SUB PAGE: How To Plan For A Successful Software-Defined Storage Implementation

by Michael Fiorenza on February 24, 2017


Software defined storage (SDS) is a growing presence in today's corporate data centers. Based on the concept of virtualizing storage by abstracting intelligence from hardware into an overarching software layer, SDS provides some significant advantages over traditional storage solutions. These include centralization and simplification of storage management, greater flexibility and agility in responding to changes technology and business conditions, and substantially reduced costs.
At a time when the amount of data enterprises handle is growing at exponential rates, more and more IT managers are seriously considering how they can begin to incorporate SDS into their own data center operations. The first and most crucial element of that process is developing a comprehensive implementation plan up front. In this article we'll take a look at some of the elements that should be included in that plan.
Assess Your Current Storage Infrastructure and Workloads The first step in planning for a successful SDS implementation is understanding where you are and where you want to go. In selecting your approach to implementing SDS, you'll need to have clear objectives based on the types of data and the workloads your storage infrastructure will handle.
"Start with a data strategy that includes where your data currently resides and the analytics/business intelligence requirements to leverage this data," says Ihab Tarazi, CTO at Equinix. "Forecast the volumes of data and the performance criteria in terms of throughput and latency."
This analysis will inform your choice of the SDS components you'll employ. It will also assist you in developing the policies that will guide the SDS software in performing automated functions such as provisioning, tiering, backups, replication, and disaster recovery. Getting the best performance from your SDS implementation depends on tuning both hardware and software to the requirements of your particular storage infrastructure and workload set.
Determine Whether You Can Do SDS Configuration On Your Own
One of the great advantages of SDS is that it allows use of low-cost commodity hardware in place of expensive dedicated storage appliances. This approach not only minimizes up-front equipment costs, but it also maximizes flexibility and agility by providing a wide range of choices when it comes time to add to, replace, or upgrade your existing infrastructure. But those benefits come at a cost.
If you elect to maximize flexibility and cost savings by choosing your own hardware and marrying it to a software-only SDS solution, you also take on the responsibility of integrating and configuring that hardware/software combination for maximum performance and efficiency. That's not a trivial engineering task, and it's one most storage professionals counsel all but the largest companies to avoid.
As Laz Vekiarides, chief technology officer of ClearSky Data, puts it, "Getting high performance and availability requires a lot of tuning. The correct processors, memory, disks, operating system settings, drivers, firmware, and bug fixes take a lot of time to select, assemble, and test. Small variations will create huge differences in performance and reliability results."
Most SDS vendors either offer bundles that include both SDS software and compatible hardware, or at least provide a list of recommended hardware that works well with their software. The advantage of using hardware and software supplied or recommended by your SDS provider is that the interaction between the two will have already been tested and validated by the vendor.
That's especially important when it comes to the ongoing support you'll need if something misfires with your SDS implementation. The last thing you want is to end up in a round robin of blame where each hardware or software provider insists that the issue you are experiencing is caused by the other vendor's product. There's a lot to be said for having a single supplier who is responsible for supporting the system as a whole.
On the other hand, you should consider the fact that the more dependent you are on your SDS provider, the greater your risk of finding yourself locked into that vendor, with few palatable alternatives should that relationship sour for some reason.
Another option to consider is partnering with an independent outside organization to assist you with optimizing your SDS implementation.
Determine If You Can Leverage Existing Storage Hardware An important component of the potential costs savings you can realize using SDS is its ability to leverage the hardware you already have installed. Since SDS is inherently hardware-agnostic, and since the intelligence of the system resides in software rather than in the storage arrays, SDS can cheerfully manage even "dumb" legacy HDD (hard disk drive) storage units to deliver a high level of storage functionality and performance.
For this reason, incorporating SDS into an existing data center need not involve a disruptive and expensive "rip and replace" strategy. Instead, legacy units can be allowed to live out their normal service lives before you have to incur the costs of replacing them.
Still, in assessing whether continuing to use your installed equipment is a good strategy for your data center, you'll need to determine whether your IT staff, perhaps in cooperation with your SDS vendor or an outside partner, has the engineering chops to take on the system integration responsibility such an approach entails.
Plan To Start Small
The almost unanimous advice experienced storage professionals give to those considering switching to SDS is to start small. It's not wise to attempt wholesale changes to critical storage systems all at once. The risk of disruptions due to unanticipated problems is simply too great. So, you should plan to start by implementing SDS with new workloads, or with smaller storage subsystems that can be extensively tested and monitored offline before being introduced into a production environment.
According to Mario Blandini, vice president of marketing at SwiftStack, a gradual implementation of SDS is not only safer, but also less costly. "It is best to deploy only what will be used in the near future," he says, "and continuously monitor utilization so additional hardware can be ordered and added a quarter in advance for strong utilization rather than three to five years in advance and risk going forever unutilized."
Now's The Time To Start Planning For SDS With its adoption in corporate data centers continuing to accelerate, it's clear that SDS is here to stay. Traditional storage solutions are already struggling to keep up with an ever-growing glut of data, and that problem will only grow worse over time. So, now is a great time to start planning for incorporating SDS into your company's data center operations.
If you'd like to know more about how your storage infrastructure can benefit from SDS, we'd like to help. Please visit our Next Generation Software-defined Storage page.

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