Creating cohesive storage management

Storage orchestration software holds the promise of seamless management. But for now, enterprise customers are stuck with point tools.

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Storage 'Hypervisors'

A growing number of vendors are offering "storage hypervisors" that virtualize the storage and, in some cases, their associated file servers to create scalable, flexible pools of storage. This virtualization layer often runs on standard x86 servers and is optimized for specific functions, storage protocols or applications. One example is DataCore Software's SANsymphony-V, which links to VMware's vCenter to automatically discover VMware servers running in a customer's environment. A systems administrator can then associate a given class of storage with various servers, and SANsymphony automatically provisions it.

Hosting and integration services firm Amnet Technology Solutions has been using SANsymphony for close to three years, and senior technologist Rich Conway says the product has provided "absolutely phenomenal" redundancy. "The entire storage infrastructure was essentially mirrored, where both sides are active/active, and if any component of either side fails for any reason, our entire grid stays up and our customers don't even notice," he says. SANsymphony has also enabled Amnet to eliminate planned downtime for routine maintenance such as firmware upgrades, says Conway.

Later this year, IBM plans to release IBM SmartCloud Virtual Storage Center, an appliance-based virtualization layer that will provide services such as backup, load balancing and snapshots across applications and provision the right storage for each class of service, says Steve Wojtowecz, vice president of Tivoli storage software development at IBM.

Combining IBM's SAN Volume Controller storage virtualization platform with its Tivoli Storage Productivity Center management software and the Tivoli Storage FlashCopy Manager, the SmartCloud Virtual Storage Center will provide consistent performance on multiple vendors' storage arrays in data centers within 300 kilometers of each other, says Wojtowecz.

Zadara Storage runs its storage virtualization layer on commodity servers in its own colocated cloud facilities, turning direct-attached disk drives into virtual SAN arrays. Noam Shendar, vice president of business development, says this gives those drives the performance, reliability and security of more expensive SANs, and provides capabilities such as clustering using familiar SAN management tools.

Other vendors use a global file system to separate the details of where and how VMs or data are stored from the higher-level management objectives, such as meeting the terms of various service-level agreements (SLA).

Among the vendors coming the closest to offering combined server/storage management with this approach is Tintri, whose "VM-aware" storage appliances are designed to replace traditional storage units such as volumes, LUNs and files with virtual disks. Tintri's VMstore file system monitors and controls I/O performance for each virtual disk, communicating with the VMware vCenter to detect which virtual machines are active and how they are using storage. It then automatically chooses the best combination of storage for each virtual machine, including fast but expensive solid-state drives and slower but less costly disks.

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