Storage vendors prepare for new virtual servers

Emulex has NPIV, Sanbolic has clustered volume management, and HP seems to be laying the groundwork for storage virtualization as vendors greet new Oracle and Microsoft products.

Storage vendors are stepping up their support for server virtualization this week in response to the launches of Oracle Corp.'s Oracle VM and Microsoft's Hyper-V.

Storage virtualization riding server virtualization coattails

Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) may have given a glimpse into its storage virtualization future with the announcement of an update for Virtual Connect, a networking product for attaching its blade servers to SAN storage. The product layers HP software over OEM switches -- HP says it uses multiple switch partners -- to create a flexible relationship between each server connection and the storage system. Otherwise, users have a choice between two evils when connecting blade systems: passthrough and switched connections. Passthrough creates a rat's nest of cables and switched connections require close collaboration between server, networking and storage teams to work correctly.

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The initial release of Virtual Connect in February supported one blade server chassis, which amounted to 16 servers. The new release allows up to 100 chassis to be connected to one instance of Virtual Connect, meaning 1,600 blade servers can be attached to the SAN through the product. This is where storage virtualization comes in.

With a virtualization layer already residing on switches, HP has a platform for adding new capabilities in the form of additional middleware on the switch. These include provisioning and monitoring storage, capabilities HP acquired by buying software vendors AppIQ Inc. and Opsware Inc. HP's director of ESS blade marketing and strategy, Jim Ganthier, stopped short of confirming that's the plan, but said, "It's not outside the realm of possibility," adding that HP will have more details of its storage virtualization roadmap worked out by early next year.

NPIV and management support

Emulex Corp. said its LightPulse Fibre Channel host bus adapters (HBA) support Oracle's new VM server virtualization software, and it is working with Oracle to add N-Port ID Virtualization (NPIV) for Oracle VM. Meanwhile, iEmulex's HBA rival QLogic Corp. this week announced NPIV support on its SANblade HBAs for Microsoft System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2007 (VMM).

NPIV is a mechanism that allows virtual server guests to see a dedicated partition of HBA hardware that looks like a dedicated single connection to a Fibre Channel SAN. NPIV remains in the early stages of adoption, even with VMware, according to Emulex marketing vice president Scott McIntyre. "NPIV is still in beta on VMware," he said. General availability is tied to the next VMware release and isn't expected until late this year or early next year. NPIV and VMware's file system (VMFS) are mutually exclusive, meaning VMware features, such as VMotion, aren't available to servers supported with NPIV.

In the case of the Microsoft virtual server, it lacks an equivalent to VMFS and VMotion. That's where clustered file system vendors including Sanbolic Inc. are stepping in. According to Sanbolic executive chairman Bill Stevenson, the company's Melio clustered file system or Lascala clustered volume management products can be used to give Microsoft virtual machines concurrent access to the same LUN on networked storage, as a workaround.

General support -- Will EMC join the party?

Other storage vendors have released statements of general support for the new server virtualization systems. Pillar Data Inc. will support Oracle VM -- no surprise considering Oracle founder Larry Ellison is Pillar's financial backer. Network Appliance Inc. (NetApp), which has long been cozy with Oracle, said its storage will also support Oracle VM, as well as Microsoft Hyper-V. On the Oracle front, the Oracle Direct NFS client developed with NetApp will be emphasized, according to Patrick Rogers, vice president, solutions marketing at NetApp. "This technology becomes even more important to IT administrators in virtual environments where multiple database instances are sharing the same physical server," Rogers said. "It simplifies the provisioning and performance tuning across multiple database instances."

Dell Inc. and HP servers, and Emulex Corp. and QLogic Corp. HBAs round out the entirety of the announced support matrix for Oracle.

EMC Corp. has been quiet on support for the latest Oracle and Microsoft virtualization products. EMC was front and center last year with Oracle's announcement of its Unbreakable Linux program and has worked closely with Microsoft in the past. EMC is the majority owner of VMware, and people in the industry wonder if EMC will hold back support for new VMware competitors. However, VMware has run as a separate business unit from EMC and frequently partners with EMC competitors.

An EMC spokesperson said, "The Oracle and Microsoft products are new, and in the case of Microsoft, not shipping yet. We have plans to test them in our E-Lab, which is required in order to be placed on our support matrix." Hitachi Data Systems (HDS), 3PAR Inc. and Compellent Technologies Inc. made similar statements.

Enterprise Storage Group analyst Mark Bowker said vendor support will ultimately be driven by customers. "Storage vendors are going to go where the server virtualization products will drive storage sales, and VMware is still clearly in the majority there today. Some storage vendors are probably going to watch and see the adoption for these new products first," he said.

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