Users Search for Virtual Reality

Virtualization's not living up to all its promises, say StoragePlus panelists

September 15, 2006

3 Min Read
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BURLINGAME, Calif. -- StoragePlus -- Vendor lock-in, hidden costs, and marketing hype are just a few of virtualization's pitfalls, according to experts at this week's conference.

"Vendor lock-in is really kind of a scary thing and it seems to be one of the hottest topics right now," warned Robert Lerner, senior analyst at Heavy Reading during a panel on virtualization. "It's awfully difficult to avoid, the deeper you get into an implementation," he added.

A number of vendors, headed by VMWare, are touting a slew of virtualization products, in an attempt to solve users' storage dilemmas (See IBM Intros Software, VMware Eyes Enterprise, Microsoft, Xen & the Art of Virtualization, and Virtualization Startups Gain Steam.) Microsoft also has its eye on the market, and is planning to offer a data center virtualization product in late 2007. (See Microsoft Makes Virtualization Play.)

But, even with all this vendor brouhaha, users should beware of the technology's expense, according to Lerner. "The cost could be pretty significant -- you have the upfront costs and the long-term costs," he explained, adding that users should consider, for example, the ongoing costs of data protection and migration.

For these reasons, the analyst believes that users should approach the virtualization market with caution. Lerner also urged IT managers to get a second opinion on vendors' performance claims. "Don't take the vendors' word for anything," he said, adding that benchmarks can be verified with third party sources, such as the The Storage Performance Council.Other panelists agreed that users should tread very carefully. "Don't fall for the hype," warned Bill Pappas, storage and backup recovery specialist at St.Jude's Children's Hospital in Memphis, Tenn. "There is a particular vendor that promised a lot of features and they didn't come through," he noted, without naming names.

The exec, who works in the hospital's Hartwell Center For Bioinformatics, has since deployed Veritas' Volume Manager software to virtualize around 113 Tbytes of Nexsan storage.

The software is hosted on a cluster of five Linux servers and has already delivered benefits for the hospital, according to Pappas. "I can expand and shrink [storage] volumes on the fly," he explained. "I tend to over-provision first, and then, a month later, if [end-users] are not using it, I say forget it, you are going to lose it!"

Ironically, the Veritas software is also part of St. Jude's broader strategy to avoid technology lock-in. "I am relying on software that's more agnostic than the hardware," said Pappas, adding that Veritas can run on a number of platforms, including HP/UX, AIX, Unix, Solaris, and Windows.

Even Nicholas Schoonover, solutions architect at data protection vendor Double-Take, chimed in with his own note of caution about the use of virtualization for disaster recovery. "You have to do a performance test of these types of solutions -- that is where I see most failures," he said, adding that users should simulate production loads on their Exchange, Notes, SQL, DB2, and Oracle environments."By simulating that production load, you are really putting products through a real-world test and that's where you're going to be most successful down the road," he added.

Other potential pitfalls lurk, according to Lerner. "Organizations, when they go into a virtualization solution, don't realize that there are problems with backups," he said. "By having backups running over a single interface you can have roadblocks."

The session wasn't all virtualization doom and gloom. "There's a lot of value in virtualization in terms of scalability," Lerner commented. Users, he explained, can add storage and their overall capacity will increase "proportionally" as the new data is shared evenly across their infrastructure.

James Rogers, Senior Editor, Byte and Switch

  • Double-Take Software Inc. (Nasdaq: DBTK)

  • IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM)

  • Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT)

  • Nexsan Technologies Inc.

  • VMware Inc. (NYSE: VMW)

  • XenSource Inc.

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