Getting Software-Defined Storage Enterprise Ready

Briefing Note – Red Hat Storage

Despite its potential to increase storage performance, capacity and flexibility while decreasing acquisition and operational costs, software-defined storage (SDS) has limited success in the enterprise. The problem is that enterprise data centers are “in motion”, they can’t put applications and users on hold while they figure out an SDS strategy. In many cases, they just don’t have the time to assemble all the pieces. They need an enterprise class answer. Red Hat, responsible for bringing Linux to the enterprise, now has its sights set on bringing SDS to the enterprise.

The SDS Challenges

Taken in its purest form, SDS is the abstraction of the storage intelligence from the storage hardware. In theory, an organization that adopts an SDS strategy should be able to integrate any combination of storage hardware with their software. The problem is that many software-only SDS vendors have limited experience working through configuration challenges that are sure to arise. The potential for problems is so high that enterprises often select turnkey hardware and software SDS solutions, which increase SDS costs and limit flexibility.

The SDS Lock

Even if enterprises can work through the product selection and integration process, with many proprietary SDS solutions the enterprise is still locked in. While they can integrate a variety of hardware solutions, they are entirely dependent on the software vendor for maintenance, support, and updates. Enterprises may decide that if lock-in is an eventuality, then they might as well stay with their legacy solutions.

Open SDS

The answer to the SDS lock-in may be to take an open source approach to the problem. Open source storage software provides the same flexibility in software selection that SDS provides to hardware selection. The open source vendor advances the solution to keep it competitive and offers subscriptions for support, expertise, and advanced capabilities. Red Hat built its business providing this level of support for its Enterprise Linux and now promises to do the same with a full portfolio of enterprise SDS solutions.

The Move To Distributed Architectures

Storage architectures are moving from an appliance-based monolithic design to a distributed design. These platforms spread data across a cluster of hardware, allowing for greater scale, reliability and flexibility. Many SDS solutions maintain the monolithic design and just place a management layer over it. The Red Hat solutions are fully distributed and leverage a modern clustered architecture.

The distributed design also allows the Red Hat solutions to address a variety of workloads that used to require multiple, purpose-built monolithic appliances. The distributed storage software can provide performance, durability, and reliability while still being economical on a large scale.

The Red Hat Storage Portfolio

Red Hat has two products in its portfolio; Red Hat Ceph Storage and Red Hat Gluster Storage. Both are shared-nothing, scale-out architectures that provide both durability and performance to changing workload demands. Both provide self-managing and self-healing capabilities to reduce operational overheads. Most importantly they are OPEN, which means that they use standards-based interfaces and APIs to ease integration with applications and systems. It also means that the software is open source, made by a community of engineers from many companies. The result is a well tested solution with zero vendor lock-in.

Red Hat Gluster Storage is a storage software solution for environments that need file and object access across physical, virtual and cloud environments. Use cases for Gluster include active archiving, big data, rich media, and general file sharing.

Gluster also provides a solution for Hadoop customers struggling with moving data in and out of HDFS. Red Hat offers an alternative by letting MapReduce—Hadoop’s processing framework—run directly on Red Hat Gluster Storage through a plug-in. This way, you keep data in place rather than moving it in and out of HDFS.

Red Hat Ceph Storage provides block and object storage, often for enterprises looking to deploy public or private clouds. Ceph can provide the storage foundation for any virtualization environment. Ceph allows an enterprise to shift its legacy applications to SDS when necessary, and grow into an object storage model in the future. Ceph is also a solution if the organization is starting or has an active OpenStack project. The software is tightly integrated into OpenStack, allowing data centers to enjoy advanced block storage capabilities similar to legacy storage but with hardware flexibility and scalability.

StorageSwiss Take

Data center transformation is on every IT Manager’s project whiteboard. Part of that transformation is creating a storage infrastructure that is more flexible, durable and cost efficient. An open SDS solution brings these attributes to their full potential but does so with some learning curve. Red Hat’s support and expertise promises enterprises a smoother curve that allows them to realize the value of distributed storage faster. Red Hat employs the majority of the engineers that build Ceph and Gluster, and that gives unmatched expertise that they then deliver to their customers.

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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2 comments on “Getting Software-Defined Storage Enterprise Ready
  1. Tim Wessels says:

    Well, Red Hat has been the “pure play” open source vendor of record, and judging by their business performance, they have been very successful…not crazy growth successful, but very steady growth successful. Red Hat has also been very deliberate about the acquisitions it has made of other commercial vendors of open source software projects. Gluster (GlusterFS) was acquired for $136M in 2011 and InkTank (Ceph) was acquired for $175M in 2014. I agree with Mr. Crump that the case for Software-Defined Storage based on open source software is a good way to approach the storage market. Commodity storage hardware and open source, software-defined storage software makes a great combination that will likely be around for the long haul thanks to the subscription support business model used by Red Hat.

  2. Jim Bahn says:

    I really appreciate George’s comment that you are “dependent on the software vendor for maintenance”. I’d like to expand on that to state that you’re dependent on SOMEONE for testing. For your secondary apps, who cares? But for your important apps, is Red Hat doing performance limits characterization, functional testing, failure scenario tests, soak testing, compatibility testing, and regression testing? If not, then someone in the channel needs to do it. Full disclosure, I’m with a testing company so I’m a little biased, but I maintain that someone has to test.

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