Automation: Virtualized Storage’s Amplifier…Rock On!

The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency.

 – Bill Gates, Microsoft Co-Founder 

 In earlier posts I touched on the benefits of networked storage, tiered storage and storage virtualization. All of these great advancements were brought on by conditions within business and the economy where people were creating and using data at a breakneck pace while reducing their willingness to invest in the infrastructure to support these habits.  The result of these innovations over the last decade was making great improvements in efficiency in the overall storage network.

 While the last two decades brought about great advancements in infrastructure technologies, another phenomenon was taking place – the true integration of technology into business.  Technology is no longer thought of as a “back office” function for one or two areas within a business.  The majority of business leaders, while not always personally proficient with technology, understand the impact it can have when applied strategically to solve a business problem or improve operational efficiencies.

 We have entered a day where the application is king and everyone has “an app for that”.  Infrastructure architects that understand this are worth their weight in gold.  Too many in the vendor community today have lost sight that even though infrastructure technology is our business, it is not our clients’ business.  I always tell our team that our customers don’t buy infrastructure because they want to.  They buy it because they have to!

 Today, technology is irrelevant outside of the context of the application it supports.  The advances in storage have made storage environments more efficient, IT more responsive and enabled companies to match their investment in storage to the value of the application and its data.  Even with these advances, there is still a significant amount of management of storage infrastructures taking place.  While we never want to eliminate the human insight into architecture much of the time spent optimizing and tuning todays environments are mundane, low value tasks.

 Enter the new era of storage – virtualized, tiered storage architectures.  Nearly every major manufacturer and many up and coming innovators have introduced storage technologies with some form of internal virtualization.  Instead of managing block data at the volume level, data in virtualized storage arrays are managed in smaller discreet elements varying in size from a few megabytes to gigabytes. 

 Efficiencies are also gained by volumes no longer being tied to a discreet number of physical disk drives.  Instead, data is spread across all the disks within a system or a specific tier of disks or solid state storage within a system.  Not only is performance improved in these systems, but it is more predictable and resource utilization is much higher.  Storage architects are able to align their storage spend with what an application actually needs instead of over engineering based on an accumulation of worst-case scenarios.  Data blocks can be migrated individually between tiers based on policies set by the storage architects based on a number of application dependent factors.

 For unstructured data, virtualized storage takes the form of global namespace technologies that either use a file virtualization appliance in front of multiple file servers, global parallel file systems acting as one or a scale-out single file system solution.  In all of these implementations, the mundane tasks of managing multiple discreet file servers and constantly migrating data between them is replaced with policy based automation.

These advances in technology enable today’s storage architects to move from gardeners pruning and caring for one tree at a time to forest rangers able to see and manage the health of the whole forest at once. 

 Due to company buying cycles not everyone can make the jump to these kinds of architectures at once.  However, for any storage platform refresh virtualized storage is a must have.  Performing the due diligence to understand how it is implemented by different vendors is critical to understanding the real impact on your environment for both performance and efficiency and guess what, “we have an app for that!”

This post is part of the Choose Your Own Infrastructure Series

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About Ferrol Macon

Ferrol Macon’s career for more than 20 years has lived at the intersection of people and technology. He has been a part of designing storage and data management solutions for companies large and small in almost every industry.