Virtual machine storage: Plenty of alternatives, plenty of confusion

SAN, NAS or DAS? They’re all valid types of storage for virtual servers or desktops; your job is to find out which one will work best in your environment.

Storage for virtual machines ebook coverVirtualizing servers and desktops can make maintenance and management a lot easier for sys admins but not so much for storage managers. Consolidating servers or desktop PCs can put new strains on storage systems, but it’s a lot more complicated than just needing more capacity to accommodate all those centralized virtual machines, which can spawn at an alarming rate.

It’s a foregone conclusion that networked storage is a basic requirement, but there are still plenty of decisions that must be made when configuring virtual machine storage.

Our research shows that Fibre Channel arrays are, by far, the most popular type of storage used in support of virtual servers.

FC’s predominance for virtual machine storage may be at least partly attributable to its legacy status—it supported pre-virtualization physical servers and was kept in place to handle the virtualized environment. After Fibre Channel are the other forms of storage -- iSCSI and NAS.

There are many considerations that figure into evaluating storage systems for virtual environments, such as whether block storage is required or if a file system will suffice. Network infrastructure may be a decisive factor, too, especially if a Fibre Channel fabric is already in place or if 10 Gigabit Ethernet is in the plans. The performance of a storage system will certainly be a key factor, as consolidation tends to translate into server growth and introduces new phenomena like boot storms. And as virtualization software gets smarter with increased integration into storage systems, the capabilities of the storage array will become even more critical to the well-being of your virtual environment.

The one basic rule to keep in mind is that there are few—if any—hard and fast rules when it comes to choosing storage to support your virtual machines. The trick is to carefully match the needs of your organization with the particular capabilities of a networked storage system.

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