What is a virtual storage and how can it benefit SMBs?

Before the advent of Server Virtualization, storage was often directly attached to the physical machine that housed the hypervisor. Now, we are seeing some signs of the movement of storage functions–of its intelligence, if not the physical activity- to the virtual server hypervisor, in the form of virtual storage appliance.

But will it be useful and what exactly will this move yield to the storage users will be clarified in this article.

First, of all a Virtual Storage Appliance (VSA) is a storage controller that runs on a virtual machine (VM) to create a shared storage without the cost of additional hardware. This means, a virtual IP storage allows creating a virtual network storage appliance using the existing resources of your virtual server and your storage hardware. It uses all the unused storage within a virtual environment by acting as a data store for virtual machine storage or by presenting storage directly to the VMs for their use.

Technically speaking, the virtual storage appliance consolidates direct-attached capacity on each physical host and creates a virtual storage pool that looks like networked storage.

Thus, virtual storage appliances are highly popular among small and medium scale businesses that need shared storage for redundancy and high availability, as well as with large enterprises that need to migrate data between disparate arrays.

Thus, it offers cost and complexity benefits compared with traditional shared storage. This is obtained as VSAs can replace the need for a traditional shared-storage system, enabling a company to more fully leverage the benefits of server virtualization.

In general, they are two basic ways to achieve shared storage via a hardware based SAN or NAS systems, or via software based virtual storage appliance. A common use case for VSAs is in small and medium-sized businesses where shared storage hasn’t been implemented. In these scenarios, virtual storage appliances consolidate direct-attached capacity on each physical host and create a virtual storage pool that looks like network storage. This enables an SMB to unlock some of the most valuable features of server virtualization like high-availability, improved data protection and simplified storage management.

StoneFly, Inc. offers Storage Concentrator Virtual Machine software, which is a virtual IP Storage software appliance that creates a virtual network storage appliance using the existing resources of your virtual server. This virtual IP storage platform acts as software defined storage for VMware ESX and ESXi environments providing an advanced, fully featured iSCSI SAN and NAS within a VMware virtual machine to form a virtual storage appliance.

Therefore, customers will no longer need a separate box for storing their data. They can create networked IP storage along with server virtual machines, all on the same hardware platform and can increase productivity, simplify management, and reduce power and rack space requirements while using a SCVM Virtual Storage Appliance with existing hardware.

Virtual Storage Appliance vs. Traditional physical storage

In general, traditional shared-storage infrastructure typically consists of either SAN based block storage systems using iSCSI or FC, or NAS based file storage appliance. Implementation of these networked storage systems includes buying the storage system itself and making decisions about future storage requirements and scaling needs.

For most small and medium sized companies, iSCSI is more appealing than FC because of its lower cost and lower complexity, but it may require a network upgrade to support dedicated storage traffic to each host. If in case, storage needs grow, then the expansion may involve multiple buying and running multiple systems.

With a VSA, only software installation and some available server disk capacity is needed. Storage provisioning is available at a click-of-a-button and features such as storage snapshot and thin provisioning features presence will improve effective capacity. When more storage is needed, a company could add hard drives at substantially less cost than that of a typical storage system with the same capacity. Also virtual storage appliances can incorporate disaster recovery feature with the help of remote replication.

For small and medium scale businesses seeking high availability, improved data protection, disaster recovery and simplified management traits, a virtual storage appliance will be an ideal solution to consider. Organizations can go for these appliances without a lot of expertise or financial resources to take fullest advantage of these fundamental aspects of storage virtualization.

For large IT departments which are short on resources or time to find procure and implement a traditional SAN or NAS, these solutions can be appealing too.

So, do consider a virtual storage appliance, when you feel short of resources and budget in your storage environment.

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