Virtualization software: The hidden truth

Is storage software driving down a road of complexity that managers will never be able to find their way back from?

Imagine this. You spend half of a million dollars on a brand-new top-of-the-line Mercedes, then the minute you drive it out of the garage it breaks down. We're not talking about a tire blowout or the engine backfiring. Your shiny new car has far more complicated problems than that. It shakes as if possessed.

According to consumer reports on the Web, this actually happened to a woman who ended up taking the car to the garage 14 times in three years and still technicians were never able to figure out what was wrong. Last we checked, she ended up trading in her fancy car for a standard model.

The automobile industry has perfected the art of building extremely complex cars while simultaneously masking this sophistication from the driver. The question is, when the car breaks down, are the tools available to diagnose the problem?

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Could there be a lesson in this for storage system manufacturers and users since the industry is clearly headed down a similar path of building complicated systems and now it seems, is hell bent on layering virtualization software over the top to mask this complexity?

Mike Karp, senior analyst with Enterprise Management Associates said complexity itself isn't a bad thing, in fact, it's laudable, as long as there is the infrastructure to support it. "We need the benefit of complex computer systems for people like me who can't tell a piston from an ashtray, but there has to be adequate testing and support services for when they go down." He added that tools should be able to trace each event all the way through the system, and the system should be as simple as our needs allow. He noted that storage technology, like many other areas of technology, often provides far more functionality than people actually use.

Taneja Group analyst Brad O'Neill said we're already starting to see some of the problems that result from highly complex, abstracted storage architectures. "It becomes particularly acute in the context of change management, where it's sometimes difficult to pinpoint trouble spots in the fabric during the introduction of new devices," he said. "Companies like AppIQ Inc, Onaro Inc, Bocada Inc, and SysDM Inc. are all trying to create new software that ensures visibility into the data layer to see what's going on at different levels of the infrastructure."

The downside to layering on all this software, is keeping it current. Each time you add another device to the network, the management software has to support it, otherwise you're back to square one.

Randy Kerns, partner and senior analyst at the Evaluator Group, concludes that much like the Mercedes example, things can go horribly wrong with storage systems. "This is something that vendors can anticipate somewhat but will get much better at with time and experience." For users headed down the virtualization path today he advised that they look for out-of-band tools to monitor, report and diagnose problems, remote support from the vendors and some hard guarantees.

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