But virtualization concepts aren't limited to servers -- they also will make a powerful impact in the storage domain as well. And -- when considered alongside server virtualization -- the resulting potential for builders and users of enterprise IT is nothing short of spectacular.
Server Virtualization Made SimpleI remember trying to explain to people how VMware worked way back in 2003. I quickly learned that theoretical explanations (i.e. "abstracts logical from physical") didn't work well ; saying "you can easily cram a bunch more work on your existing servers" tended to be much better understood.
Now, several years later, I'm finding many more people who get the sheer power of these concepts, and realize that the new "unit of work" in enterprise IT is a virtual machine. If you think about it, this fundamental abstraction is in the process of becoming completely separated from physical hardware, and -- in many cases -- physical location.
Now, How Does This Relate To Storage?
It's sometimes useful to make comparisons between how virtualization has changed the way we think about servers, and how virtualization is starting to change how we think about storage.
An easy starting point is resource efficiency. With server virtualization, the abstraction lets you do a far better job of using compute and memory resources, raising effective utilitation. With storage, abstracting logical from physical enables the same thing.
Once we lose the association with the physical storage device, we can start to insert all manner of efficiency-improving storage technologies: FAST, virtual provisioning, archiving, data deduplication, spin-down, etc.
Of course, all of these new tools have to be extremely easy to use and control, but that's happening as we speak.
Another thing that the virtualization abstraction allows us to do is control service levels, i.e. performance and availability. In the VMware world, it's easy to add or subtract server performance within a pretty significant range. And it's becoming easier to implement anything from normal failover high availability to advanced software fault tolerance without touching the application.
In the storage world, we can do the same thing once we separate logical from physical. We can dramatically spike storage performance by putting information on flash, or -- in the future -- dynamically relocating it closer to the user. We can go from very low levels of information protection to extremely robust levels of availability and recoverability -- and back again.
There are more parallels and capabilities to be discussed, but I think you get the idea: separate logical from physical, and all sorts of wonderful things are now possible.
Virtualization Changes How IT Does Things
Talk to any server administrator, and ask them to compare how they used to manage their environment in the physical world, and how they now manage their environment in their virtual world, and they'll usually start to smile.
Most things are now so much easier, they'll say. Sure, there are some new challenges to go wrestle with, but the idea of templatizing server images and invoking them dynamically is a really big deal.
The same thing has started to happen as storage gets virtualized as well. NAS (filesystem) storage models can be inherently easier to manage since they provide a convenient abstraction. Object models for storage go even further, and are almost trivial to configure and manage in comparison to NAS systems. And even SAN technologies are coming along with virtual pools and dynamic provisioning models.
Like their server equivalents, virtual storage is far easier to manage than the physical kind.
Virtualization Changes How IT Services Are Delivered To The Business
I still run into IT organizations that are struggling on how to sell virtualization to the business people.
Maybe I'm missing something, but I've always found it's about two things: speed and flexibility.
With a virtualized server environment, IT can deliver what the business needs far faster than before. And, if the requirements change (which they always do), IT is much better positioned to react to that change. Oh, by the way, IT will save a ton on capex and opex, meaning that there will be more IT money available to spend on new things that the business people need.Simply put, from the business person's perspective, server virtualization enables better IT. Faster to respond. More flexible when things change. And saves a boatload of money as well.
The same thing is happening as we start to think in terms of virtual storage. To business people, it isn't really storage, it's a place to put their information. Giving business people a place to put their information quickly and with a minimum of fuss creates value. So does being able to react quickly to new requirements. Being incredibly inexpensive and efficient doesn't hurt either.
Once again, from the business person's perspective, virtual storage enables better IT. Faster to respond. More flexible when things change. And saves a boatload of money as well.
Putting It All Together
If you think about the hardware side of enterprise IT, you can boil it down to servers, storage and networks.
We often tend to forget that networks have been virtualized for a very long time. It's been a very long time indeed since anyone has thought about dedicated, physical networks.
Servers -- and desktops -- are well on their way to becoming fully virtualized entities as well. Most everyone sees where it's going, and is trying to get their as quickly as possible.
And, now, the technology pieces are in place to fully virtualize storage as well -- by separating logical from physical we are starting to see the same sort of transformation we’ve seen in networks and servers. IT organizations can save money. Be more responsive to the business. React more quickly to changing requirements.
In one sense, the ability to fully virtualize storage -- in combination with today's virtualized networks, and virtualized servers/desktops -- allows us to seriously contemplate next generation enterprise IT models (for example, private clouds), where enterprise IT is not only built differently, but operated and consumed differently.
And maybe we can start thinking entirely differently about that age-old catch phrase of "IT delivered as a service".