Best Software-Defined Storage (SDS) Companies & Vendors

With enterprises rushing to deploy software-defined storage solutions, the list of vendors offering SDS solutions continues to grow. In fact, nearly every storage vendor offers at least one solution that it labels “software defined.” 

The ongoing expansion of SDS offerings across vendor types is reflected in a recent Mordor Intelligence survey that valued the software-defined storage software market at USD 9.4 billion in 2020. That figure is forecasted to grow by 25.8% between 2021 – 2026, to reach USD 37.24 billion by 2026. Driving the market is the explosion in volume of enterprise data, especially unstructured data, and the subsequent need for effective secure data management. Other factors include rapid growth and acceptance of internet of things (IoT) devices on the network’s edge, and the continuing global push for and implementation of business digital transformation infrastructures. 

What is Software-Defined Storage?

Software-defined storage is a type of data storage management that separates software from its supporting hardware, allowing the management of physical silos of storage from one controlling device. This storage virtualization allows enterprises to run software on non-proprietary hardware, effectively reducing operation costs and adding scalability and efficiency to storage systems. 

According to the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA), true software-defined storage solutions include the following characteristics:

  • Automation – Simplified management that reduces the cost of maintaining the storage infrastructure
  • Standard Interfaces – APIs for the management, provisioning and maintenance of storage devices and services
  • Virtualized Data Path – Block,file and/or object interfaces that support applications written to these interfaces
  • Scalability – Seamless ability to scale the storage infrastructure without disruption to the specified availability or performance
  • Transparency – The ability for storage consumers to monitor and manage their own storage consumption against available resources and costs.

Also read: Cloud Storage vs. Local Storage: Which Storage Solution is the Best for Your Business?

Top SDS Platforms and Vendors

Enterprise Storage Forum has compiled a list of SDS leaders. It includes enterprise IT behemoths, small startups, and plenty of companies in between. Some offer software only; some offer converged (or hyperconverged) appliances. One offers only hardware but has so many partnerships with SDS software vendors that it was worth including in the list. Here are the top software-defined storage platforms in no particular order.

Nutanix

Nutanix offers software defined infrastructure, which includes SDS, as well as hyperconverged appliances. Available as software-only or as an appliance, its Enterprise Cloud platform includes Prism infrastructure management, Acropolis hyperconverged infrastructure, Calm application automation and lifecycle management, and Xi cloud services.

The company offers solutions for VDI, cloud computing, big data, remote and branch offices, and data protection and disaster recovery. It targets the education, energy and utilities, financial services, healthcare, retail, service provider and government sectors. 

Key Differentiators

  • Offers full-stack IT infrastructure and platform services that leverage Intel-based servers from Nutanix, Dell, Lenovo, Cisco, and more.
  • Works on “pay-as-you-grow economics”, a predictable scaling model that eliminates upfront over provisioning, idle spare hardware, and forklift upgrades.
  • Runs any application at any scale.
  • Simplified management that spans across private and public clouds through Nutanix Prism. Rest APIs allow for the automation of complex operations or one-click operations across the stack. 
  • Patented machine-learning algorithms make the platform smarter over time to reduce reliance on everyday administrator oversight.
  • Technology agnostic architecture that allows IT teams to select the right hypervisor, hardware platform and cloud to meet their enterprise IT and business needs.  
  • Application and data protection.
  • Non-disruptive upgrades.

Cisco

Cisco is encouraging its customers to adopt software defined storage, but it doesn’t actually offer any SDS software of its own. Instead, it has partnerships with multiple SDS vendors, including IBM, Red Hat, Scality, Cohesity, DataCore, Hedvig, Nexenta, StorMagic and VMware. It positions its Unified Computing System (UCS) S-Series line of storage servers as the ideal hardware to pair with SDS software from various vendors.

Key Differentiators

  • Dual server node architecture that employs second-generation Intel Xeon Scalable processors and Intel Xeon Scalable processors.
  • Supports NVME, SSD, and Flash or a combination of each.
  • Scales to petabytes in seconds.
  • Policy-based, unified storage management between primary and secondary storage with a single framework. 
  • Supports Ethernet, FiberChannel, and FCoE.

StarWind

starwind logo.StarWind offers Virtual SAN (VSAN) and virtual tape library (VTL) software as well as hyperconverged appliances. The company targets its VSAN product at organizations that want to incorporate legacy hardware into their SDS solution, as well as those that want to reduce costs.

Key Differentiators

  • Designed for small businesses and organizations with restricted IT budgets.
  • Unified web interface allows operation of HCI clusters.
  • Offers a two-node scenario that scales to meet growing customer needs. 
  • Creates a fault-tolerant storage pool by mirroring the actual storage and caches between hosts.
  • Is hardware agnostic, allowing for infrastructure modifications while maintaining smooth operation.
  • Synchronous replication ensures instant failover for your mission-critical applications.
  • Implements VM and flash-friendly space reduction technologies such as in-line deduplication and compression.
  • Migration assistance is included in all HCA licenses.

DataCore

Datacore logoDataCore promotes SANsymphony as a way to improve availability, optimize performance, reduce costs and centralize management of storage. Hardware agnostic, SANsymphony does offer an appliance that integrates  Lenovo hardware with the company’s SDS software. The platform is aimed at customers in the healthcare, government, and education sectors. 

Key Differentiators

  • Performance is underpinned by parallel I/O, high-speed caching, auto-tiering, random writer accelerator, QoS controls, and storage load balancing.
  • Sync mirroring for zero downtime
  • Continuous backup and recovery alongside snapshots/backups that clone system images, speed-up recovery and enable off-line analysis.
  • Offers deduplication and compression that reduces space needed to store multiple copies of the same data.
  • Datacore Insight Services powered by machine learning and AI-based predictive analytics to enable actionable insights
  • Provides highly available, persistent shared storage to containerized applications from a scalable, software-defined storage infrastructure.

Dell EMC

Dell EMC logo.Dell EMC offers three different products as a part of its complete lineup of software-defined storage solutions. The family of products are available as scale-out file storage and object storage solutions and includes

  • VxRail: a hyperconverged system designed for VMware environment
  • IsilonSD Edge: a software-defined scale-out network attached storage system for file workloads
  • Elastic Cloud Storage (ECS): a cloud-scale globally distributed object storage solution 
  • UnityVSA: a software-defined unified storage system which can be installed on a VMware ESXi system as a vAPP.
  • Unity Cloud Edition: a software defined version of the Unity platform that can be installed and run in a public cloud environment.

Key Differentiators

  • Offers hyperconverged architecture.
  • Offers deep integration with VMware tools and SmartFabric Services to simplify deployment. Pricing is available on request.
  • ECS is available as an appliance, software-only as a managed cloud service with features that include flexible deployment, enterprise-grade durability and availability, global access and native metadata search.
  • IsilonSD Edge is a software-only solution that runs on industry-standard hardware, including Dell servers and storage systems. It features multiprotocol support, high utilization of storage resources, integration with VMware ESX, Isilon OneFS operating system, data management, data protection and enhanced software support. 

VMware

Used by more than 10,000 customers, VMware’s vSAN is a software defined storage solution that integrates with the company’s popular vSphere software. Ideal for organizations that run vSphere, vSAN is tightly integrated with the VMware hypervisor and boasts very fast performance. 

Key Differentiators

  • Offers integration with other VMware management tools. 
  • Provides native HCI encryption.
  • Flash optimized with built-in caching on server-side flash devices that minimizes storage latency.
  • Erasure coding, which increases usable storage capacity while retaining data resiliency. 
  • vSAN Encryption provides data-at-rest and data-in-transit security at the cluster level and supports all vSAN features, including deduplication and compression.
  • vSAN over Remote Direct Memory Access (RDMA) allows computers in a network to exchange data in main memory without involving the processor, cache, or operating system of either computer. 
  • vSAN Support Insight, an analytics tool, provides real-time support notifications and actionable recommendations. 
  • vSAN cloud native storage supports all key storage API objects within Kubernetes. 
  • The Data Persistence platform provides a framework for VMware partners and offers services such as object storage and NoSQL databases, to integrate with the underlying virtual infrastructure. 
  • The company also offers a hands-on lab where potential customers can try the software.

IBM

IBM Spectrum Storage Suite is a bundle of software-defined storage products that includes IBM Spectrum Control for analytics-driven automation of storage provisioning, capacity management, availability monitoring and reporting; Spectrum Archive for low-cost archive storage; Spectrum Virtualize for storage virtualization, Spectrum Scale storage management for big data analytics, Spectrum Accelerate for software-defined block storage that runs on industry standard hardware; and IBM Cloud Object Storage, the company’s cloud-based object storage service. Of these, the Accelerate platform is the most critical for deploying SDS.

Key Differentiators

  • Provided as a SDS for VMware ESXi hypervisors.
  • Can be installed on 3–15 physical ESXi hosts  to form a single storage system.
  • Easy-to-use user interface based on the XIV Management Tool.
  • Scales linearly with added storage enclosures with zero tuning.
  • Deploys scale-out storage grids in automated environments in minutes.
  • Features fault tolerance, failure analysis, and self-healing algorithms.
  • Standardize data management across the data center.
  • Synchronous and asynchronous replication to a remote system.
  • Snapshot functionality that includes support for nearly unlimited snapshots, snap-of-snap, and restore-from-snap. 

Red Hat

Red Hat offers two software-defined storage products, both based on open source technology.

Ceph Storage offers unified block, object and file storage. It’s well-suited for cloud infrastructure, data analytics, media repositories and backup and recovery systems, and it is especially popular with OpenStack users. 

Key Differentiators:

  • Flexible storage policies.
  • Data durability via erasure coding or replication.
  • Advanced monitoring and diagnostics.
  • Multi-site and disaster recovery options.
  • Red Hat Enterprise Linux, SLA-backed technical support.
  • Compatibility with Amazon S3, OpenStack Swift and NFS. 

Formerly known as Red Hat Storage Server, Gluster Storage is a file-storage solution that is best for backup, archiving, analytics and similar applications. Customers can run it on bare metal, virtual machines, containers, or in the cloud. 

Key Differentiators

  • Fast deployment.
  • Automatic storage tiering.
  • Open source licensing.
  • Agile storage capacity.
  • Easy management.
  • No vendor lock-in. 

Nexenta

Nexenta offers three SDS-related software products: NexentaStor unified block and file storage, Nexenta Edge high-performance, scale-out block and object storage, and Nexenta Fusion for monitoring, analytics and orchestration when using its other two products. Through partnerships with a variety of hardware manufacturers, it also offers fully configured appliances that incorporate its NexentaStor software.

Key Differentiators 

  • Offers enterprise-grade data integrity.
  • Performance scaling into the petabytes.
  • Unlimited file system sizes.
  • Inline data reduction.
  • Unlimited space-optimized snapshots and clones.
  • Periodic or continuous asynchronous long-distance replication.
  • VMware integration and support for Docker and OpenStack. 
  • For object storage, Nexenta offers Nexenta Edge that includes:
    • Inline deduplication.
    • Compression.
    • Quick Erasure Coding (Quick EC).
    • Docker Datacenter integration.
    • A Web-based GUI.
    • Data protection and support for high-performance, all-flash arrays. 

StorMagic

While most of the SDS vendors target a variety of use cases, StorMagic focuses on just one: software-defined storage for edge computing. Its SvSAN was designed for remote and branch offices, industrial IoT, and other environments where organizations need storage at the edge of their networks but find it cost-prohibitive to install a traditional SAN or NAS appliance. SvSAN supports VMware vSphere and Microsoft Hyper-V. 

Key Differentiators

  • Synchronous mirroring to ensure service uptime.
  • Stretched/metro support for an added layer of resiliency.
  • Volume migration.
  • Centralized monitoring and management with many options, including WebGUI. 
  • Provides granular, historical I/O transaction, throughput and latency statistics for each volume.
  • Offers two add-ons:
    • Predictive storage caching utilizes patent-pending algorithms for memory and hybrid disk configurations.
    • Data Encryption feature enables organizations with one to thousands of locations to affordably introduce data encryption at each site.

Read next: Top Big Data Tools & Software 2021

This article was updated by Llanor Alleyne, Editor of Enterprise Storage Forum. 

Cynthia Harvey
Cynthia Harvey is a freelance writer and editor based in the Detroit area. She has been covering the technology industry for more than fifteen years.

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