Veritas Storage Foundation 5.1 for Windows Gets Resounding “YES”; Still Flailing in Its VMware Support

Symantec’s Veritas Storage Foundation Suite has come a long way from its humble beginnings virtualizing disk storage devices. The multitude of factors that it needs to account for and manage in today’s complex data centers is staggering: clustering, multipathing, multiple operating systems and storage systems, and SCSI-3 persistent reservation bits are just some of the base line features it needs to manage. In the meantime, new challenges like thinly provisioned storage system volumes, synchronizing mirrors and snapshots across storage systems and virtualizing virtual machine volumes have emerged while the traditional challenges remain. The question is, does Symantec’s latest 5.1 release of Veritas Storage Foundation for Windows still merit consideration in today’s data centers?

I suspect most data center storage people will respond with a resounding yes. Take Veritas Storage Foundation away and you take away their primary means of managing storage on many of their mission-critical data center servers. Aside from addressing most of the issues mentioned above, it provides companies a common way to manage storage on any server operating system across their enterprise.

This value proposition of Veritas Storage Foundation can be more difficult to quantify with 10, 15 or maybe even 20 servers. On a larger scale, however, Symantec has positioned Storage Foundation as an enterprise platform for managing storage across tens, hundreds or even thousands of servers (up to 3,000) with different operating systems and various types of backend storage – direct attached, iSCSI SAN, FC SAN or internal disk. In these circumstances, the value proposition of logging onto a central console to identify what storage is assigned to what server and how each server accesses and uses that storage is incalculable.

Nowhere are the storage management problems that Veritas Volume Manager solves more evident than in large Windows environments. Enterprise companies can have hundreds or even thousands of Windows servers but only a fraction of that many individuals to manage them. Ratios of 50 or more Windows servers to every 1 administrator are common with storage management just one of their many responsibilities. In these circumstances, centralizing and simplifying storage management is imperative.

Veritas Storage Foundation 5.1 for Windows helps them do that in a couple of ways. First, appropriately managing thinly provisioned storage system volumes is rapidly because a requirement. The major challenge with thinly provisioned volumes is migrating data at the block level from an existing volume to a thinly provisioned volume. In these circumstances, all blocks are migrated, even unutilized blocks. This negates one of the benefits of thinly provisioned storage system volumes since it is supposed to prevent this type of over provisioning. 5.1 maintains this benefit of thinly provisioned volumes with its new SmartMove feature which recognizes which blocks are utilized on the source volume and only migrates those utilized blocks to the thinly provisioned target volume.

Storage Foundation 5.1 for Windows also adds some nice features to better support high end, mission critical applications such as Microsoft Exchange or SQL Server applications that run on Windows. These applications may reside on clustered Windows servers that also use EMC’s DMX SRDF multiple replication features. The EMC replication features make copies of this data on other EMC storage systems at other sites using a combination of synchronous mirrors, asynchronous copies and snapshots. While only mission critical, high end applications deploy these types of systems and features, Storage Foundation 5.1 for Windows can recognize these EMC storage system features at different sites and coordinate the recovery of the data and application.

However Storage Foundation 5.1 for Windows is flailing when it comes to providing the right level of support for Windows servers operating as VMware virtual machines (VMs). Administrators can still obtain the base line storage volume and management functions to which they are accustomed but the inability to use Storage Foundations’ dual multipathing (DMP) when running on a VMware VM is going to start to haunt Symantec in this and future releases if it wants to preserve its status as the de facto enterprise volume manager.

Part of the problems stems from VMware’s unwillingness to share the keys with Symantec as to how VMware’s OS manages storage. While this is not a huge deal (only 5% of servers are virtualized now) VMware’s refusal to do so becomes extremely problematic for Symantec long term. The number of virtual machines is only going to go up, not down, and Symantec is currently on the outside looking on with little or no leverage to apply against VMware. If VMware continues to refuse to cooperate with Symantec and develops its own volume manager along the way, Symantec may find that customer needs for its volume manager on VMware VMs will get virtualized in the future as well.

 

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