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Top storage concepts every virtualisation administrator should understand

10 Aug 2013
FYI, this story is more than a year old

Dell Software has revealed the most important storage concepts today’s virtualisation administrators should understand if they are going to manage the virtual environment effectively.

The tech giant claims that while storage configuration is a foundational element of a modern data centre environment, the space remains a complex challenge for many organisations.

Without storage, the virtual environment cannot operate, since there would be no place for the machines to exist.

But at the same time, the storage configuration can make or break infrastructure performance and availability, so it’s important that configuration be right for the virtual environment Dell Software says.

As organisations continue to leverage innovative technologies to modernise the data centre, the roles of IT administration are beginning to converge, with responsibilities expanding into new domains.

Yesterday’s “silo” administrator is quickly becoming today’s “infrastructure administrator,” a next-generation role requiring a broad spectrum of knowledge across multiple IT domains.

As part server administrator, virtual environment manager, network engineer and storage architect, today’s infrastructure administrator needs the skills to build, maintain and manage high performing data centre infrastructure solutions.

It’s the administrator’s job to create a flexible infrastructure in which capacity can be scaled up or down as business requirements change, while concentrating simultaneously on data centre cost optimisation.

“As the virtualisation manager’s role edges more and more toward managing the infrastructure as a whole, it’s crucial for that individual to have broad knowledge of all aspects of the infrastructure," says John McNelly, Product Marketing Manager, Dell Software.

"The virtualisation environment requires storage to operate, and the infrastructure’s performance and availability are closely tied to the storage configuration, as well.

"We offer these nine storage concepts to help the infrastructure manager gain the knowledge necessary to keep the storage infrastructure running smoothly, so that it fully supports both the physical and virtual data centre infrastructure.”

Top storage concepts for virtual environments

1. What are VAAI and ODX and why are they so popular and important?

Both VMware vStorage APIs for Array Integration (VAAI) and Microsoft Offloaded Data Transfer (ODX) have features that let organisations maximise their storage investments, although VAAI is considered slightly more mature.

Both VAAI and ODX aim to place more responsibility for handling overall storage operations on the storage infrastructure, without constantly having to involve the host.

As virtualisation-specific technologies that can introduce significant storage-related performance gains in the data centre, VMware VAAI and Microsoft ODX are becoming increasingly common, and are powerful constructs that can improve storage operation performance by orders of magnitude.

2. What are the best ways to measure various aspects of the storage environment?

Storage capacity is often considered the most important metric for measuring the storage environment. But, while ensuring the environment has enough physical storage capacity to meet workload requirements is important, it’s equally important to track metrics related to performance.

When storage performance becomes problematic, the workloads running on that storage can behave erratically, causing a negative effect on the business.

Performance statistics that should be tracked regularly include latency ─ the time it takes for an entire storage operation to take place ─ and IOPS, the number of Input/Output Operations per Second (IOPS) that can take place.

3. How do different kinds of hard drives differ from one another?

The type of storage deployed into the data centre directly affects both the overall potential availability of applications, and the organisation’s ability to acquire sufficient storage to meet capacity needs.

Three of the options available when it comes to choosing hard drives for a server or storage array are:

· Serial ATA (SATA) disks, the capacity workhorses of the IT industry. They are available in capacities of up to 4 TB, but are at the bottom of the food chain when it comes to performance and overall reliability

· Near Line SAS (NL-SAS) disks, in which the actual disk platters are enterprise grade SATA platters, and the connector is of the SAS variety. This combination lets customers enjoy SATA’s capacity benefits while also enjoying some advanced features afforded by the SAS connector

· Serial Attached SCSI (SAS) disks, a staple in the data centre when it comes to enterprise level storage. Compared to SATA and NL-SAS disks, SAS disks are both faster and an order of magnitude more reliable, but they lack the capacity of SATA units.

4. What is solid-state storage and why is it important?

Solid state is the fourth hard drive option for a server or storage array. Expensive solid-state storage has been available for quite some time.

Solid-state disks are less expensive today, but remain the most expensive type of storage when it comes to capacity. They are much more affordable when performance is the primary metric. Because they have no moving parts, solid-state disks sport low latency and very good random access performance.

They are reliable, require less power than rotating disks, and experience no physical wear and tear or mechanical breakdowns, but they are smaller than hard disks, and are only good for a finite number of erase/rewrite cycles before they are effectively dead.

Check out Dell Software's further top storage concepts for virtual environments on Monday - at

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