IT MANAGERS WILL HAVE TO DECIDE WHETHER TO
ADOPT STORAGE VIRTUALIZATION OR NAS CLUSTERS.
BY MICHAEL VIZARD
THERE’S AN ODD THING HAPPENING IN The good news is that companies such as
the land of storage these days. Vendors have Exanet, Hewlett-Packard (HP), Isilon and
come up with so many different answers to NetApp are making it a lot easier to deploy NAS
increasing storage utilization rates that entire clusters. This means IT can think about scaling
divisions within some companies are com- storage without having to add more people to
peting with each other. manage those arrays or additional service con-
At the root of the conflicting approaches tracts. Perhaps best of all, the cluster essentially
to the next generation of storage manage- creates a virtual pool of storage on a high-
ment are two distinct sets of technologies. performance I/O platform, which increases
The first set is collectively known as “storage utilization rates while providing built-in high
virtualization offerings,” while the second set availability because each node in the cluster can
is commonly referred to as “scalable network- dynamically back up any other node.
attachedstorage”(NAS). Virtualization creates confusion in the
Both technologies are trying to solve many market when vendors promote
of the same problems. In the wake of all the both storage virtualization and
hype around server virtualization, IT organizations The amount of data NAS cluster technologies. For
now want to increase the utilization rates of storage that needs to be example, HP, which recently
arrays that typically hover around the 50 percent mark. managed will continue acquired LeftHand Networks,
That’s a noble goal, but the complexity associated with to grow unabated no previously acquired PolyServe.
accomplishing that goal requires a little more nuance matter what direction And IBM has storage virtual-than installing a virtual machine on a server. ization offerings of its own, but
the economy takes.
In particular, application performance is very sensi- also resells NetApp products.
tive to the amount of I/O bandwidth available. If more The result of all this vendor
data is loaded on a specific storage array, there are more posturing is a whole lot of con-
applications trying to use the same limited amount of I/O fusion in the market. Vendors selling storage virtualization
bandwidth. So while an IT organization can increase storage products are benefiting from all the hype surrounding server
utilization rates, it can wind up doing more harm than good. virtualization, which is being widely adopted using products
Vendors in the storage virtualization space have been trying from VMware, Microsoft and Citrix.
to deal with this issue by relying more on caching software. There are multiple paths toward creating virtual pools of
Companies that build scalable NAS offerings have essentially storage that companies should consider. If all an IT organiza-
built servers with processors that manage the I/O process. And tion needs to do is increase storage utilization with little regard
both camps are looking for ward to the day—in the next year or to performance, there are plenty of storage virtualization
10 Gigabit Ethernet adapters are widely deployed, options. But if a company needs to increase utilization while
which should help mitigate a lot of the performance issues typi- maintaining application performance, then NAS clusters are
cally associated with increasing storage utilization rates. well worth a look.
The question that IT organizations will have to resolve is Regardless of which path IT organizations decide to take,
whether it makes more sense to adopt storage virtualization or doing nothing is no longer an option. The amount of data that
NAS clusters. A survey conducted by Ziff Davis Enterprise, the needs to be managed will continue to grow unabated no matter
parent company of Baseline, found that the biggest obstacles to what direction the economy takes.
adopting storage virtualization are the amount of complexity The only question is how IT organizations will manage all
34 percent), the fact that it might add another source that data now that they can no longer just throw hardware at
of failure (
20 percent) and a belief that NAS technology already the problem—along with the commensurate service fees and
provides the benefits of virtualization (
18 percent). software licenses that go along with every piece of hardware. In
Not many IT organizations are familiar with NAS cluster other words, it’s a brand-new day in the world of storage.
technology. The same study found that
42 percent of the IT
executives surveyed said they are not likely to consider NAS
22 percent said their organizations need more
PHOTO BY STEVE FREEMAN
BASELINE APRIL 2009
16 training on NAS cluster technologies.
MICHAEL VIZARD IS SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT/MARKET
STRATEGIES & CONTENT SERVICES AT ZIFF DAVIS ENTERPRISE.
PLEASE SEND QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS ON THIS COLUMN
TO HIM AT MICHAEL.VIZARD@ZIFFDAVISENTERPRISE.COM.