The Storage Hypervisor – Part 1
One of the keys – I think – to the benefits of cloud computing is abstraction. By abstracting our workloads from the boundaries of physical hardware we find ourselves able to do things and manage our resources in ways we haven’t before. When using hardware virtualization – such as VMware vSphere – the hypervisor not only frees us from the limitations of physical hardware boundaries and compatibilities, but provides a new entry point for management, creating a new paradigm.
Things we used to do with installing agents on each OS – such as monitoring, backups and more – can now be orchestrated through a single hypervisor. Provisioning an OS on bare metal used to be cumbersome and often complicated and expensive tools would be needed to do this at scale. With virtualization, not only can we push out a pre-configured OS in minutes, but with the right tools we can do the same for multi-tiered applications complete with firewall rules. These benefits enable us to position the IT organization for Agility. What if we could do the same with a storage hypervisor?
The concept of a storage hypervisor is similar – abstract away the traditional boundaries and limitations of storage with a unifying platform that enables a new paradigm of efficiencies leading towards agility. In fact, Wikipedia defines storage hypervisor as follows:
The storage hypervisor, a centrally-managed supervisory software program, provides a comprehensive set of storage control and monitoring functions that operate as a transparent virtual layer across consolidated disk pools to improve their availability, speed and utilization.
Before we begin looking at some of the benefits a storage hypervisor could provide, let’s first look at some of the requirements.
This term gets tossed around as much as “cloud computing” or “open source” and as often is the case, it can mean wildly different things. Perhaps the best way to illustrate the concept on unified storage is with contrast. Consider a SAN solution which runs three different operating systems – two versions of storage code, plus a 3rd Linux OS for management. To support all this, the SAN solution requires 9U of rack space, compared to just 5U for a competing SAN that uses only a single – and unified – set of code.
The picture above helps us to visualize just how much cost and complexity – and rack space – is reduced when a truly unified solution is used. Only the rack space savings is visualized, but other benefits are implied and these efficiencies will be detailed in future posts.
NetApp’s ONTAP as the Storage Hypervisor
NetApp’s FAS product line (which excludes the Engenio acquisition) is unified around the ONTAP operating system. One platform, one common set of code, from which to abstract storage and provide some outstanding features that provide new levels of efficiency – and when effectively combined can provide a platform for Agililty.
This series will explore these benefits in detail, but here’s just one to start with. With most SANs if you want to migrate from their “mid-range SAN” to the “high end SAN” you have to go through a costly and time consuming data migration to the new environment. Within the NetApp FAS series, you can upgrade simply by essentially swapping out (or replacing) the controllers. The existing disks and data stay in place allowing you to leverage your existing disk/SAN investment without any complicated data migrations. That’s a pretty big benefit! Or should I say Agile?
Earlier this morning Vijay Swami ( @veverything ) and I were discussing a Morningstar article which suggested that another storage vendor was more resilient and “bullet proof” because they had “developed a broad portfolio of solutions, each with a specific target” as opposed to NetApp having a higher “concentration of risk” to potential market “disruption” due to having a single platform.
Let’s think about this carefully for a minute. Is a vendor more “bulletproof” to potential market disruption because their product mix is a patchwork of different solutions that are less than fully integrated? I’d suggest that what’s paramount here is a vendor’s ability to effectively service different market segments (high-end, mid-range, low-end, etc.). If a vendor can effectively serve these same markets with a unified platform instead of a more fragmented offering with different technologies for different markets, that makes the vendor more agile. They will have a lower cost structure and support and integration is simplified. Perhaps the customer benefits the most by having a common OS across all classes of storage – even DR and backups.
In this series I’ll try to take a look at the ways in which ONTAP provides unique benefits for storage efficiency in a virtualized environment, and then build on these features to show how they can be combined with VMware and others in a virtualized environment to empower organizations with Agility.