Virtualization Takes Center Stage At Storage Networking World

When it comes to virtualization, few vendors missed an opportunity to take jabs at one another at this week's Storage Networking World Conference (SNW).

Perhaps no one ruffled more feathers than Network Appliance, which used the semiannual event, held in Phoenix, to demonstrate its recently launched V-Series virtualization engine connected to EMC storage systems. NetApp officials made clear, the interoperability was achieved without EMC's cooperation.

While several observers suggested that EMC was not in the least bit happy about NetApp's demo, EMC shrugged it off. The performance of such a solution would be marginal at best, said Jeffrey Nick, who EMC recruited from IBM last fall as its senior vice president and CTO.

"The virtualization game and functionality is all industry buzz," Nick said in an interview at SNW. "Whenever you do this kind of layering without understanding the cost of emulation both in terms of performance and function, then you get what you pay for."

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Andrew Monshaw, general manager of IBM's storage unit, said NetApp's demonstration is an example of what customers are looking for.

"Our point of view is to virtualize heterogeneous environments and then force the vendors to compete based on technical innovation at that level," Monshaw said. "Some of our competitors have fairly proprietary lock-ins on their customers and so the customers are almost backed into a corner because it's too expensive to get out. That's a perfect example of how you can unlock that lock."

Simply put, virtualization effectively allows customers to manage multiple pools of storage, and in some cases server and network resources as one common pool. EMC is expected to launch its long-anticipated virtualization engine, dubbed Storage Router. IBM recently announced it sold its SAN Volume Controller, or SVC, to its 1,000th customer.

Hitachi Data Systems used SNW to show virtualization capabilities of its new high-end TagmaStore storage system. And Sun Microsystems unveiled its new StorEdge 6920, designed to consolidate multiple storage assets. When used with Sun StorEdge SAM-FS software, customers can migrate data between different classes of storage based on business policies. The system is also designed to take advantage of the high-availability features of Solaris 10.

Still, most observers agree that a handful of customers are at an early stage of either evaluating or attempting to virtualize their storage resources. "It's happening, but it's happening in small amounts," said John McArthur, who heads up IDC's storage research practice.

Rich Baldwin, president and CEO of San Diego-based Nth Generation Computing, said his larger customers have recently begun showing more interest in virtualization. "It's hot on everybody's mind, and we're talking server virtualization, storage virtualization," Baldwin said. "Nobody can afford to have isolated units for every application. That's the way the world runs today."