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Hypervisors May Break Storage Vendor Lock-In

In my previous entry I wrote about "The Myth Of Vertically Integrated Storage Systems" and how what most storage companies today describe as vertically integrated are really just bundles of products with a nice GUI on it or, as one reader described it, "putting lipstick on a pig." The concern with bundling or vertical integration is you are allowing yourself to be locked in and that sounds bad--but is it?

I don't think that most vendors have a diabolic plan to lock customers into a particular hardware or software platform forcing them to use substandard solutions. Clearly most vendors, as they should, want to provide you with all of your storage needs. For most vendors, that comes in the form of a turnkey storage solution that combines data services (snapshots, thin provisioning, replication, etc...) with storage hardware. In some cases, the software is the strength of the solution and they are using off-the-shelf-hardware solutions. In others, they are doing some specific customization of that hardware to compliment the hardware.

Combining software and hardware allows the vendors to control variables and provide a solution that is easier for them to support. Don't kid yourself, they are also making some additional profit on the hardware they provide and I think most vendors are not embarrassed to admit that. Nor should you feel guilty about purchasing these types of solutions. The goal is that the turnkey solution should save you time--both in implementation and in day to day operations as well as in troubleshooting when something goes wrong.

As we have written in the past, non-integrated solutions are also widely available. This is where you select the storage hardware and the storage software separately, essentially a best of breed approach to storage. There are very cost effective, high performance, and highly reliable storage hardware solutions available and there is an increasing amount of software solutions that can provide the data services.

What is missing from the best of breed solutions is the integration that the turnkey vendors described above provide. In the past, you could count on your own internal IT staff or a storage reseller/integrator to provide those solutions. The problem is that your IT staff is stretched too thin to blend these solutions together and storage integrators with the skill set to perform these types of implementations are increasingly hard to find. This is why turnkey solutions from large suppliers continue to dominate top market positions and why manufacturers of quality hardware are being forced to develop data services for their solutions.

The hypervisor may be the great enabler when it comes to breaking vendor lock-in. It provides a consistent "hardware state" via virtual machines that the storage software vendors and storage hardware vendors can leverage to achieve the turnkey storage suppliers level of consistency and supportability. It also provides some unique first-time capabilities as we have seen with VMware's Storage vMotion and Storage Distributed Resource Scheduler.

All that is needed is to address some of the core storage shortcomings of the hypervisor, like providing solid performance while using thin provisioning, snapshots, and clones as we discuss in our article "The VDI Storage Trade Off." This will provide the hypervisor the completeness of capabilities and provide a much easier integration path for the users.

Vendor lock-in is not that bad if you like your vendor, and for many organizations that will continue to be the ideal way to address storage challenges. The storage hypervisor, though, may give more IT departments the missing ingredient to make the integration of storage hardware and storage software more feasible and allow them greater flexibility when they need it.

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George Crump is lead analyst of Storage Switzerland, an IT analyst firm focused on the storage and virtualization segments. Storage Switzerland's disclosure statement.