Cross-vendor virtualisation slow to take off

Despite moves to make storage virtualisation interoperable across different vendors' products, uptake hasn't been huge so far. Deni Connor reports

Three years’ worth of market hype hasn’t been able to overcome one apparent truth about multi-vendor storage virtualisation: virtually no one is doing it.

At the recent Storage Networking World conference in San Diego, customers and industry analysts said there are a number of reasons why network executives aren’t rushing out to buy intelligent fibre channel switches or appliances that virtualise or pool the storage resources on arrays from different vendors.

“Heterogeneous — that’s a good word,” says Tony Prigmore, senior analyst at the Enterprise Strategy Group. “You have a classic situation where all the branded vendors are going after their installed base. That’s happening with IBM’s SAN Volume Controller [and] it’s happening with HP, Hitachi Data Systems and EMC. Vendors are just now starting to expand to support arrays from other vendors.”

So far, Hitachi, HP, IBM and Sun are shipping either array-based storage virtualisation or fibre channel switches that pair with server appliances to add intelligent services to the storage fabric. Hitachi has an intelligent controller in its TagmaStore array that virtualises the storage resources attached to it. IBM and EMC manufacture server-based appliances that attach to director-level fibre channel switches from Brocade, Cisco and McData to virtualise storage resources.

All these companies say they support heterogeneous storage virtualisation. Hitachi’s TagmaStore, for instance, can connect to IBM Enterprise Storage Server and EMC’s Symmetrix and Clariion products.

Dave Hill, senior analyst at the Mesabi Group, points to another stumbling block on the way to heterogeneous virtualisation: customers and vendors want to protect existing assets and investments.

“I’m not sure that vendors are as anxious as they say to implement data migration or replication services on a switch or other virtualisation appliance,” Hill says. “customers want to be able to use the software they already have. They are not going to rip and replace to implement a virtualisation appliance that doesn’t give them any additional capability.”

Prigmore agrees. “The problem is [that] customers have software investments in their branded arrays and they are not going to get rid of them to deploy a heterogeneous virtualisation solution,” he says.

One such user is John Blackman, a technology strategist and storage architect for a Fortune 500 company in the US. “Why do I need [EMC’s] Invista for migration when I can just migrate that data to a new array and shut down the old one?” he asks. “A lot of environments are still fairly siloed and there is no real trust that vendors can actually cooperate, so everyone creates niche solutions that work with only their gear.”

A customer who does see the bright side of virtualisation — albeit homogeneous — is Michael Amble, director of information services for US property insurance specialist Fidelity National Financial. Amble has virtualised about 600TB of data on Hitachi TagmaStore and Thunder 9585V systems to help him implement an information life-cycle management (ILM) strategy. “The business is such that the allocation of storage space is really important to us,” he says.

“We have a system that has to be sized for that business. Having the ability to move disk storage between tiers is terribly important for us.”

Because approximately 80% of the company’s business takes place in the last five days of the month, property title data is migrated from less expensive and slower Thunder 9585V arrays to the more expensive and quickly accessed TagmaStore when new title work needs to be processed.

Amble says his company continues to acquire other businesses, but it’s not considering virtualising the storage gear gained in those acquisitions. “We have moved legacy equipment into different environments but not into our core TagmaStore network,” he says.

“We are sensitive [about] mixing and matching equipment, because we don’t want to jeopardise our secure environment.”

There are also customers for whom even the promise of homogeneous virtualisation within a single vendor’s products is not sufficient. “We are actively looking at Incipient and EMC Invista as future virtualisation candidates, but they are still fairly young solutions in the market, and the feature-set they bring doesn’t meet our entire need yet,” says Michael Passe, storage architect for Caregroup Healthcare Systems in Boston.

Passe has a homogeneous storage environment consisting of tiered EMC Symmetrix, Clariion and Center storage.

“Basically, we would like virtualisation to enable EMC Symmetrix DMX-to-Clariion real-time replication, which EMC does not support today,” Passe says.

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