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In the New Wild West of Storage, the Virt Admin is Sheriff

Welcome to Virtualization and Beyond

In the New Wild West of Storage, the Virt Admin is Sheriff

By Michael Thompson, Director, Systems Management Product Marketing, SolarWinds

Virtualization and storage have always been tightly bound. After all, keeping both in sync is critical for VM and ultimately application performance. A key difference these days is that while there is still some change happening in the virtualization space with new capabilities like those in VMware vSphere 6 or what's expected in the next Windows Server Hyper-V release, overall, the virtualization landscape is relatively calm. Storage, on the other hand, is in the middle of an upheaval like we haven't seen since the days when SAN and NAS technology were new.

In fact, storage is the new Wild West of the technology landscape, with a flood of new vendors and technology vying for companies' IT dollars. From virtual storage to all flash drives to auto-tiering across storage drive types to hyperconverged systems, storage innovation is all the rage. I recently attended a couple VMUG events, including those in Austin and Silicon Valley, and my unscientific poll indicated that at least one-third of the vendors in the expo areas were pitching something to do with storage (I'm including the hyperconvergence vendors).

But while storage is the focus of many of these efforts, virtualization is really the catalyst of the advances-the performance demands of virtualization, especially in terms of IOPs demand, are the driving force for storage innovation. So, just like the Wild West when all the cowboys (i.e., new storage technologies) would ride into town on a Friday night to cause havoc and chaos, a sheriff (i.e., the virtualization admin) is needed to make sure everyone plays nicely together.

As that sheriff, here are some things you need to know.

All-Flash Storage Drives

Given the very high IOPs load that all-flash/SSD drives can handle, this technology is naturally near the top of many people's list of storage technologies to consider. While these devices can be a great solution to the problem, it can often lead to just throwing money at the problem, resulting in expensive capacity that isn't fully utilized. Optimizing such an investment typically would be achieved by aligning within the virtualization layer to segregate workload based on performance so specific datastores or cluster shared volumes are aligned with the appropriate backend technology. But if you align all your high performance VMs and applications with a specific set of datastores and high performance LUNs, know you have to be extra careful that you aren't going to create other performance bottlenecks in the virtual layer (e.g., hosts, clusters, etc.).

Capacity Still Matters

Expensive, high-performance flash drives are designed for performance, but tend to be expensive in terms of capacity. Some vendors have complex auto-tiering systems, but those systems can also be pretty pricy. As a result, the combined virtualization and storage team can counter that with careful planning, end-to-end monitoring and visibility and cross-team communication to identify mismatches between capacity and performance, high IOPs systems with significant amounts of inactive data and thin versus thick provisioned capacity.

Application Alignment

It's pretty easy to just look at VM performance and optimize based on that. If a given VM is hammering a system with high IOPs, the virtualization admin can vMotion or Storage vMotion the VM to higher performing systems or move other VMs off to free resources. But without visibility into the applications running on those VMs, that could be the wrong decision-you could be optimizing for a demanding but medium-importance application at the cost of a more important but less resource intensive business application. As a result, automated relationship mapping can be critical to overall application performance management.

As with many things, it is possible to solve problems by just throwing lots of expensive technology at a problem. However, that tends to be an approach that catches up with you over time, either with complex systems that are hard to manage or because management eventually doesn't see the payback on their investment. On the other hand, a lot can be done with careful investment in technology combined with good, old-fashioned planning, management and communication across the virtualization and storage environments.

Good luck out there, pardner!

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About the Author

Michael Thompson, Director, Systems Management Product Marketing, SolarWinds. 

Michael has worked in the IT management industry for more than 14 years, including leading product management teams and portfolios in the storage and virtualization/cloud spaces for IBM. He holds a master of business administration and a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering. 

Make sure to also read, "Cage Match: IT Simplicity vs. IT Capability" and "The Hybrid Cloud - Choose Wisely"

Published Wednesday, April 22, 2015 6:26 AM by David Marshall
Comments
Virtualization Security on the Front Lines : @VMblog - (Author's Link) - June 30, 2015 10:04 AM
On-Premises versus Cloud-Based Storage : @VMblog - (Author's Link) - August 3, 2015 6:31 AM
The Virtualization Automation Journey : @VMblog - (Author's Link) - August 24, 2015 7:00 AM
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