I have recently been dragged kicking and screaming into the virtualised cloud. Along with all my co-workers, and an increasing number of other business managers around the world, I have been moved from my nice, safe local Exchange server to one in the amorphous, mysterious cloud.
It sounds scary, but my IT department told me cloud email was a great thing that promised unlimited email storage and an end to the days of harrowing emails informing me I was approaching my storage limit. With cloud email, I can keep every email forever, although I'm unconvinced that saving mountains of emails will be such a good thing in the long term.
Better still, there was very little dragging, or kicking and screaming involved. Other than having to redirect my tablet and smartphone to the new service, update my webmail bookmark and empty my email inbox, there was not much I had to do. And ever since I made the move, I have not experienced any challenges or performance issues.
A key reason for this is flash storage. Yes, virtualisation is a great tool for improving physical server utilisation and flexibility, as well as reducing power, cooling and data centre footprint costs. That's why the use of virtualisation for email, databases and desktops is growing dramatically.
But virtualised servers are only as effective as the storage performance that supports them. If, as a data centre manager, your clients cannot access their application data quickly or boot their virtual desktop in a reasonable time, your company's productivity and client satisfaction can drop dramatically.
Today, applications most likely run on virtualised servers. The benefit of this is a company can improve server utilisation and run more applications on fewer physical servers. This can reduce power consumption, make more efficient use of data centre floor space and make it easier to configure servers and deploy applications. The cloud also helps streamline application development, allowing companies to more efficiently and cost effectively test software applications across a broad set of configurations and operating systems.
A heated dispute – storage contention
Once application testing is complete, a virtual server's configuration and image can be put on a virtual shelf until they are needed again, freeing up memory, processing, storage and other resources on the physical server for new virtual servers with just a few keystrokes. But with virtualisation and the cloud there can be downsides, like slow performance, especially slow storage performance.
When a number of virtual servers are all using the same physical storage, there can be infighting for storage capacity, generally known as storage contention. These internecine battles can slow application response to a frustratingly glacial pace and lead to issues like VDI Boot and Login Storm – the crush of users booting up or logging in within a small window that overwhelms the server with data requests and degrades response times – that can extend the time it takes for users to login to tens of minutes.
Flash helps alleviate slowdowns in storage performance
This is where flash comes to the rescue. New flash storage solutions are being deployed to help improve virtualised storage performance and alleviate productivity-sapping slowdowns caused by VDI Boot and Login Storm.
Flash can be used as primary storage inside servers running virtual machines to dramatically speed storage response time. It can also be deployed as an intelligent cache for DAS- or SAN-connected storage and even as an external shared storage pool.
It's clear virtualisation requires higher storage performance and better, more cost-effective ways to deploy flash storage. But how much flash is needed depends on the particular virtualisation challenge, configuration and of course budget: while flash storage is extremely fast, it is costlier than disk-based storage. So choosing the right storage acceleration solution can be as important as choosing the right cloud provider for the company's email.
Flash storage solutions can help make mail quickly accessible 24/7 whether users access it from their computer, tablet or smartphone, boosting their productivity and users can be assured that every action item they are sent will quickly make it to their inbox.
Freed from any performance anxieties concerning cloud-based email, the only real challenge users face will be to improve their own response performance to email requests.
Rob Callaghan is manager of product and outbound marketing of Datacenter Solutions Group at LSI Corporation.
Image: Flickr (nttup; Joe Dsilva)