Way Beyond The Storage 'Box'

First, vendors have embraced utility computing, which depends on virtualized storage as a way to offer capacity on a billable, per-need basis.

And second, major storage vendors have all pretty much adopted virtualization in some form, meaning the capability has become virtually ubiquitous.

Storage virtualization refers to the ability to specify a chunk of capacity from one or more storage devices and present it to a host or application without either being aware of where that chunk resides. Such virtualized chunks may reside within a specific array or across multiple arrays from a single vendor or even across multiple vendors.

Mark Shirman, president and CEO of GlassHouse Technologies, a Framingham, Mass.-based storage consultant, said virtualization is a given, as far as his customers are concerned. "Virtualization is the kind of thing customers expect to get from the vendors they buy disks from," he said.

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At one time, appliances from several suppliers, mainly startups, were expected to virtualize storage capacities from multiple vendors into single storage pools, but these products weren't widely adopted, said Scott Robinson, CTO of Datalink, a solution provider in Minneapolis.

In addition, many of those startups were swallowed up by larger vendors such as Hewlett-Packard, Sun Microsystems and Brocade Communications. Others couldn't gain a foothold in the enterprise for several reasons, the chief one being fear factor.

"Customers made a lot of investment in Hitachi, EMC and others, and the last thing they wanted to do was put an appliance of any sort in front," Robinson said.

Furthermore, storage just keeps getting cheaper"another factor supporting the quiet trend to make virtualization virtually ubiquitous, he said.

"A couple of years ago, when customers were spending 10 cents per Mbyte of storage with an EMC Symmetrix on the back end, they might need cheaper storage on the front," Robinson said. "But with the cost of Symmetrix and others falling, there's no pressing need to bring in other storage devices. This took the wind out of the sails of some of those virtualization guys."