What is storage virtualisation?


What is storage virtualisation?

Storage virtualisation places an abstraction layer between the application that stores/retrieves data and the storage hardware. In a virtual environment, an application defines its storage requirements in terms of capacity, performance and lifecycle controls. Then a virtualisation engine masks the underlying storage technology and lets the system manage itself based on predefined policies.

There are three major types of virtualisation engine: server-based, fabric-based and array-based. Each abstracts the storage at a different level: on the server, fabric or array.


Processing is performed locally on the host system using a management console to enforce policies.

Advantages: Tends to be very scalable.

Disadvantages: Does not usually offer advanced data movement features, such as mirroring and replication.

Examples: Sun's ZFS or Veritas Volume Manager.


Processing is performed within the storage network, using one or more appliances to enforce data access and storage policies.

Advantages: Many options available, from in- or out-of-band appliances, stand alone boxes or switch-based appliances.

Disadvantages: Some in-band appliances may struggle to scale in some environments.

Examples: IBM's San Volume Controller, Network Appliances gFiler, or the Cisco switch-based Storage Services Module.


A recent twist on the fabric-based manager is to move all storage administration functions into one huge storage subsystem, and in theory it should be possible to link multiple storage controllers together in a storage pool of almost infinite capacity. Control in this model may reside either on a server running a policy management utility or the storage subsystem itself.

Advantages: There is only one point of control through which every I/O request must pass.

Disadvantages: Potentially a single point of failure. No supplier encapsulates all of their competitors' installed arrays, so this model will be the hardest to implement in a mixed-supplier shop.

Examples: Hitachi's Tagmastore, StorageTek's Iceberg and 3PAR's Utility Storage array.

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This was first published in August 2005


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