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Storage virtualization vendors: 10 questions to ask them

Asking potential storage virtualization vendors the right questions is complicated because there are three approaches: server-based, SAN-based and controller-based.

Asking potential storage virtualization vendors the right questions is complicated because there are three approaches:...

server-based, SAN-based and controller-based.

Therefore, the questions you ask storage virtualization vendors will depend on where they virtualize storage. If they offer server-based virtualization, you may want to ask:

  • Which vendors' storage is supported? Obviously, you will want to make sure that you're the storage of your existing (or planned) vendors are supported.
  • Is the software needed on all servers in the network? Multiple instances of the software may provide better control, but it can also run up the cost of the solution.
  • How does the product handle disaster recovery? Can it recover across multiple servers and storage arrays? Make sure the product handles disaster recovery effectively.

If they offer SAN-based virtualization, you may want to ask them:

  • Which storage devices do you support? From which vendors? Remember, not every vendor supports everything.
  • Do you use third-party products? Many network-based virtualization vendors are SAN vendors who have partnered with software companies to provide virtualization services through their SAN. Which is fine – if the interoperability is capably handled and if it is clear which vendor is supporting what.
  • What is the maximum bandwidth supported? What is the maximum storage capacity?

There are always limits in SAN-based virtualization products, both on the throughput and the total amount of storage. Generally, the throughput limits will kick in before you reach storage capacity limits.

If the vendor offers controller-based virtualization, you may want to ask:

  • What kinds of storage devices do you support? From which vendors? This applies no matter which approach the virtualization vendor takes.
  • Are any storage management functions handled by the virtualization device? How are they integrated with the system's existing storage management? Ideally you want the device to virtualize storage management as well so you can continue to manage storage as you have without virtualization.
  • How do you implement disaster recovery? Can you handle disaster recovery across multiple devices? Multi-device disaster recovery can be particularly tricky for controller-based virtualization because its view of the SAN tends to be narrower than server or network based approaches.

    IBM has put together a list of questions that are fairly vendor-neutral to ask storage virtualization vendors. This list provides a good starting point for selecting a storage virtualization product.

    About the author: Rick Cook has been writing about mass storage since the days when the term often meant an 80K floppy disk. Today he specializes in writing about issues related to storage and storage management.

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This was last published in May 2006

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