Managing Your Virtual SAN

Arthur Cole

One of the clearest indicators that the data center has evolved from a random collection of hardware and software into an organic entity is virtualization. At first blush, virtualization offers substantial relief for overworked server farms straining to keep up.


But as early adopters are finding out, it isn't long before the increased server activity starts to make itself felt around the rest of the enterprise, particularly in storage. But simply adding more and better storage only addresses part of the problem; improved networking capability is also needed to alleviate the inevitable data bottlenecks.


But even with advanced switches, routers, HBAs and the like, there's still a missing piece in the overall virtualization puzzle: the ability to effectively negotiate through this increasingly complex infrastructure so that crucial data can be stored and retrieved in a timely manner.


That's why we're seeing a new emphasis on the part of the major virtualization providers in SAN connectivity solutions. Whether appliance-based or all-software, an effective SAN management solution is seen as key to bringing all aspects of the virtual data center together.


Citrix recently tapped into one of the leading SAN management systems by certifying the DataCore SANmelody and SANsymphony systems as virtual SAN appliances for XenServer 4.1. Both software systems can run on a XenServer virtual machine or in a standard physical server configuration, bringing tools such as high-availability mirroring, replication and high-speed caching into the Xen environment.


VMware users will benefit from StoneFly's entry into the Technology Alliance Partner (TAP) program. StoneFly offers the StoneFusion 6.X operating system that works with VMware's iSCSI initiator to facilitate the integration of network storage and servers. The system supports functions such as snap-shotting, synchronous and asynchronous mirroring and block-level virtualization, as well as volume management and provisioning that allow SAN storage to be presented as local disks.


There is also a growing cadre of third-party solutions making their way to the enterprise. A company called Seanodes says it has developed a way to aggregate underused internal disk capacity into shared storage pools, reducing the need to provision additional storage during peak data periods. The company's Exanodes platform is based on the Shared Internal Storage (SIS) software to provide a less expensive alternative to Fibre Channel and iSCSI SANs, as well as NAS solutions.


Still other SAN solutions are being targeted to specific functions, like disaster recovery. LeftHand Networks has tied its Storage Replication Adapter to VMware's Site Recovery Manager to create a fully automated DR platform that works across multiple virtualized environments. Key features include thin provisioning to reduce capacity requirements, bandwidth throttling for WAN efficiency and incremental failover and failback.


By their nature, virtual environments are complex. And the more consolidation that takes place on the server side, the more complex the networking and storage side. With a robust management system in place, you can keep that complexity from hampering performance.

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