Configuration, provisioning storage skills in short supply on VMware projects

According to users at Storage Expo, the key challenge for many storage managers today may be ensuring that their storage engineers know how to configure and provision storage for a virtualised server environment.

If you're deploying storage for a virtualised server environment, make sure your storage engineers have the skills they will need. These storage skills include:
  • configuring and provisioning storage for a virtualised environment;
  • making changes to LUNs dedicated to specific applications; and
  • ensuring priority for storage traffic across networks
That was the message from users at a seminar on storage and server virtualisation held at Storage Expo in London this week.

"The key challenge we encountered was around the skillsets we found we needed when it came to maintaining storage in a virtualised environment," said Zafar Chaudry, IT director at Liverpool Women's NHS Foundation Trust.

"If your tech staff have evolved into very particular roles in the organisation, you may struggle to find time to send them onto the courses needed to give them the skills needed to configure and maintain storage for the new set-up," he said.

Chaudry recommended that users going down the server virtualisation route should ensure they gain maximum knowledge transfer from integrators to their staff during the design and implementation process.

"And make sure you think about the skills issue early and build that into the cost of the project," added Chaudry, who has overseen a nine month project which has seen the virtualisation of 40 physical servers distributed across a number of sites to four virtual servers using VMware with two EMC Clariion/Centerra SANs at two sites.

The project resolved a situation which often saw staff backing up onto memory sticks from individual servers, transformed a poor uptime state of 85% to five nines and reduced storage management time and power usage by 70%.

Richard Gough, IT operations manager at the healthcare research organisation Wellcome Trust, which has 6,000 scientists in 50 countries worldwide, has overseen the creation of two mirrored sites in London using VMware ESX virtual servers and Pillar Data Systems' Axiom application-aware storage arrays.

"Build your training and knowledge transfer costs into the project from the word go," Gough said. "I am currently rewriting all the job descriptions of all my IT staff because of virtualisation, and I've learned that for that reason it is important to get their buy-in early on in the project."

Network savvy key for replication of VM images
According to Jonathon Hutchings, senior systems engineer with the University of Oxford, "Dependence on network-related skills will increase heavily with virtualisation, especially when replicating [virtual machine] images." He added, "You'll need a good understanding of how the network works to make things happen."

"If you've done a voice-over-IP implementation, you'll have the right mindset for the storage and networking aspects of server virtualisation," he said. "It's all about quality of service."

Hutchings recently oversaw the implementation of a virtualised server environment which reduced 200 physical servers with direct-attached storage serving 20,000 students and 9,000 staff across 38 sites to 14 VMware ESX servers. The environment also included two Lefthand Networks iSCSI SANs replicating between two sites in the city using 10 Gigabit Ethernet fibre links.

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