Catching the virtualization wave

Von Mario Apicella

I am back to my normal life after Hurricane Rita pushed me off the charts for 10 days, and I"m savoring my full immersion in the storage pond. As usual, there is no wanting for storage news, and the just-completed Storage Decisions conference and the upcoming Storage Networking World (SNW) Fall shows have vendors and their PR people in even more of a media-coverage frenzy than usual.

This week, I"m pointing the Storage Insider limelight on virtualization (yes, again). The first beam shines on Fujitsu, finally breaking its long silence on the topic with a decisive move toward Brocade and its switch-based approach to storage virtualization.

Have you noticed that nobody is mentioning alternatives to network-centric storage virtualization anymore? The two other approaches -- host-based and array-based storage virtualization -- seem to have lost momentum, probably because of the polarizing effect of the switch-resident technologies that Brocade, Cisco, and McData offer.

Whatever the reason, Brocade was quick to celebrate Fujitsu"s new conversion to the concept of pulling virtualization strings from an FC (Fibre Channel) switch. Brocade"s satisfaction is even more understandable if you consider that at the moment, Fujitsu shows no plans to extend its storage virtualization application to switches from other vendors.

According to Richard McCormack, Fujitsu"s senior vice president of product and solutions marketing, Fujitsu will begin offering its new virtualization solution, dubbed Eternus VS900, to the U.S. market in December. The VS900 already has been field tested elsewhere, including Japan.

The initial focus is on the Fujitsu Eternus 3000 and Eternus 6000 storage arrays, McCormack says, but in the future the VS900 will extend support to storage devices from other vendors.

McCormack is quick to note the usual motivators for virtualized storage, including improved device utilization and greater availability, but he also points to the benefit of integration with existing management tools from Fujitsu and policy-based storage provisioning.

Fujitsu may have come to the virtualization feast late (at least later than other major vendors), but it seems to have its priorities clearly defined. That"s one thing in which IBM, a virtualization old-timer, can also take pride: It organized its virtualization efforts from the start. You may remember that Big Blue launched its TotalStorage SVC (SAN Volume Controller)-based, network-centric virtualization solution about two years ago, well before Hitachi and EMC delivered their respective TagmaStore and Invista offerings.

And IBM is dipping into the virtualization waters again: Just days after Fujitsu trumpeted its VS900, IBM announced the eighth release of SVC, together with a bucketful of other storage-related news.

"For each one of these releases, we have extended support for products from multiple companies," says Kevin Leahy, director of virtualization engines at IBM. He adds that SVC now supports most storage devices present in customers" environments.

Among other improvements, the new version of SVC can support as many as 1,024 hosts, and Leahy says it has increased its SPC (Storage Performance Council) test results by 1.5 times, as compared with previous versions.

Those are quite impressive numbers, but I can"t help thinking that it took IBM two years to get to this point and that other vendors will probably walk a similarly long path to move from an initial, self-centered virtualization product to a more comprehensive solution.

Even so, it"s worth waiting for a mature virtualization offering from your main vendor -- if only because it will give you the freedom to choose from a larger set of storage devices. Somewhat ironically, virtualization is pushing each storage vendor to support devices from their rivals: Don"t you just love that idea?