In Search of Balance in Virtual Environments

Arthur Cole

Attention may have already passed mere virtualization onto the cloud, but that doesn't mean enterprises aren't still struggling from the fallout of rapid virtualization of previously static architectures.

The main hurdle continues to be storage, or, more precisely, the need to improve both flexibility and scalability in storage arrays to handle the increased traffic caused by the rapid increase in virtual machines.

Some system developers are attempting to put storage on a more equal footing through increased intelligence designed to accommodate faster throughput as well as more efficient resource management. X-IO, for example, has a new combination of its Hyper ISE and ISE 2 storage units bundled as the ISE Station X platform. The system provides modular storage blocks that contain extended lifecycle features like self-healing drive technology and advanced data allocation tools, along with clustering and pooled storage technology, to deliver a high degree of scalability without sacrificing storage performance.

Storage optimization technologies are also gaining a beachhead in the enterprise, offering the means to tailor storage environments for particular virtual environments like virtual servers or virtual desktops. Atlantis Computing recently launched the ILIO FlexCloud platform, an application-aware I/O processing solution that supports Citrix, Microsoft and VMware environments. The idea is to process traffic within the hypervisor using server-side memory. This reduces data flow to the storage array, improving network and storage utilization and bolstering application performance. The system features a number of intelligent management techniques, including application I/O analysis and mapping, inline deduplication and virtual machine cloning that creates new VMs without pulling additional data from storage.

New cloud platforms are also reaching back to the virtual layer as a means to improve storage infrastructure. DataCore's SANsymphony-V 9.0 brings IaaS functionality to the storage provisioning process, eliminating many of the manual tasks that have made it difficult for storage to keep up with the dynamism that has characterized virtual server and networking platforms. The system's storage hypervisor technology allows capacity to be configured and reconfigured as data requirements dictate, using N+1 redundant grid technology to enable continuous availability, as well as automated tiering and load balancing for enhanced I/O performance.

Many enterprises may even have a number of tools already at their disposal for improving storage performance in virtual environments. Leading the list is thin provisioning, which, according to Server Watch's Paul Rubens, is present in only about half of the storage systems out there. Although you have to be careful that VM requests don't overwhelm available resources, thin provisioning is no different from most Ethernet configurations that maintain narrower connections to the wider network that exist between servers in the rack. Note, however, that some applications don't work well with dynamic storage environments, so it helps to do some homework before revamping your system.

Storage is likely to remain the slowpoke of the enterprise even as new solid-state tiers are put into place. But that doesn't mean all hope is lost. There are plenty of options when it comes to bringing storage into the 21st century, but it will take a fair amount of analysis to determine exactly how to align storage with the wider virtual environment.

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