File virtualization tops users’ priority list

By Kevin Komiega

According to a recent end-user survey by TheInfoPro (TIP) research firm, file-based virtualization technologies are topping the shopping lists of enterprise IT professionals as they battle faster-than-anticipated storage growth and mounting budget pressures.

TIP’s survey of Fortune 1000 companies shows that users are searching for better ways to consolidate file-based resources. Technologies under consideration include NAS gateways, data classification, and wide area file services (WAFS). The result is that file virtualization has jumped from number 15 to the top position on TIP’s Storage Technology Heat Index, which measures users’ spending and implementation plans. The survey was based on interviews with 154 storage professionals in Fortune 1000 companies.

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Robert Stevenson, managing director of TheInfoPro’s storage sector, says that in the last three TIP surveys information lifecycle management (ILM) strategies-including data migration, archiving, and classification-were at the top of the Technology Heat Index rankings. However, with the installed base of NAS devices growing rapidly, storage professionals have been focusing on improving file management via NAS, or file, virtualization (which is sometimes referred to as network file management, or NFM).

There are several factors driving the adoption of file virtualization technologies, but the most pressing issue is simply the skyrocketing growth of NAS capacity in data centers. According to TheInfoPro, the average size of NAS environments in the Fortune 1000 is approximately 224TB-more than double the average of just one year ago.

“A lot of the adoption [of file virtualization] has to do with migration workloads and overall NAS capacity,” says Stevenson. “We’re seeing a sizeable increase from previous surveys because the proliferation of file-based data is essentially pushing up overall NAS content in the enterprise. And it’s getting more and more difficult to manage.”

File virtualization technologies create a single pool of shared storage across multiple NAS filers under a single global namespace. The potential benefits of file virtualization include more-efficient capacity utilization and non-disruptive scaling and data migration. More importantly, perhaps, a single storage pool is easier to manage than multiple NAS systems.

Another major factor behind file virtualization’s growing popularity may be the relative simplicity of implementation. “It’s easier to work with file virtualization than it is to work with block-level virtualization because it’s something administrators have more control over,” says Stevenson.

Managing files in a virtual environment is easier than block-based approaches because block virtualization requires more cooks in the kitchen, according to Stevenson. “With block-based virtualization, you have to work with several other groups, such as business analysts, database administrators, and so on. It requires much more coordinated activity.”

In contrast, says Stevenson, file virtualization can be done almost exclusively in the context of the data center.

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TheInfoPro’s survey also shows that the bigger vendors have an early hold on the nascent file virtualization market, but that smaller vendors are gaining traction. Users rated EMC’s file virtualization solutions (acquired in its purchase of Rainfinity) as the leading “in-use” file virtualization solution, followed closely by Network Appliance’s offerings. However, when it comes to vendors currently under consideration, users also cited smaller vendors such as Acopia and NeoPath.

The increased interest in file virtualization-and other technologies related to storage consolidation and improved management-is due, in part, to rapidly escalating capacity growth.

For example, the average installed capacity at Fortune 1000 organizations jumped from 198TB in early 2005 to 680TB in October 2006. On average, storage capacity is doubling every 10 months.

According to TheInfoPro survey, the percentage of Fortune 1000 companies’ data-center budget that is dedicated to storage has also seen a rapid increase.

Almost half of the organizations interviewed stated that storage accounts for more than 15% of their data-center budget, with consolidation and virtualization strategies ranking high as the top cost-savings storage initiatives.

Stevenson says increasing budget pressures coupled with rapid capacity growth will impact storage infrastructures in many different ways. Topping the list will be a push for more server and storage consolidation projects. Stevenson also believes the same pressures are forcing end users to re-architect their backup infrastructures.

Some of the technologies expected to increase in popularity as a result of these trends are server/storage virtualization and new tools for archiving.

According to Stevenson, “Virtualization is going to accelerate, and end users want to do archiving in a more-intelligent way by using a combination of data classification, de-duplication, and compression.”

This article was originally published on December 01, 2006