vSphere Integration and Storage Intelligence Trump Hardware Features in What Today’s Users Expect from Midrange Arrays

In Q2 2010 DCIG released its first ever Buyer’s Guide of any kind on the topic of Midrange Arrays. But in the year or so that has passed since the release of that Buyer’s Guide, a seismic shift has occurred in terms of what users are looking for midrange arrays to deliver and storage capacity is no longer at the top of their list. Rather vSphere integration and storage intelligence have become their new hot buttons in terms of what they expect midrange arrays to deliver which is resulting in a shake-up in terms of which midrange arrays users should give top priority.

The DCIG 2010 Midrange Array Buyer’s Guide admittedly put a premium on the hardware features that midrange arrays offer. That Buyer’s Guide looked at such items such as how the storage controllers were configured (Active-Active, Active-Standby, Dual Active), what capacity and speed disk drives the midrange array supported, the storage networking interfaces supported and what types of connections were internally used to connect to the disk drives.

But the big area of differentiation – and a point of emphasis – in the 2010 Midrange Array Buyer’s Guide was the hardware of the midrange array itself. It is not that software features were not considered but in discussions with the users involved with putting together that Buyer’s Guide, most were NOT in a position to really capitalize on the midrange array’s software features. Granted, there were some exceptions to that but it really came down to the physical innards of the midrange array and how much storage capacity the midrange array could deliver.

This year there has been a notable divergence from that paradigm and a new interest on the part of users in the intelligence that midrange arrays offer. As the momentum around server virtualization in general and VMware specifically has grown, the level of integration that a midrange array offers with VMware has taken on a new level of importance. Increasingly supporting vStorage APIs is no longer viewed as a “nicety” but as a “must have” by users that need to maximize storage utilization and application performance on their midrange array.

Further, as organizations continue to virtualize more of their business and even their mission critical applications, this is a heightened demand for features that many of these midrange arrays have offered for a number of years. As a result, features such as automated storage tiering (AST), thin provisioning, snapshots, system wide disk striping, automated data redistribution and zero block reclamation have moved beyond interesting, nice-to-have technologies to becoming necessities in these new virtual environments.

Adding to the demand for these features is that neither the vSphere OS nor the OSes on the VMs are really designed to perform some of these tasks. Sure there are some platforms such as Symantec Storage Foundation or emerging solutions such as the one from Virsto Software that offer some or even all of the features that midrange arrays offer. But these solutions require access to the servers and the flexibility to install their software on the physical machines. That is not a luxury every IT organization has.

So these organizations as they implement server virtualization are put in a position where they must select midrange arrays that offer the vSphere integration and software intelligence they need. Otherwise they run the risk of putting in place a new storage infrastructure that does more than fails to optimize the capacity and performance on the midrange array. They run the risk of their applications under performing even as they run up unanticipated storage costs as they are forced to scale up in this new environment.

The storage environment has changed mightily in the last 12 – 18 months but not in terms of what features storage arrays have to offer. Those features have arguably been available for anywhere from 1 – 7 years on multiple midrange arrays depending on the feature in question. Rather what has changed is the new realization on the part of users that it is now critical that their midrange arrays support these features so they can in turn support and manage their newly virtualized environment.

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