How To Do Storage Virtualization Right

Virtualization can help you go supersonic with the speed of backup and disaster recovery, plus trim costs. But you will need to rethink storage management.

Tue, September 11, 2007

CIO — When Roland Etcheverry joined chemical company Champion Technologies two years ago, he looked around and realized he needed to remake the company's storage environment. He had done this twice before at other companies, so he knew he wanted a storage area network (SAN) to tie the various locations to the corporate data center, as well as to a separate disaster recovery site, each with about 7TB of capacity. He also knew he wanted to utilize storage virtualization.

At its most basic, storage virtualization makes scores of separate hard drives look to be one big storage pool. IT staffers spend less time managing storage devices, since some chores can be centralized. Virtualization also increases the efficiency of storage, letting files be stored wherever there is room, rather than have some drives go underutilized. And IT can add or replace drives without requiring downtime to reconfigure the network and affected servers: The virtualization software does that for you. Backup and mirroring are also much faster because only changed data needs to be copied; this eliminates the need for scheduled storage management downtime, Etcheverry notes.

Better yet, he will save money on future storage needs, because his FalconStor storage management software combines drives from multiple vendors as if they were one virtual drive, letting Etcheverry avoid getting locked in to the expensive, proprietary drives that array-based storage systems often require.

Although storage virtualization technology is fairly new, it's quickly gaining traction in the enterprise. In 2006, 20 percent of 1,017 companies surveyed by Forrester Research had adopted storage virtualization. By 2009, 50 percent of those enterprises expect to. And the percentages are even higher for companies with 20,000 or more employees, the survey notes: 34 percent of such firms had deployed storage virtualization in 2006, and that will climb to 67 percent by 2009.

But storage virtualization requires a clear strategy, Etcheverry says. "A lot of people don't think much about storage, so they don't do the planning that can save costs," he says. Because storage virtualization is a very different approach to managing data, those who don't think it through may miss several of the technology's key productivity and cost-savings advantages, concurs Nik Simpson, a storage analyst at the Burton Group.

Better Backups
Strategically, storage virtualization brings the most value to resource-intensive storage management chores meant to protect data and keep it available in demanding environments. These chores include the following: replication to keep distributed databases synchronized; mirroring to keep a redundant copy of data available for use in case the primary copy becomes unavailable; backup to keep both current and historical data available in case it gets deleted but is needed later; and snapshots to copy the original portions of changed data and make it easier to go back to the original version. All these activities have become harder to accomplish using traditional storage management techniques as data volumes surge and time for backup chores decreases.

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