SAN, NAS and the Future of Virtualization

Arthur Cole

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The future of the data center clearly rests on virtualization. Without breaking the ties between hardware and software, there is no rapid scalability, no data flexibility, no cloud.

But it seems that few people are giving thought to the infrastructure implications of this transition. A key question at this point is: What's to become of the Storage Area Network (SAN)?

Those of you who are already pushing the virtual envelope might be wondering how your current SAN will be able to cope in an increasingly complex environment. As Anand Perisamy of storage software developer Gluster points out, non-virtual architectures were able to cope with one server having one Logical Unit Number (LUN). But increasing numbers of VMs, each with their own LUN, quickly overloads most SANs. VMware's Virtual Machine File System helps somewhat, but it still does not address the fundamental issue of scalability on the actual SAN.

Gluster is one of the many companies touting NAS as the solution, by virtue of its greater scalability and its ability to provide shared data access across multiple virtual machines. NAS also brings with it the ability to deploy file virtualization as a route toward a more transparent storage infrastructure. File virtualization provides greater flexibility when it comes to key virtual-friendly tasks like data migration and load balancing. New systems are also incorporating such hot-button features like deduplication, SSD support and cloud functionality.

Not everyone is convinced of the SAN's demise in virtual environments, mind you. Infortrend, for example, was on hand at Citrix Synergy this week showing its Enterprise Scalable Virtualized Architecture system, designed to provide SAN support for virtual environments in mid-level enterprise settings. The company says its can provide both the performance and scalability needed to support expanding operations, and at a lower price than comparable offerings.

But even if virtualization does produce a run on NAS capabilities, few enterprises are likely to engineer a wholesale replacement in one move. We're much more likely to see a phased-in approach, which is why many new storage-management systems are offering dual-environment capability. A case in point is Pillar's AxiomONE, which unifies SAN and NAS under a common storage pool, allowing either format to be provisioned at will. In this way, users will have access to whichever format is best suited to the application.

Naturally, any decisions on the direction of networked storage will be based on factors unique to each enterprise. So the question, "Is NAS the right approach for me?" is best answered by your own IT team, and probably a top-notch consultant or two.

But if your virtual environment is already pushing to limits on available SAN storage, it might be worth investigating before you sign up for a major expansion.

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