New Bridges Across the Virtual-Storage Divide

Wednesday Feb 17th 2010 by Arthur Cole

Virtualization has been a real boon to server efficiency, but let's face it -- it's also a real drag on the server farm.

Virtualization has been a real boon to server efficiency, but let's face it -- it's also a real drag on the server farm.

While it's true that data loads have been increasing exponentially in the past few years, fueling an increase in the need for more capacity, equally at fault is the fact that the top virtual platforms have given scant attention to the fact that increasing the number of servers in the data center, virtual or otherwise, requires additional storage as well. And in many cases, the storage remains occupied long after the virtual machine has been abandoned.

Fortunately, a number of third-party solutions are popping up designed to take some of the virtual burden off over-leveraged storage systems.

One of the areas in which this is happening is SAN management. Companies like Overland Storage have keyed in on the fact that a SAN is practically a requirement for virtual environments, but true SAN capabilities are only recently making their way into the top virtualization platforms. The company hopes to address this need with the new SnapServer SAN S2000, which brings advanced features like integrated active-active failover, replication and mirroring to Hyper-V and VMware environments.

Backup and recovery has also emerged as a key requirement for virtual systems. B&R developer Arkeia Software recently added new agents for its Network Backup 8.2 system for both Hyper-V and VMware. VMware users, for example, can leverage the platform's vStorage APIs to gain proxy-less backups of virtual machines, providing faster backup and reduced network traffic than VMware's own Consolidated Backup system. Hyper-V users gain the ability to consolidate management of VMs by not having to install a dedicated agent on each machine.

Meanwhile, utility storage provide 3PAR is adding new plug-ins designed to integrate its backup capabilities into the vSphere and vCenter Server platforms. Both the Recovery Manager for vSphere and the Management Plug-In for vCenter Server enable VM-aware snapshots, rapid online recovery and VM-to-storage mapping, providing for a non-disruptive means to protect and recover VMs both in the virtual infrastructure and on the cloud.

But no matter how integrated storage systems and virtual machines become, there will always be a rather convoluted data path between the two, one that requires a fair bit of massaging to get data back into usable form once it's retrieved. Or will there? A new company called Virsto says it has developed a hypervisor-based approach to storage optimization that incorporates advanced features like automated provisioning, optimized flow control and block management that improves data integrity through the I/O pipeline and from cuts VM storage consumption some 90 percent. The system is currently available as a plug-in for Hyper-V, with VMware and XenServer versions on the way.

Virtualization has done more than just about any other technology to bring into focus the highly organic nature of the data center. The days where changes in one area remain largely isolated from the remaining infrastructure are long gone.

These days, you will be able to see tremendous efficiency gains through advanced technologies like virtualization, but they have to be deployed with an awareness of the impact taking place elsewhere unless you want to see those gains go to waste due to overburdened resources.

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