There are a lot of definitions floating around for software defined storage (SDS). IBM, for example, defines it as:
“A set of software capabilities that automatically manage data locally and globally, providing breakthrough speed in data access, easier administration and the ability to scale technology infrastructures quickly and more cost-effectively as data volumes expand. In addition, these advances can work with any company’s storage systems to provide automated and virtualized storage.”
While there may be variations from vendor to vendor, the distinctions are relatively slight. What matters more is how you go about implementing SDS. Here are some tips on how best to accomplish that.
No Rip and Replace
Rip and replace is fine if your existing storage has reached end of life or has cost you more in maintenance and administration costs over the last couple of years than a complete set of new hardware. But we’ve all been through, “toss out the old, bring in the new” too many times due to the latest and greatest technology to blindly go along with that mantra. And in most cases, SDS should not involve having to dump existing gear. The point of it, after all, is to operate and manage via the software regardless of the underlying hardware.
Augie Gonzalez, Director of Product Marketing, DataCore Software, said that before you buy any SDS product, ask yourself this:
“Does it work with your existing investments and absorb new technologies as they come along or will it force you to ‘rip and replace’ what you already own?”
Some vendors add data protection features while others don’t. As many now offer it rolled into SDS, it makes sense to favor those that include it – unless you already have all your bases covered in that area via other technologies.
Another SDS question from Gonzalez: “Does it protect your data and non-disruptively provide access to storage in the event of common disk and link failures? “
Gonzalez is also a proponent of testing. He recommends that organizations test SDS proposals in their own environments before signing the dotted line, particularly in terms of adaptability and interchangeability of parts.
For example, when you need more storage, will the SDS system preclude you from accessing capacity already out on the network, or in the cloud? Similarly, when it’s time to refresh the hardware, can you shop among competing suppliers to get the best value, and non-disruptively migrate from one vendor’s storage hardware to the next?
Utilize Server Storage
One of the big pluses of SDS is that you can harness any hardware and bring it all into one big virtual storage pool. It makes sense, therefore, to include servers into the mix. After all, modern servers have evolved greatly from their predecessors. They often contain massive amounts of processing, memory and storage capacity.
“Today’s servers have so much compute power that it only makes sense to utilize a fraction of that to efficiently create an additional tier of storage within the datacenter,” said Dale Degen, HP’s Worldwide Software-Defined Storage Category Manager. “By embracing SDS technology, you can reduce upfront costs by 80%, reduce physical footprint by 50%, and lower energy costs by 60%.
The storage world is not immune to attempts to market fakes as the real thing. This holds particularly true when a vendor is behind the pace of the latest over-hyped term. What sometimes happens is that they rebrand their existing offering using the new nomenclature and try to get by until their R&D team comes out with the real thing.
A good example was Information Lifecycle Management (ILM). Once the ILM catch-phrase took hold, it seemed that everyone just turned around and renamed their existing toolsets as ILM. The same can happen, at times, with software-defined tools.
“Identify whether a product is truly software-defined storage, or you have to buy hardware along with it,” said George Hamilton, Senior Product Manager, EMC.
There are a few gotchas to watch out for such as buying into a closed platform rather than one that is open and extensible, not finding out if it can easily integrate with an existing cloud or data center operations stack, and failing to investigate whether it is really multi-vendor.
“Heterogeneous is not the same as multi-vendor,” said Hamilton.
Hamilton provided further advice. He asked users to pay attention to efficiency in terms of overall storage overhead. He also recommended looking into a product’s SDS multi-site and scalability capabilities.
“Architecture matters a great deal,” said Hamilton.
Right Tool for the Right Job
Bernie Spang, Vice President of Strategy, Software Defined Environments at IBM, is another who took up the architectural theme. He advised users to be clear about the different types of storage architectures they have now and will need going forward. That makes it easier to determine what the best tool would be for each specific task, as no one tool works for all platforms and architectures, he said.
“For those primarily utilizing a traditional SAN-based infrastructure, there may be no need to go through an architectural change,” said Spang. “But they can still bring in software-defined virtualization to improve capacity and lower cost.”
Beyond the SAN
But a traditional SAN may not be right for new or evolving workloads. Perhaps you need more scalability than a SAN can provide, or higher efficiency at scale, or even a system that can address heavy storage needs on a globally distributed basis. In such cases, a different architecture is called for.
“Understand your storage workloads and map your plans to each of your needs and don’t go for one size fits all,” said Spang.
Don’t Get Stuck in a Rut
One problem facing those who haven’t grown up with the latest in SDS and virtualization is an overfamiliarity and overdependence on old successful patterns and tools. These might have been wonderful for the DAS and SAN era but may have been succeeded by more effective means that have been adapted for a software-defined world.
“Ensure you are looking at your options as regards total cost and overall performance,” said Spang. “Don’t apply old tools to what are new problems as that is not cost effective.”
Those are some tips for getting started. In the next article, we will give a more detailed rundown of the software-defined software products available from the different vendors. In particular, we will focus on those offering a complete platform that encompasses all that software-defined storage should encompass.
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