Storage Management in a Virtual Server World
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As an increasing number of workloads are deployed in virtual server environments, an interesting question arises: What is the role of the storage administrator in a virtual server world?
Enormous data growth has brought significant challenges to managing the storage required to hold all that data. Storage networks have become large and complex, with the tasks of planning, provisioning, performance management, troubleshooting, etc., requiring focused storage management experts and sophisticated storage resource management (SRM) tools. IBM’s Tivoli Storage Productivity Center is an example of such a tool, enabling centralized, policy-based management of storage environments. Such tooling helps each administrator manage an ever-increasing set of storage resources. Tools for Information Lifecycle Management (ILM), data compression, deduplication, and other techniques are also helpful in managing the data deluge, but those are subjects for another time.
The issue I want to get to is how we approach storage management in a world where we have such storage growth and an increasing amount of that storage is now being attached to virtual servers such as VMWare, PowerVM, or KVM. Virtual server tooling is become more sophisticated, managing not only VM deployment and lifecycles, but increasingly reaching out to manage the associated storage attached to the VM. It’s natural to want to automate the provisioning of the storage and assign it to the VM, and the hypervisor typically has its own form of clustered file system/logical volume management to spread and manage the workload across the underlying storage.
So we have two sets of tools with increasing overlap in capability: sophisticated SRM tools and increasing storage management function in VM tools. As I talk to customers about how they manage storage in their VM environments, some see integrated VM and storage management as a key to simplified storage management. In that view, storage administrators simply provision the physical storage and hand it off to the virtual server environment for management. The only additional task to managing capacity for the storage admin is hardware monitoring and maintenance. Thus the storage management task is compartmentalized and greatly simplified. Other customers have a very different view. They see server virtualization as making the storage management task more complex, not simpler. Increasing hardware consolidation through server virtualization means more complexity in storage access and more difficult performance and workload management problems. The SRM tools then have to become more sophisticated to provide the required performance management and troubleshooting in a virtual server environment.
My view is somewhere in the middle. Virtual server management tools will be used for storage management to the extent that they provide direct value to the virtual server management task. Basic provisioning, monitoring, and workload management make sense to integrate with virtual server management. However, as increases in HW bandwidth (such as cores per CPU) allow for more VMs per physical server and as larger and more complex workloads are deployed in virtual server environments, the associated storage environment will expand in size and complexity as well. Because of this, the requirement for sophisticated SRM tools will apply in virtual server environments just as it does in non-virtual server environments. The line between the sets of tools will vary and the SRM tools will need to increasingly integrate and cooperate with virtual server tools, but I expect both to play a role in storage management for the foreseeable future. The storage administrator’s role evolves but is still critical to storage management in a virtual server world.
Or maybe "the cloud" will just make it all go away…