If You Are Talking Enterprise Server Virtualization You Better Include IBM’s Unified Storage Solution in that Conversation

Any time that anyone in any size business starts to talk about how to improve IT efficiency while driving down costs the topic of server virtualization inevitably comes up. But enterprise companies need to take that conversation to another level and make sure they talk about selecting the right networked storage solution to support their virtualized servers as the wrong storage solution may negate whatever benefits that server virtualization provides. To avoid that scenario any conversation that an enterprise shop has around virtual servers and storage should include a unified storage solution such as the IBM N series throughout.

The decision to deploy server virtualization in any size organization is usually driven by the following three factors:

  • It decreases hardware and software costs
  • It improves IT efficiency in delivering new applications
  • It improves resource utilization

But this is where the similarities between what server virtualization deployments in small and large businesses look like. Small businesses may get by with commodity storage in support of their virtual servers. But enterprise organizations need to virtualize hundreds, thousands or even tens of thousands of servers which demands they deploy storage solutions that solve enterprise level problems.

Due to the size and scope of these virtualized server implementations, networked storage solutions become the default solution. But these storage systems are not created equally and differ in their abilities to:

  • Allocate storage capacity to virtual machines (VMs) as they need it
  • Allocate the right type of storage capacity and/or performance to VMs that need it
  • Efficiently and effectively use their internal storage capacity
  • Internally scale to meet increasing storage and performance demands of VMs
  • Make available the right storage networking protocol to each VM
  • Provide the appropriate data protection options that VM environments need

It is because networked storage solutions differ so dramatically that the initial savings from server virtualization are sometimes consumed and even exceeded by the costs associated with deploying a networked storage solution that lacks these options. It is for these reasons that it is imperative when enterprise organizations select a networked storage solution that it have the right cross section of features.

While there are many such networked storage systems available, a hybrid networked storage system known as unified storage emerges as a favored choice for virtual servers for the following two reasons:

  • Concurrent support of multiple storage protocols. Concurrent support of SAN (FC, FCoE, iSCSI) and NAS (CIFS, NFS) sets unified storage systems apart from other networked storage solutions. By supporting all of these protocols, organizations may consolidate all of their storage onto a single system plus it gives them the flexibility to use the most appropriate protocol for each application.
  • Avoids costs of deploying multiple storage systems. If an organization uses separate storage systems for SAN and NAS, the storage each one contains need to be managed separately and there is option to share excess capacity on one with the other. Unified storage systems free organizations to create a single logical pool of storage that can be allocated to either NAS or SAN attached application servers.

However in enterprise environments, networked storage solution needs to be more than just multi-protocol or create a single logical pool of storage. Multi-protocol support certainly helps to lower storage networking costs, improve IT efficiency and increase storage utilization but multi-protocol support is only piece of the larger storage puzzle.

An enterprise unified storage solution needs to support other features for it to truly meet all of the requirements that an enterprise organization will have. Features it should offer include:

  • Snapshots for faster backups and recoveries. Server virtualization changes the conversation around data protection and traditional backup methods eventually hit a wall. Snapshot functionality is a prerequisite in these environments and for it to be considered enterprise class it should also integrate with leading enterprise backup software.
  • Deduplication and thin provisioning for efficient storage utilization. Server virtualization tends to result in storage over provisioning and spawn server virtualization sprawl. Deduplication and thin provisioning are two key technologies that the storage system must support to mitigate the impact of these technologies.
  • Multiple tiers of storage.  Server virtualization results in the aggregation of applications that create new demands for the right type of storage for each application to accommodate capacity, performance or both. To deliver on this the storage system must provide multiple tiers of storage with different price points and performance features.
  • Scalable so as the storage or performance requirements grow, so can the storage system. The challenging aspect of managing virtual server environments is that organizations can rarely if ever predict what they will need their storage system to provide more – capacity, performance or both. To accommodate the unpredictability of these environments, the storage system must be able to scale in either of these directions.

In this respect, IBM’s unified storage solution, the N series, has already demonstrated why it is such a good fit for virtual server deployments and explains why more businesses are adopting it to meet these exact needs. It offers:

  • Deduplication and thin provisioning for primary storage
  • Concurrent multi-protocol support so businesses can cost-effectively connect their servers – virtual or physical – using whatever SAN or NAS protocol is most for that application.
  • Multiple tiers of storage
  • Clustering technology so organizations can scale out capacity, performance or both
  • Snapshot support that integrates with leading enterprise backup software
  • VMware certification

Two of the features that specifically stand out on the IBM N series are its Deduplication and Snapshot features. In the IBM portfolio of storage solutions, the N series is the only one that can deduplicate data on primary storage which is already being identified as a “must-have” feature for virtualized environments.

Preliminary DCIG research has found that early adopters of deduplicating data in virtualized environments have achieved data reduction ratios of 20:1 or greater. So businesses are essentially leaving money on the table if they do not use storage systems with this technology.

The N series’ Snapshot feature provides an equally compelling argument for adoption in virtualized environments. Storage system based snapshots are becoming the preferred mechanism for protecting virtual machines since they eliminate backup windows and impact on VMs.

While the N series Snapshot feature also provides this functional
ity, it stands apart from many othe
r competing solutions as it creates VM snapshots without needing extra storage capacity. Further, because of the N series integration with many leading enterprise backup software products, its snapshots can be discovered and either backed up to tape or used as a primary source for recovery.

Conversations around server virtualization often start with better delivering on IT efficiency and cutting costs. It is for those reasons that companies invite IBM to the table since it has such a strong legacy in providing server hardware as well as service and support.

But conversations about enterprise server virtualization deployments inevitably turn to storage. It is when they do that businesses need to make networked storage in general and unified storage specifically a part of that conversation. Further, they need to make sure IBM continues to have a seat at the table as that discussion occurs.

DCIG’s research has shown that the IBM N series is one of the most compelling unified storage solutions for virtual server deployments within businesses. Yes, it provides the next generation unified storage interface that companies need for their virtualized server deployments. But it just as importantly provides the underlying scale-out storage architecture that will help ensure a server virtualization deployment is not just a flash in the pan when it comes to lowering costs and improving IT efficiency. Rather it is designed to continue to deliver these benefits that companies expect when they talk about their server virtualization deployment in the years to come.

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