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HOT TOPIC – STORAGE VIRTUALISATION

Once companies have implemented server virtualisation, the pressure is on to ensure that the underlying storage infrastructure is also virtualised to ensure optimum IT efficiency is achieved. Vendors offer their views on how to undertake this process.

 

Date: 1 Aug 2011

Robert Winter, chief engineer at data recovery firm Kroll Ontrack:


While most of today’s computing hardware was designed to run on only one operating system at a time, virtualisation has transformed the IT landscape by helping businesses overcome this limitation by allowing a single system to run several operating systems simultaneously, increasing its usage and flexibility.

Virtualising IT systems has many benefits including:
• Consolidating resources, saving time and money
• Reducing the need for physical server space
• Ability to deploy thin client terminals to staff
• Optimising and rationalising IT infrastructure


What are the essentials to consider when planning a storage virtualisation strategy?

As with any major implementation, the virtualisation of all or part of a company’s IT infrastructure needs careful consideration and planning. It is advisable for administrators to think of the worst case scenario and work backwards, putting failsafe measures in at certain points and ensuring regular backups of data rather than relying on snapshots. Additionally, company-wide back-up procedures for all data should be in place.

Businesses also need to remember that regardless of how much data is consolidated using virtual systems, this data still has to be stored physically somewhere. Data management processes must have their foundations firmly rooted in the protection of this physical data, with any unique considerations created by virtual systems also acknowledged and planned for.

It is important to ensure that every employee that has privileges enabled to create or edit virtual file volumes is aware of procedure, reducing the risk of server sprawl and ensuring that all critical data and applications are tracked and monitored. If necessary, personnel should be trained in the intricacies of handling a virtualised system and any missing skills gaps identified and plugged.


And what are the potential pitfalls?

Implementing such a technology doesn’t come without risks and CIOs and administrators should be mindful of the risks associated with moving to a virtualised environment.

Preparing properly before rolling out virtualised systems is essential if businesses are to avoid a potentially catastrophic data disaster. Staff must be sufficiently educated, a simple right-click and delete command from an inexperienced systems administrator can result in an entire virtual machine file system (VMFS) disappearing. Indeed, of the data recoveries Ontrack Data Recovery engineers performed on virtual environments in 2009, 87 percent were the result of human error, reinforcing the intricacy associated with implementing, managing and/or migrating to a virtual environment.

Out of date or obsolete backup processes and over-consolidation also pose dangerous risks to data held on virtual systems. Companies that have used Kroll Ontrack’s services have incorrectly assumed the snapshot function of a VMware system, for instance, is a sufficient alternative to a robust backup procedure. Whilst useful for configuration testing, it is imperative that snapshots are not considered as a replacement for a traditional, comprehensive backup system. Corruption of a VMFS or a physical server failure cannot be rectified by simply using a snapshot.

The ability to consolidate data is a main selling point of virtual systems, but this can also be one of the biggest weaknesses if a comprehensive data continuity strategy is not in place. It is essential to refrain from the temptation to excessively consolidate critical data and applications. For example, particular types of applications, such as those that are very input/output intensive, may be best suited to a physical server environment or require independent backup procedures.

 

 

Peter Airs, EMEA Product Manager at NETGEAR:

The deployment of virtualisation technology has allowed businesses of all sizes to reduce costs and optimise resources. The impact has been particularly dramatic with server virtualisation.

However, to benefit fully from these advantages that virtualisation offers, businesses need to seriously consider switching and shared storage as part of their virtualisation strategy. The dramatic increase in server utilisation leads to a corresponding increase in network traffic generated by the server. This places new demands on the network and storage. Given the significant increase in traffic virtualisation creates on individual servers, IT departments need to upgrade network link speeds to the servers – typically to 10 Gigabit per second (10GE) and couple it with 10GE capable shared storage.

Therefore, choosing the right hardware is essential for boosting high availability. Switches need to meet the high availability demands of virtualisation by supporting multiple network interfaces for maximum uptime. Some switches have built-in redundancy features to minimise unplanned downtime. Stackable switches allow redundant multiple connections in an active-active configuration. The stack acts as a single logical switch and the server can aggregate its two Ethernet connections. NETGEAR stacking allows the building of redundant switch fabrics without deep technical knowledge.

With fewer servers running the organisation’s critical applications, designing the network for growth is more essential than ever. Virtual networks should be designed with the future in mind and should include components such as 10GigE ready switches, hardware stacking switches and stackable servers.

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