Software-defined Storage by Any Other Name

We conduct quite a bit of research around here at ESG. While all of it helps provide us with insight into the challenges and needs of IT organizations, there is one project in particular, on the future of storage, that seems to come up in my recent conversations more often than the others. We conducted in-depth interviews with multiple IT leaders across a number of industries discussing their thoughts and impressions on a number of emerging technologies, such as the cloud, hyper-converged, and software-defined storage. There was one finding in particular that I wanted to discuss. The results relative to software-defined storage presented a unique paradox…

  • On one hand the topic of software-defined storage generated the most confusion among those interviewed, but…
  • On the other hand, once the concept was explained at a fairly basic level, it seemed to resonate with the vast majority of respondents who seemed to grasp the fact that software-defined storage has the potential to help them address some of their most pressing challenges.

With so many vendors talking about software-defined, often with different definitions, it isn’t much of a surprise that there is a considerable amount of confusion in the industry. What is interesting, however, is that the confusion does not seem to curtail the interest.  I had some time the other day to sit in front of a camera and discuss the state of software-defined storage. In this video I try to help clear up some confusion. Take a look and let me know what you think.

Video Transcript

The hype around software-defined storage has been almost deafening. Multitudes of industry players claim to promote the real definition of software-defined storage and are only adding to the confusion. The resulting noise reminds me of the buzz around the term "cloud" a few years ago. In that case, education and familiarity over time ended up sorting out the confusion. Defining the real software-defined storage doesn't really matter though. The majority of technologies that leverage the software-defined monicker provides some value. My recommendation is to look past the hype and try to understand what value each solution provides. To help provide some context though, I will walk through a couple types of storage offerings often described as software-defined, and discuss some of the benefits that they may offer. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but my hope is that it will help you sift through some of the software-defined hype.

One deployment type is where storage technology is deployed as software on off the shelf commodity hardware. Leveraging commodity hardware can help save some of the direct costs by finding cheaper components. But greater benefits include the ability to mix and match hardware nodes, allowing for faster access to new memory and processing technologies, and eliminating costly data migrations. Faster deployments are also possible since software could be downloaded and deployed on hardware already on site. Storage software management cost reduction is something else to look for since software features aren't tied to hardware and may not need to be refreshed with the hardware. Additionally, when storage technology software can be deployed inside a VM or deployed as hyper converged it offers some additional benefits, such as less hardware to manage. These converged solutions provide the potential to greatly reduce cost by using excess processing cycles for storage as opposed to dedicated compute resources, along with the opportunity for fast performance with the storage residing closer to the application. The second high level category of these solutions that often get tied to software-defined storage involve storage virtualization and orchestration, where the solution virtualizes multiple external storage solutions.

These solutions can help provide greater flexibility and choice when selecting storage offerings and help reduce lock-in. They can also reduce storage software management cost by consolidating the capabilities in the software-defined storage virtualization layer. These offerings can also provide automation to help speed up the allocation of new capacity.

However you define software-defined, it is likely going to provide value. When talking to vendors about their software-defined solution, be sure to understand the value that it provides to your specific environment. And also remember that whatever solution you're looking at, it likely isn't the only software -defined storage answer out there.

Topics: Storage