Storage Virtualization


Virtual storage is a construct that exists within a virtual environment, acting as an abstraction between the user and the physical storage hardware. It appears to the user just like an actual storage drive.

Why is storage virtualization needed?

Despite the drive for digital transformation, IT departments are held back by the constant need to administer, tune, and maintain storage infrastructure that supports apps and data. In fact, to achieve high storage availability, IT deals with a great deal of hardware complexity and overhead cost.

A recent survey of IT decision-makers conducted by ESG for HPE found that 93% see storage and data management complexity impeding digital transformation. And 67% of surveyed organizations see fragmented data visibility across hybrid cloud creating business risk. That means enterprises must fundamentally change the piecemeal technology used to manage data and infrastructure. They need to break down all the complexity and silos for their data and infrastructure across the hybrid cloud.

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How can it help enterprises?

By including virtual storage in the infrastructure environment, IT can avoid overprovisioning, reduce infrastructure costs, and speed up response times to any business need, enabling IT to focus less on administration and more on innovation.

Additionally, enterprises that modernize and virtualize their storage gain a competitive advantage with fewer disruptions, limited unplanned downtime, no data migrations, and no complex upgrades.



How does storage virtualization work?

In storage virtualization, physical storage hardware is mirrored in a virtual volume. To construct a simple virtual storage environment, multiple physical disks are combined into a grouping that uses a single server. Virtual storage or logical storage blocks are assigned to the same server and help to redirect the input/output (I/O) traffic.

The physical disks are separated from the virtual volume by a virtualization layer that enables operating systems and applications to access and use the storage. Virtual storage software takes the I/O requests and sends them across the overall pool of storage to the appropriate storage devices.

The physical disks themselves are divided into small blocks of data, or objects known as logical unit numbers (LUN’s), logical volume (LV), or RAID groups. These blocks are presented to remote servers as a virtual disk. They look just like a physical disk to the server, rather than the collection of storage devices that make up the overall pool of storage in the virtualized environment.

In a more complicated environment, RAID arrays can function as virtual storage. Here, multiple physical drives mimic a single storage device that stripes and replicates data to multiple disks in the background. This process improves I/O performance and protects the data from a failure in any single drive.

The way data is accessed from the physical drives requires an additional step for the virtualization software. Along with creating a barrier between the physical and virtual storage devices, the virtualization software creates a map using metadata that allows the stored data to be located quickly. In some cases, the software creates an algorithm to find the data even more quickly.

Creating virtual storage can be achieved on both block-level and file-level storage environments. Virtualizing a storage area network (SAN) involves adding a translation layer between the hosts and the storage arrays. In this type of storage virtualization, servers are redirected to virtualized LUNs instead of LUNs on the individual storage array. These virtualized LUNs remain on the virtualized device. Virtualizing a NAS involves removing the dependencies between the data accessed at the file level and the location where the files are physically stored.

What are the different types of storage virtualization?

There are a few ways that storage can be applied to a virtual environment: host-based, array-based, and network-based.


Most often used in HCI systems and cloud storage, host-based virtualization relies on software to direct traffic. In this method, physical storage can be attributed to nearly any device or array. The host, or a hyper-converged system comprised of several hosts, presents virtual drives to guest machines of any configuration, such as virtual machines (VMs) in an enterprise, PCs accessing file shares, or servers accessing data via the cloud.


In array-based storage virtualization, servers are physically located, and which array is being accessed is not visible to the servers or users accessing the storage. Here, a storage array serves as a primary storage controller, using virtualization software to pool storage resources from other arrays. The array also can present different types of physical storage as tiers, rather than a disparate collection of devices. Such tiers can be made up of solid-state drives (SSDs) or hard disk drives (HDDs) on the various arrays.




The most common form of storage virtualization is network-based. Here, all storage devices are connected in an FC or ISCSI SAN by a network device. These interconnected devices present themselves as a single virtual pool within their storage network.

What is the difference between server and storage virtualization?

Organizations have a few virtualization technologies to choose from, and business needs will drive which one is best. Most companies have virtual desktops in their workplace environment, as remote work appears to be here to stay. And part of that remote work environment includes application virtualizations, since desktops can use fewer resources to do the work needed without applications’ operating systems physically residing on the desktop itself.

However, there’s more to the virtualization story. When a server is virtualized, enterprises can see high availability and more efficient disaster recovery. That’s because the operating system is separated from the hardware and the machines accessing it can be treated as a file. As a file, these servers can be stored on the SAN, which allows a large degree of mobility for data access. If one server fails, since all virtual servers are stored on the SAN, another server can be called upon to host the activity instead.

Server virtualization also enables the hardware to be adjusted on demand, creating a more elastic system. As workloads shrink, servers can be discontinued and conversely, as workloads increase, the same servers can be turned back on. Thus, with fewer servers on at all times, an organization can save money on electricity, cooling, and redundant hardware that sits unused much of the time.

Storage virtualization also helps increase availability, especially when used in tandem with server virtualization. When storage is virtualized, it isn’t paired to any particular server. Thus, the storage can be managed from multiple sources and used as a single repository. In addition, many servers can access the data stored on the SAN, making SAN utilization much simpler.

What are the benefits of storage virtualization?

  • Lower cost: Because virtual storage doesn’t require the typical hardware redundancies needed in traditional enterprise storage architectures for disaster recovery, fewer appliances and/or software licenses need to be purchased. This saves enterprises from the significant cost of up-front financial commitments.
  • Saved time: Virtualized storage not only reduces downtime—planned and unplanned—but it also makes upgrading much less time-consuming and disruptive.
  • Scalability: With virtual storage, organizations no longer need to forecast their long-term future storage needs or pay for all that capacity upfront. Instead, IT can take advantage of dynamic provisioning that responds to changing needs on demand.
  • Easier management: Virtual storage simplifies and improves resource use, providing an easy addition/deletion of storage without interrupting applications. It also enables seamless data migration and streamlines advanced feature application across the storage pool.
  • Reduced risk: If a disk drive, storage controller, or power supply were to fail, each is already mirrored in the virtual array, so the risk of disruption is considerably reduced. That virtual redundancy limits slower performance and increases storage efficiency and flexibility.
  • Increased productivity: Virtual storage not only delivers 100% availability, but it also has the potential to accelerate app and service deployments to realize value faster.
  • Improved efficiency: Getting faster storage with better capacity utilization is the biggest benefit. It also provides more stability to data access and processing. In addition, virtual storage ensures 100% utilization and little chance of running out of capacity.


HPE storage virtualization solutions

HPE storage delivers the agility of the cloud and raises the bar on resiliency and performance, so you can enable innovation without compromise. Powered by HPE InfoSight and Data Services Cloud ConsoleHPE AlletraHPE Primera, and HPE Nimble Storage deliver instant access to data with storage that sets up in minutes and can be delivered as a service. It helps ensure always‑fast and always‑on storage for all business-critical and mission-critical applications.

Our suite of cloud infrastructure services fundamentally changes the way IT manages storage—with a cloud operational experience. Data Services Cloud Console strips away all the traditional management work across the lifecycle of storage, from deployment and provisioning to global management, all from the ease of a single cloud console.

Deployment takes minutes—not days or weeks—with auto-discovery and configuration. Provisioning across worldwide fleets shifts from guesswork and spreadsheets to intent-based with intelligence. Managing hundreds of systems becomes as simple as managing one and can be controlled from anywhere on any device. The platform is designed to address the data explosion edge-to-cloud, collapse the silos and complexity that plague data environments, maximize agility and innovation, and reduce business risk.

Bringing the cloud operational model to where data lives accelerates digital transformation, streamlines data management, and helps organizations drive their businesses forward.