Software-Defined Storage's Unexpected Impact

There's a lot of hype around software-defined storage, but integrated products that aim to provide SDS benefits via a hardware model may see the most traction.

Scott Sinclair

June 26, 2015

3 Min Read
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Software-defined storage (SDS) may be poised to change the industry, but perhaps not in the form you expect. The promise of SDS is the opportunity to deploy storage technology as software, but its eventual and most sustainable impact to the IT community may be integrated hardware and software storage solutions.

Let me explain what I mean. While the definition of software-defined storage differs based on the storage provider, the fundamental idea is that storage technology is deployed as software. A SDS product may look to virtualize traditional storage arrays, replace them, or do both. SDS products looking to replace traditional storage can present an integration challenge for the IT organization, which is responsible for finding, procuring, and validating the new hardware.

While this may be ideal for some larger organizations, smaller organizations may not be equipped to handle the validation efforts. While some argue that concerns over hardware integration are temporary and will subside over time, the adoption delay created by integration concerns is providing the established vendors with a chance to respond.

This is my point: As the larger IT community comes to grips with the pros and cons of storage as software, the industry is responding with integrated hardware and software systems that look to provide the benefits of software-defined storage without shifting the integration responsibility to the IT organization.

I still expect SDS technology delivered purely as software to see adoption and provide value. Ultimately, however, as with many technologies, SDS is to a large extent a means to an end -- a path to provide incremental benefits whether in ROI or reduced TCO. Essentially, all IT decisions are really business decisions. If integrated hardware and software storage products can evolve to provide a percentage or possibly a majority of the benefits of SDS, then the IT community may reap the rewards without changing deployment models.

The list of expected software-defined storage benefits is substantial, and it includes the ability to leverage commodity hardware,  integrate newer generations of hardware into the solution while keeping data in place, simplify license management, and reduce capital expenses with storage and compute consolidation. While this may not be an exhaustive list, integrated software and hardware solutions are endeavoring to provide many of the same benefits. Some of these systems may leverage the SDS label, or SDS technology, but ultimately, they're delivered with hardware. Here are some examples:

  • Hyperconverged appliances from storage providers such as EMC, VMware, Nutanix, and SimpliVity consolidate compute, hypervisor, networking, and storage functionality into a single scalable appliance, helping to reduce capital and operational expenditures. Though not SDS per se, these appliances often integrate an SDS technology to provide a number of the benefits of SDS in a combined hardware and software solution delivery model.

  • Multi-generation support: A number of storage vendors are finding ways to solve the data migration challenge across hardware generations. Pure Storage, for example, recently announced its Evergreen storage program. The product leverages modular FlashArray//M hardware to support data in place upgrades of hardware. The result allows hardware flexibility to be combined with the benefits of flash storage, such as higher performance, reduced power and cooling requirements, and increased density.

  • Commodity hardware flexibility: Additionally, some SDS-based solutions are commonly offered as appliances, especially those providing scale-out file system or object storage solutions. The integration helps simplify deployment while retaining the majority of the benefits of software-defined storage.

The bottom line is that the industry is responding to the desire for the benefits of software-defined storage, and in a number of cases, those responses come with hardware. In some cases, these integrated products are coming from SDS providers as well. Ultimately, though, what may matter the most is the flexibility of the storage architecture rather than the actual delivery model.

A storage provider trying to pre-integrate commodity components and pass the savings and benefits along to the IT organization will likely be more successful if the architecture is originally designed to be SDS. Regardless, there are multiple ways to enjoy the fruits of SDS innovation. As multiple storage providers compete to deliver value in the new software-defined era, the IT organization will likely benefit whether it deploys storage as software or not. 

About the Author(s)

Scott Sinclair

Analyst, Enterprise Strategy GroupScott Sinclair is a storage analyst with the Enterprise Strategy Group. He has a proven history in both the storage and data protection industries of investigating new technologies and designing business strategies for Fortune 500 technology companies. Scott earned a Bachelor's degree from Vanderbilt University in Computer Engineering and also holds a Masters in Business Administration from the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas.

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