NetApp’s Virtual Storage Strategy Gets Real

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The worlds of server virtualization and storage were forever united once EMC (NYSE: EMC) bought VMware (NYSE: VMW) nearly five years ago.

Now more and more storage vendors are releasing virtualization strategies. Recently, for example, NetApp (NASDAQ: NTAP) acquired Onaro to expand the NetApp Manageability Software family with new capabilities for storage service management.

Patrick Rogers, vice president of solutions marketing at NetApp, sees all this as part of an ongoing evolution that will probably shape the next few years of storage — the coordination of virtualized servers with virtualized storage in a way that retains versatility and flexibility. After all, with more and more enterprise data centers transforming physical servers into virtual machines, it would be impossible to avoid major complexity without a coordinated design for networked storage.

“IT staffs encounter problems on a regular basis while trying to meet backup and restore, provisioning of storage, disaster recovery and high availability requirements,” said Rogers.

According to Rogers, administrators are now trying to compress ten virtual machines worth of backup data into one physical server’s nightly backup window. This can result in severe performance constraints, something VMware has been working to reduce in recent months.

One solution is the implementation of snapshot technology. Rogers characterizes this as a non-disruptive and non performance-degrading way to ensure that backups are completed reliably. But for this to be feasible, the speed of restoration for virtual machines is obviously a key requirement. He is a big fan of conducting restore operations from a snapshot as this can greatly simplify and accelerate the process.

FlexVol to the Rescue

Another goal of storage virtualization is to be able to provision new virtual disks, storage volumes and virtual machines much faster than can be done using today’s largely manual processes. Technologies such as NetApp FlexVol have been developed to enable storage administrators to create and expand storage volumes dynamically on-the-fly.

NetApp’s FlexVol makes it possible to create virtual volumes that can be managed and moved independently of the physical storage these virtual volumes reside upon. This FlexVol storage virtualization technology, said Rogers, can be used to lower your overhead, avoid capital expenses, and reduce disruption and risk.

For storage virtualization to make sense, though, it has to be play well with ongoing disaster recovery (DR) strategies. But the reality of storage virtualization in a DR setting cannot yet match its server equivalent.

“With 10x consolidation of physical machines, administrators will now experience 10x greater pain for machine outages,” said Rogers. “As a result, they are now beginning to install HA/DR solutions at the same time they consolidate into virtualized architectures to handle this increased risk level.”

Accordingly, NetApp has been working with VMware to ensure their products integrate well. The goal is to have storage complement virtual server HA/DR solutions. For example, NetApp has integrated its SnapMirror product with VMware Site Recovery Manager.

The bottom line is that virtualization is an opportunity to dramatically improve storage efficiency. “When virtualization is combined with technologies like de-duplication, thin provisioning and RAID 6, administrators can halve the amount of storage required when they consolidate using VMware or other virtualization solutions,” said Rogers.

Onaro Game Plan

The Onaro acquisition is yet another facet of the NetApp virtualization game plan. Onaro was a provider of storage service management software, and as such, will probably assist the company as it heads into the stormy waters of storage and server virtualization integration. In particular, Onaro extends the NetApp Manageability Software Family with heightened capabilities for storage service management.

NetApp gained access to Onaro SANscreen software, which provides an application-centric view into the SAN. In particular, it enables the storage administrator to view access paths, redundancy, replication, and performance details. This enhances NetApp’s heterogeneous SAN management capabilities, and also opens the door to more large enterprise clientele, as Onaro’s SANscreen software suite was deployed in more than 32 percent of the Fortune 50.

The company is also marketing a related virtualization product known as SANscreen VM Insight. This tool offers virtual machine-to-disk performance information that helps optimize the number of virtual machines per server.

“For large-scale virtual machine farms, this type of cross-domain analytics is critical to maintaining application availability and performance while optimally compressing servers onto virtual machines,” said Rogers. “SANscreen’s VM Insight and Service Insight products help minimize complexity while maximizing return.”

Article courtesy of Enterprise IT Planet

Drew Robb
Drew Robb
Drew Robb is a contributing writer for Datamation, Enterprise Storage Forum, eSecurity Planet, Channel Insider, and eWeek. He has been reporting on all areas of IT for more than 25 years. He has a degree from the University of Strathclyde UK (USUK), and lives in the Tampa Bay area of Florida.

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