Storage is an area that has been the subject of much attention over the last few years with the areas of storage management and virtualisation grabbing much of the attention. However, within the sweeping torrents of hype and exaggeration there are to be found some genuine nuggets of potential value. One such pearl could well turn out to be IBM’s Virtualisation Engine Suite for Storage and the first benefits of the engine can be recognised in the TotalStorage SAN Volume Controller and TotalStorage SAN File System offerings, known to their friends respectively as SVC as SFS.
In essence SVC provides storage area networks with "Block" level virtualisation capabilities whilst SFS delivers "file virtualisation". These facilities are becoming more valuable as SAN usage increases and has the complexity in such systems grows.
Until recently nearly all SANs have had to be built using the storage platform supplied by a single vendor. In large organisations this has resulted in many different SAN islands being created, each operated using its own set of tools, often by its own support team. SVC delivers a number of key benefits at the heart of which is its ability to create a single pool of storage using storage platforms from a number of suppliers.
Currently the software supports IBM ESS and FAStT arrays along with a number of arrays supplied by EMC, HDS and HP. In Virtualising these disk platforms SVC makes it possible to administer the entire storage pool from a single management point. Such capabilities make it possible to gain even better utilisation from storage platforms than even that supplied by today’s homogenous SANs. There is no doubt that the ability to build and manage heterogeneous storage pools without undue fuss will be welcomed.
On top of this single storage pool, SVC also adds copy services that make it possible to replicate and migrate data seamlessly between the different storage platforms contained within the pool without disrupting the applications (and hence users) that access the data. This facility is likely to become very much in demand as organisations seek to employ tiered storage systems and Information / Data Lifecycle Management (ILM / DLM) techniques to run applications and host data on systems that match the business value of those systems.
The fact that SVC is now nearing its first anniversary has allowed several organisations to evaluate thoroughly its potential. As a consequence many customers are now moving SVC based systems into live production environments and IBM has major references in no less than 12 industry verticals. It is interesting to see that one customer has stated: "We had no difficulty learning to use the system. It is simple for our administrators to operate using either the GUI interface or via script files." Another commented: "The flexibility of design and implementation was child’s play compared to our legacy solutions and SVC’s performance was blistering."
In addition to the obvious cost benefits supplied by increasing storage utilisation and providing a single management interface to run a storage infrastructure, it should be recognised that the shear storage flexibility delivered by SVC may well provide the greatest business benefit. Almost all businesses today have to be able to react very quickly to a wide range of rapidly shifting drivers. The supporting IT Infrastructure, including the storage network on which it is built, needs flexibility to be able to meet such variable business demands.
The IBM Virtualisation Engine has great potential to bring benefits at both an IT management level and at a business operation level. As a key component in the IBM Virtualisation Engine Suite for Storage, the TotalStorage SAN Volume Controller should have a long and valuable future, especially as it expands the breadth of its platform support. The other major Storage management vendors will have to react swiftly to developments in SVC and IBM Virtualisation Engine if IBM starts to market these solutions well.