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Talking up server virtualization, security at SNW


No matter which storage show or conference you attend, you can be guaranteed lots of presentations and peer networking around the topic of virtualization. In my experience, most of these conversations center on the debate over block virtualization: Does it belong in the network or in the array? But attendees at this fall's Storage Networking World (SNW) show in Grapevine, TX, focused squarely on the VMware experience.

John Thomas, IT manager at the Atlanta- based law firm Troutman Sanders, turned to VMware to control costs in his data center and lessen the amount of time needed to deploy servers. "We implemented VMware because with our growth rate, we had an issue with space, power and cooling in the data center," he says. Thomas' SNW presentation, titled "Virtual Verdict," covered backup options in a virtual environment. "The turnaround time to provision a server with VMware is about 15 minutes," he noted.?"Before, it could take weeks to acquire hardware and get a new server in place."

Instead of buying 15 physical servers at $5,000 each, Thomas estimated it would cost $20,000 for hardware and software for a VMware host and another $20,000 for storage allocation. So instead of paying $75,000 for the servers, it would cost $40,000 to virtualize them. At Troutman Sanders, Thomas consolidated 160 physical servers to 120 since installing VMware last spring. He expects to be at 80 physical servers a year from now.

The proliferation of virtual machines on a physical server complicates backup, however. VMware, anticipating this, last year introduced VMware Consolidated Backup (VCB) to speed backups with point-in-time snapshots.

Without VCB, "I need agents in each VM box that needs to be backed up," says Rob Rees, systems administrator at ICOS, a Bothell, WA-based biotech firm and a wholly owned subsidiary of Eli Lilly and Company.


Still, despite using VCB, there's a trade-off for users. Thomas, who like Rees uses CommVault Galaxy backup software with VCB, says CommVault supports file-level or image-level backups. Image-level backups are faster, but users can't restore individual files. Thomas uses file-level backup and is considering image-level backup for machines that aren't used as often.

NAS virtualization
File virtualization is becoming more common as large NAS shops seek a way to manage multiple filers. Bill Montgomery, an SNW attendee and manager of information systems for ecommerce Web site, says he uses F5's Acopia to manage his files across two enterprise NAS systems and more than 40 servers, even though his is an EMC storage shop. Montgomery says he eliminated hundreds of mount points, saved 250 man hours a year previously spent manually migrating data and improved NAS performance. "We've commoditized enterprise NAS," he says.

Lock it down
While storage shows in recent years have looked at security mainly from an encryption standpoint, a broader discussion took place at SNW. Alan Lustiger, information security architect at TD Ameritrade, told attendees that the real threat isn't lost tapes, but hackers gaining access to databases and other information on storage systems. Storage security mainly comes down to securing the ways people legally access data, says Lustiger. He advises his fellow administrators to protect their front doors (Web servers), side doors (server operating systems), front-door windows (storage and network devices) and cellar doors (storage devices operating systems) from hackers.

"The Web server is literally the front door that hackers use," he says. "In general, spend your time on the front door, but pay attention to this other stuff."

--Dave Raffo


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