Virtualization Technologies for Storage Get Real

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As virtualization and cloud computing continue a seemingly endless trajectory of prominence, their disadvantages is becoming as clear to those in the trenches as those on top perceive their benefits.

Virtually Speaking: A torrent of products are being unleashed to meet the challenges of backing up virtual machines. From cloud storage to golden image management, virtualization technologies for storage are on the move.

Thus, a raft of solutions are springing up to resolve many of these issues. In the past two weeks, storage virtualization seems to have found its way to the forefront.

Two week's ago, CommVault (NASDAQ: CVLT) took its storage management product, Simpana, to the cloud with an eye on organizations requiring more space for archiving, replacing infrastructure or looking to simplify compliance management. Commvault described the product as a "cloud storage connector for Simpana" and sells it under a $900 per-terabyte capacity license. Customers can store data on-premises, or in a public or private cloud and move it back and forth as necessary.

It's no surprise that CommVault is far from alone in seeing the value in storage virtualization solutions. On Tuesday, Virsto joined the fray with its first product: Virsto One, a hypervisor-based storage virtualization solution.

The problems enterprises face with storage virtualization are two-fold, Virsto CEO Mark Davis told ServerWatch. First, there's the human element involved with the convergence its name implies: The virtualization team is coming from a server point of view, while the storage team is looking at it from a purely storage point of view.

Then there's the technological issue of storage backup being a big problem once virtual machines are up and running. The most effective way to backup the virtual machines is do so in a way that doesn't involve the box itself being backed up. The easiest and most common way to handle this is to snapshot the virtual machine's image and backup. The problem with this approach is that the oft-documented virtual machine sprawl leads to virtual storage sprawl because virtual machines are similar to a storage environment and "cry out for deduplication," Davis said.

In a traditional storage environment, snapshot and dedupe are adequate. Davis said they are typically great on space. In a virtual environment, their downside is they tend to have performance problems compared to using a golden image.

And this is where Virsto One seeks to set itself apart from other storage virtualization solutions. Using "sophisticated internal techniques" the software represents everything as a clone. The tens of thousands of clones mean no tradeoffs of space vs. performance, Davis said.

Virsto One also claims ease of use. Although it works only with Hyper-V at this time, it sits on the hypervisor level and plugs directly into it, offering a seamless user interface with both PowerShell and Windows. When it comes to storage software and the hardware itself, Virsto takes the opposite, agnostic, approach, Davis said, because Virsto talks directly to Hyper-V.

CommVault and Virsto are of course far from the only companies with an eye on storage vitalization.Seven10 Storage Software is another company looking to keep up with enterprise storage needs.

Like CommVault, Seven10 has an eye on cloud storage, seeing is as "a natural avenue of where storage is going." It sees the cloud as just another layer and supports it as such, President Bobby Moulton told ServerWatch. To better facilitate enterprises' journeys to the cloud, it has forged partnerships for connectors to EMC Atmos and Iron Mountain. Like Virsto One, StorFirst EAS is hardware-agnostic, Moulton said. A universal x-drive supports different types of hardware.

However, what sets Seven10's solution apart from others, according to Moulton, is the product's tiering capabilities, which combine different types of options, which can be selected as appropriate.

Storage virtualization has long been perceived as a pain point for enterprises deploying server virtualization. Storage vendors — both established and new — recognizing this, as well as the growing use and interest in cloud, may well be the balm enterprises are seeking.

Amy Newman is the managing editor of ServerWatch and Enterprise IT Planet. She has been covering virtualization since 2001, and is the coauthor of Practical Virtualization Solutions, published by Pearson in October 2009.

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This article was originally published on Feb 17, 2010
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