Virtualisation cutting storage costs for some firms

Users speak of benefits, but also caution that full understanding is vital

Storage virtualisation technologies, which are showing signs of maturity, have become an appealing option for some large companies looking to make better use of installed physical resources to keep up with escalating storage demands.

In interviews at the recent Storage Networking World conference (which was sponsored by Computerworld US and the Storage Networking Industry Association), several IT managers talked about how storage virtualisation is cutting technology and management costs at their organisations.

Gary Berger, vice president of technology solutions at Banc of America Securities Prime Brokerage, said his company began looking at virtualisation in 2005, when it found it was unable to fully utilise a fragmented IT environment running in multiple datacentres.

At the time, the firm’s storage system was plagued by management and performance problems, which Berger said were caused by silos of direct-attached storage, coarse whole-disk allocation issues and over-provisioning.

The Bank of America subsidiary provides hedge-fund clients with access to hosted Microsoft Exchange, archiving, IP telephony, file-sharing, VoIP and disaster recovery services.

Banc of America Securities built a virtualised storage system for the hosted service using technology from IBM and 3PAR-data to carve physical disks into 256MB chunks, improve I/O throughput and enable streamlined thin provisioning. Prior to implementing virtualisation, the company’s storage systems failed four or five times per month, according to Berger. But the virtualised system hasn’t failed since it was installed a year ago, he said.

“It was important for us to leverage this technology,” Berger said. “You can imagine what we can do with it from a hosting perspective.”

Since it adopted the virtualised model, Berger said, his company has cut its storage administration costs by 95% and the need for more storage capacity by 50%. He also credited virtualisation’s service delivery and disaster recovery replication capabilities with further reducing IT costs.

Sacramento-based University of California Davis Health System implemented a virtualised storage system late last year as part of an effort to comply with US Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act requirements.

Alejandro Lopez, storage manager for technical support and information and communication services, said the regulations require the academic medical centre to use a system that can securely house and move medical images and records.

The healthcare operation’s virtualised system includes an IBM AIX-based mainframe connected to IBM Shark ESS 520 and FAStT storage servers, Lopez said.

In December, it began using the native capabilities in a newly installed Hitachi Data Systems’ TagmaStore Universal Storage Platform to virtualise tape on the mainframe and storage systems, Lopez said. The IT operation can now store 4TB of cardiology images and PDF documents, previously held on optical disc systems, in the virtual AIX environment, he added.

“By moving to cheaper storage [through virtualisation], we saved about 40% in costs,” said Lopez.

He acknowledged that he first planned to virtually store only 500GB because he was unsure whether the technology would meet his needs. However, the initial success persuaded him to go forward with 4TB.

Lopez discussed the project with a number of users at SNW and concluded that several didn’t fully understand the concept of virtualisation.

“I think there’s a misconception by people who think of virtualisation as a solution instead of as a tool,” he said.

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