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By now, the arguments for increased storage capacity and for virtualization are rote.

Everyone understands that data is piling up at an alarming rate. Business intelligence efforts, swelling databases, and regulations such as HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) and the Sarbanes-Oxley Act conspire to keep storage space at a premium. Meanwhile, server virtualization continues to prove its worth by lowering costs and boosting efficiency in the data center. Even the desktop is going virtual as enterprises increasingly see the value of centralized management.

But combine the two, storage and virtualization, and the situation gets a bit sticky. What should you and your customers make of storage virtualization? The answers can vary from vendor to vendor, and it can be difficult to sort out the myths from the reality.

"Many people who think storage virtualization is the answer to their problem are wrong," says Jim DeCaires, storage product marketing manager at Fujitsu, adding that the technology has a long way to go before it can provide the kind of value VARs need to deliver and customers are clamoring for.

There are three major reasons why customers believe storage virtualization can help them, according to DeCaires, who says he’s a proponent of storage virtualization technology, but adds that it’s crucial VARs understand what the technology can and cannot do for customers.

First, customers believe that storage virtualization can help them more easily consolidate data from multiple data stores, DeCaires says, but the same outcome can be accomplished with traditional storage consolidation techniques.

"Customers say, ‘I have storage systems scattered all over my data center and I want data on one appliance, managed under one layer,’ but doing this consolidation means you have to migrate the data into the virtualization environment before you can move into one shared storage system," DeCaires says, meaning the data has to migrate twice. Often it’s a simpler and more cost-effective solution just to move the stored data once into one large storage systems.

Second, customers with dynamic data centers often consider storage virtualization solutions to ease the burden and cost of moving data from one store to another for access, secure storage or archiving. However, DeCaires says, "Customers with highly mobile data centers are spending a lot of money moving that info around, whether it’s virtualized or not."

Finally, DeCaires says most companies are looking to extend the life of lower-cost, outdated legacy storage systems by moving archived data onto those hardware and software systems.

"They are looking for technology flexibility from their old storage systems, and the thinking is that if I can virtualize a lot of data, then I can use these older systems as capacity," DeCaires says. "They think it’ll be like getting a tech refresh without having to buy more storage technology."  

From a cost perspective, however, this approach doesn’t make much sense, he says. From dealing with multiple service and support contracts—if the older technology is still supported—to managing incompatible hardware and software from different vendors, "it’s often better to move data into one, newer storage platform," he says.