Virtualized Storage
A Complete Guide to Storage Virtualization

Storage virtualization is ever-present in everyday and business activity across the world where people use any sort of digital services. However, many organizations still have poor or no understanding about virtualized storage and what advantage it can bring their business continuity. Let’s talk about storage virtualization in simple terms, so you can start benefitting from it, too.


What Is Virtualized Storage and Why Is It Needed?

Virtualized storage is a technology that started making a serious name for itself beginning in the early 2000s. Despite being a concept that started several decades ago, storage virtualization only saw development and now is inalienable from modern businesses successfully providing goods and services. Storage virtualization software aims to maximize the use of available hardware storage.

Storage virtualization is integral to today’s mission-critical IT infrastructure, cloud computing, Big Data analytics, Internet of things (IoT) and overall functioning of the IT environment. Software storage virtualization maximizes on available physical storage: it makes every bit of purchased storage available to applications, increasing performance and return on investment (ROI).


How Does Storage Virtualization Work?

Apart from increasing storage performance, storage virtualization caters to the companies’ need to unify and operate all available storage under one user interface (UI), while also utilizing various features and functionalities associated with it. Virtualized storage exists to simplify and optimize as organizations turn to software to address their desire for IT environment simplicity, power, and efficiency.

With this in mind, several decades ago, IBM was the one to coin the term “virtualization” in the world of data center computing. In its turn, VMware worked to bring the technology to wider audience that uses commodity x86 server hardware. VMware expanded virtualization to CPU, memory, and disk, so multiple applications and operating systems could run at the same time. Hypervisor is the layer that divides the physical hardware resources, virtualizes and oversees them, assigning, as a host node, a set package of them for every guest operating system – virtual machine (VM).

The idea of hypervisor provided regular businesses with the ability to use the more accessible commercial x86 servers to run all the necessary mission-critical applications on a single server node. However, the hypervisor didn’t have a way to share the resources between several nodes connected over the network: applications were “siloed” within their respective host nodes. It created a single point of failure (SPOF): if a server went down, so did the apps and the valuable data. To address that, VMware vMotion and VMware Fault Tolerance came into the picture to enable apps and data migration between servers across a shared network. All this required power and finesse.

Storage virtualization then introduced the shared storage configuration. It included storage High Availability (HA), which, at first, was an advanced feature enclosed in physical shared storage, like SAN and NAS, and allowed to the reduce the chance for downtime events distressing business productivity and revenue. Over time, vendors virtualized the features of SAN and NAS and brought them in the storage virtualization software features format to the regular x86 servers. You may now know these features under the common umbrella terms of software-defined storage – virtual SAN.

Storage virtualization logically abstracts all the direct-attached server storage underlying capacity into a unified virtual storage pool. This virtual storage device can pool resources from different locations across the network, from different hardware vendors, servers, SAN or NAS. Then, storage virtualization software presents it as one logical view via an operation user interface (UI). You can assign a dedicated VM with the necessary amount of resources and desired apps and utilize what you got to the fullest. In turn, storage virtualization often has the High Availability technology embedded into its software with simple and fast disaster recovery features in place.

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Methods of Storage Virtualization

There are three types of storage virtualization:

Network-Based Virtualization

Virtualization is used on the entirety of the node. Often seen in hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) scenarios and cloud storage. Physical storage is pooled nearly from every element. The host, or the hyperconverged cluster of hosts, then presents virtual storage devices to any number of guests: VMs, users, PCs, virtual desktops, or servers requesting data through cloud.


Array-Based Virtualization

Virtualization is built around the dedicated storage array. Said storage array acts as the main storage controller, which pools all the direct-attached and network-attached storage. In return, the array presents the pooled storage as configured tiers instead of disparate siloes. You can customize and make up these tiers from legacy spindle disks (HDD), flash drives (SSD), or novel NVMe drives.


Network-Based Virtualization

Virtualization is designed based on sharing resources across an assigned network. This is typically where all physical storage devices are connected in an iSCSI or FC SAN or NAS by a network device. Further, instead of being a mishmash of devices, the SAN or NAS present themselves as a unified virtual storage pool within their identified IT environment storage network.


Within these three types of storage virtualization, there are underlying
concepts of block and file storage.

File-based storage virtualization is an odd use case that’s relative for network-attached storage (NAS). Various network protocols (Network File System (NFS) in Linux; Common Internet File System (CIFS) or Server Message Block (SMB) in Windows Server) are used to break the dependency between the data being accessed and the geographical location of the physical memory. This enhances the smoothness of NAS performance as a shared virtual storage unit operated via UI.

Block-based storage virtualization revolves around storage area network (SAN). Here, storage is usually access via such protocols as Internet Small Computer System Interface (iSCSI) or Fibre Channel (FC). This is the case of logically abstracting the physical storage from the physical memory blocks in a respective storage device (disk or flash drive). SANs are notoriously hard to monitor and manage. To address that, storage virtualization software usually comes with a management console to supersede previously used multiple UIs or complement PowerShell.

VSAN and Virtualized Storage / StarWind Virtualized Storage

StarWind Virtual SAN (VSAN) is a lightweight storage virtualization software solution that brings storage high availability in a true two-node scenario to any hardware and hypervisor configuration. Typically, big HCI vendors require three-four server nodes for high performance and proper high availability.

  • Streamlined software
  • Works with any hypervisor
  • Works on any x86 hardware
  • Two-node high availability
  • No feature paywalls
  • No vendor lock-in

Benefits of Virtualized Storage from StarWind


  • SME-proof license price
  • Skyrockets IT infrastructure ROI
  • Minimizes hardware footprint
  • No hardware compatibility lists


  • Pulls close to 100% IOPS
  • Maximizes on available physical storage
  • Applications are on constant high perf


  • Impeccable disaster resistance at two nodes
  • Simplifies IT routine for more productive tasks
  • True fire-and-forget solution

StarWind is enterprise-class storage virtualization and HCI brought in an easy format and at reasonable, SME-proof price. StarWind helps with deployment and migration at no extra charge.

With StarWind storage virtualization, mission-critical IT infrastructure acquires high performance, high cost-effectiveness, and high resource operation simplicity at modest cost and effort.

Storage Virtualization Use Cases

Storage Virtualization Use Cases

Virtualization for Server Storage

Internal disks and drives are virtualized into a single virtual storage pool for further distribution and storage high availability.

Virtualization for SAN Storage

Storage virtualization software optimizes the use and distribution of SAN/NAS resources and resolves their SPOF issue.

Virtualization for Cloud Storage

Storage virtualization is paramount for cloud storage efficiency (deduplication and compression) as well as fault tolerance.

Virtualization for Backup Storage

Virtualization can greatly enhance the use of storage for backups, introducing multi-cloud and object storage tiering while providing ransomware-resiliency and moving away from physical tapes.

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Storage Virtualization FAQ

What is the difference between server and storage virtualization?

Server virtualization refers to logically dividing the server into partitions, where each virtual server can run its own OS independently on the same server hardware. Storage virtualization abstracts server’s internal disks and drives and/or SAN/NAS into a unified shared storage pool.

What are the two types of storage virtualization?

This is based either block storage or file storage. Whatever the case for your hardware and OS, StarWind VSAN, for example, upholds all industry-standard network protocols (SMB, NFS, iSCSI, FC, NVMe-oF, and others), so everything will function seamlessly with zero bottlenecks.

What is in-band and out-of-band virtualization?

Out-of-band virtualization is usually considered the inferior type, also known as asymmetric virtualization: divides the data and control paths, which often makes more advanced features unavailable since the virtualization host only sees control instructions. In-band (symmetric) virtualization processes data and control information in the same channel, which allows for more advanced features like caching (performance) and replication (redundancy).

What are the disadvantages of storage virtualization?

Innately, there are no disadvantages to storage virtualization. HCI vendors may create vendor lock-in and feature paywalls, which are disadvantageous. Otherwise, storage virtualization, like the one from StarWind VSAN, is foolproof, easy, affordable, reliable – just fire and forget.

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