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The Goodness Of Virtualized Storage

My name is Jake McTigue; I've been a virtualization and infrastructure design and implementation engineer since the late 1990s, and I'll be contributing regularly to this Tech Center.

Watching virtualization grow up into a robust technology capable of supporting the largest of enterprise workloads has been both a wild ride and an incredible privilege. In recent years I have seen the basic principles of server virtualization slowly infiltrating other technology spaces, often with dramatic results. Despite all this improvement, though, it's difficult to imagine a space more suitable for virtualization than the enterprise storage market.

Storage virtualization solves many of the fundamental problems and limitations of modern storage systems and clearly demonstrates a whole slew of benefits, which I'll touch on here and explore in detail throughout the coming months. In our InformationWeek Analytics research report, downloadable here, we explore the basics of storage and file virtualization and discuss how the storage side of that equation can revolutionize the way enterprises save their data. As time goes on, I'm planning reports on managing virtualized storage for maximum cost savings and benefit, as well as a piece on security and delegated administration.

Like other virtualization technologies, storage virtualization requires a structured implementation plan and clear goals to achieve maximum benefit. Still, it's an exciting time for storage virtualization.

Virtualized storage entered the market through the extreme enterprise tier, but as time passes, I've seen storage virtualization features creeping ever downward into the SMB storage arena. While these systems generally lack advanced the features, such as replication and volume snapshots, associated with higher-end SANs (or require add-on licensing), core storage virtualization features such as "soft volumes" and dynamic expansion are present and fully functional on many storage arrays in the sub-$15,000 price range.

Even better, storage deduplication has also started to make the drop into the entry-level market. We're seeing fully virtualized storage, SAN-side deduplication, and mix-and-match drive tiering even in some entry-level units.

So what's the catch? Well, all this value has a setup cost. Like most things, if the implementation doesn't follow a clear set of operational best practices across multiple areas, storage virtualization may not grant your organization any benefit. Conversely, some shops simply have no need for storage virtualization, given their workloads and data growth rates.

The key to achieving the greatest benefit and agility is in understanding how your system works now and identifying areas where virtualized storage shows a clear and compelling benefit. Odds are, if you have more than two SAN LUNs in your environment, more than 1 TB of data, or tiered storage requirements, storage virtualization is likely to be an excellent fit.

Come back often for the latest news and commentary, and watch for our upcoming reports.

The economies of storage networking have changed dramatically, especially in the options available for small and midsize enterprises. We analyze SME responses to our 2011 State of Enterprise Storage Survey and discuss which techs will best serve these businesses. Download our report now. (Free registration required.)