Buying Storage for a Virtualized World: Four Things You Need to Do NOW

Updated: October 06, 2009


As your information storage needs grow and evolve, you can no longer just throw more capacity at the problem. This is especially true as the virtualization of applications, processing and storage grows in use across all types and sizes of companies. You need a strategy and solutions that enable intelligent, economical growth that's overseen by business processes and is as scalable and flexible as the rest of your business. So what should you buy, and how should you buy and deploy it?


Almost every size and type of business is increasingly dependent upon IT simply to do business, let alone to thrive competitively. And IT itself is evolving — embracing everything from the Web to cloud computing to virtualization of key infrastructure elements.

All of this combines to drive the growth of business needs for information storage and delivery. In "the old days" companies would simply buy more tape or disk drives as they bought more servers, software and network bandwidth. But budgetary constraints and a focus on ROI and TCO mean that every IT dollar must deliver some business benefit. And as many IT and business decision-makers have discovered — sometimes too late — throwing dollars at excess capacity often turns out to be wasteful, if not career-limiting.

Old approaches don't work anymore:
Few decision-makers have been able to predict changes in technology. The change in computing power is notorious, and the same may hold true for information storage. Decision-makers have innocently purchased individual servers for, say, email or to run one or more applications, and they purchased DAS (directly attached storage) to go with these. But as their user numbers grew and their IT investments expanded, so did the number of what you might think of as "storage silos" — sometimes unwieldy, disjointed storage resources, based largely on commodity JBOD ("just bunches of disks") architectures.

Despite the eventual appearance of NAS (network-attached storage) and SANs (storage-area networks), the ability of most companies to consolidate, share and prioritize access to their storage resources is limited or nonexistent. (The Focus Research Storage Basics Market Primer explicitly warns users to watch out for interoperability issues among hardware, software and storage media and to carefully manage network storage. It also advises that networked storage is only one component of an effective information-management strategy.)

Virtualization — and beyond: The rise of server virtualization is raising the criticality level of the storage challenge. After all, as pointed out in The Focus Research Virtualization Market Guide, virtualization of computing servers increases their utilization and can significantly reduce operating costs, especially when abetted by modern hardware. The same argument applies to storage servers, but it's only part of the complete answer.

What's needed is the ability to aggregate disparate storage resources, to manage their allocation based on business policies and processes and to ensure the availability of information as and where needed. In essence, you need the ability to buy and deploy storage as if it were a giant storage pool you can use your business' processes and goals to divide up and deliver to users and applications as needed, while maintaining effective control and security over all of your organization's stored information.

To succeed, you need solutions that combine storage server virtualization, consolidation and clustering with software that supports all needed data formats and protocols. These solutions must also support management by business rules and processes and must scale rapidly and economically upwards and downwards to match capacities to needs. Finally, such solutions must offer sufficient performance and manageability to enhance and not constrain competitive agility. For a snapshot of four different vendor approaches to these challenges, from BlueArc, EMC, Hewlett-Packard (HP), NetApp and VMware (listed alphabetically), see below:

Examples of Vendor Approaches to Storage in a Virtualized World


  • Product: Mercury Platform based on customized hardware and software
  • Cost: $45,000-$70,000 (estimated)/up to 2 nodes/1 petabyte (PB)
  • Vendor: Award-winning, multi-partnered supplier since 1998


  • Products: Multiple virtualized hardware and software options (including VMware)
  • Cost: Varies broadly by configuration
  • Vendor: 30-year-old market leader; 40-plus acquisitions since 2005


  • Products: HP StorageWorks X3000 Gateway; various MSA storage arrays
  • Cost: Starting at $10,000-$30,000 (without drives) based on configuration
  • Vendor: Just hired veteran Sun sales executive to grow storage, servers


  • Products: FAS 2000/3100 Series hardware; various software (including VMware)
  • Cost: Starting at $7,920; up to 136 terabytes (TB) of capacity (FAS2040)
  • Vendor: Offered first networked storage appliance in 1992


  • Products: vSphere "cloud operating system" (including vStorage software)
  • Cost: $795-$3,495/processor, depending on features; support additional
  • Vendor: Pioneering virtualization vendor; 22,000-plus channel partners


As you can see, there are a broad range of solutions and vendors attempting to deliver effective midmarket and enterprise solutions for storage in a virtualized world. And making "apples-to-apples" comparisons of capacities, configurations and costs is difficult, if not impossible in some cases. Below are some specific recommendations to help you make the most considered choices possible when you're ready to start talking to vendors and comparing storage solutions for your virtualized world:

When pursuing storage virtualization, know your needs.
Virtualization delivers significant business value when it's done right. But to get it right, it's critical that you understand and accurately prioritize the specific needs and goals you're trying to address with virtualization. Your application, processing and storage infrastructure and management policies, practices and solutions should reflect this criticality accurately. Know your business needs and goals, and make sure they inform every element of your computing, storage and information management efforts.

When seeking storage solutions for your virtualized environment, focus on business requirements for information availability, timeliness and business value — not simply on raw capacity. It doesn't matter how many gigabytes, terabytes or petabytes of capacity you have if a user can't get to the information they need to do their job when they need it.

When pursuing storage virtualization, give preference to solutions that integrate and interoperate with your other virtualization solutions and that are highly flexible, scalable and manageable. This is especially important for companies pursuing or considering application server virtualization, integration of cloud-based computing resources or other transformative initiatives. Seek out vendors with partnerships and certifications that support your organization's efforts and plans. You want your storage ecosystem to be a sail, not an anchor, as your business navigates potentially roiling competitive seas.

When considering specific storage virtualization solutions and vendors, look beyond incumbents — and the obvious. The best-known vendors or most publicly touted solutions may not be the best for your particular needs. Work with resellers, integrators and others who credibly demonstrate an understanding of your business and who focus on your needs, not their available solutions.

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