Leveraging Next-Gen Storage

By Bob Violino Print this article Print
Next-gen storage

Cloud-based storage promises new efficiencies because it enables companies to reduce their dependence on an ever-increasing number of hardware storage systems.

Data storage, much like other components of IT, is in the midst of a transformation. The latest generation of storage technology leverages the cloud and software-defined solutions designed to reduce costs and increase flexibility and scalability.

Cloud-based storage promises new efficiencies because it enables companies to reduce their dependence on an ever-increasing number of hardware storage systems in the data center.

One of the key business drivers for cloud storage is cost savings, says Henry Baltazar, senior analyst at Forrester Research. Another driver is elasticity. "The ability to add capacity and remove it on demand is key," he says. "While enterprises can scale up storage, once a storage array is lit up, that resource cannot be retired until its life cycle ends."

Part of cloud storage is software-defined storage, which enables rapid policy-based provision and management of data storage within a private or public cloud infrastructure. SDS typically includes a form of storage virtualization that separates storage hardware from the software that manages the storage infrastructure.

The College of Business at Oregon State University has been using a virtual storage-area network offering called Virtual SAN (VSAN) from VMware since June 2014 to provide virtual desktop services for users. The college considered using a storage array from another vendor, but it was a hardware-based product that would have required a significant up-front investment, says Alan Sprague, senior system administrator at Oregon State.

"What drove us to this solution was that our current environment had grown to the point where it was no longer able to support the load we were putting on it," he says. The previous storage system was direct-attached, meaning each server had individual drives.

VSAN is built into the hypervisor right at the kernel level, Sprague explains, "which is significantly more efficient than what we were previously using." Even with many users on a single cluster, there are no boot storms, and users can sign on in less than a minute.

Firmware upgrades are less risky than with a traditional SAN setup, because there is no single point of failure, Sprague points out. "Before Virtual SAN, we had no ability to scale," he says, "but now there is a much better and more controllable cost per desktop. If I want to add additional capacity, I just add an additional server. I don't have to worry about whether my SAN can grow or not."

That's great for budgeting, especially for a public institution with limited funds. "I can scale one small chunk at a time without having to worry about this huge monolithic SAN that I'd have to replace in five years," Sprague says. "I'm planning for the day when the university can offer ubiquitous 24/7 student access to the network, so users won't have to be tied to the labs. We didn't previously have the capacity to do it, but now I can generate capacity easily."

Storage management is greatly simplified, and performance has been increased dramatically. "Previous to VSAN, we were getting login storms that would bog down the server, causing login times to spike up to as high as 20 minutes," Sprague recalls. "Now we can turn over a 50-seat lab in under three minutes."

As of now, the college is still a storage pioneer on campus, with most groups just starting to figure out that virtual desktops are a good idea, much less how to provide better storage. "Within the college of business, we are looking at expanding into more of a layered approach to application provisioning," Sprague says, "utilizing RDS [Remote Desktop Services from Microsoft] for some of the more common applications, to help give us better provisioning control, as well as potentially spreading the load out a little more."

This article was originally published on 2015-01-14

Bob Violino is a contributing writer for Baseline and the editorial director at Victory Business Communications.

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