Virtual View

Collecting massive amounts of data is a necessary task for retailers. But as the volume of data grows, so does the need for storage.

By migrating classic SANs (storage-area networks) in data centers to virtual-storage architectures, retailers are primed to consolidate physical resources, cut operating costs and lower their TCO (total cost of ownership) among hardware, software and networking components.

This message was delivered during “Designing Your Storage Infrastructure for the Virtual Data Center,” a webinar sponsored by Dell, Round Rock, Texas.

A SAN is a specialized high-speed network that connects computer systems to high-performance storage sub-systems. While SANs are common across organizations, including retailers, they have their share of issues.

“They are often costly and complex,” Tim Sherbak, senior manager, solutions marketing, Dell, said during the event. “The physical SAN is also not easy to share or integrate within the storage infrastructure.”

SANs also can be costly to scale as infrastructure grows. “SANs follow an add-on model, so as a SAN is scaled to meet enterprise requirements, organizations are subject to additional licensing and support costs,” Sherbak explained. “This can be 10% to 20% of the original license cost, and this ongoing cost impacts TCO.”

Further, retailers operating SANs need IT managers specialized in how to maintain the infrastructure. “IT managers stay awake at night figuring how to retain storage administrators they have invested in,” he said. “If they leave and go to a new company, IT managers need to recruit or train another specialized administrator.”

That is why virtual storage options are gaining more attention. Companies’ next generation of data centers will support virtualized storage architecture, according to Sherbak. This storage-management option pools data across systems and automatically allocates capacity.

Companies buy software, servers and storage equipment from technology vendor partners, such as HP or Dell, for example. These can be hosted by the vendor or managed in-house by the retailer.

Retailers divide disk space based on company operations or departments. Users access disk space and visibility into data by logging into a Web-based centralized console.

Besides consolidating servers, virtualization increases interoperability of existing servers and storage equipment, and reduces hardware and power costs. It is also a scalable architecture “where new data sets can be deployed and blended from physical resources,” he explained.

This configuration allows retailers to support multiple workloads and share multiple servers simultaneously and seamlessly through the infrastructure. This makes companies more agile as operating fewer physical components lead to less complexity in the data center. By consolidating physical resources into a virtual environment, retailers have the opportunity to reduce license, hardware and overhead costs, which also lowers a company’s IT TCO.

“The goal of virtualization is to get productivity gains,” he said. “Virtualized storage reduces cost and complexity, because IT teams no longer need to manually migrate data to applications. Now there is one physical resource, and it is done online with no impact to the environment.”

This configuration also streamlines enterprise operations. For example, virtualization helps companies balance the workload across their server community, rather than overload dedicated servers. “If a server does fail, virtualization allows a company to easily and seamlessly transition to a backup server without losing data or [experiencing] crashes,” he said.

“You want to have availability in the system for failover support in case of network failure,” Sherbak explained. “Then you can route around the network failure and still access data.”

Similarly, disaster recovery is improved. “With more scalable backup, companies can get a quick recovery,” he said.

“Now companies have the ability to bring up their environment at a disaster-recovery site if there is a failure at the physical product site,” Sherbak noted.

“By consolidating and using fewer physical resources, companies can enhance disaster recovery within the enterprise. The backup can be in the next room, county or across the country,” he noted. “Replication is streamlined, and data is easily moved from a virtual server to one in a disaster-recovery site.”