Why aren’t resellers seeing broader acceptance of server virtualisation among SMBs? Many of the smaller firms that can benefit from the features of server virtualisation haven’t adopted it yet, even though the technology is widely accepted in larger enterprises and more affordable SMB versions of the solutions are available.
Many resellers have found that the cost and complexity of shared storage is one of the main reasons. In fact, shared storage is required in order to take full advantage of the business continuity features of VMware offerings, for example, but it can add greatly to the cost of implementing server virtualisation. Talk about a turn-off for the market.
SMB customers and branch offices have had to go without the high availability and ease of management features they get with VMware HA, VMotion and DRS, because of the cost of the shared storage.
Beyond this cost issue, the features are also frequently too complicated to manage for organisations with teams and budgets so small there might not be the resources to invest in costly training.
Many storage vendors have tried to address this challenge by releasing ‘lite’ versions of their higher-end storage area network (SAN) products. However, often they haven’t addressed the complexity issue. So end users pay less, get less and yet are left with the management nightmare.
I believe that a Storage Virtual Appliance (SVA) solution can reduced the cost of the shared storage to a fraction of that of a traditional SAN or network-attached storage (NAS) and that the complexity is reduced rather a lot.
Business continuity without cost and complexity
This way they can provide end users with the business continuity features they need without adding cost and complexity, and therefore target a substantial share of the market which is today – so far -- largely untapped.
An SVA unlocks the resources (disk drives and processor) of the ESX server and provides a virtual SAN that enables data stores to be shared in the same way as an external shared storage system.
By using the internal disk drives of the ESX server to create a virtual SAN, SVAs provide a cost-effective shared storage environment without the need to install a complex external SAN. This means resellers can also reassure their customers that they will not be faced with expensive support and maintenance contracts which – especially for SMBs – tend to be a sore point.
An SVA provides enterprise-class data storage services while hosting them in a virtual machine running under ESX rather than by relying on an external and costly storage system. This enables the SVA to take control of a VMware ESX server’s internal disk drives -- commonly referred to as direct attached storage (DAS) -- and virtualise them as part of the virtual SAN.
Creating data stores for any ESX server
The SVA, which runs in a standard virtual machine (VM) and communicates directly with RAID hardware via an agent, uses the server’s DAS storage to create data stores which can be made available to and shared by any ESX server on the network.
In most environments virtual servers are implemented as part of a server consolidation strategy so this could be the starting point for the reseller. Usually the servers’ applications are critical to the organisation and unplanned downtime is unacceptable; a hardware failure on a virtual server platform could result in many VMs and virtualised servers becoming unavailable.
To prevent this downtime it is essential that the entire virtualised environment is built to provide high availability, with no single point of failure and SVAs offer high availability so even if an ESX server or its data storage become unavailable, the datastores can still be accessed.
At a time when budgets are still flat, it is important for vendors and the channel alike to be realistic and target the market with solutions that aim to meet customers’ selection criteria without compromising on price. Never has this been more important than it is in the SMB space today.
Mike Stolz is vice president of sales and marketing at StorMagic
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