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Virtualization has promise, but not panacea

While hardware costs are going down, the overall cost of IT infrastructure management is going up. IBM and analysts try to sell virtualization as a solution.

Although more disk space is needed to keep pace with exploding storage demands, most data center managers believe adding more equipment isn't going to solve the issue.

And a growing number of them -- including Brian Perlstein, an IT technical architect with Oakwood Healthcare System in Dearborn, Mich. -- are turning to virtualization tools to help consolidate equipment in his data center. His aim is not only to increase available floor space, but also to reduce related heating and cooling problems.

Perlstein uses IBM's SAN Volume Controller, software designed to simplify storage management by creating a single virtual pool of storage resources. This allows data center managers to view a heterogeneous back-end storage environment -- including other vendors' disk, such as EMC -- as a single entity.

"We've got 20 to 30 terabytes of data on our pSeries and we've got two people running them," said Perlstein. "With the SAN Volume Controller I don't have to spend as much time provisioning storage. I'm getting 70%-80% utilization with two people."

IT managers are going to be storing five times as many terabytes as they are now, but they are not going to be hiring five times the amount of people to handle that capacity.
Richard Villars
vice president of storage systemsIDC

If it only takes five minutes to provision storage, Perlstein doesn't need three people to do the job, which frees up personnel for other tasks. But despite his enthusiasm for virtualization tools, he knows virtualization is not a panacea for cutting staff or costs.

"No employer wants to hire more people today," said Perlstein, "but it's a fallacy to think that you can get rid of people with virtualization. You can utilize people in a more efficient manner. The amount of work our customers are throwing at us, we don't have the people to cover it."

"Soon, IT managers are going to be storing five times as many terabytes as they are now, but they are not going to be hiring five times the amount of people to handle that capacity," said IDC vice president of storage systems, Richard Villars.

Despite virtualization's promise, there are barriers to adoption. According to analysts, data centers have become so fragile that administrators are hesitant to mess with the existing infrastructure, since any changes may set off a series of events that can disrupt crucial systems or services. Consequently, many enterprises are restricted in deploying innovative applications that could potentially create competitive advantage.

Regardless of the increase in the use of virtualization tools, reports still indicate that a large number of data centers won't even consider virtualization. IBM, however, has chosen to spin it in an entirely different direction.

A big proponent of the "do more with less" concept, IBM boasted its IBM SAN Volume Controller (SVC) software during an industry briefing Wednesday, claiming it had already chalked up 1,000 customers since the product was released two years ago. It also said that during the next two years, it believed that number would reach 10,000.

Perhaps the most noteworthy point is that IBM says the majority of customers are running SVC on the server, as opposed to the appliance -- including its newest customer, Cisco. IBM also sells SVC as a blade for Cisco Systems Inc.'s MDS line of Fibre Channel, but IBM admits that despite being more scalable, the switch approach is expensive.

For more information:

Chip makers move to boost virtual machines

IBM to standardize VMware on BladeCenter shipments

"Large shops run lots of other people's stuff: IBM gear, HDS and EMC. Each has its own management console. If we can put storage on virtualization, we can manage it as one big pool," said Dianne McAdam, senior analyst and partner with Nashua, N.H.-based Data Mobility Group. "Think about the training it would save for customers with multi-vendor shops."

McAdam also sees a strong case for virtualization for customers leasing disk.

"A large customer would replace leased hardware every two or three years," said McAdam. "When I worked in IT, I used to have to come in on weekends to move that data. Now you have a lot more data to move, and you still need to be up and running during that time. SAN Volume Controller allows people to do that."

IBM hopes this will simplify storage tasks like provisioning to the point that IT managers could reposition storage network controllers to do other tasks or hire less of them to do the same job.

Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail: Matt Stansberry, News Editor

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