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David Hill
David Hill
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IBM Pulse 2012: A New Storage Hypervisor

IBM is promulgating a storage management concept that it calls a “storage hypervisor” though the final product name has not been determined. The company claims the technology will offer benefits – such as better storage utilization – leading to better storage cost economics, and data mobility – leading to increased flexibility, such as non-disruptive storage refreshes – and parallels the acceptance of server hypervisors and virtualization. But there are also b

For example, a revenue-generating online transaction program (OLTP) needs a lot more I/O performance than years-old sales histories that are used occasionally for analytical purposes. A one-size-fits-all-data approach can be very costly, such as supporting unnecessary copies and swift recovery capabilities from a remote site in the case of a disaster. In other words, a storage hypervisor can save MONEY through capturing efficiencies that not only improve storage utilization, but also use I/O resources more carefully and avoid the need for unnecessary copies or replication capabilities, such as providing excessive, unnecessary networking bandwidth).

Still, a little rain must fall.IBM’s storage hypervisor approach is currently limited to block data, but a unified storage approach that also embraces NAS file storage could very well appear in the future. No, that is not the caveat. The issue is that one of the true benefits of IBM’s strategy is to use a storage hypervisor to virtualize heterogeneous storage. That is, IBM wants to virtualize the storage of one or more of its competitors’ solutions. Now, naturally enough, competitors want to do the same to IBM as the vendor that controls the storage hypervisor – or equivalent set of capabilities under another name – is essentially king of the storage hill. No one buys, say, enterprise-class storage, for the hardware characteristics alone, but rather also for the storage services that go with them. And the IBM storage hypervisor would replace those services with services of its own. Hence IBM would be in the catbird seat when storage technology refreshes occur.

Fortunately for IBM’s storage competitors, IT is unlikely to want to get rid of existing storage services in which they have sunk investment for both equipment and personnel training, and for which the switchover could be difficult, as it is not just a matter of turning off one service and turning on another, such as a home Internet service provider. In terms of economics, switching costs often provide a significant barrier to change.

Still, what is likely to happen is that there is likely be more and more pressure on single-vendor storage shops to make necessary changes to achieve or adopt a single-vendor storage cloud. Heterogeneous server vendors may very well co-exist in the cloud, but the tendency would seem to be towards “standardization”, namely, one vendor.

Mesabi Musings: IBM Pulse 2012 covered a sweeping panorama of the world’s IT infrastructures and what IBM and its partners are doing to “optimize” those environments. Storage management is a key component of the overall infrastructure mosaic and IBM directed attendees’ attention to the need for a storage hypervisor. Now, a storage hypervisor can deliver storage cost efficiency and data mobility as standalone benefits, but IBM’s approach can also provide the underpinning for broader service level benefits – such as more effective use of I/O capabilities – that are necessary for providing storage-as-a-service as part of an overall IT-as-a-service strategy in a cloud.

The rain cloud inhibiting the adoption of “true” cloud computing is that IT may resist replacing existing storage services from vendors that compete with IBM because of perceived switching costs. Still, the argument about standardization will set the tone for discussion in future years as the cloud would seem to demand standardization. How IT will react will be very important in whether or not the cloud in a true IT-as-a-service sense, rather than partial implementations that still leave some non-integrated information silos –with their implied cost inefficiencies – in place. So IBM’s storage hypervisor is really stirring up the IT storage cloud pot.

IBM is currently a client of David Hill and the Mesabi Group.

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Mark Davis
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Mark Davis,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/15/2012 | 8:41:01 PM
re: IBM Pulse 2012: A New Storage Hypervisor
Hi David, great piece, thank you.

At Virsto Software, we've been using the term "Storage Hypervisor" for years. (At the suggestion of an industry analysts we tried shortening it to "storagevisor" in 2007 but that didn't catch on.)

Virsto is glad to welcome IBM to the party.

I agree with much of what IBM says.

One significant disagreement Virsto has with IBM and others in the storage hypervisor product category is in the importance of intimate integration with the server hypervisor, at the level of the virtual machine (VM). At Virsto, we believe server hypervisors are the way of the world for corporate and cloud computing, period. So the storage hypervisor must deal with storage at the level that is relevant to the VMs, and that is the VMDK (in the case of VMware) or VHD (in the case of others). If you're still dealing with LUNs, you are missing the point.

One quibble: you point out the potential objection that what IBM is calling a "storage hypervisor" is just a rebundling of old products, namely SVC and TPC. And then you confirm that's exactly what it is! IBM customers have been using TPC+SVC for years. The features you mentioned all existed in SVC back when IBM called it "storage virtualization".

What I don't see from IBM are any real new features that are specific to the world of virtual servers. It looks like old fashioned storage virtualization to me. There's nothing wrong with that, but the VM-oriented data center needs more than mere storage virtualization.

Mark Davis
CEO, Virsto Software
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