How to Bridge your Datacenter Needs with Software Defined Storage

by Andrew Mullen on March 7, 2017

Modern business operations are becoming more and more data-dependent every day. The amount of information enterprises must deal with is growing at exponential rates. Yet, traditional storage implementations, based on relatively costly solutions such as Network Attached Storage (NAS) and Storage Area Networks (SANs), are struggling to keep up. The IT budgets of most companies simply can't expand fast enough (many are, in fact, stagnant) to continually add increasing amounts of the hardware and software resources necessary to provide needed storage capacity and maintain service levels.
That's the reason many storage professionals are moving toward Software Defined Storage (SDS) and Hyperconverged Infrastructure (HCI) solutions. In a 2016 survey conducted by Actual Tech Media, 71 percent of respondents said their organizations had already deployed SDS/HCI, or were actively considering doing so.
In fact, most industry experts consider HCI (of which SDS is an integral part) to be the coming standard for modern enterprise storage. Gartner projects that after passing the $2 billion mark in 2016, the hyperconverged market will reach $5 billion by 2019.
In this article we'll take a brief look at why traditional storage models are proving inadequate to meet today's requirements, and how SDS is leading the way to the HCI-based infrastructure that's beginning to define modern storage.
Why Traditional Storage Approaches Are Inadequate For Today's Needs There are a number of issues that make conventional storage solutions less and less appealing in today's business environment.

High Costs: NAS- or SAN-based storage has traditionally been based on proprietary hardware and software. The development costs for these specialized products run to the tens of millions of dollars, and the devices are priced accordingly.
Slow, Difficult, and Wasteful Provisioning: Because traditional storage is normally purchased using capital (CapEx) funds, acquisition cycles for upgrading or expanding a company's storage infrastructure can be months long. In addition, the fact that new equipment cannot be obtained quickly leads to a requirement for overprovisioning - that is, purchasing reserve capacity to be available to meet unexpected growth in demand. In fact, with the rapid pace of technological advancement, much of this extra equipment becomes obsolete before it is ever put into service.
Difficulty In Scaling: With traditional storage, capacity is usually increased by adding more drives to each storage device. This "scale up" approach eventually runs into bottlenecks that limit the amount of new capacity that can be added. Moreover, each additional drive becomes a consumer of server and network resources, which can cause data access delays as workloads increase.
Limited Flexibility: Because traditional storage solutions have normally been built on proprietary hardware and software products, it can be very difficult or even impossible to mix and match devices from different manufacturers. Customers can easily find themselves locked into one vendor's products and upgrade cycles, with only a limited ability to take advantage of innovations that come on the market from other providers.
Management Complexity: In the past, each SAN or NAS system constituted its own storage island. Not only did that arrangement inhibit data mobility across platforms, it also required that each subsystem be managed as a separate entity, with its own set of protocols and configuration requirements. It also made sharing data among various company locations difficult and error-prone.
How SDS Overcomes The Limitations of Traditional Storage Solutions The key feature of SDS is that it lifts the intelligence and control functions out of hardware and into software. The system is designed to allow many different types of hardware and media to coexist as a single pool of storage, intelligently managed by the SDS software. This means that with SDS sophisticated storage system functions, such as deduplication, replication, snapshots, caching, and tiering, as well as data security procedures, backups and disaster recovery, can be applied system-wide through the single SDS storage management portal. Plus, SDS implementations can scale out to almost unlimited capacity simply by adding additional nodes.
Users (using applications) access storage through a single, consistent interface, no matter what the underlying storage devices may be, or where in the world (or the cloud) they may physically reside. That allows consolidation of a company's data at a single logical access point, making it available to users who may be located at remote sites anywhere in the world.
Costly proprietary hardware and software are not required. Instead, SDS can take standard x86 servers and inexpensive commodity hard disk drives, and turn them into the equivalent of sophisticated (and much more costly) storage appliances. Many companies that have turned to SDS are forgoing purchasing hardware at all and employing a STaaS (Storage as a Service) vendor to provide storage services on demand. With that approach, the SDS software can be programmed to automatically allocate additional capacity as needed, relieving storage administrators of the need to maintain extra capacity to handle unexpected surges in demand.
Overall, a software defined architecture can provide all the functionality of traditional storage systems and more, and do so at a much lower cost.
SDS Provides A Bridge To HCI
According to David Cauthron, founder and CEO of Nimboxx, the most common definition of HCI is:

"HCI combines a software-centric architecture that is tightly integrated with compute, storage, networking and virtualization resources and packaged in a commodity hardware platform."

In other words, whereas SDS applies the software-defined paradigm specifically to storage, HCI extends it to the other elements of IT infrastructure. Each node of a HCI implementation combines storage, the server, networking, and the hypervisor into a single software controlled package. With HCI, all the advantages of a software-defined approach are realized in every aspect of data center operations.
For many enterprises, moving directly from a traditional IT infrastructure to HCI would be a large step. By starting with SDS, they can improve their IT operations immediately, while gaining experience with the software controlled paradigm, and taking their first steps into a future in which hyperconvergence will ultimately define the way data is stored, distributed, and used.

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