Getting the best out of software-defined storage in 2016

By: Neeraj Matiyani, Director, Storage Solutions, Dell India

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For over twenty years storage array architecture was hardware centric making it closed & propriety. It served its purpose well with acceptable performance, manageability & high reliability. However, as we go through the current data explosion along with expectations of highly dynamic, virtualized, “no planned downtime” operations this architecture is proving to be archaic. Its weaknesses are exposed. Some of the major cons of traditional storage array architecture are:
1) Lack of agility in a dynamic virtualized environment
2) Complex management requiring specialist administrators
3)Extracting performance for flash media
4)Need for planning for scalability & performance increase

In parallel to this, there is a major shift in the way IT departments are functioning. Companies are moving more towards “Digital” & the CIOs role is more outside IT rather than just being involved in keeping the lights on. It has thus become tough to run the show completely on traditional architecture. When the CIO has to move outside IT, it can be quite merciless & there is no luxury of planning for demand. The reasons for this are pretty straightforward – underplan & you miss the bus in terms of the market opportunity. Overdo it & you end-up paying for infrastructure that is not used to the fullest.

Software-defined storage may be the answer for CIOs looking for more efficient storage architecture and grappling with the increased expectations placed on them. This type of storage infrastructure is more efficient and affords the ability to use powerful, reliable yet affordable standards based hardware and easier management, needing lesser planning & forecasting of demand. However even as organisations choose Software-defined, there needs to be a clear understanding of which approach to take. It is certainly not a “one size fits all” IT storage solutions. Customers have to be cognizant of their needs & chose from the model that suits them the most.

There are three type of software-defined infrastructure that are available today. Each caters to a different business use & risk appetite. While Software-defined is emerging there is a level of risk when you adopt it. Listed below are the three types, detailing out how they can be adopted with minimal risk.

Software-Derived Storage: Most customers want assured reliability, measured performance & compatibility for their core business applications like ERP, financial & HR systems. In fact, most popular applications of these type may not recommend software-defined storage. So the storage vendor ports storage software on open systems & provides the necessary performance benchmarks, compatibility & reliability. However, they sell these systems as products. Customers benefit with lower cost hardware & the storage vendor can focus on software development. Thus leaving the performance improvement to Moore’s law.

Pure Software-Defined Storage: In this model, the hardware is purchased from popular hardware vendors & the software from another. Storage software can come from boutique SDS companies, as extension to popular virtualization software or as open source. There are a defined set of compatible open hardware, so it is best to order this together from an experienced SI & avoid complexity. This model is popular for high capacity archival data which runs into hundreds of TB as then is the commercial benefit realised.

Hyper-Converged Systems: This is an interesting model for virtualised environments where external storage is removed & all data resides internally in the server.  Using standards based hardware this technology runs the storage software an application VM providing most storage services. Customers enjoy ease of management & scalability to the extent that prior planning is minimum.

Software-defined storage promises to be a game changer in the enterprise IT space with the potential to unlock unprecedented agility and efficiency for organizations. Organizations considering SDS can ensure the best outcomes while also equipping the organization to be future ready.

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