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Virtual reality: The inevitability of storage virtualization

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Virtual reality: The inevitability of storage virtualization

Virtualization is a tried-and-true technology, so what's holding it back?

THE POWER OF TODAY'S information technology is not being used as it should be in most enterprises. IT is bogged down in problems ... and is so difficult to change that it often inhibits the implementation of new and important processes."

That's an unattributed quote from "Solving the information management puzzle: A life cycle approach" by Thomas H. Davenport and Don Cohen of Babson College in Babson Park, MA. But if it sounds like your environment, don't feel too bad. The quote is more than 20 years old. This begs the question: Are the storage initiatives we undertake a boon or a hindrance?

People who have bought into the tiered storage concept complain about the difficulty of managing disparate multitiered devices without any kind of consistency and uniformity. Storage provisioning requires multiple sets of tools and processes. Data migration is a continual challenge. These activities depend on manual processes that are prone to error and delay, and the prospect of an automated storage infrastructure appears to be unattainable. Increased complexity, and the potential for disruption and downtime, can cause one to reconsider the whole notion of tiered storage. For some organizations, getting bogged down by tiered storage challenges has led

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them to seriously reconsider virtualization technology. A recent GlassHouse survey on storage budgeting found that 27% of respondents listed storage virtualization as a main area of focus for 2006 (outpacing compliance and security).

Fear, uncertainty and doubt
Storage virtualization has been a controversial subject for years. In the early days, virtual memory simplified program coding by creating the illusion that an application had a nearly unlimited memory-address space. Logical volume managers (LVMs) on servers and logical units within storage arrays abstract the logical presentation of storage from physical disks, and are essential elements of enterprise storage management. Even within a physical disk, what's presented to the outside world for reading and writing is a logical block address, not a physical cylinder/track/sector number.

So, if virtualization per se is a tried-and-true IT technique, what's holding back widespread adoption of this technology for storage networks? It may be the fear, uncertainty and doubt related to any new technology. Many early adopters soured on virtualization because some first-generation products were ahead of their time, while others promised more than they could deliver. Another inhibitor may be the continuing lack of consistent storage management standards. The initial lack of virtualization support from major storage vendors also hampered adoption. While that's no longer the case, technical debates rage on concerning the best approach, such as split path vs. combined path, and intelligent switch vs. appliance vs. array-centric (see "Get ready for virtualization," Storage, December 2005).

When we consider the challenges and costs associated with managing large, complex storage infrastructures and investigate the options for simplification, we arrive at virtualization as a necessary enabling technology.

This was first published in March 2006

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