Data Storage Plays Supporting Role for Server Virtualization

It’s one thing to hear IT vendors claim that their product is going to change the world. It’s quite another to talk to enterprises that are potential users of these products and learn what they’re really doing and thinking.

These days, nowhere is this more true than in the virtualization space. For a long time, one of the most hyped segments of the virtualization space was virtual data storage. At one point, it was positioned as The Next Big Wave, and while some aspects of storage (mainly backup) have benefited from the virtualization zeitgeist, others have been less successful. The market has become quite murky in terms of what’s out there, what makes a solution “virtual,” and, most important of all, what enterprises are willing to buy. These days, it seems the biggest challenge for data storage vendors is supporting server virtualization.

Last fall, Forrester set out to clarify what enterprises are really doing when it comes to virtualization, particularly as it relates to storage. Data for the report, “Storage Choices For Virtual Server Environments” came from a survey of 124 Forrester clients throughout the world who were asked about their x86 virtualization deployments.

The survey found:

  • A whopping 78 percent of respondents report that they are using virtual server technology in production environments. The survey did not, however, gauge the size of these deployments. The remaining 22 percent are using virtualization in test and dev or are in the qualification testing process to get started.
  • The most frequently virtualized applications are Web servers or Web app servers (81 percent of environments), off-the-shelf apps (65 percent of environments) and infrastructure servers (65 percent). In-house developed/custom applications (60 percent) and Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) SQL Server (53 percent) are also popular.
  • When it come to hypervisor choice, mixed environments are the norm, but VMware (NYSE: VMW) dominates far and away with a presence in 98 percent of deployments. Microsoft Virtual Server 2005 or Hyper-V was found in 17 percent of deployments. Citrix Xen (NASDAQ: CTXS) and open source Xen were found in 10 percent and 6 percent, respectively.

The crux of the survey focused on storage. It’s always reassuring to find data that backs up a hunch, and most of the survey’s findings correlated to a long-suspected reality.

The three top storage challenges are performance (23 percent), successful backup (19 percent) and capacity efficiency (14 percent). While backup is a challenge unique to storage, performance and capacity efficiency (i.e., resource allocation and management) are issues that come into play with server virtualization too.

Beyond that, storage needs bear little resemblance to server virtualization needs. The report notes, “While server virtualization adoption is high and there is a consensus of best practices, the same is not true for the storage required to support server virtualization.”

Unlike server virtualization, where a heterogeneous environment is expected to be the norm (if not now, then down the road), when it comes to storage, 63 percent of respondents use only one vendor. Thirty percent use only two.

With companies selecting a single vendor, it’s not surprising that the major storage vendors dominate. EMC (NYSE: EMC) is the most popular, and its products are found in 48 percent of deployments. IBM (NYSE: IBM), NetApp (NASDAQ: NTAP), HP (NYSE: HPQ) and Hitachi Data Systems (HDS) are also popular.

Another unsurprising find: Server virtualization is not driving a first-time SAN purchase. For 89 percent of those surveyed, a SAN was already in place.

The survey found networked storage to be far more popular than direct attached storage (DAS). Fibre Channel was by and large the network storage protocol of choice for virtual server environments in large organization. Although SMBs were a small sample of respondents, among them iSCSI seems to be the leading alternative to Fibre Channel for small shops.

The report wraps up with three pieces of advice:

  • Demand more from your storage vendor in a virtual server environment.
  • Consider Ethernet first, then Fibre Channel.
  • Don’t forget about backup and restore considerations.

The report is available here.

Article courtesy of Server Watch

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