Asking for a high-end storage management system with virtualization is like asking for an anti-lock braking system with skid-control.
It's a given.
At least it should be. But according to Arun Taneja, senior analyst, Enterprise Storage Group, Milford, Mass., senior analyst, Enterprise Storage Group, Milford, Mass., users cannot truly realize the full potential of SANs or NAS without virtualization.
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And, while a number of vendors are touting virtualization capabilities, it still remains an elusive concept to most users.
"They can ask for better storage management, easier scalability, ability to use different vendor's storage, mix and match storage types and better tools," he said. "Virtualization makes these benefits possible. However, the vendor community needs to deal with it, not the end user."
"Virtualization is one of the most important technologies to come to market," Taneja said. "Every vendor wants their name attached to it and as a result it got over hyped and different meanings got associated with it, to each vendor's advantage."
Simply put, virtualization is the pooling of data from multiple devices into what appears to be a single device that is managed from a central console. A virtual storage device appears as one device to the operating system, regardless of the types of storage devices pooled.
Its purpose: To mask the complexities and details of all of the storage systems.
The technology can be placed on different levels of a storage network. Users can implement virtualization with software, as a hardware and software hybrid appliance that sits somewhere in the fabric and redirects or services input/output traffic, or within the storage array itself.
So, if virtualization is the perfect solution industry experts say it is, what is keeping the mainstream storage users from warming up to the technology? The analysts say confusion is the culprit.
"There's confusion on the part of the user community," said John Webster, senior analyst and IT advisor, for the Nashua, N.H. - based research firm Illuminata, Inc.
Webster said that the point of virtualization is to simplify, but what is happening in the industry is exactly the opposite.
"The user community sees [virtualization] as just another layer of complexity," he said. A problem that leaves users that are only now learning the ins and outs of Fibre Channel SANs, another technology they need to educate themselves about.
"How do we virtualize the environment that we're just trying to learn how to use? It's like we're trying to run when we can't even walk," Webster said.
With the industry clamoring for clarity and defined parameters for what virtualization is and where it should be implemented, Webster says organizations like the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA) could bring us closer to a clear understanding of [virtualization technology].
The mainstream adoption of virtualization depends on a better understanding of the technology.
"It would be great if an organization like the SNIA were to take an aggressive posture and blow the smoke away," he said.
In fact, the SNIA is working on defining virtualization. However, despite its best intentions to bring respect to virtualization by defining it in non-ambiguous terms, this will take some time and "the horse has already left the barn," said Wayne Rickard, Chairman, SNIA Technical Council and senior vice president and chief technology officer at Gadzoox Networks, Inc. "While the industry is waiting for an authoritative SNIA position, the vendors who make up part of our membership are out there with their own definitions."
Rickard agrees that the industry as a whole is confused. "The analogy I use for the industry describing virtualization today is that it is like trying to describe a game of Paper/Scissor/Rock without the rock. So, of course, every vendor has to be the scissors."
According to one vendor, there is a religious debate in the storage world instead of vendors focusing on adopting open standards.
"It's a bit of a dog's breakfast out there. There's storage all over the network, and it has been managed up until now, but it needs to come together faster," said Michael Hornby, a spokesperson for StorageQuest.
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