What Exactly is Software Defined Storage?

Software-Defined Storage (SDS) separates the storage software from the storage hardware. The result should be a model that allows organizations to buy storage hardware systems from multiple vendors that address specific use cases but have the ability to operate, not just manage, them from a single interface. The payoff for SDS is more IT agility, operational efficiency improvements and a reduction in hardware costs. With all these potential benefits SDS is catching the attention of IT professionals and, as a result, almost every storage vendor is trying to distort the definition of SDS to meet their own marketing goals.

The SDS Definition Quagmire

Analysts, pundits and vendors are trying to pin down SDS into a single definition. Simple definitions are the best. Here it is: SDS abstracts storage software from the storage hardware, enabling flexibility to manage your storage needs. Who benefits from that flexibility is the big question.

For example, if a vendor leverages software defined techniques but then requires you to buy their hardware and no one else’s, the vendor benefits from SDS, not you.

If the SDS vendor provides just software, and allows you to bring your own storage, then you are benefiting from SDS. Vendor provided SDS should provide a more turnkey system that’s easier to implement. Most software only SDS vendors have partnerships with hardware companies to bundle a similarly turnkey solution. Plus, it is even better if you get the flexibility to add another vendor’s hardware if in the future.

The point is not to get into the weeds on the perfect definition. IT professionals needing help have problems to solve and challenges to overcome. Find the SDS configuration that best accomplishes the task at hand. But also keep in mind that new, unknown challenges are right around the corner, so it is important to build in long-term flexibility into your SDS infrastructure.

The SDS Feature War

From an analyst perspective, and more importantly from from that of an IT professional, separation of the storage software from the storage hardware allows IT to evaluate each on its own merits. No longer does IT have to put up with inferior software to get great hardware. Nor does it have to get over-priced hardware in order to get great software. From a software perspective the basics like LUN management, snapshots and replication should be table stakes.

An advantage to being a software-only storage company is that the developers can focus only on the software, delivering a storage solution that is as wide as it is deep. IT professionals need to look for a single SDS solution that can cover a wide range of use cases, such as storing virtual machine datastores, storing virtual desktop images, providing high performance NFS and SMB access, and providing backup and archiving functionality.

SDSs Next Step

Thanks to their software focus, SDS solution companies should be able to move beyond simulating storage software abstraction and providing complete storage automation. These capabilities should include deep storage analytics, automated data movement, and RESTful API access for integration into existing workflows.

StorageSwiss Take

No matter how hard vendors and distributors try to twist things, SDS is really not that confusing. IT professionals need to worry less about the exact definition of the term and worry more about the problems it solves. Depending on the skills and time available, IT can select a turnkey SDS solution or simply access the software and implement it on their hardware. In either case, the long term view should allow for the use of a variety of storage hardware for specific use cases. SDS allows you to use all these systems simultaneously from a single interface.

George Crump is the Chief Product Strategist at StorONE. Prior to StorONE, George spent almost 14 years as the founder and lead analyst at Storage Switzerland, which StorONE acquired in March 2020. In his spare time, he continues to write blogs on Storage Switzerland to educate IT professionals on all aspects of data center storage. He is the primary contributor to Storage Switzerland and is a heavily sought-after public speaker. With over 30 years of experience designing storage solutions for data centers across the US, he has seen the birth of such technologies as RAID, NAS, 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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