A comment or two on virtualisation

By | May 1, 2007

So the vendor evangelists have been preaching the "Thou shalts" and the "Thou shalt nots" of storage virtualisation again.  Seems like it was sparked by an interwiew that Jay Kidd gave to Searchstorage.  This may go on the Ruptured Monkey list of recommended reading, but not because its a particularly great article, rather because of a couple of bizarre comments from Jay.

Now I tend to read through blogs and storage articles while munching one some food.  The thing is, this is becoming an increasingly hazardous pass time.  Reason being, these vendor evangelists are casually dropping in comments that are causing me to choke on my food.  Below are just a couple that I have to comment on.

Jay says that the NetApp V-Series is a direct competitor to the Hitachi Tagmastore when it comes to storage virtualisation.  <cue coughing on food>  A bit like comparing a boy scout raft to the Concord jet when it comes to crossing the Atlantic!  I won't bore you with any more on that one.

Then Chuck Hollis made the following comment on a post on his blog "…. file virtualisation goes in pretty easily compared to storage virtualisation or even server virtualisation.  With the right solution and use case, there aren't issues with performance, or migration, or management, or compatibility."  Blatantly implying that storage virtualisation does NOT go in "pretty easily" and is fraught with "issues". 

Now of course Chuck is Mr EMC, but I cannot believe he is that ignorant of the simplicity of Hitachi virtualisation.  He may not like it, and he may think that fundamentally its approach is flawed.  But one thing he cannot do is say that it is difficult to implement and riddled with issues.  Im not wearing a Hitachi hat here, I'm just saying it how it is.  Ive implemented and worked with a fair bit of Hitachi virtualisation, and to be honest Id actually like it to be a little more difficult to implement – at least that way it would keep my daily rates up.  And as for the "issues" Chuck implies, Ive seen precious few.  One can only assume from Chucks comment that he is referring to EMC storage virtualisation solutions when he implies difficulty of installation and other associated issues šŸ˜‰

In fact, Chuck goes on to say the following about file virtualisation – "The stuff just seems to go in pretty well, and starts doing the job. Not a lot of drama".  To be honest, I couldn't have said it better about my experience with Hitachi storage virtualisation.  Again, I'm not wearing my Hitachi hat here, I make no comments about whether the controller is the right place or not for storage virtualisation, I'm simply commenting on how easily it is implemented and used day to day down here in the trenches.  Its either really simple, or Im just sooo good at it – and I think its the former of the two.

Jay also makes a comment along the lines that the device doing the virtualisation must have the combined horse power of all the boxes it is virualising.  Messrs Yoshida and Hollis appear to agree, but I don't.  (I think that Hu only agreed as it gave him another opportunity to sound off about the might of the USP). 

Of course if performance is the Holy Grail then yes I may agree.  However, Ive seen lots of environments that run large numbers of Windows hosts and the disks are barely warm (in fact Ive heard rumours that some were even rusty).  In these environments it's not absolutely necessary for the virtualisation device to be "all powerful".  Ive also seen environments where storage tiering is implemented through Hitachi virtualisation.  Lower tiers are hung off the back of a Tag and used for staging backups and … well … other stuff that you use your lower tiers for.  In these situations it is clearly not necessary for the Tagmastore to have the combined horse power of all the devices hung off the back of it.

Then finally a couple of non technical statements that I must comment on.

Chuck closed his post with the following comment – "And — for me — vision is everything".  Well Chuck, you just keep dreaming šŸ˜‰

But the final word must go to Jay.  When he was asked by Beth, from Searchstorage, "Who is NetApp?" he reassuringly responding with "That's what we're figuring out now".  

Oh Dear!


12 thoughts on “A comment or two on virtualisation

  1. Chuck Hollis

    Hi Nigel

    Alway enjoy reading your blog. Nice to see you back at it!

    Umm — I think you’re reading a bit too much into my comments. If I meant to say that storage virtualization was hard, I’d come out and say that explicitly.

    Actually, it depends what you’re trying to do. If you’re just doing simple tiering, (as you suggest), I’d agree, it’s not that hard. But some people try and push the envelope, and then — well — like most things, it can get hard.

    Especially when you’re into advanced topics, like guaranteeing QoS, or providing end-to-end SRM, or correlated error management for larger environments.

    Not everyone’s cup of tea, to be sure.

    I would argue that — by comparison — most file virtualization projects are somewhat easier than their SAN virtualization counterparts. That includes the Tagma ones as well. Whether it’s relatively easy or not is in the eye of the beholder.

    And, for most customers I’ve worked with, the ROI for the file virtualization thing is a lot easier to get at rather than the SAN virtualization thing. So I’m doing my bit to evangelize the “other” storage virtualization — the one that doesn’t get the wide press.

    You don’t like the vision thing? Wow. I would think that most people would like their vendors to have some sort of clue as to where it’s all going next. But I could be wrong …

    And then you slam NetApp for not having a vision … so, what’s the answer here? šŸ˜‰

    Thanks again, and good blogging!

  2. Chris M Evans

    I’ve done HDS virtualisation too – and not just simple stuff – large scale, multi-tier in/out of an array, with TrueCopy/ShadowImage etc etc.

    It works, and in the absence of a *proper* virtualisation product for the network, it suits me just fine for now.

  3. Marc Farley

    Please post more often. I appreciate the dose of reality you brought to this conversation. You might find the post I wrote yesterday on this topic to echo your thoughts, particularly where performance is concerned. http://www.equallogic.com/blog/default.aspx?id=2808
    Just curious- have you much expereince with file virtualization? If so, what is it?

  4. stephen2615

    Speaking of chocking, I almost did when I read the comment about Windows and rusty disks. I agree fully. Our biggest meanest Windows host might raise a sweat on our USP that after a few months could perhaps turn to rust. We have a seriously hot Itanium host that with similar specs in the Solaris world would be pretty full on and it would push our USP.

    But as this is a discussion on virtualisation, I had a meeting with our poor EMC sales rep today. I honestly like him but that’s as far as it goes. I asked him if he has sold anything and sure he had. Pity there were all tender processes where the cheapest wins. Sure, he said, we moved into HDS shops but hey, if you give the product away, anyone will be happy to get one.

    So when I mentioned that we have lots of stuff virtualised and if we went to tender and they won, they would have to de-virtualise all our current storage. Hmmm.. that was not all that attractive. So, as we like this concept and thought about keeping all our storage under the one “virtual” roof, it gave me fodder to buy Cisco MDS switches as they are the cornerstone of the EMC virtualisation solution. But, wait, how much is a SSM and how much is that licence and what is it going to virtualise? So, me thinks that virtualising a 100 TB of external storage is going to cost about four times what our current HDS licencing costs. And can I do Shadow Image and True Copy with that? Ummm.. well thanks for the chat and I hope you liked the coffee but I have another appointment and have to make a move on.

    Might I quote IBM…. We invented virtualisation. I am sure they did as they invented LPAR’s how many years ago?

    Rusty disks.. I like that.


  5. Nigel (mackem)

    Chuck – To be honest my comment on visions and dreaming was an attempt at humour – making it sound like you spend all day at your desk dreaming. Just as well Im in storage and not comedy šŸ˜‰

    I must also say Chuck, every day I continue to be amazed that EMC hasn’t implemented virtualisation in the Symm controller. The Hitachi implementation seems so simple and effective. I know its not where EMC “believe” virtualisation should be implemented but lots of customers want it and are very happy with it. I do think this debate about where virtualisation belongs is quite religious, with people digging their heels in. I wonder if even though you may not love the idea a whole lot you may think about doing it because you certainly have customers who would be happy with it. And of course you could make a quid or two out of it and still work on perfecting your SAN based virtualisation. I have limited internet access at the moment and zero time to think, but Im sure this type of thing happens all the time. Im struggling for a better example because of time but here goes – Im sure many people in the car industry believe in greener engines and more environmentally friendly fuels etc, yet they still pump out gas guzzling v8’s and v12’s because customers want them and they do the job. Not a great example but Im really pushed for time.

    Marc, thanks for your comments. Between the three of us here at rupturedmonkey we try and blog as often as possible. In fact Im on holiday in Florida at the moment and took out 10 minutes to scribble this post. Glad you appreciate it and in future I’ll try and quote some famous writers and thinkers to add credibility to my arguments šŸ˜‰ Unfortunately file virtualisation is something Ive not delved into yet.

  6. snig

    Well according to Barry, all storage virtualization is a fancy volume manager.  According to his definition, Thin Provisioning should be called storage virtualization.  Right?

  7. Barry

    Thanks for noticing!
    I thought I said pretty explicitly that the term "storage virtualization" needs to be reclaimed and redeployed as the category name for things like de-dupe and thin provisioning.
    What I didn’t specifically say is that EMC has been shipping "thin provisioning" for over a year – on our Celerra platform. Turns out that the types of application environments that run well in a NAS environment are very often the ones best-suited for thin provisioning.

  8. Barry

    I almost forgot the punch line.                                                                                            Celerra’s thin provisioning feature is actually called virtual provisioning.

  9. Nigel

    Errrr…. I feel the need to point out that the name for the Hitachi virtualisation software is ……………………………….. wait for it………………………..

    Universal Volume Manager

    No, seriously!!!!! šŸ˜‰

  10. c2olen

    After 7 years as an end-user slash storage admin in a IBM shop with no hands-on experience on other vendor’s stuff, I kept myself from complaining or commenting on other’s storage products.

    For a while now I am struggling on EMC boxes as a freelance storage admin at a large EMC shop and…..
    Damn I miss virtualization….

    I guess I need some catching up on the DMX boxes, but as far as I can tell the additional administrator effort make it hard to realize the promised ROI.
    I have no problem with hard work and challenges, but to my opinion this setup requires way to much administration and is more complex than necessary.

    Still I am happy to finally get some hands-on experience though.

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