The problem: out-of-control storage costs. The solution: storage virtualization. Sounds simple? It\u2019s not.IT organizations seeking to reduce costs in the data center recognize that storage virtualization is key - but deploying it effectively can be a challenge.Like bandwidth, storage consumption continues to skyrocket, with growth rates ranging from 30% to more than 100% year over year, consuming a healthy chunk of many IT budgets (25% to 50% is not uncommon). Clients tell us that direct-attached storage costs approximately 0.1 cent per megabyte to manage and operate, and depending on whose figures you use, average utilization for direct-attached storage runs somewhere between 25% to 40%. That\u2019s a lot of expensive wasted space.Virtualized storage can cut the cost per megabyte in half (down to 0.05 cents per megabyte and below) and boost utilization rates to 85% and above. But if you\u2019re like most companies, the challenge is figuring out how to get there from your starting environment.Step one is organizational: Create a storage \u201cSWAT team.\u201d Most companies have no real idea how much they spend on purchasing and management, because storage is purchased and managed in many different groups and organizations. By getting all the humans involved with storage decisions in a room for regular meetings, you\u2019ll gain a clearer understanding of the storage situation at your firm - and lay the foundation for an effective migration to a virtualized environment.The next step is to commit to deploying networked (rather than direct-attached) storage. These come in two flavors: Fibre-Channel-based storage-area networks (SAN) and IP-based network-attached storage (NAS). Vendors such as Brocade and McData specialize in the former, while Network Appliance is one of the leaders in the latter. Major vendors such as EMC cover both bases by providing SANs and NAS.Many organizations have fallen into the trap of holding religious debates on the merits of SANs vs. NAS. In a nutshell, SANs are highly reliable, easy to provision, and extensible across long distances. While they\u2019re cheaper to operate and manage than direct-attached storage, they can be more expensive to operate than NAS, which has the lowest operational costs (down to 0.05 cents per megabyte) and is easiest to integrate into network architectures. However, NAS reliability can sometimes be a challenge; some systems can cause problems with particular types of applications (notably databases). Bottom line: Each is effective in the right scenario. Think \u201cboth\/and\u201d instead of \u201ceither\/or.\u201dOnce you\u2019ve accomplished these two steps, you\u2019re farther along than many organizations. The third step in migrating to a virtualized storage architecture is to investigate storage management and provisioning tools such as those from EMC, IBM, Veritas and others. Benefits of storage virtualization include increased utilization and replication, the ability to roll out automated provisioning, and future-proofing as part of an information-lifecycle management and data quality management strategy.Right now, the technology is still maturing. So test-drive multiple products and let the vendors know where they need to improve.