Tuesday, 8 January 2013

2013 – The Year ‘Software-defined,’ Flash technologies and Virtualization of Tier 1 Applications Transform the Enterprise Storage World

Flash technologies and virtualization of Tier 1 applications are shaking up the enterprise world.

By George Teixeira, President and CEO, DataCore Software
During the past year, we have seen the first steps in a move to software-defined architectures. This has spurred a number of critical trends that are reshaping and having a major impact in the enterprise storage world, setting the stage for 2013 to become the year software-defined storage transforms the data center.

The move from hardware- to a software-defined virtualization-based model supporting mission-critical business applications has changed the foundation of architectures at the computing, network, and storage levels from being “static” to “dynamic.” Software defines the basis for agility, user interactions, and for building a long-term virtual infrastructure that adapts to change. The ultimate goal is to increase user productivity and improve the application experience.

Trend #1: Tier 1 apps will go virtual and performance is critical

Faster After VirtualizationEfforts to virtualize more of the data center continue and we will see an even greater surge to move Tier1 applications (ERP, databases, mail systems, OLTP etc.) onto virtualization platforms. The main driver for this is better economics and greater productivity.

However, the major roadblocks to virtualizing Tier1 apps are largely storage related.

Moving storage-intensive workloads onto virtual machines (VMs) can greatly impact performance and availability. Therefore, storage has to be over-provisioned and oversized. Moreover, as businesses consolidate onto virtual platforms, they have to spend more to achieve the highest levels of redundancy to ensure no down time and business continuity in addition to worrying about performance bottlenecks.

The high costs and complexities of oversizing negate the bulk of the benefits. With this in mind, enterprises and IT departments are looking for a smarter, more cost-effective approach (ie smart software), realizing that the traditional “throw more hardware at the problem” tact is no longer practical.

Trend #2: SSD flash technologies will be used everywhere; storage is not just disk drives

Another major trend related to virtualizing Tier 1 applications is the proliferation of SSD flash-based technologies. The reason is simple. Disk drives are mechanical rotating devices and not as fast as those that are based on high-speed electronic memory technologies.

Flash memory has actually been around for years; it was previously way too expensive for broad adoption. Though still more costly than rotating hard drives, their use in tablets and cell phones are driving prices downward. Even so, flash wears out, and taxing applications that prompt many writes can impact their lifespan.

Yet, flash devices are an inevitable part of our future and need to be incorporated within our architectural thinking. The economics are already driving us to a world that requires different tiers of fast memory-based storage and less expensive, slower disk drives. This, in turn, increases the demand for enterprise-wide auto-tiering software able to optimize the performance and cost trade-offs by placing and moving data to the most cost-effective tier that can deliver acceptable performance.

Trend #3: More storage will require more automation

There is a constant and insatiable demand for more data storage; it continues to grow more than 50 percent per year. However, the need is not just for more hardware disks to meet raw capacity. Instead, users want automatic, self-managed storage, scalability, rapid provisioning, fast performance, and the highest levels of business continuity.

Again, it takes “smart software” to simplify and automate the management of storage.

Trend #4: Software-defined storage architecture will matter more than hardware

These trends -- and empowering IT users to make storage hardware interchangeable within virtual infrastructures -- will have a profound impact on how we think about, buy, and use storage. In 2013 and beyond, IT will need to embrace software-defined storage as an essential element to data centers.

As users deal with the new dynamics and faster pace of today’s business, they can’t be trapped within yesterday’s rigid and hard-wired architectures. Infrastructure is constructed on three pillars -- computing, networking, and storage -- and in each, hardware decisions will take a back seat to a world dictated by software and driven by applications.

Clearly, the great success of VMware and Microsoft Hyper-V demonstrates that there’s compelling value delivered by server virtualization. Likewise, the storage hypervisor, and virtualization at the storage level, are critical to unlocking hardware chains that have made storage an anchor to next-generation data centers.

Trend #5: Software-defined storage is creating the need for a storage hypervisor

The same thinking that changed our views about the server is needed to address storage, and smart software is the catalyst. In effect, a storage hypervisor’s main role is to virtualize storage resources to achieve the same benefits -- agility, efficiency, and flexibility -- that server hypervisor technology brought to processors and memory.

This year, software will take its rightful seat at the table and begin to transform the way we think about storage.

The Ultimate Goal: Better App Experience through Software-defined Storage

Virtualization has changed computing and the applications we depend upon to run our businesses. Still, enterprise and cloud storage are dominated by physical and hardware-defined mindsets. We need to change our thinking and consider how storage impacts the application experience and view storage as software-defined, with storage services and features available enterprise-wide and not just embedded to a proprietary hardware device.

Why would you buy specific hardware just to get a software feature? Why would you restrict a feature to a single platform versus using it across the enterprise? This is old thinking, and prior to virtualization, that’s how the server industry worked. Today, with VMware or Hyper-V, we think about how to deploy VMs versus “are they running on a Dell, HP, Intel, or IBM system?”

Storage is going through a similar transformation, and in the year ahead, it will be smart software that leads the industry into a better, software-defined world.

Friday, 4 January 2013

Smart Storage Virtualization - Enabling Tier-1 Apps to Break Through Cloud Barriers

“Virtualization” is an IT buzzword that marks an era, and that era is today. No matter where you look or where you go, the Cloud seems to be the answer to every processing question there is today, except for one lone, albeit very important, holdout: Tier-1 apps.
Bruised from earlier, failed attempts to virtualize mission critical enterprise apps by throwing expensive new hardware and storage at the problem – and still facing performance and downtime issues – enterprises continue to shy away from virtualizing their most essential, widely used applications.
Conventional wisdom among systems gurus today is that to avoid I/O bottlenecks and ensure reliable performance, Tier-1 apps require, without exception, their own dedicated (not to mention wasteful and costly) machines. Veteran OLTP consultants grimly describe the nightmare scenarios they say will inevitably occur should these instructions not be followed. Stick more than one instance of a heavily loaded Oracle, SQL Server or SAP image on a shared machine – and all hell breaks loose. So until recently, virtualization of Tier-1 apps has been pretty much out of the question.
This situation poses a dilemma for enterprises. If the cost effectiveness and convenience of virtualization don’t filter down to the applications you rely on and use the most, how cost effective and convenient can your system actually be?
Fortunately, there is now an answer to the previously unsolvable Tier-1 virtualization riddle, one that works reliably, effectively, and without the need for additional hardware: high-performance storage virtualization. The industry calls this convenient, shrink wrapped software stack a storage hypervisor.
A true hypervisor embodies a range of characteristics that improve performance to the extent that Tier-1 apps and the Cloud are no longer at odds in the enterprise. A storage hypervisor offers large scale, distributed caching. A storage hypervisor provides auto-sensing, auto-tuning and auto-tiering techniques capable of making priority decisions autonomically at the micro level. Equally important, a true storage hypervisor delivers fault-tolerant I/O re-direction across widely dispersed resources.
With storage hypervisor software, owners of business critical apps can now confidently virtualize them without fear of slow erratic service levels, efficiently managing the confluence of storage traffic that characterizes virtualized Tier-1 programs.
As an important added benefit, the need to throw expensive new hardware at the problem is eliminated. The storage hypervisor cost-effectively resolves the contention for shared disks and the I/O collisions that had previously disappointed users. It takes great advantage of new storage technology like SSDs and Flash memories, balancing those investments with more conventional and lower cost HDDs to strike the desired price/performance/capacity objectives.
It’s the perfect complement to classic transactional ERP and OLAP settings. Beyond SQL databases, it does wonders for virtualized Exchange and SharePoint as well.
This advanced new software probably won’t stop the veterans from trading IT war stories about the old days. However, storage virtualization through a storage hypervisor, with its superior performance at a lower cost, provides the current pros in charge of enterprise apps with a far more compelling and career-building narrative.

ABOUT Steve Houck

Chief Operating Officer of DataCore Software, Steve Houck, is a highly regarded veteran in virtualization, flash storage, cloud computing and data center technologies. DataCore develops storage virtualization software for high availability, fast performance and maximum utilization from storage in virtual and physical IT environments.