The evolution of virtualisation

The rapid increase of virtualisation in recent years makes it appear as if it's a very recent technology, but it's not quite the overnight success it appears, says Mark Young, Senior Director of Systems Engineering at Tintri.

The rapid increase of virtualisation in recent years, growing from 40% of server workloads in 2012 to nearly 80% in 2016, makes it appear as if it's a very recent technology, says Mark Young, Senior Director of Systems Engineering at Tintri.

But it's not quite the overnight success it appears. For instance, did you know the first hypervisor providing virtualisation was on IBM's one-off CP-40 research system in 1967? And there were a number of versions of virtual machine technologies in the 1970s and 1980s, many of them from IBM, but it was only with the emergence of VMware and the launch of ESX in 2001 that virtualisation began its heady ascent.

During virtualisation's long gestation period, storage was also evolving. Emerging from the mainframe era, the first disk array with integrated cache for the mainframe arrived in 1990 and kick-started the billion-dollar market for disk-centric block storage. The versatility of block level storage made it usable for almost any kind of application, including file storage, database storage and virtual machine file system volumes.

With the digitalisation of the masses and the resultant explosion in data from digital cameras, camcorders, MPs, laptops and smartphones, file storage became more attractive because most users only needed a simple centralised place to store files and folders. In addition, NAS devices that save files on a file level provide a lot of space at a much lower cost than the more complex block storage.

The limitations of block and file storage technologies were exposed by the arrival of server virtualisation as a mainstream technology in the enterprise and the rise of cloud technology. Designed for a physical world decades before the arrival of virtualisation, block and file storage were ill-equipped to support virtualisation. Virtual environments generate far more random I/O patterns than physical ones that can seriously choke hard disk storage. While servers can support upwards of tens of thousands of virtual servers, each generating its own I/O stream, disk-centric storage can't keep up.

Flash storage technology was adopted as a means to match the need for higher I/Os because it could achieve up to 20 times lower latencies and tens of thousands of IOPs, while offering high density and low power consumption. Adding a flash layer to create a hybrid system helped bypass the storage bottleneck and address the performance issues arising from the increased workloads and demands of virtualisation and cloud computing. But while flash can put a lot of IOPs at an organisation's disposal, it can only do so if it is put to work in the right places.

In an increasingly virtualised data centre, the only way to improve performance in the long term is to have VM level visibility as well as VM level manageability. VM-aware storage (VAS) addresses the mismatch between storage and virtualisation. It offers direct visibility into VMs, enabling VM-level analytics that replace guesswork with precision and automation, while eliminating the root cause of storage pain. With VM-level visibility, storage admins can help eliminate planning and complex troubleshooting by providing control, insight and agility. Users can also benefit from end-to-end visibility as it shows latency break down across the host, network and storage, allowing users to solve problems in a few clicks.

Because it is built for virtualised applications, VAS re-establishes a 1:1 mapping between application VMs and their storage, stripping out the complexity of LUNs and volumes with multiple conflicting VMs. As it is application-aware, VAS natively understands and integrates with the applications in a virtual infrastructure. Instead of conventional storage abstractions, VAS uses virtual machine abstractions, such as VMs and virtual disks. Data management operations, such as snapshots, clones, and replication, are at the VM level. The problem of "noisy neighbours" experienced on traditional LUNs where a VM becomes overly demanding or goes rogue is removed by VAS, ensuring there is no conflict over resourcing or policies.

VAS can make virtualisation predictable and easily scalable, improve performance by as much as 10x, slash costs and enable higher IT productivity. It provides guaranteed high performance, higher capacity ultisation, simplified management and scalability, deep insight, efficient protection and disaster recovery. Implementing VAS has allowed organisations to realise performance improvements, cost reductions and management at scale.

Value-added distributor, Networks Unlimited distributes Tintri across Africa. For more details, please contact Nigel Wayne, Tintri product manager at Networks Unlimited at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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