Experts predict that the next generation of storage area network (SAN) technology will be built on storage virtualization. IBM Corp., Armonk, N.Y., already has released storage management products that provide a software virtualization layer that manages physical storage devices.Virtualization of storage hardware resources is just one of two forms SAN virtualization is likely to take, according to John McArthur, analyst with IDC, a Framingham, Mass.-based technology research firm.

"There's virtualization of devices, and virtualization of files and objects," he explains. "Virtualization of a storage hardware infrastructure covers the physical disk arrays, tape resources, and the networks for efficient storage hardware management. It makes better utilization of the devices, with the ability to share the devices among multiple servers and applications.

"You don't waste physical resources by over provisioning one server when there's a requirement for another server," he adds.

With the second approach, virtualization of a file system, "you get more efficient data management, and a platform for data sharing," McArthur continues. He notes that storage virtualization can occur anywhere within the infrastructure.

"Virtualization can be in a storage system, it can be in an appliance, it can be in a fibre channel switch, or it can be in an application server," he says.

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