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Datacenter Infrastructure will Adapt to Virtualization or Die Trying
Article by Kieran Harty, CEO of Tintri
In 2009, virtualization crossed an important threshold. According to IDC, this was the first year that new virtual server deployments exceeded physical server deployments. For every physical server sold, more than one new virtual machine (VM) was created. This trend is accelerating - average VM-to-server consolidation ratios range from 6:1 to as high as 10:1.
While the typical datacenter is only about 25 percent to 30 percent virtualized today, companies plan to quickly expand beyond 50 percent. A 2010 survey by ESG Research showed that only 14 percent of companies had virtualized more than half of their servers at the end of 2010, but by the end of 2012 companies expect that will climb to 38 percent (see Figure 1, below).
However, there's a very real risk that virtualization projects will collide with economic constraints. In the same ESG survey, companies said that the storage capital and operational costs are among the top challenges they face (see Figure 2, below).
While virtual servers most frequently run applications migrated from physical servers, VMs have very different performance characteristics that affect all aspects of datacenter infrastructure and planning. What was until recently a niche technology relegated to testing or noncritical projects has emerged as the default model. A significant number of enterprises now have a virtualization-first policy for new servers - by default, applications are virtualized unless the business makes the case for physical servers.
These trends have profound implications for datacenter infrastructure, including these challenges:
- Wrong layer of abstraction: The server virtualization layer abstracts server resources. Networking, storage and other components are based on designs from a previrtualization era. VMware and the major networking vendors have made significant progress, but the back-end storage infrastructure is still struggling to adapt.
- IT management is disconnected from the VM: Monitoring, performance and storage management are still largely designed and implemented for the physical world; IT lacks visibility into key VM-level information. This makes planning and troubleshooting increasingly difficult.
- Infrastructure costs continue to rise: Storage is a significant culprit. According to VMware, storage accounts for up to 60 percent of virtualization deployment costs.
Storage systems are currently the furthest behind in adapting to these changes and pose the biggest barrier to virtualization. An InformationWeek article published earlier this fall, "Storage Hardware: Is the End Near?" details the premise that applications, operating systems and hypervisors are increasingly
offering functionality such as thin provisioning, snapshots, cloning and deduplication traditionally offered by storage hardware.
Virtualization, the increasing adoption of SSD technology and rapid data growth is putting storage under substantial pressure. However, what we are seeing is a bend in the road, rather than the end. New companies - unburdened by mature product lines designed for physical environments - demonstrate storage system innovation far beyond the legacy systems now being marginalized by host-based tools.
Tintri, for example, has built a VM-aware storage appliance designed and optimized for virtual servers from the ground up. This allows us to build in per-VM monitoring, control and quality-of-service that is impossible to obtain by adding increasingly complex management layers. The key is building virtualization functionality into the foundational layers of the storage system. This cannot be achieved by optimizing just the hardware or just the software, or by trying to build VM-awareness into a separate layer of management software on top of today's legacy storage.
In 2012, the inexorable growth of virtualization will accelerate. However, economic constraints and limited IT headcount will drive adoption of new storage architectures.
About the Author
Dr. Kieran Harty is CEO of Tintri, developer of the first truly VM-aware storage appliance designed from the ground up for desktop and server VMs. Before Tintri, Kieran was the EVP of Engineering at VMware and Chief Scientist at TIBCO.