The Storage Admin In The Software-Defined Age

A look at how software-defined storage will impact the role of the storage administrator.

Scott Sinclair

May 25, 2016

3 Min Read
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Software-defined storage, one of the latest innovations to disrupt the storage industry, generates a curious blend of excitement and trepidation. In a recent ESG research study, 68% of storage administrators polled indicated that their organization is committed to SDS as a long-term strategy. Combined with this interest, however, is the all-too-common fear of the unknown.

In that same study when storage admins were asked which emerging technology will most likely impact their on-premises storage infrastructure environments and ultimately their jobs, about one in eight identified software-defined storage technology. In other words, while SDS is poised to disrupt the storage ecosystem, a number of storage administrators sense that disruption will alter their role.

The definition of SDS is somewhat blurred across the industry as different storage providers use the term to mean different things. There is, however, a general consensus that SDS is defined by the ability to abstract storage software from the storage hardware. Despite this common thread across various SDS products, different solutions target a wide range of storage functionality. In fact, while SDS is often considered a segment or a subset of the storage market, the truth is that SDS is more of an architecture and delivery model than a segment of the market.

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SDS-based products target storage technologies ranging from block, to file and even object storage. While some products target high-performance workloads, others target server vitalization environments or long-term archive and cloud storage. Despite the variety of SDS solutions, the abstraction common to SDS has the potential to impact storage administrators in a number of ways. Let's look at two of the more significant ones.

The evaluation process: Abstracting the storage software from the hardware can provide considerable advantages to an IT organization, increasing infrastructure flexibility and significantly reducing lock-in concerns. The challenge, of course, is that the responsibility for sizing and validating that the software and hardware work together in a manner that provides the necessary performance, capacity and resiliency now falls on the IT organization.

While many, if not all, SDS vendors offer reference configurations identifying supported hardware, those can be limited. These configurations are often a point-in-time recommendation for a specific hardware set. When the components or their firmware change, the validation responsibility often falls to the storage team. For hybrid-cloud solutions, the complexity often can increase significantly, as the SDS solution extends to public-cloud resources. Ultimately, separating the software from the hardware offers many benefits to flexibility, but that flexibility has a cost, which can impact the role of the storage administrator.

Automatic storage management: While managing the abstraction of SDS can increase the responsibility for storage administrators, some SDS products seek to eliminate responsibilities through automation. SDS solutions, especially those that are deployed in a converged or a hyperconverged configuration, often automate much of the storage management and configuration process. These products eliminate many of the manual tasks of storage deployment and provisioning as well as many of the protection decisions.  In some solutions, the steps to create and allocate capacity are so automated, that some IT organizations assign the responsibility to an application team, such as the virtualization administrators, instead of the storage administrators. 

When considering software-defined storage products, the key criterion is flexibility. If an SDS solution offers deployment flexibility, which in turn increases the number of hardware options, storage admin responsibilities will likely increase. More integrated SDS products, such as hyperconverged systems that provide  fewer deployment options, will likely reduce responsibilities. When integrated products automate storage management, many storage responsibilities will be eliminated altogether.

Regardless, SDS is poised to change the way IT organizations manage storage in the future. The question for your organization is which direction is the right one.

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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