers with storage, making it difficult for vendors to make native, array-based storage capabilities available to VMware users and applications. Because many storage operations have been recently emulated in software by vSphere/ESX, users can't take advantage of the higher performance available in array-based hardware.

Clearly, the right place for these functions is in the array. Citrix Systems Inc. first demonstrated this in 2009 with the release of StorageLink, which enables XenServer-based applications to directly take advantage of array-based functionality. But the VMFS layer has prevented VMware-driven applications from fully leveraging array capabilities.

This was first published in January 2011

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