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It's one of those rare cases where one plus one equals much more than two.
Solution providers adding server virtualization to their practice are finding the need for new storage infrastructures, including implementing new SANs and re-optimizing existing SANs, to be a growing business.
Welcome to the ideal world.
The two technologies are starting to feed each other, said Greg Knieriemen, vice president of marketing at Chi, a Cleveland, Ohio-based solution provider.
"As customers add server virtualization, their storage needs ramp up quickly," Knieriemen said. "So storage consolidation is becoming an issue. Before, a midrange company might have had 20 to 40 physical servers in a non-SAN environment. But many companies that don't have a SAN today that are implementing server virtualization are finding they require a SAN to do it."
Kevin Houston, business development manager and virtualization practice manager at Optimus Solutions, a Norcross, Ga.-based solution provider, said having a good storage network in place is a prerequisite to server virtualization.
"Often times the customer doesn't have a storage network," Houston said. "Or they have older technology, in which case we can then help them move to a more robust platform or add new features. And when we talk storage and add server virtualization, we can then start talking about disaster recovery and a second storage network."
Houston said that the opposite is also true: Storage complexity drives server virtualization.
"Customers have racks full of storage, but no backup windows," he said. "So we talk to them about SANs. And as we help them consolidate their storage, we can also show them how their servers are only being used at 3 percent to 5 percent utilization."
While much has been made about the negative impact server virtualization has had on physical server sales, less noticed is the negative impact it is starting to have on the building of SAN fabrics.
Chris Mierzwa, vice president of product management and alliances at Sirius Computer Solutions, a San Antonio, Texas-based solution provider, said that he is already starting to see a cut in the number of storage ports that are connected to customers' servers thanks to a fall in the number of physical servers being installed.
"Port count and fabric complexity is nothing like the nutty growth of a couple years ago," Mierzwa said. "Now everybody has all the ports they need. The main exceptions are companies that never had a SAN installed before."
Storage is growing in terms of the number of spindles and in the consumption of capacity, but that is not where solution providers can make money, Mierzwa said. "Where we make money is in complex virtualization architectures, and how to carve out SANs," he said. "And with virtualization, customers don't need as many ports. Before, we used to sell SAN directors. But unless you are a Wal-Mart, you don't need 256 ports anymore."
Knieriemen agreed that the number of SAN ports is starting to fall thanks to server virtualization. However, he said that SANs are not always needed by midsize companies implementing server virtualization, and that the technology can actually lead to increased adoption of direct-attach storage.
"VMware can work with SAN and DAS," he said. "So we're also seeing more opportunities for companies like Nexsan."
Bryan Champagne, director of storage engineering at TOSS (The Only System Solution), a Framingham, Mass.-based solution provider, also sees increased server virtualization resulting in a smaller SAN port count.
However, Champagne said that by no means lessens the need for SANs, or at least for looking for ways to tie multiple SANs together. "People think SANs are widely accepted," he said. "But they are often very vertical. For instance, a hospital may have a couple of SANs, but they are focused on specific functions such as PACS or radiology."
But while server virtualization is starting to reduce the number of SAN ports needed to handle the server infrastructure, it is still leading to an increase in storage capacity requirements, said Keith Baskin, storage practice manager at Optimus Solutions.