Analyzing EMC’s Software Defined Storage

Yesterday at EMC World 2013 EMC announced ViPR, their software defined storage product which abstracts the storage controller and the data services from the physical storage. Unlike other software defined storage it does not totally replace the data services available on the storage system but instead, compliments the data services that already exist within the EMC portfolio.

What is ViPR?

ViPR, like most storage virtualization products of the past, abstracts the storage controller from the physical storage. This allows multiple storage hardware components to be managed from a common interface and common set of data services.

EMC claims that ViPR will leverage the data services that are already in the storage hardware. I assume this means that if the array has RAID, snapshots and auto-tiering capabilities then all those will be leveraged from the array instead of recreating them again in ViPR. Presumably, all these services will be managed from the top level ViPR GUI.

This means that if you are an EMC customer with Isilon and a VNX array you can now manage and provision those arrays from a common interface. You can also create a self-service portal that allows lines of business to access their own storage as needed.

EMC also claims that ViPR will support third party arrays – there was a picture of a NetApp box on the overview slide – as well as commodity disk drives, presumably installed in low cost arrays. How well and how broad third party support is remains to be seen but it’s interesting to see EMC even claiming it.

Adding Data Services

At this point in the discussion, while ViPR may be the best execution of software defined storage, it is not earth shattering. But now we need to discuss what EMC is adding to that data services layer. As stated above EMC intends to leverage the data services in the array when possible. So what is the new data services layer for? Answer: to add services you never thought you would need when you first bought your arrays.

Take for example the Isilon and VNX customer that with ViPR has gained the ability to manage and provision their storage from a single interface. Now lets assume they are rolling out an application that would be inherently better with an object storage backend or maybe they will roll out an analytics application and need Hadoop’s HDFS. Without ViPR they would more than likely go buy a new silo of storage that they would have to separately manage and provision. With ViPR they could keep using their existing storage and add these services to them.

ViPR will allow the addition of new storage file systems and presumably new protocols to the existing storage stack. First out of the gate are an object storage layer and HDFS. EMC is also claiming that ViPR can provide multiple access methods to the same data. For example an object can be accessed as an object via the object file system or an object can be accessed as a file via a CIFS or NFS file system.

Storage Swiss Take

ViPR is an interesting step for EMC and there is much more to be covered in the future. They have done more with their software defined storage system than many others by providing a provisioning and self service front end. They’ve also made the significant addition of bringing new data services to legacy storage while not replacing the services that those arrays provide adequately today.

The combination of hardware abstraction, provisioning services and unique data services offerings (object and HDFS) may be a first in the software defined market and certainly raises the bar considerably. In our next entry “Does ViPR Eliminate Vendor Lock-in?” we will discuss the bigger issue of a vendor restricting users’ choices.

Join Storage Switzerland for a live webinar “The Truth About Software Defined Storage” and get an advanced copy of our newest paper “What is Software Defined Storage?”

Twelve years ago George Crump founded Storage Switzerland with one simple goal; to educate IT professionals about all aspects of data center storage. He is the primary contributor to Storage Switzerland and is a heavily sought after public speaker. With over 25 years of experience designing storage solutions for data centers across the US, he has seen the birth of such technologies as RAID, NAS and SAN, Virtualization, Cloud and Enterprise Flash. Prior to founding Storage Switzerland he was CTO at one of the nation's largest storage integrators where he was in charge of technology testing, integration and product selection.

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