Virtualization activity picks up

By Heidi Biggar

Although storage virtualization is still in its infancy, a December 2004 IT spending survey conducted by Goldman Sachs shows strong interest in the technology among Fortune 1000 companies, despite a slight dip in interest since last fall.

Of the 100 IT managers surveyed by Goldman Sachs, 51% said they were considering implementing storage virtualization products over the next 12 months. This compares to 65% of respondents in October 2004 (see figure).

Click here to enlarge image

Some of the decrease in interest in virtualization, however, may be attributable to a general slowdown in IT spending, not to anything specific to the technology itself. According to the survey, the number of companies that plan to increase IT spending has gone down since October. For example, of the 100 respondents to the December survey, only 4% said “they were willing or able to spend significantly more than they could two months ago,” compared to 16% of the respondents in the October survey. Along these same lines, only 27% of respondents in December said they expected IT spending to accelerate in the first half of 2005, versus 44% of respondents in the October survey.

Survey respondents who said they were considering implementing virtualization over the next 12 months were also asked to identify who they thought were the two leading companies in this market segment. Interestingly, 26% cited EMC, which won’t ship its first virtualization product (“Storage Router”) until later this year, while 19% checked off IBM, which has been shipping an appliance version of its TotalStorage SAN Volume Controller (SVC) since July 2003 and a blade implementation of SVC for use with Cisco’s MDS 9000 switches since December 2003.

Only 3% of respondents checked off Hitachi, which announced its Tagma-Store Universal Storage Platform (USP) platform last September, as a leading player in storage virtualization. Recent virtualization market entrants Network Appliance and Sun Microsystems received 6% and 4% of respondents’ votes, respectively. Veritas, the only software-only vendor on the list, received 13% of the vote.

NetApp’s V play

In March, Network Appliance announced its V-Series storage virtualization systems, which combine NetApp’s gFiler technology with its Data ONTAP 7G software to enable users to virtualize data at both the block (e.g., SAN) and file (NAS) level under a common architecture.

The V-Series supports both Network Appliance and third-party storage on the back-end, including disk arrays from Hewlett-Packard, Hitachi, IBM, and Sun. Users can configure the systems to create a tiered storage environment.

“The announcement represents a re-labeling and repositioning of NetApp’s existing gFiler NAS gateway that more clearly exposes the advanced capabilities [e.g., automated provisioning, rapid recovery, disk-based backup, replication, etc.] of ONTAP 7G,” says Richard Villars, vice president, storage systems, at International Data Corp. (IDC). “[In making this announcement], NetApp is clearly stating it has the hardware and software technologies needed to be a primary supplier of network controller solutions for enterprises that want common data management services across an array of heterogeneous storage systems.”

Other vendors of what IDC refers to as “network controller solutions” include Hitachi, IBM (SVC) and, most recently, Sun. “These vendors have taken the controller logic out of the disk array and put it into the network [on some sort of device],” says Villars.

The V-Series is available from NetApp and its channel partners. IBM, which inked an OEM deal with NetApp last month, will resell the product (see “IBM, NetApp team up to fight EMC,” p. 10).

Sun virtualizes

At last month’s Storage Networking World (SNW) show, Sun previewed the next release of its mid-tier StorEdge 6920 disk array, which, similar to Hitachi’s TagmaStore USP, will be able to virtualize multi-vendor storage on the back-end (initially, EMC’s Clariion CX Series and HP’s StorageWorks EVA disk arrays).

Other features include support for synchronous and asynchronous replication, local mirroring, and enhanced snapshot capabilities.

The 6920 is due next month with a starting price of $168,000, not including software options. (Sun also resells Hitachi’s TagmaStore USP under the StorEdge 9990 brand.)

Switch-based virtualization

As for the switch vendors, in the Goldman Sachs survey Cisco was most often cited by users, with 11% of the votes, followed by Brocade with 6% and McData with 3%. Of these three vendors, only Cisco is currently shipping virtualization capabilities.

IBM has ported its SVC virtualization technology to Cisco’s MDS 9000 switches, and EMC is expected to go to market with support for both Cisco’s MDS switches and Brocade’s SilkWorm Fabric Application Platform. Support for McData’s intelligent switches will follow. Veritas has also ported its Volume Manager software to Cisco’s switches.

With the recent push from leading storage vendors, analysts expect virtualization to finally take off-not necessarily as a stand-alone product but as an enabler of a variety of storage services.

Storage Virtualization-the book

In case you didn’t think that virtualization is a hot topic, Addison-Wesley just released an entire book on the subject: Storage Virtualization: Technologies for Simplifying Data Storage and Management, by Tom Clark.

Click here to enlarge image

The 234-page book was written for IT managers and administrators, architects, analysts, consultants, and vendors, according to the author, and covers everything from basic virtualization concepts to emerging standards.

Tom Clark is also the author of Designing Storage Area Networks and IP SANs, both available from Addison-Wesley.

InfoStor will print an excerpt from Storage Virtualization in our next (June) issue.

This article was originally published on May 01, 2005