Windows drives storage virtualization trend

New research finds that Windows files increase data and need for optimized storage management.

The growth of data coming from the vast number of Windows files has contributed significantly to a surge in popularity of file virtualization in enterprise storage, according to a recent study.

A study published this month by TheInfoPro (TIP) Inc., a New York-based consultancy, looked at purchasing and implementation plans among 155 storage professionals from the largest U.S. companies. Survey data for the study, titled Wave 7 of the Storage Management Report, was collected between January and March.

The survey asked storage professionals to rank in order of priority the technologies they plan to install in the near term and found that file virtualization ranked higher than block virtualization. This is a first, said Robert Stevenson, managing director of TIP's research.

File virtualization, which lets administrators create and manage application-specific storage pools, is less invasive and a more attractive option for storage management than block files, which are single pools of virtual storage. Block files are usually large and tied to specific applications, he said.

"File virtualization tends to be more software-based and is easier to implement," Stevenson said. "Block virtualization forces you to change your infrastructure." Regulatory compliance has spurred an upswing in network-attached storage (NAS) for businesses, he said, resulting in three times the number of NAS footprints over the last 18 months. Continued growth of data from Windows operating system files, given that it is the most prevalent OS, is a significant driver in the trend toward NAS and file virtualization, he added.

"With file virtualization existing outside of the actual data path, there's no dependency on a hardware vendor," said Chris Wolfe, a virtualization and storage expert. "You can switch around your storage infrastructure without any impact on your file-level virtualized resources."

Stevenson also pointed to numbers in his research that he said further reveal why file virtualization is outpacing block virtualization. When storage professionals were asked what they considered to be the most important piece of Information Lifecycle Management -- which is the idea of managing data throughout its useful life -- 40% said data classification was the most important function in ILM.

"If you look at file virtualization products on the market, many are starting to incorporate data classification capabilities," Stevenson said. "That is one reason why we see file virtualization products exceed block virtualization in demand."

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