Software Defined Storage: The New Storage Paradigm

What is the new storage paradigm? Software Defined Storage.  While some may consider monolithic storage silos to be dinosaurs slipping further into the past they still has their place, but for people willing to invest a little money, time and effort, the rewards for understanding a new class of storage can be significant. Deploying storage as a software layer as a part of your I.T. infrastructure can be compelling. What I mean is this;  consider your typical storage server (NetApp, Engenio, Hitachi Data Systems) it is actually a software layer on top of some proprietary hardware layer. For example, if an enterprise storage platform is a fancy layer cake, then the drives/controllers/CPUs/RAM can be considered the cake and the icing is just the different company’s proprietary filesystem/code/firmware that provisions that storage. The cake’s ingredients might change slightly between vendors, slightly more or less controllers more or less memory but it’s the icing, the software layer that really decides what’s going to happen. So in a very real sense, you are already using storage as defined by software. Isilon, EMC, NetApp, and Panasas; each of these is really a software company that needed to create a hardware appliance in order to sell its products.

If you have some commodity storage hardware handy you can use software to create a SAN, just look at Zadara, OpenFiler, and most Linux distributions. If you need to deploy some private cloud storage you can do that as well, just try out Eucalyptus, OpenStack’s Swift, Inktank (CEPH), or Piston Cloud. If you want to create a deep archive, now you can, if you look at Amplidata’s Amplistor. If you want to do your own private server virtualization and supply the high speed file services just look at NexentaStor. What each of these scenarios has in common is that these seemingly separate companies are all working the same task; provide customers with the software to run enterprise class storage on commodity hardware. SAN, NFS, CIFS, iSCSI, FC, Active Archive, Cold Storage, WORSE (Write Once Read Seldom if Ever) solutions are now being offered for a significant savings over their traditional single silo storage vendors.

Private Cloud Infrastructure as a service server virtualization platforms are embracing Software Defined Storage by offering the ability to plug in to Zadara Virtual Private Storage Arrays, OpenStack or Eucalyptus different types of storage. They can now support Swift, Ceph or even Amazon’s S3 storage as a plug in storage module. You can potentially create your own VBLOCK storage layer for a fraction of the cost charged by EMC and their partners Cisco and VMware. There are just so many independent software vendors masquerading as hardware vendors it’s hard to have a complete list.

Now that we know lots of people are accepting of this paradigm shift how do we take advantage of it for our own use? What once used to take very specific hardware in order to provide reliability can now be spread across a layer of individual, replaceable and to some extent expendable units. They rely on the software later to eliminate the risk of data loss rather than the hardware. It’s what Facebook and Google are now worth Billions, and that’s what they’ve been doing with all our email, photos, videos and messages.  More of our customers are asking us to provide storage solutions that consist of commodity parts with different software layers for storage. They tell us they are tired of spending large sums of their budget on equipment that they know can be replaced by commodity parts. Another important example of this shift is the ability to change from one type of storage to another with only a few minor changes in hardware but the software layer can be provided by different independent software vendors.

We sell hardware, so we believe hardware is the cake in our little example and the software layer is the icing. Follow my analogy; the flavor is the task that’s required, San or block or cloud archive or fast NFS. The choice of flavor is all up to you. Hopefully you’ll now see that Software Defined Storage on COTS (commodity off-the-shelf) hardware with a software layer on top can be an affordable solution at a much lower price. Bake your own Storage; just pick the right flavor of icing for the tasks.

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1 Comment

  1. Mark, I love the analogy.

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