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Virtualization: Tales from the trenches

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Healthcare system taps TagmaStore
The University of Utah Health Sciences (UUHS) Center in Salt Lake City virtualizes its 135TB of FC and SATA disk using an HDS TagmaStore USP600, which provides controller-based, in-band virtualization. Controller-based virtual storage products typically support both internal (within the virtual storage product cabinet) and externally attached storage. Jim Livingston, director of data resource center and technical architect at UUHS' Information Technology Services, and John Fagg, manager of storage management services, say their virtualized system supports three tiers of storage: high-end for critical apps, midtier for user and file space, and low-end for shadow image and disk-to-disk copy.

UUHS added a TagmaStore USP600 to a mix of four HDS Thunder models; some older IBM and Sun storage systems were also being phased out. They began with only 10TB behind the TagmaStore and in less than 20 months have grown its virtualized capacity to 135TB. Performance and scalability were key reasons why Livingston and Fagg chose the TagmaStore product for their virtualization project. In addition, performance has improved considerably. "It varied from user to user, but [some people] saw a 300% improvement in some circumstances," says Livingston.

Tiered storage was also a part of their TagmaStore plans; before virtualizing, most of UUHS' data was on high-end storage. Eliminating "stranded" storage and simplifying

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storage management were also project goals. UUHS currently has a mix of 600 AIX, Sun Solaris Enterprise and Intel blade servers accessing the storage with no problems.

Livingston and Fagg say their virtualization project has been relatively problem free, as it was essentially a forklift upgrade that resulted in an all-HDS environment. UUHS also took the opportunity to reconfigure its SAN to add redundancy. Livingston says they've had plenty of experience with other infrastructure upgrades, "but this has been the most successful [one] we have experienced," he notes.

Virtualization delivers
Regardless of the route to virtualization--in-band, out-of-band, at the host, in the SAN or in the controller--these companies have one thing in common: They're all happy with their virtualization implementations and don't want to return to "pre-virtualization" days. The problems they encountered while implementing these products were fairly minor and resolved in relatively short order. Although vendor lock-in is often cited as a deterrent to storage virtualization, these companies have, in some cases, managed to virtualize heterogeneous storage and are comfortable with the outcome. For these companies, at least, virtualized block storage has arrived and certainly proven its value.

This was first published in August 2006

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