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How can I best provision storage for virtual servers?

When it comes to provisioning storage for virtual machines, techniques such as golden images and thin provisioning are key.

IT often thinks the same processes used to provision storage for physical environments will work for virtual -- they don't. Just as it became easier to implement servers and storage, we're seeing everybody and their brother spin up servers and storage shooting I/O consumption through the roof. But when servers are virtualized, techniques used to provision storage become even more important.

With physical servers, you have the luxury of designing a custom configuration and allocation for each machine as it slowly comes online. With virtual servers, the expectation for a shorter interval between the time of request and when the server goes live, as well as the increased frequency of requests, often requires IT teams to move faster. Waiting to receive a request before ordering hardware and designing a custom configuration is simply not an option. To meet the demands for agility, consistency and speed required in this era of virtual computing, new tools must be used.

Features such as writeable snapshots help teams create golden image templates that are the starting point for each virtual server deployed. This removes the guesswork on how each image will be configured and drives increased consistency, which reduces errors and outages. It also makes it faster to bring new instances online and reduces the skill level required for provisioning, freeing up experts for activities that add more value. Finally, most snapshots are space-efficient -- repeated data such as operating systems and configurations refer to a single copy, which in a virtual server environment can significantly reduce the amount of storage capacity that gets chewed up.

Thin provisioning is another feature that's especially helpful in virtual server environments. Part of the golden image concept entails giving each virtual server the same amount of storage capacity to remove guesswork and increase consistency. This works, but with a traditional storage allocation approach it can burn up a great deal of storage that may or may not actually get used. Thin provisioning allows every server to get the same allocation process and the appearance of the same amount of capacity, but the physical space isn't reserved for that server until it actually needs it. This gives the environment the best of both worlds -- the process is consistent and can be highly automated, but the storage capacity consumption is dramatically reduced.

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