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Analysts: demand more from your storage vendor in virtual environments

A recent report by Andrew Reichman at Forrester Research showed that among 124 surveyed IT decision-makers, incumbent vendors and Fibre Channel still dominate the in-use storage systems supporting VMware deployments. But, according to Reichman and another analyst specializing in VMware, the Burton Group’s Chris Wolf, that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily how things should be.

According to the Forrester Report, users should “pick a vendor that offers thin provisioning, has deduplication on the road map, and has documented best practices in virtual environments.”

Some of these things, Reichman says, are harder to come by than you might think. “Especially clear best practices–it seems like vendors tiptoe around it, saying, ‘we can do whatever you need!’ and customers need more clarity,” he said.

Reichman also said he wanted more storage vendors to offer management console integration with VMware’s vCenter, the way Xiotech does with its Virtual View.

On the management console front, the Burton Group’s Wolf added that vendors who sell backup should be looking to consolidate VMware data protection features into the same software framework as array-based or network-based backup mechanisms.

“That integration is going to be important for backup products supporting a virtual environment,” he said.

Reichman’s survey found that most shops are sticking with an incumbent vendor for server virtualization deployments, and that that vendor is most often EMC. But Reichman also said that the survey is probably capturing the first wave of production deployments of VMware. As those deployments grow and become more complex, and as more storage vendors add new features to their products specifically to support virtual servers, users might be compelled to take a fresh look.

When they do, Reichman’s report urges users to consider Ethernet first rather than Fibre Channel, though he said Ethernet adoption may be driving primarily by Microsoft’s Hyper-V virtualization software rather than VMware, “which tends to either be protocol-agnostic or Fibre Channel-centric,” he said.

Wolf said there are a couple more virtual server-focused features he’d like to see vendors add as they try to market storage devices for virtual server support. One of them is array-level primary storage compression and dedupe, currently only offered in a handful of places like NetApp’s FAS systems, EMC’s newest Celerra products, and for nearline/archival file storage by startups StorWize and Ocarina. The other is more efficient deployment consolidation for things like patches on multiple virtual machine images.

“So you could deploy a patch one time and any dependent images automatically update as well–that’s the level of intelligence I’d like to see in the arrays,” he said.

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"...some applications don’t work well atop RDS, XenApp, or any of the other session-based application delivery mechanisms available today...it is the problem applications that make VDI a potentially smart move." Very good point, and one that can sometimes be addressed with something called "VM Hosted Apps" - one of the best-kept secrets of XenApp. (I'm amazed that it doesn't get more attention.) This feature, which has been part of XenApp for a while now, lets you "publish" a problem app in such a way that when the user wants to run it, a virtual PC/OS instance is launched to run it, and it is presented to the user seamlessly as though it was running on a XenApp server (i.e., the user never actually sees the PC/OS desktop).
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I prefer OS streaming for this scenario, "The computer lab that requires a complete re-build with only ten minutes between classes," With OS streaming you get local compute, centralized management, and a pristine image with every reboot.
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