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NetApp slips storage management into XenServer

Citrix and NetApp have co-developed a free adapter module for XenServer 4.1 to manage and provision NetApp storage systems from the Xen management console.

NetApp Inc. and Citrix Systems Inc. are adding NetApp storage management features to Citrix's XenServer 4.1 server virtualization software through a new software module included free in XenServer's management console.

NetApp had partnered with open source hypervisor startup Xen before it was acquired by Citrix last year, and now NetApp engineers helped Citrix develop the XenServer Adapter for NetApp Data OnTap. The first fruit of this NetApp-Citrix partnership comes as Citrix and other VMware rivals try to make their virtual servers more storage friendly.

The adapter uses NetApp's Manage OnTap API to interface with any NetApp storage device from the XenServer management console, allowing virtual server administrators to provision storage, schedule snapshots and manage replication. The adapter supports block and file storage on NetApp devices and is also compatible with NetApp's recently announced Provisioning Manager and Protection Manager storage management automation software.

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The automation software runs on a separate server, regardless of what kind of storage management software is used, according to Patrick Rogers, NetApp vice president of solutions marketing. That means customers would still need to combine the two offerings themselves. But combining the two products would allow administrators to set policies to automatically provision and protect virtual server LUNs.

The Citrix rollout comes a few weeks after NetApp launched SnapManager for Virtual Infrastructures (SMVI), which offers similar features for XenServer, but it is positioned more for VMware or heterogeneous environments.

Organizations weigh virtual server/storage combos

XenServer, with about 5% market share in its commercial version, is up against VMware's 60% market share. Unlike VMware, XenServer does not have its own file system or storage management features; that's why Citrix must partner with storage vendors – for instance, Symantec's Veritas NetBackup 6.5 supports Citrix SenServer backup.

Rich DeBrino, CIO of healthcare IT consulting company Advances in Technology, said his company is leaning toward a VMware/EMC Corp. deployment but will take a look at the Citrix/NetApp offering. "Citrix and NetApp both needed this in order to compete," he wrote to in an email. "It helps them both and will make a compelling argument for some of us … [we want] to take a closer look at this before we make a decision on the VMware/EMC project."

However, a NetApp customer working with VMware has concerns about the way XenServer integrates with storage on the back end. VMware pools virtual machine files in its virtual file system, while XenServer assigns one LUN to each virtual machine. "A lot of LUNs is a pain to manage [and] boot times are dramatically increased with a large number of LUNs," said Tom Becchetti, storage engineer for a large medical manufacturing company. Becchetti said he was also looking for server virtualization vendors to offer I/O prioritization for virtual machine files or LUNs.

Storage: The next frontier for server virtualization players

Some industry watchers said storage vendors see the perceived storage value-adds that VMware has pulled into the hypervisor -- especially Storage VMotion -- as an encroachment on their turf. VMware's competitors, which include Xen's hypervisor-based Virtual Iron and Microsoft's Hyper-V, are rallying around that point. "Storage vendors aren't going to come out and say everything publicly because they also have to work with VMware," said Chris Wolf, a Burton Group analyst. "But they're not liking everything VMware does."

But NetApp said that SMVI for VMware contains the same provisioning and data protection management features that the Citrix adapter has. "They're very analogous products," Rogers said. NetApp is also said to be making strides in the VMware market with organizations migrating VMware storage to NFS to simplify management.

Wolf and Simon Crosby, Citrix virtualization chief technology officer, predict storage capabilities will play a key role in the competition among virtual server products in the coming months. "NetApp's announcement is just the first of many like it from storage vendors," Wolf said.

"Storage is the really interesting area for us from here on out," Crosby said. "Differentiation [between virtual server products] is branching out into an ability to do DR and backup, and that all points back to storage."


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