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LeftHand Networks has revved its SAN/iQ iSCSI storage area network (SAN) software, storing desktop images much more efficiently, and enabling hypervisor admin staff to manage storage directly through an API.

On the first day of VMworld in Las Vegas LeftHand Networks has brought stronger software chips to the virtualization table with SAN/iQ 8, the eighth version of its IP SAN software, which can run as a virtual SAN appliance (VSA) virtual machine (VM) in an ESX server and uses linked ESX server's direct-attached hard drives (DAS) to provide shared SAN storage.

New SmartClone technology takes a copy of VMware desktop images (VDI) but only stores new information for each VDI instance, referring via pointers to the common data. It means that networked desktops can be provisioned and booted from a space-efficient SAN. This can, LeftHand claims, "reduce overall capacity usage by more than 50 per cent."

The company's marketing VP, Larry Cormier, says this cloning is a form of deduplication and that it can de-dupe any system image with VDI being the most compelling use case. He contrasts NetApp and LeftHand cloning approaches: "NetApp's FlexClone is file-based. Ours is block-based. The (VDI) data looks more like a database than a file." He says the normal file access pattern is sequential whereas a database is transaction-oriented with multiple ongoing threads. When virtual desktops all start up in the morning the I/O pattern looks more like database access than filer access.

3PAR also has space-efficient VDI storage in its InServe arrays. Cormier acknowledges this but says InServe is essentially a NAS (network-attached storage) system.

David Scott, 3PAR CEO, would disagree strongly. His company's ThinCopy looks pretty much like SmartClone and does pretty much the same thing. Like LeftHand, 3PAR spreads its data across every spindle in its array to increase I/O speed and responsiveness. One point of difference is that 3PAR sells to enterprises whereas Lefthand's sweet market spot is more in the small and medium enterprise (SME) space.

Along with SAN/iQ 8 LeftHand is introducing IPM, an Integrated Performance Manager reporting tool that looks at performance across the application-to-storage spindle spectrum and can be used to identify bottlenecks. Additional software provides a graphical representation of connections between servers, virtual machines and volumes.

LeftHand has also introduced packaged software SAN products for virtual, multi-site and entry-level SAN environments.

Cormier says LeftHand is agnostic about Virtualization vendors, with Citrix Xenserver, Microsoft's Hyp-V, Virtual Iron and VMware et al, being grist for SAN/iQ's storage mill.

It has announced a new API to interface to Citrix, Microsoft and VMware hypervisor managers. He reckons that the focus of storage provisioning and management is moving to the hypervisor in virtualized server environments: "It's all one stack. Why can't I manage it from the hypervisor manager? Nirvana is: I push a button to provision a VM and automatically in the background storage is provisioned with it."

This week's VMworld is a casino with yet another round in the "I can get closer to VMware than you" game between storage vendors. LeftHand reckons the closest such vendor will get the most VMware-driven sales and Cormier wants that prize. ®

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