The most common method for consolidating storage is for the organization to purchase a single storage system, hardware, and software, and move all workloads to the new system. The organization is in effect creating a storage mainframe. The challenges with a storage mainframe are similar to legacy compute mainframes which spurred the open systems and distributed systems movement.
An advantage to the storage mainframe concept is the organization does simplify management for a time. All storage software is the same, and all storage hardware is the same. The problem is the downsides are numerous and far outweigh the advantages.
The first challenge with the storage mainframe concept is eventually a workload appears that requires a capability or performance level that the storage system can’t deliver. Most storage mainframes today can hold their own on performance through the effective use of flash, but new workloads like Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning are stretching these storage systems to their limits.
In addition, organizations with capacity centric workloads or workloads that need specific retention capabilities can’t justify the capacity costs of the storage mainframe concept. These workloads are often better suited for object storage or cloud storage. While some storage mainframe solutions support block and file storage, they don’t support object storage. Finally, the capacity costs of the storage mainframe concept are far higher than that of object storage, which leverages commodity hardware.
Another challenge with using a storage mainframe is lack of flexibility. The solution comes only from the vendor providing the solution. The customer can’t even use other storage products that the vendor may also sell. Everything has to be contained within the storage mainframe. Should another vendor have a less expensive or higher performing solution, the customer can’t utilize them.
The situation is especially frustrating when the organization reaches the limits of the current storage mainframe. The customer either has to buy an even larger storage chassis, which is also far more expensive, or they have to buy a second system breaking their storage consolidation goal.
Potentially the most significant challenge with storage mainframes is the cost. The upfront costs of storage mainframes are substantial. Most systems have a high capacity minimum starting point. The customer has to pay for this storage on day one, even though it may take months if not years to migrate all workloads to it entirely. Since the storage mainframe vendor is the only supplier of software and hardware, the cost to purchase upgrades are at a premium versus the price of the same equipment on the open market.
Right Idea – Wrong Approach
The storage mainframe is the right idea, storage consolidation, but it is the wrong approach. Forcing customers to consolidate all the workloads to a single storage system is too limiting and doesn’t future proof them. It is the opposite of the approach that VMware and others used for server virtualization and that software-defined networking (SDN) used to consolidate network operations. Both server virtualization and SDN solutions allow the customer to choose the hardware that best suits their needs. If the customer needs high performance, they can select that, and if they need low cost, they can select that.
Storage should learn a lesson from server virtualization and SDN. Storage needs a storage hypervisor or storage operating system that can support a variety of storage protocols (Block, File, Object) and a variety of storage media (NVMe-Flash, SAS-Flash, Hard Disk Drives) potentially housed in different physical storage appliances but all managed by a single software application.
Our next blog dives deeper into the concept of software-defined storage (SDS) to see why it also falls short on helping fulfill an organization’s consolidation goal.
Storage Switzerland is also providing a live webinar that discusses the challenges with storage consolidation and discusses the various approaches to creating a sustainable strategy. You can sign up for our webinar “Designing a Storage Consolidation Strategy for Today, the Future and the Cloud.” Pre-register today and get a copy of our latest eBook, “Consolidating Storage in the Modern Data Center,” available exclusively to pre-registrants.