An Overview of Storage Virtualization

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Virtualization allows users to virtualize or simulate real-world hardware. While there are many different types of virtualization, this article focuses on storage virtualization technology.

What Is Storage Virtualization?

Storage virtualization allows you to manage it from a console and take advantage of pooling resources together to create a scalable storage solution. This is an improvement over the traditional way of managing physical devices. You can also pool small to medium size hard drives together and get one massive drive that you can split between various machines.

What Is a Virtual Storage Appliance?

A Virtual Storage Appliance (VSA) is a software-based storage solution that operates within a virtualized environment on a virtual machine (VM). It abstracts the storage resources and presents them as a virtual storage device to the VMs and the underlying host infrastructure. VSAs are particularly useful in small to mid-sized environments, remote or branch office (ROBO) scenarios, and test/dev environments. They provide a software-based alternative to dedicated physical storage systems, offering flexibility, scalability, and cost savings while integrating seamlessly with virtualization platforms.

How Does Storage Virtualization Work?

Storage virtualization abstracts the underlying physical storage resources and presents them as virtualized storage to the applications, operating systems, and other components within a computing environment. As a result, this allows for centralized management and logical grouping of storage resources, providing a unified view and control over the storage infrastructure. 

By leveraging storage virtualization, organizations can achieve improved storage utilization, simplified management, enhanced scalability, better data mobility, and increased flexibility in deploying and managing storage resources. Additionally, virtualization allows for decoupling storage from physical hardware, providing a more efficient and agile approach to storage management in modern data center environments.

What Are the Types of Storage Virtualization?

There are six different types of virtual storage.

1. Block-Level

When you write to a hard drive on your desktop computer, it writes directly to the hard disk. This is block-level storage. When you use virtualized block storage, the server acts as a desktop computer and can access virtual disks, which act like regular hard drives. This gives you benefits such as booting off of a block device along with increased performance and scalability.

2. Object-Level

Object storage doesn’t store your data on a disk directly. Instead, it’s abstracted into data buckets. API (Application Programming Interface) calls access this data from your application. 

For large amounts of data, this can be a more scalable solution than block storage. This means you don’t have to worry about running out of space after setting up your buckets.

3. File-Level

People use file server software like Samba and NFS when they want another server to host their files. The files are saved in folders called shares. Consequently, this removes the need to manage disk space and allows multiple people to share a storage device. Servers, virtual servers, and desktop computers can all take advantage of file servers.

4. Host-Based

Virtual servers typically can’t access the host machine’s drives directly. This increases security by isolating the host from the guest. That way, if the guest gets hacked or infected, it can’t spread to the host or virtual machines. However, some users don’t like this isolation. Hence, host-based storage was created. 

Host-based storage virtualization allows access to the host or devices attached to the host. A driver installed on the server intercepts and redirects the IO (Input and Output) requests. Typically, these IO requests go directly to a hard drive, but they could also be routed to other devices, such as a USB flash drive. The most common use for this type of storage is accessing physical installation CDs or DVDs so that you can easily install an operating system on the virtual machine.

5. Network-Based

A fiber channel switch is placed between the host and the storage. The switch is where the virtualization occurs and redirects the IO requests. This method works with any operating system without special drivers.

6. Array-Based

A master array handles all of the IO requests for all of the arrays. This allows for management from a central location and simplifies data migrations.

Benefits of Storage Virtualization

Storage virtualization offers several benefits for organizations, including the following:

Simplified Management

Storage virtualization simplifies storage management by abstracting the physical storage resources from the applications and operating systems. It provides a unified view of storage resources and allows administrators to manage storage centrally, regardless of the underlying physical storage devices. This simplification reduces complexity, streamlines storage provisioning, and improves administrative efficiency.

Improved Performance and Availability

Storage virtualization often incorporates advanced features like data striping, caching, and automated data tiering. These features can improve storage performance by optimizing access and distributing data across multiple storage devices. Additionally, virtualized storage architectures often provide redundancy and fault-tolerance mechanisms, enhancing data availability and minimizing downtime.

Improved Storage Utilization 

Storage virtualization enables better utilization of storage resources. Organizations can achieve higher storage efficiency by pooling and consolidating multiple devices into a virtualized storage pool. Virtualization allows for dynamic allocation of storage capacity as needed, preventing over-provisioning and optimizing the utilization of available storage resources.

Simplified Backup and Disaster Recovery

Virtualized storage can simplify backup and disaster recovery processes. Organizations can implement consistent backup policies and streamline data protection across different storage systems by centralizing storage management. Storage virtualization also enables replication and snapshot capabilities, allowing for efficient and reliable disaster recovery solutions.

Flexibility and Scalability

Storage virtualization provides flexibility and scalability in managing storage infrastructure. It allows organizations to easily add or remove storage resources without disrupting operations. You can dynamically expand or migrate virtualized storage to different physical devices as your storage needs grow or change, enabling seamless scalability and adaptability to evolving business requirements.

Data Mobility and Non-Disruptive Migration

Storage virtualization enables non-disruptive data migration and mobility. Virtualized storage abstracts the physical storage details, allowing you to easily move data between storage systems or tiers without impacting applications or users. This facilitates load balancing, system upgrades, data replication, and disaster recovery.

Vendor Independence and Investment Protection

Storage virtualization can reduce vendor lock-in and provide investment protection. By abstracting the storage infrastructure from the virtualization layer, organizations can utilize heterogeneous storage devices and easily integrate new storage technologies as they become available. This flexibility reduces dependence on specific storage vendors and extends the lifespan of existing storage investments.

What Is the Difference Between VMware vSAN vs Traditional SAN?

SAN (storage area network) is an abstraction of your data. It’s switch-based and hardware-defined. Your data is isolated from your client or server. While you can use many drives to define a single SAN, they must all be located in the same box.

When comparing VMware vSAN vs traditional SAN, vSAN is a port-based SAN. It’s software-defined, which brings with it the advantage of centralized storage management. While it is isolated from your client or server, it’s also a pooled resource. So, you can use several drives in many different locations to define the vSAN.

What Are the Benefits of vSAN?

There are four key benefits of vSAN over regular SAN:

  1. Easy management — Virtualization makes management and provisioning a breeze. You can make changes with only a few clicks instead of going to the data center and swapping out cables or adding new drives, to say nothing of the lengthy downtime.
  2. Scalable — Easily scale as you need to as your business grows. Custom build solutions to your complex needs without worrying about limitations.
  3. Fast deployment — You can handle inventory and deployment from a single management console.
  4. Cost-effective — By sharing storage among multiple ESXi hosts, you are able to use the space more effectively. You can also pool hardware together to minimize cost.

Why Choose VMware Private Cloud and NetApp SAN

Take advantage of storage virtualization using vSAN and Liquid Web’s VMware Private Cloud. With private cloud, a powerful host machine splits pooled resources up across virtual machines. It’s flexible because you can add and remove resources as needed to your various VMs, with centralized storage management via vSAN. 

VMware is an industry-standard market leader in virtualization. From high availability to selective resizes to vSANs, VMware Private Cloud has it all, and we back it with our industry-leading 24/7/365 support. Contact us to learn more about getting started with VMware Private Cloud now.

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About the Author

Mohammed Noufal

Mohammed Noufal is a B.Tech graduate with a decade of experience in server administration and web hosting. He is a father to two daughters and finds fulfillment in their growth. In his free time, he enjoys blogging, sharing experiences, and listening to music. With a strong technical background, family commitment, and creative outlets, he represents a well-rounded life journey.

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