One Big Bucket of Data

Virtualization systems meld storage into a single network resource

E-businesses storage requirements keep growing faster than a litter of rottweiler puppies. To help I-managers keep a leash on their data, storage virtualization technologies promise to simplify management and enable any application to access any storage system — from anywhere.

The concept of storage virtualization has been around for several years, but only recently have products come to market that let servers tap into storage systems from multiple vendors, regardless of where that storage physically resides. The adoption of storage virtualization is riding on the heels of storage area network deployments, industry executives say, because it combines the benefits of a SANs high availability and high performance with the ability to manage everything as a logical whole, rather than in a device-centric manner.

"Now that SANs are becoming more prevalent, you have the opportunity to create a cloud of data through virtualization software," says Lisa Forsythe, solutions product marketing director of Veritas Software, which is adding virtualization features to its SANPoint Control storage management software.

In the next few years, its going to be the fastest-growing segment of the storage management software market, according to Gartner Dataquest. The firm projects revenue from storage virtualization products will be $307.3 million this year, growing to $1.2 billion by 2005.

Several factors are feeding the need for storage virtualization. Chief among them is that storage is growing faster than companies are able to hire administrators to handle it. Storage capacity doubles every 12 to 15 months, and a Unix administrator today is expected to manage an average of 600 gigabytes of data, Gartner says. Storage virtualization addresses the problem of managing multiple storage systems by consolidating them into a single view, which means the entire infrastructure can be managed from one location — at least in theory.

"This market is just starting to be exploited," says Ken Horner, marketing vice president of DataCore Software, a 3-year-old company in the storage virtualization space. "People are saying, Now that Ive bought all this storage, how am I going to manage it? "

Virtualization systems also let customers mix and match storage products from multiple vendors — thus ending vendor lock-in, says Dan Tanner, an Aberdeen Group storage analyst. "The marketplace definitely wants that," he says.

Virtualization systems offer other benefits. For example, Tanner says, one-third of all storage outages happen during a planned reconfiguration of a storage system — a problem that virtualization can end right off the bat, since virtualization systems handle the complexity of reallocating storage resources under the covers. Also, storage virtualization makes more efficient use of the storage. According to industry estimates, some SAN implementations leave up to 40 percent of storage capacity unused because it is unavailable to other applications.

"With virtualization, storage that would have been wasted can be reallocated," says Dave Lamont, marketing vice president of Vicom Systems, which sells a storage virtualization appliance. "The server doesnt know — nor does it care — where that storage comes from. All it knows is that it works."

The storage industrys biggest vendors have taken notice of the trend. In July, Hewlett-Packard acquired Bridgewater, N.J., StorageApps for $350 million in stock. StorageApps, now an HP subsidiary, sells an appliance called SANlink that connects servers to multiple back-end storage systems over Fibre Channel, Small Computer System Interface (SCSI, pronounced SKUZ-zy) or TCP/IP connections. Meanwhile, Compaq Computer, EMC, Hitachi Data Systems and IBM have announced intentions to deliver virtualization capabilities in their lines of storage products. But analysts say these offerings either fall short of delivering full multivendor support or arent shipping yet, as is the case with Compaqs VersaStor system.

But by and large, smaller players and startups are more aggressively pushing storage virtualization. This group includes DataCore, FalconStor, StoreAge Networking Technologies, Seagate Technologys XIOtech subsidiary and Vicom.

FalconStor, founded last year, is one of the better-known startups in the field; its IPStor software can aggregate SCSI- or Fibre Channel-connected storage resources and deliver the data over IP. The company believes its positioned to stay around a while. Last month, FalconStor became listed on Nasdaq through a reverse merger with Network Peripherals Inc., and after that transaction, the company has $65 million in cash and plans to accelerate its R&D, says ReiJane Huai, FalconStors president and CEO.

The deal was also critical in helping FalconStor separate itself from the pack of other storage virtualization players, Huai says. "From a customer point of view, most of the major enterprises are going to feel much more comfortable working with us because were a publicly traded company."

Adding to the mix of virtualization products are hybrid IP-based storage switches, such as those from Cereva Networks, Nishan Systems and Pirus Networks. These systems, which attempt to combine the speed of SANs with the flexibility of network-attached storage, can also integrate legacy storage.

"Today, you can go buy the pieces from other vendors — you can buy a storage virtualization software product from FalconStor or whoever," says Richard Napolitano, president and CEO of Pirus. "Were crossing all different segments." The Acton, Mass., startup plans to start shipping the Pirus Storage Utility Switch by the end of the year.

No matter how theyre packaged, though, storage virtualization technologies are almost certain to become part of every enterprises storage infrastructure. Jason Thomas, manager of backup and recovery practice of Collective Technologies, an IT management services company in Austin, Texas, says virtualization will be a requirement for building networked storage. In particular, he sees demand for systems that are able to dynamically reallocate storage by themselves.

"Virtualization is going to have to happen, as we continue to do more with less," Thomas says. "People want to squeeze as much out of the orange as they can."