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How hypervisor-aware are today's virtualized server environments?

New virtualized server environments created hypervisor-aware storage systems. But some products are more hypervisor-aware than others.

Are there some virtual server product categories that are more hypervisor-aware than others?

When virtual server technology gradually became dominant in most data centers, it soon became apparent that many traditional storage systems weren't up to the task of serving new virtualized server environments. Performance issues cropped up almost immediately as SAN and NAS systems struggled to deliver the IOPS and throughput virtual machines (VMs) required. The situation even spawned its own terminology to describe the new bottlenecks caused by VMs, with terms such as I/O blender effect and boot storm entering the enterprise storage lexicon.

Storage vendors reacted fairly quickly, as did hypervisor vendors, to help address some of these issues. But the new virtual server model also helped to create a new category of storage array: hypervisor-aware storage systems. These systems are built from the ground up to provide storage for virtual environments, with special emphasis on performance and agility. Along the way, many of these systems have broken away from the traditional models and methods of configuring, provisioning and managing storage, with a decidedly hypervisor-specific approach to these tasks.

Virtualization is in vogue and all storage systems claim to be hypervisor-aware, but some products are more hypervisor-aware than others. Here's a product grouping of hypervisor-aware storage systems.

Systems that manage storage at the VM level. These products provision, manage and monitor storage at the VM level. They offer out-of-the-box, full-data-path transparency from application to spindle. They're currently available only from promising startups. Traditional storage vendors try to address this niche via add-ons, such as storage analytics that provide this degree of insight.

Converged systems that combine storage and VMs. Products in this category provide both storage services and the ability to run VMs in a single system. Their value proposition is to maximize system utilization and simplify management. Their ability to scale and the impact of VMs on storage performance should be your main concern when evaluating a converged system. Again, products in this category are currently available only from startups.

All-flash arrays. Products in this category forgo mechanical disks and use only solid-state storage to maximize performance. They target applications that require very high IOPS. They're expensive, and some products in this category lack storage features that are now standard in enterprise arrays.

Fully converged storage systems. Fully converged systems are integrated turnkey platforms in which servers, storage, network connectivity and software are built into a single offering that's sold and supported by one vendor. These turnkey systems are available from traditional storage vendors and smaller vendors for both VMware and Hyper-V hypervisors.

Traditional storage systems. The primary competitors of so-called hypervisor-aware storage systems, which are explicitly targeted for use with virtualized servers, are traditional storage arrays. Since almost all arrays have added capabilities that benefit virtualized servers, the gap between so-called hypervisor-aware storage systems and traditional storage systems may be small in some cases, so traditional storage systems should be part of your product evaluation.

About the author:
Jacob N. Gsoedl is a freelance writer and a corporate director for business systems. He can be reached at

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