Although virtualization can be as simple as partitioning a single PC hard drive or as complicated as a distributed network of hundreds of storage servers, the goal-and most often, the result-is the same: better use of resources, more control over storage and an improved return on investment.
However, as each system becomes larger and more complex, the key to better server deployment is how well a businesss virtualization management software works.
Analysts at companies such as IDC, Gartner and Forrester Research report that 75 percent of Fortune 2000 companies are now using some form of virtualization every day in production environments. As more and more content pours into business storage coffers, more-and more accurate-ways of accessing and retrieving business information will be needed.
IDC analyst Michelle Bailey has spotted a widening gap between storage virtualization and the automated ability to control it. A number of companies old and new are stepping up to address this issue as the gap expands.
A key problem: how and when to partition a storage server-or any server, for that matter-to the best advantage of the IT system?
"Thats the key area were going to see grow big-time over the next five to 10 years," Bailey said. "More and better virtualization management controls are going to be needed. With applications, hardware, services and people changing all the time, the business and system requirements are also changing. All these variables require adjustments from the IT staff-unless a lot [of the adjustments] are automated. The key is to get the business folks and IT staff together on the same page.
"When you set up a partition for a Web-based app, for example, you have to set up a DNS [Domain Name System] address for it, and the [partition] size may vary. And the networking will change. New tools to help accommodate this-instead of requiring hours of staff time-are going to be very important in the years to come," Bailey said.
Scalent, a 3-year-old company also based in Palo Alto, has set its sights exactly in that direction. The company offers a separate operating-system-agnostic software layer positioned under the operating system that allows the pieces of a storage server system to be moved around at will and then put back into place as needed.
Its all done on a single-page console.
"Making changes to a virtualized server can be painful," said Kevin Epstein, vice president for marketing at Scalent. "With our software, an administrator can reach in, turn off certain machines or partitions which aren't being used enough, or reapportion partitions. It also virtualizes the networking and storage connections to make those movable. We call it rack once, reconfigure infinitely."
Other companies in the virtual storage space don't agree with Scalent's approach.
"We dont see the difficulty of making changes in virtualized servers at all," said Mike Grandinetti, vice president and chief marketing officer of server virtualization software provider Virtual Iron, in Lowell, Mass. "We mask the complexity of virtualized servers with an integrated approach built right into the server software. We don't need another layer of software to do the job."
Hitachi Data Systems is the only storage hardware and software maker to build its virtualization management tools right into the head controller. EMC's VMware division, the largest-selling virtualization software organization, as well as HP, Sun Microsystems and IBM, also plan to announce updated virtualization tools this year.
"Our whole strategy in moving people to the data center of the future is to simplify all administration and make modular the software and hardware as much as possible," said Olivier Helleboid, HP's vice president of adaptive infrastructure, who oversees the IT giant's coordination of software, hardware and services for enterprises.
"Complexity and unused resources usually almost always result in wasted time, effort and money. This is the biggest source of tension between business and IT."