Wednesday, 4 December 2013

A Defining Moment for the Software-Defined Data Center

Article from:

George Teixeira
For some time, enterprise IT heads heard the phrase, “get virtualized or get left behind”, and after kicking the tires, the benefits couldn’t be denied and the rush was on. Now, there’s a push to create software-defined data centers. However, there is some trepidation whether these ground-breaking, more flexible environments can adequately handle the performance and availability requirements of business-critical applications, especially when it comes to the storage part of the equation.

While decision-makers had good reason for concern, they now have an even better reason to celebrate as new storage virtualization platforms have proven to overcome these I/O obstacles.

Just as server hypervisors provided a virtual operating platform, a parallel approach to storage is quickly transforming the economics of virtualization for organizations of all sizes by offering the speed, scalability and continuous availability needed for realizing the full benefits of software-defined data centers. Particular additional benefits being widely reported include:
  • Elimination of storage-related I/O bottlenecks in virtualized data centers
  • Harnessing flash storage resources effectively for even greater application performance
  • Ensuring fast and always available applications without a major storage investment
Performance slowdowns caused by I/O bottlenecks and downtime attributed to storage-related outages are two of the foremost reasons why enterprises have held back from virtualizing their tier-1 applications, like SQL Server, Oracle, SAP and Exchange. This fact comes across clearly in the recent Third Annual State of Virtualization Survey conducted by my company.

In the survey, findings showed 42 percent of respondents noted performance degradation or inability to meet performance expectations as an obstacle preventing them from virtualizing more of their workloads. Yet, effective storage virtualization platforms are now successfully overcoming these issues by using device-independent adaptive caching and performance boosting techniques to absorb wildly variable workloads, enabling applications to run faster virtualized.

To further increase tier-1 application responsiveness, companies often spend excessively on flash memory-based solid state disks (SSDs). The survey also reveals that 44 percent of respondents found disproportionate storage-related costs were an obstacle to virtualization. Again, effective storage virtualization platforms are now providing a solution with such features as auto-tiering, which optimize the use of these premium-priced resources alongside more modestly priced, higher capacity disk drives.

Such an intelligent software platform constantly monitors I/O behavior and can intelligently auto-select between server memory caches, flash storage and traditional disk resources in real-time to ensure the most suitable class or tier of storage device is assigned to each workload based on priorities and urgency. As a result, a software defined data center can now deliver unmatched tier-1 application performance with optimum cost efficiency and maximum return on existing storage investments.

Once I/O intensive tier-1 applications are virtualized, the storage virtualization platform ensures high availability. It eliminates single points of failure and disruption through application-transparent physical separation, stretched across rooms or off-site with full auto-recovery capabilities for the highest levels of business continuity. The right platform can effectively virtualize whatever storage is on a user’s floor, whether direct-attached or SAN-connected, to achieve a robust and responsive shared storage environment necessary to support highly dynamic virtual IT environments.

Yes, the storage virtualization platform is a defining moment for the software defined data center. The performance, speed and high availability needed for mission-critical databases and applications in a virtualized environment has been realized. Barriers have been removed and there’s a clear and supported path for realizing greater cost efficiency.

Still, selecting the right platform is critical to a data center. Technology that is full-featured and has been proven “in the field” is essential. Also, it’s important to go with an independent, pure software virtualization solution in order to avoid hardware lock-in, and to take advantage of the future storage developments that undoubtedly will come.

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