Server virtualisation with SAN storage rocks, says Internet group CTO

Forward's Lukas Oberhuber on server virtualisation and SAN storage, the role of capacity and performance in storage, and why his biggest headache is backing up data.

Server virtualisation and SAN storage mean developers can go to work on new products almost instantaneously. In the past, a new project would need to be physically provided with its own server and storage capacity. Now, server virtualisation allows both to be provided via 'soft' processes almost instantly.

That's a key satisfaction of the job for Lukas Oberhuber, CTO at Internet group Forward, who spoke this week with bureau chief Antony Adshead as part of our regular Storage Pro-File series.

 When you're paying for experienced developers, they shouldn't be sitting around doing nothing. It's good to be able to say 'Go and do it -- do it today!'
Lukas Oberhuber

Oberhuber talks about the flexibility of server virtualisation and shared storage, the perfect relationship between storage and the rest of the business, and why he wants the ability to throttle back a server's access to a logical unit number (LUN).

If you think you or someone you know would be a good candidate for our Storage Pro-File, please submit their contact information to [email protected]. How did you get involved with storage?

Oberhuber: I graduated in 1990 and joined Oracle for six and a half years working on middleware and multimedia tools. Then I was at Dimension X where I built multimedia Java tools, and following that Sapient where I first got involved with storage for sites such as, for which we used EMC hardware in conjunction with Oracle databases in a high-availability failover setup. I've also built a couple of startup businesses in the Wi-Fi mobile roaming and online survey spaces.

I've been at Forward International for the last three years building the IT and development teams from the ground up. What's the biggest satisfaction you get as a storage professional?

Oberhuber: The best satisfaction is having the ability to give developers the VMs [virtual machines] and the storage capacity they need in less than a day. When you're paying good money for experienced developers, they shouldn't be sitting around doing nothing. It's good to be able to say "Go and do it -- do it today!" How do you think storage is viewed by other parts of IT and the business, and what's the best way of bridging the gap between them?

Oberhuber: The reality is that the rest of the business doesn't want to know about storage. And that's the way it should be. It should be a service on demand, and not something we get bogged down in.

There are only two times when the rest of the business notices storage: when they need more of it and it has to be bought, and when two servers are competing for storage resources and performance suffers.

Capacity is a cost issue. When it's needed, you have to tell the user it'll cost money; then you have to justify to the board why you need to spend money, and spend wisely when you do.

With performance, the key is to ensure your IT staff understand all your systems and can spot where the bottlenecks will occur before they happen. What's the biggest challenge you face in storage?

Oberhuber: We've cracked the capacity issue, and storage works very well as long as we are tracking capacity and performance and staying ahead of it. So, the biggest headache we face is backing up the amounts of data we have.

Apart from that it's getting approval for the next big upgrade. What could vendors do better?

Oberhuber: What we'd like to see is the ability to throttle back connections to the storage so that we can give guarantees of performance to certain servers. At present, if you have one server asking for access to a LUN, no one else can get to it. Sometimes you want to restrict a server's access to a LUN. I think VMware has this capability, but we'd like to see it in the storage array.

Also, we'd like to see energy usage brought down, as it's a major proportion of our costs. What is your advice to storage managers on dealing with storage vendors and new technologies?

Oberhuber: Don't be afraid of jumping to new technologies when they're at the beginning of their lifecycle. You'll be living with them for three to five years and at the beginning it'll seem like it's too early, but after that period, by the time all the testimonials are published, you'll have missed out on a long period of potential advantage.

You'll understand fairly quickly whether a new technology works for you or not, and you should be ready to ditch it. In short, you should understand your risk appetite. What would you have done if you hadn't been in IT storage?

Oberhuber: I have two novels I've written and not had published, and I also did a lot of drama. But those are things that are not easy to have careers in, and in any case I've always loved computers and been drawn back to them.


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