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The Importance of Storage Virtualization

With IT budgets expected to decrease 0.6% in 2012 in North America and data still growing in the 10% to 24% range, storage virtualization has become a necessity, not a luxury.

In the first of a two-part series, Network Computing examines the various places within the IT infrastructure where storage virtualization can take place, including servers and disk arrays, and via physical and virtual appliances.

Virtualizing storage can increase disk utilization and administration flexibility, and improve disaster recovery and business continuity, notes Howard Marks, founder and chief scientist at, a storage and networking consultancy, and a frequent contributor to Network Computing and InformationWeek. From thin provisioning to replication to federation, virtualization options can make your storage more supple and responsive, and free you from vendor lock-in, he writes in a new InformationWeek report, Strategy: Storage Virtualization Guide.

Storage virtualization is not new. According to the 2012 InformationWeek State of Storage survey, 31% of storage professionals use some kind of storage virtualization. Marks says if we define storage virtualization as any technology that presents storage in a new configuration, then we've all been virtualizing storage for many years.

Many storage virtualization features that were once available in only dedicated storage virtualization products are now part of most disk arrays. Storage virtualization appliances are typically responsible for other tasks, such as heterogeneous replication and federation. These devices sit in-line in front of arrays and create a common interface for hosts, allowing administrators to mix and match the protocols and arrays that sit behind the appliances.

"There's no one aspect [of storage virtualization] that's most important," Marks says. "What ends up happening is an organization has a particular problem like migration or replication. They add the virtualization platform and then start using the other features. Or someone decides they like to decouple the management virtualization features from the back-end hardware to either have a single management interface or save money so they design an architecture with virtualization appliances or volume managers and dumb storage on the back end."

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