One of my favorite all time movies is The Terminator. It is one of those timeless classics whose video was less than optional, it had some cheesy special effects and it contained dialog that was highlighted by “I’ll be back.” Yet despite these flaws what carried The Terminator and still makes it popular to this day was its compelling story line.
The idea that computers will someday turn on man and take over the world has always been popular. To its credit The Terminator arguably executed on this story line better than most. This is probably a big part of the reason that it has remained popular as long as it has and has spawned other movies with comparable story lines such as “I, Robot.”
Curiously I see something similar happening in the storage space today. A decade ago a number of companies burst onto the scene with storage virtualization solutions that had compelling value propositions.
I know I was one of those taken in by it. The idea that one could decouple the storage controllers (where the storage intelligence resided) from hard disk drives was extremely appealing to me.
At the time I was working as a storage engineer in a Fortune 500 data center and there were a number of problems that I consistently encountered that made storage virtualization particularly appealing to me.
- Inconsistency in user account administration. Each storage array had its own administrative login and password with no easy means to consolidate all of these administrative accounts into one. While logging into just one or even a storage arrays was not an issue, my environment grew to over 30 storage arrays for which I was responsible. As such, the user account management for all of these storage arrays became quite cumbersome.
- Storage silos. As the number of storage arrays under my management grew, keeping track of how much capacity was available on each storage array and then allocating additional storage to the right server became a delicate balancing act. Further, not every storage array concurrently supported every operating system. As a result, there was one time I unwittingly presented storage to an AIX server on the same port that a Sun server was accessing an Oracle database. This resulted in a corruption of the Oracle production database and an outage of a few hours.
- Data mobility. This was by far and away my biggest headache. As storage array refreshes occurred, migrating data from one storage array to another could take months to complete, if it ever completed at all. There was at least one occasion it took my team six months to complete the migration of data of 20 servers from one storage array to another. But in talking to some of the consultants who were assisting us, they said we were lucky. They were assigned to another account where they had been working on a data migration that had already lasted 18 months.
It was for these three reasons that I was gung-ho about storage virtualization as far back as 2002. But as I came to painfully understand, the versions of storage virtualization that were available then only made for a good show.
Storage virtualization was still too rough around the edges to be considered for wide spread adoption. Its features were less than fully baked. Those features that did work were more midrange than enterprise class. The vendors that did offer storage virtualization could not answer a lot of the hard questions around interoperability and vendor certifications that they needed in order to successfully implement and support it in enterprise environments.
But just like The Terminator and its sequels, the story line around storage virtualization has gotten better as subsequent releases have come out and it too is back with better technology with better use cases to support its adoption.
What is in part leading to storage virtualization being back in vogue is that more companies are virtualizing their server infrastructure. As they do, they are recognizing they need to accelerate their adoption of storage virtualization so they can derive the same benefits from virtualizing their storage as they are seeing when they virtualize their servers (consolidation, data mobility, increased utilization, etc.)
It is as they do so that they will see that storage virtualization is much more mature than it was a decade or so ago. A lot of the interoperability issues are gone, features like replication, snapshots, storage tiering and thin provisioning work and every major storage vendor now has an enterprise level storage virtualization offering.
The Terminator and storage virtualization share a lot in common in this sense. Their initial offerings were less than perfect but it is their compelling story line that kept both of them alive (though Arnold as the lead in The Terminator probably didn’t hurt its case any.) It is because storage virtualization’s story line was so compelling that it has evolved, is now available in many forms and, just like the machines in The Terminator, is back and readying to take over data centers in the very near future.