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Storage virtualization solutions for SMBs

Storage virtualization isn't just for large enterprises. There are many affordable solutions for the SMB, too.

With most of the trade press about storage virtualization for large enterprises, little is discussed about how SMBs can take advantage of storage virtualization. The focus tends to be on companies where the operational and economic value propositions are inherently evident. At least, that's what most of the data storage vendors believe. However, storage virtualization has real quantifiable operational and economic value to the SMB.

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Take for example the problem of data migration. Data migration is required whenever a new storage system with higher capacity and performance is replacing an old one. It is also required to take advantage of lower cost and performance storage systems for less-frequently accessed data such as older data or archived data. An enterprise operation may have these application-disruptive data migrations going on almost continually, but an SMB will have them far less frequently (maybe as little as once per year or less). However, those data migrations will require a much greater percentage of the SMB's already strapped IT resources.

Storage virtualization has the capability of making data migration a painless exercise. Whether it is with direct-attached storage (DAS) or a storage area network (SAN), storage virtualization can move data between storage systems seamlessly without application disruptions or significant storage administrator experience. It also allows SMBs to use tiered storage. Storage virtualization makes the storage area network and attached storage look and feel like DAS. It hides the complexity and eliminates most of the SAN issues SMBs fear.

Affordable storage virtualization for SMBs

SMBs run into a barrier with storage virtualization: storage budget cost. There are definitely several storage virtualization systems that are financially prohibitive or simply overkill for an SMB. These include EMC Corp.'s Invista, Incipient Inc. Network Storage Platform software (iNSP), Hitachi Data Systems' (HDS) TagmaStore, and Nexsan Technologies Inc.'s DataBeast.

However, there are quite a few storage virtualization systems that are financially savvy for SMBs. Spot checks of MSRP entry level ranges from $15,000 to $25,000 for 12 TB of SATA storage. The cost-effective vendors include DataCore Software Corp.'s SANmelody and SANsymphony, FalconStor Software's NSS, LSI Corp.'s Storage Virtualization Manager (SVM), Microsoft Windows Storage Server, NetApp's V2000 series, Nexsan iSeries, Pranah Storage Technologies' 2200 Series, Reldata Inc.'s 9240 and 9240i, Seanodes' Exanodes, and StorMagic's SvSAN.

Some of these storage virtualization systems include storage, iSCSI, NFS, CIFS, and high-end data protection capabilities such as snapshot and mirroring. And all of them work with heterogeneous (multivendor) storage. This means an SMB does not necessarily have to retire their old storage systems. They can add it to the storage pool behind the storage virtualization system. When they need additional storage, the SMB can purchase inexpensive storage systems because the management and advanced functionality resides in the storage virtualization system. The result is lower capital expenditures both now and in the future, as well as lowers operational costs and headaches.

Each vendor's offering is different. Some offerings are faster, have more features, are more scalable, have less hardware, etc., and some have a lower TCO. In order to find one that's the right fit for your company, you first need to determine what's minimally required, what's preferable, and what would be a "nice-to-have." Some key functionality decisions involve technology choices such as 1 Gb iSCSI and/or 10 Gb iSCSI; heterogeneous storage systems or captive storage; NFS 2/3 and/or pNFS; CIFS and/or CIFS v2; thin provisioning; snapshot and/or thin snapshot; synchronous and/or asynchrous replication; SAS and/or SATA and/or SSD. Once your requirements are set, narrow down the list to the vendors that best fit your requirements.

At the end of the day, storage virtualization is a very viable and effective option for the SMB.

About the author: Marc Staimer is the founder, senior analyst, and CDS of Dragon Slayer Consulting in Beaverton, OR. The consulting practice of 11 years has focused in the areas of strategic planning, product development, and market development. With over 28 years of marketing, sales and business experience in infrastructure, storage, server, software, and virtualization, he's considered one of the industry's leading experts. Marc can be reached at marcstaimer@comcast.net.

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