Why SDS is Struggling

Software Defined Storage (SDS) is one of those technologies that looks great on a whiteboard. In theory it should allow you to use any storage vendor’s hardware, overlay it with a common set of software capabilities and manage it all from a single interface. The problem is that that theory doesn’t always equate to reality. As a result, full featured arrays continue to be the predominant way data centers meet their storage capacity and performance demands. The assumption that one type of technology seems more popular than another does not necessarily mean that it is best for your data center.

The Value of Software Defined Storage

SDS solutions should provide increased flexibility and reduced costs. The solutions can also reduce management complexity, especially if the data center has multiple storage systems to manage. An SDS enabled enterprise should be able to buy storage hardware from any vendor and easily be able to graft it into their environment as well as get longer operational life from their existing storage hardware.

The Problems with Software Defined Storage

The first problem that many SDS solutions present to the data center is that they don’t often replace existing software capabilities. Most storage hardware systems today come with fairly sophisticated storage software features sets including snapshots, replication, cloning and automated tiering. In other words, SDS vendors may be guilty of answering the wrong question. IT professionals don’t want to see their storage features replaced, they want them enhanced. SDS vendors should focus on extending features ACROSS storage platforms, not replace features on them.

The second problem that SDS adopters face is also one of its advantages; flexible hardware selection. With flexibility comes the responsibility to test each potential hardware candidate to understand its performance and reliability characteristics and for compatibility with the SDS solution. The other challenge with flexibility is that it is difficult for the SDS vendor to optimize their software for a particular piece of hardware. Instead, they often have to resort to the most basic level of support.

Software Driven Storage Hardware

Vendors are trying to find a middle ground between software only SDS solutions and proprietary hardware systems. SDS vendors are bundling their solutions with server hardware vendors. Storage hardware vendors are beginning to shift away from proprietary hardware to a software-focused solution delivered on pre-integrated hardware. These solutions are full-featured arrays that leverage quality off-the-shelf storage hardware to simplify their implementation. The storage vendor stays out of the storage hardware design, but they can optimize their software since they control what hardware their software is installed on.

Learn More Live

This week I will speak  at two events; the Software Defined Infrastructure (SDI) Summit in Santa Clara and Tintri’s Roadshow in Los Angeles. Both talks will focus on software-defined storage (SDS). At the SDI Summit I will lay  out a detailed implementation strategy for those heading down the SDS path and at the roadshow, I’ll discuss the pros and cons of a software-only approach and a software-focused approach.

Santa Clara CATuesday, December 1st – Santa Clara Convention Center – Software Defined Infrastructure Summit – Join me in Session SDS-2, 10:30 am to noon.

Los Angeles CAThursday, December 3rd – Westin Bonaventure Hotel – Tintricity Roadshow 2015 – The Path to the Software Defined Data Center – 11:30 am to 1:00 pm.

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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3 comments on “Why SDS is Struggling
  1. Daryn says:

    You make some valid points George. Customers would like SW enhancements and not just replacements to existing array based features. And you will see greater collaboration between certain SDS vendors and server vendors. Primarily because the era of the monolithic storage platform is quietly ending…as it can all now exist on a server, with better performance, equivalent reliability, near infinite scalability, and enterprise wide control of your data. And this is key, companies simply can’t properly monetize data that exists in silos across the organization. Oh, and we can do all of this at a fraction of the cost….a fraction! In support of my comments, see our world record SPC-1 price/performance benchmark, set just this week! The first of many disruptive announcements on our horizon. I just don’t see SDS struggling though, in fact I’m seeing exactly the opposite. Always enjoy your reads!

    Daryn Dean
    DataCore Software

  2. George Crump says:

    Daryn, I think we are on the same page. An example of where we think SDS needs to make a difference is performance. In other words improving performance without having to upgrade hardware. We discuss that in our article “Software Defined Storage meets Parallel I/O

  3. Bruce says:

    I’ll offer a channel view and the challenges here are passed back to the end users. *Disclaimer: I’m a UK DataCore partner* I actually think SDS can be quite sophisticated and certainly from a DataCore point of view I don’t see it giving anything away technical against the traditional storage vendors, the incumbents which are traditionally found is silios within Enterprise accounts. I think the challenge is around the abstraction (between software and hardware) and the integration required from the channel. My experience is that many VARs still want a shrink warapped solution, which includes hardware and services. A one stop shop. It derisks their own strategy and makes it easier to present to, and support their, clients. I don’t think it’s that people (by that I mean channel partners AND end users) don’t see the benefits value of SDS, they just need the integration pain removed. In the same way EMC and NetApp thought that Vblock and Flexpod are good platforms for derisking their clients solutions, SDS vendors need to do the same. They need datasheets for prevalidated solutions, than guarantee integration and performance. We talk about how much performance you can get from SDS, but surely most real life limitations on performance is caused by hardware, which they don’t specify. Look at the all flash and hybrid players. Performance is their number 1 play. Solving application bottlenecks which boost business productivity. End users by into that. How does SDS do that?? How does it guarantee IOPS, latency, throughput? Its all dependent on hardware. So the reason why many people are upgrading their storage (performance) cannot, at first glance, be satisfied by SDS on it’s own. SDS vendors need a better solution strategy. They need to integrate more at the OEM level – not just from a testing perspective but go-to-market. One small point to note. Last year I was positioning an object storage solution via a VAR, which the end user stated if it’s software only, it has to be on HP kit. The VAR was a storage specialist and had no ties into HP and couldn’t supply at a competitive price. By positioning the SDS solution he was leaving the hardware on the table for a competitor and not providing a full solution to the client. So guess what? He didn’t bid the SDS offering and won it with something else. There are many channel partners out their who don’t want to make 3% on flogging commoditised tin in order to build a solution. This is a major barrier to SDS adoption.

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