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Storage management tools for a virtual server environment

A virtual server environment has constantly changing performance and capacity requirements; how do you choose storage management tools that meet your needs?

A virtual server environment has unique challenges and requires its own line of storage management tools to provide the necessary visibility into your virtual infrastructure system.

For starters, virtual server environments aren't static; performance and capacity requirements constantly change, and data storage managers often have to find a data storage management tool that can keep up with both of these aspects.

In this SearchStorage.com expert Q&A, Jeff Boles, senior analyst and director of validation services at Hopkinton, Mass.-based Taneja Group, goes into detail about storage management tools for a virtual server environment. Learn how storage management tools differ in virtual server environments, what criteria data storage managers should follow when choosing a storage management solution, and whether or not vendors are adequately addressing server virtualization with their storage management tools. To hear the entire interview, listen to the MP3 below.

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SearchStorage.com: Can you list a few important criteria or steps when choosing a storage management tool for your virtual server environment?

Boles: First, on the simplest level, data storage management efforts typically want to determine who is using storage where and how in terms of storage capacity and performance. So I recommend starting with an assessment of what systems you would like visibility into on both sides of your infrastructure, including storage systems as well as all the devices in the middle. If you're using a relatively unintelligent switch infrastructure or Ethernet infrastructure between your storage and host systems, maybe you don't want visibility into that switch.

Once you understand where you want visibility, then assess your current pain points from an operational storage resource management [SRM] perspective and prioritize the problems behind those pain points that you're trying to address. Do this step second because it varies a lot among different businesses. For example, you might be in a heavily virtualized environment about to perform a test and development exercise; you're provisioning stuff all the time, but you have a bunch of idle testing and development systems out there, and you can't see into them. Maybe your testing and development is eating into your primary storage budget, but it's also the work that brings home the bacon at the end of the day for your business.

After you understand what you're trying to accomplish, you can perform a pretty good assessment of where you want that visibility. In a heavily virtualized infrastructure, you're more likely to run into a few sticky issues here and there that will require some hypervisor visibility. For batch jobs, you may want deep visibility in a very specific array performance. And for SOA you'll want something totally different for serving up delay reports. Moving beyond this, you can start to be cognizant of what your business organization needs and what it can use from storage management beyond these operational IT issues -- assuming that this is a project sprung largely from the trenches of operational IT in the first place.

SearchStorage.com: Server virtualization has made storage management harder and more important at the same time. Do you think vendors are addressing this well, and what does the future look like?

Boles: I give vendors maybe a "C" rating on addressing the virtual infrastructure storage challenge today. I think there are certainly some leaders in the field. The vendors in the categories of real-time analytics and virtual infrastructure optimization have certainly seen the challenges and are digging deep to give users visibility into the virtual infrastructure. In other places we simply don't have the visibility yet from the tools that are out there. As end users, we have a right to expect more visibility than what's happening with hypervisor and be able to trace that up into individual virtual machines and correlate that performance to see every possible bottleneck in the infrastructure. So I give vendors a "C" on delivering today, even though in just the past year or two, we've taken practically a light year leap forward in capabilities.

So, in the future, I think we will get that correlation end-to-end across our virtual server environment, and I think we're going to be able to see more vendors deliver more elegant storage management solutions that are distributed throughout the infrastructure, harvest the APIs and capabilities of the personal infrastructure, and aggregate that all into a central point of management that could work across the cloud or through virtual infrastructure and engage your fiscal infrastructure as well.


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