The x86 server market has been transformed since VMware’s introduction of its EXS hypervisor. CIOs now associate its offerings positively with higher utilisation and lower hardware costs. In addition, advanced virtualisation has enabled x86 servers to compete very successfully with Unix and mainframe machines – especially after the Credit Crunch downturn in 2008. Server hypervisors (VMware, Microsoft Hyper-V, Xen and KVM) are regularly deployed across x86 systems.
The storage systems market has also changed dramatically with the development of SAN and NAS offerings, which increase utilisation and reduce spending significantly. The array vendors virtualised their own proprietary storage controllers, but only in a few instances have they attempted to embrace other vendors’ arrays (e.g. HDS and NetApp).
In this way users typically have to pick both technology and its supplier when considering smarter storage. There has been no parallel to a broadly adopted ‘VMware for storage systems’ and few users today implement space and cost saving techniques across multiple heterogeneous arrays.
There are however a handful of suppliers promoting the concept of ‘storage hypervisors’ – namely Data Core, Falconstor, Virsto and IBM. All provide techniques for adding a virtualisation layer above storage and on heterogeneous arrays. There are a number of criteria we consider in assessing strategies. In particular:

  • Despite having EMC as its main owner VMware remains exclusively a software vendor – it is likely that successful storage hypervisor vendors will be similar; if not they will need to be brave in accepting reduced hardware revenues from software success
  • Attachment into server virtualisation management – Microsoft, VMware, Red Hat and others have moved strongly into systems management; it is likely that storage hypervisors will need to be implemented as plugins to these environments
  • Partnerships and distribution channels are vitally important – but difficult because spreading out to a heterogeneous market is clearly against the interests of most of the storage systems suppliers

Storage hypervisors have relevance to our virtualisation, data intelligence, resource efficiency and go-to-market themes. The suppliers pursuing the concept are undoubtedly rainmakers if they succeed in bringing the kinds of advantages VMware has delivered in the server market.

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