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Automated Virtual Management of Data Centers is the new End Game

Virtualizing the data center has become the new end game in data center management if, for no other reason, the more resources you virtualize, the more money you save. But as anyone who manages a virtualized data center already knows, to realize the full benefits of virtualizations means one should also look to optimize the management of the components that make up the virtualized data center. That’s where most software tools still fall short but StrataScale’s IronScale represents a new breed of software that is promising to change this dynamic.

Most software tools that are designed to manage virtualized data centers fail for various reasons including:

  • The environment is too heterogeneous for effective software management. While there are a number of software products that do manage heterogeneous environments, they can’t manage every virtualized device or operating system that corporations require so companies still end up needing to manage many of these devices as one-offs. As a result, they do not achieve the full benefits that they hoped to achieve when creating a virtualized environment.
  • The software provides inadequate levels of management. The term “management” is used in very nebulous terms so it can mean anything from discovering a specific operating system or device to managing the device itself. In virtualized environments it certainly helps to discover and know how many virtual machines reside on a specific physical machine. But to really realize the full benefits of a virtualized environment, administrators need management software that goes beyond knowing how many devices there are to automating the management and provision of resources on these devices.
  • The software is based on standards. Standards-based management always sounds good on the surface but when one digs a little deeper, software that only manages devices based on standards is inadequate for most data centers requirements. The biggest problem is that by the time standards are agreed upon and software developed to support them, the need for the standards no longer exists. Further, the level of management that most standards provides is only rudimentary and often not sufficiently sophisticated for the requirements of today’s enterprises.

With those challenges in mind, StrataScale’s IronScale differentiates itself from competitors and has a realistic chance to succeed where others have fallen short. A recent conversation I had with StrataScale’s Director of Product Management, Reed Smith, and Senior Manager of Channels, Glenn Young, gave me some insight into why StrataScale is starting to succeed in a market where its competitors are still failing to gain traction.

First, IronScale is not looking to boil the ocean in terms of managing heterogeneous environments. It is looking to manage “heterogeneous” environments in the sense that these environments will consist of Linux, Windows and virtualization operating systems and a defined set of networking and storage systems. In this way, StrataScale can go beyond “standard” management functionality and take advantage of the richer features that each of these operating, network and storage systems offer so it can begin to automate the management of these virtualized environments.

StrataScale clients have already cut the time for server builds down from hours, days or weeks to just minutes. Administrators can configure network, security, server and storage through a standard web GUI interface. They can also configure advanced protection options for individual servers such as taking snapshots of the SAN-attached storage and do failovers between servers.

Second, StrataScale’s go-to-market strategy is to avoid making irresponsible promises that it can manage any heterogeneous environment. Instead it is focusing on delivering its IronScale software to providers and/or organzations who are looking to provide cloud-based storage services to consumers and businesses, external or internal. These providers are looking to create a heterogeneous server and storage environment but also have control over what operating systems and networking and storage devices that they bring in their environment.

StrataScale is for now avoiding going into data centers where servers, networking and storage gear may show up willy-nilly. In these locations, there is no reasonable expectation of effectively virtualizing and managing a hodge-podge of operating systems and storage gear at an enterprise level. By instead targeting cloud-based services providers, they are targeting a group that has control over what equipment shows up in its infrastructure and are incentivized to manage it in the best possible way.

The biggest precaution that prospective companies should exercise when looking to adopt StrataScale’s IronScale is to closely examine how well it supports virtual operating systems such as Citrix’s XenServer, VMware’s ESX Server and Microsoft’s Hyper-V and how much support they would need in order to effectively use IronScale in their environment. For a company that is promising to help service providers optimally manage virtualized environments, it is only now (this week) that IronScale 1.4 supports these virtual operating systems.

According to StrataScale’s Reed, support for virtualized operating systems was fast-tracked to meet current and anticipated customer requirements. However prospective users of IronScale should be aware that none of StrataScale’s 130 production servers in its data center as of the writing of this blog yet run on virtual operating systems and they should be sure to inquire what internal testing StrataScale has done before deploying IronScale in their environment.

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Jerome M. Wendt

About Jerome M. Wendt

President & Lead Analyst of DCIG, Inc. Jerome Wendt is the President and Lead Analyst of DCIG Inc., an independent storage analyst and consulting firm. Mr. Wendt founded the company in September 2006.

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