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Set up a rock-solid virtualized storage management strategy

An effective deployment and oversight strategy is essential to get the most out of your virtual storage. Find out what software, hardware and tools can ensure it all runs smoothly.

Despite the benefits of virtualized storage, there's not a clear way to deploy or manage the technology; this is in part because organizations have different requirements, and offerings vary significantly in capabilities, technology requirements and use cases.

Storage virtualization can help simplify management and improve resource use. It also streamlines advanced feature application across the storage pool and extend the life of older storage systems.

When admins deploy and manage virtual storage, they must account for four main considerations. Many of these components are specific to the selected software, but the following are true across the board:

Performance. A virtual storage offering should deliver the performance necessary to support the organization's workloads, no matter the type or how often they fluctuate. The offering should include features to enhance storage performance, while it minimizes any negative effects the virtualization process causes.

Resiliency and availability. A storage virtualization solution should deliver high availability, minimize disruptions in services and protect against data loss. This requires redundant hardware throughout the virtual storage setup, along with comprehensive data protections and fault tolerance.

Security and compliance. No matter what type of storage virtualization or SDS option an IT team deploys, keep security and compliance at the forefront. The virtualized storage tool should always protect data and prevent unauthorized access to the storage infrastructure and its data.

Management and monitoring. Admins must manage and monitor all components in their virtual storage infrastructure. To this end, the software should provide the visibility and control admins require to maintain systems, perform upgrades, manage data, monitor the storage and get issue alerts.

Components of a virtualized storage management strategy

Every virtual storage software has its own best practices, and IT teams must rely heavily on the vendor's documentation to determine the most effective way to deploy, manage and update the virtual storage. Regardless of what an IT team chooses for its virtual storage, there are a few best practices to ensure admins get the required availability and performance.

  1. Choose the right hardware and software.

Whether IT teams plan a virtual storage deployment or update an existing one, they must ensure that they have the right hardware and software in place. Choose hardware that is software vendor certified to specifically work with the virtual storage.

The offering should also support any software, driver or firmware versions that the team uses and avoid unrelated third-party software installation on supporting servers. Aim for balanced configurations across storage nodes, such as use of the same hardware components or storage protocols.

  1. Know the limitations of the virtual storage.

Virtual storage products typically come with limitations and understand what those are before any component deployments or updates.

VMware vSAN does not support space-efficient sparse disks or storage I/O control, and it does not allow a host to participate in multiple vSAN clusters. Microsoft's ReFS requires that admins create a volume rather than upgrade an existing one to use certain new features. NetApp FlexArray imposes specific limitations on storage array logical unit numbers, but those limitations don't apply to native disks.

  1. Get the right mix of storage resources.

Physical storage resources are the backbone for any virtual storage and require a careful balance of performance, capacity and cost. IT managers must decide to implement all solid-state drives (SSDs), all hard-drive disks (HDDs) or a combination of both in a hybrid configuration. Also consider which storage technologies to use, such as serial advanced technology attachment, serial-attached SCSI or non-volatile memory express, and the type and number of storage controllers.

When admins calculate capacity requirements, they should account for the data amounts, formatting overhead and required space for maintenance and data protections; other factors are data reduction capabilities such as compression and deduplication.

  1. Design for resiliency and availability.

Storage virtualization must provide a high degree of availability, reliability and fault tolerance. This requires admins to configure redundant hardware and special software to ensure resiliency and continuous services. Hardware choice, number of hosts in the cluster, RAID type, volume configurations, software settings and data protection strategies all help deliver resiliency. Admins should also be able to scale their systems, swap out hardware when necessary and perform upgrades with minimal downtime or service disruptions.

  1. Think security and compliance at every phase.

Virtual storage products typically provide multiple features to protect the storage configuration, so, take full advantage of them whenever possible; but do understand the effects they can have on such systems.

An offering might support at-rest encryption, but it is labor-intensive to set up, and the encryption process can be CPU-intensive and affect application performance. Virtual storage protection is much like other infrastructure -- follow the principles of least privilege, disable or remove unused services and properly protect the key management server.

  1. Keep systems up to date.

Software vendors provide regular updates and patches that add new features, enhance performance, improve operations or address security issues. It's important to apply these updates as they become available. This includes the virtual storage, but also the OS and any supporting software. But be sure to follow the vendor's recommendations.

A vendor might recommend to turn off automatic updates on OSes or third-party software and set up a manual process. Be sure to update firmware but be aware doing so can affect system stability. Admins should read release notes and fully test any updates before implementation.

  1. Use caching effectively.

Proper caching is key to deliver the storage performance that applications require. Many virtual storage tools provide their own mechanisms for caching data, and admins must work within these constraints when they plan a caching strategy. Factors such as workloads, drive types (SSD or HDD) and caching devices can also play a role. Then be sure to size the cache to accommodate any workloads and choose devices that can deliver the required endurance.

  1. Don't forget the network.

The network is one of the most important factors in virtual storage deployment and maintenance. Its design and configuration must meet the performance and reliability demands necessary to support applications. Not only does this mean implementing redundant components such as switches, routers, cables and network adapters, but also that the equipment must provide the bandwidth and throughput needed to continuously deliver high IOPS and low latency.

  1. Ensure proper maintenance and management.

Virtual storage deployment is one thing. The administration of it all is quite another. A management approach depends on the offering IT management chooses and the tools it provides. Admins must understand how those tools work, their use cases and read any product documentation the vendor provides.

Some virtual storage offerings support policies for storage use control, so configure them with great care during virtual storage set up. Plan for administrative tasks, such as license key management, hardware upgrades or server maintenance and rebalancing.

  1. Maintain end-to-end visibility.

An IT team must continuously monitor the virtual storage to ensure that it is secure, available and performs as expected. Be sure to track everything from storage capacity to network usage. Some vendors provide health monitoring services that can help admins identify potential issues and provide actionable insights.

Admins must evaluate these services to determine whether they're useful -- especially if they have additional subscription fees. The overall goal is to maintain complete visibility into the virtual storage infrastructure so the team can proactively identify and address issues before they become serious concerns.

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