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Virtualised storage for enterprise IT

Article Type: Feature          Published: 09-2014         Views: 3125   



Jeremiah Dooley, Cloud Architect at SolidFire, explains why virtualised storage may unlock the true potential of the cloud for many organisations..

Enterprise IT is playing catch-up with cloud service providers. While companies like Amazon Web Services and Rackspace offer services that can be spun-up in a matter of minutes and hours, most enterprises still have to make do with deployments that can take days, weeks or even months. This is potentially a real issue for businesses keen to maintain direct control of their data and applications.

What can businesses do to try and close this gap? Many are looking to what is referred to as the next-generation data centre (NGDC). It is here that compute, networking and storage capabilities exist as a pool of resources that can be called into use on an on-demand basis.

This capability is enabled by software management of hardware resources which abstracts the network hardware away from its limited physical reality. This concept is also known as the software-defined data centre. However, while compute and networking virtualisation are becoming commonplace (with companies like VMware and Cisco well known in this respect), storage is frequently left behind, even treated as an afterthought. This leaves many enterprises saddled with modern compute and networking infrastructures that ultimately are being held back by the physical limitations of legacy storage disks.

Simply put, while racks and racks of spinning disk drives may offer huge storage capacity, they are incapable of meeting the demands put upon them by virtualisation. The read and write speeds (IOPS) are inadequate for use in a virtualised environment and it is simply not possible to separate performance from capacity: a vital ingredient in the NGDC. All-flash storage arrays have a distinct advantage in this regard.

Building a flash-based storage system from the ground up with the NGDC in mind is the only way to enable the kind of virtualisation needed to meet future demands and deliver a cloud-like experience in-house, with IT-as-a-service. Scale-out flash storage offers high IOPS and capacities, but raw speed isn't everything. When flash is overlaid with management software that allows storage volumes to be tightly defined with individual performance characteristics, it enables software-defined storage: the ability to treat all the storage in a data centre as a single resource, which is not restricted to specific parts of the network.

At its most basic level, the advantage of virtualising your storage centres on the fact that it frees IT up to the point that it can proactively provision resources to employees and applications more rapidly than ever before. It allows enterprises to finally compete on a level playing field with third-party cloud service providers in terms of raw deployment speed, offering better control of the IT estate as more employees choose in-house over off-premise clouds. That's one aspect. Moreover, it simplifies the management requirements for the IT department.

In an NGDC environment, manual intervention to hook up the hardware required to deploy new applications is minimal. It's completely software driven, which saves time and money through management efficiency. Additionally, it becomes straightforward to add new services, and IT teams can instead focus this time on finding innovative solutions to business problems.

Forward looking enterprise IT organisations are moving towards embracing the NGDC and all that comes with it. Once adopted, the NGDC makes it possible for businesses to take on the big cloud service providers with an internal offering that rivals them for speed and ease of use.

More importantly, perhaps, it puts IT control firmly back into the hands of the enterprise. It is important to remember that each component is vital to enabling the NGDC. Virtualised compute and networking don't tell the whole story - virtualised storage could be the missing piece of the puzzle.

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