The storage industry isn’t changing; it is reshaping. What is the difference? If the industry were changing, it would be its choice to change, driven by internal motivations. Instead, outside influences are reshaping the industry. What are the primary drivers of the reshaping? The shift to the software-defined data center (SDDC), the outsourced infrastructure provider (i.e., the cloud) and the shift to NVMe over Fabric infrastructures are driving this metamorphosis.
The Software Influence
Storage vendors for years have all claimed to be “software companies” but still required that the customer buy the storage hardware from them. In most cases, there wasn’t even a choice of different hardware configurations from within that vendor. Yes, the storage business was driven by software but the customer saw no real benefit from it. The problem, especially for legacy storage vendors, is that even though the hardware was low margin, they made a lot of revenue from its sale. Switching to a software-only model would require a painful restructuring of the business and an even more painful loss in top-line revenue.
The reality is that most new storage companies are mostly software, even if they bundle hardware with that software. These companies would sign a contract with Dell, Lenovo, Super Micro, HPE, etc., to be the hardware suppliers. Like the legacy vendors before them, they are addicted to the top-line revenue potential of selling hardware, despite its low margins and high support costs.
2018 looks to be a bellwether year for storage software companies to shed their tight connections with hardware. Kaminario is a prime example. The company, since its inception, bundled hardware and software together but recently announced that it has partnered with TechData to deliver certified hardware to its customers, who will license the Kaminario software, now called Cloud Fabric, directly from Kaminario based on usage.
Separating software from hardware increases asset mobility, nodes can be decommissioned, and the software can transfer to new nodes. Obviously, the software licensing provides the customer with hardware freedom; they can choose the storage server hardware that best fits their environment.
The Cloud Influence
Nowhere is the need for a software-only storage licensing model more apparent than in the cloud. Both the large public cloud providers and smaller regional service providers already have a server hardware infrastructure in place. Forcing them to bring in additional storage hardware is not a popular notion. A software solution changes the game.
With a software-only model, providers can implement the storage vendor’s software solution on an as needed basis. It enables them to not only run applications they host on the storage vendor’s software but also allows the service provider to be a replication and disaster recovery target for the storage software vendors traditional data center customers.
The NVMe Influence
Another factor reshaping the storage market is NVMe. While the first iterations of NVMe will be a simple replacement of SAS based SSDs, subsequent iterations will leverage NVMe over Fabrics (NVMe-F) to create more dynamic storage infrastructures that adapt to workload demands on-the-fly. Kaminario’s composable data platform is a dramatic shift away from the storage array mentality. The composable data platform creates a mesh of storage compute (controllers) and storage capacity (shelves of SSDs).
With the composable data platform in place, the storage infrastructure can respond instantly to workload demands. For example, if a workload that has two controllers and one shelf of storage assigned to it suddenly has a spike in performance demand, additional processors can instantly be assigned to handle the peak load. When the spike has passed, the processors can be returned to a global pool waiting for the next spike.
The critical component of composable architectures is a network infrastructure that provides very low latency and extremely high performance. NVMe-F is one of those networks and unlike other network candidates, it is easily scalable and can coexist with existing infrastructures.
Instead of resisting the outside influences that are impacting the storage industry, Kaminario is embracing them. The shift to composable storage shows a clear understanding of the potential of NVMe-F and the shift to a software-only model shows an understanding of the rise of the software defined data center.