Software-Defined Storage Must Address Enterprise Storage Systems and the Cloud

by Jim Lyons, NetApp

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The term software-defined storage (SDS) is often used to describe storage software running on commodity hardware, and the idea of using commodity components to build a low-cost storage pool is certainly appealing. However, this vision isn’t broad enough for a world in which the majority of enterprise application data is stored on traditional external storage systems. According to IDC, more than 20,000 petabytes of new external storage system capacity was purchased in 2013 alone.

Additionally, in the not-too-distant future, a significant amount of enterprise data will move out of on-site data centers and into off-premise clouds. Ultimately, a majority of this cloud-based data is likely to be housed by companies such as Amazon, Google and Microsoft because of the economies of scale provided by their vast data centers.

As a practical consideration, this means that a software-defined storage strategy cannot be limited to an approach based solely on commodity hardware. It must be broad enough to encompass both traditional enterprise storage systems and a rapidly evolving ecosystem of cloud service providers.

What the Industry Analysts Are Saying
Although industry analysts expect software-defined storage to have a major impact on enterprise data centers over time, many are recommending that IT organizations take an incremental approach based on the realities of today’s environments.

For example, Forrester Research advises that during the initial phase of an evolution to a software-defined data center, you should not expect to overhaul your entire storage infrastructure.1 This is because “storage systems have a longer usable life span than other types of infrastructure, which all but guarantees that arrays in the data center today will be around in future years.”

Analyst firm Neuralytix notes that the ability to integrate off-premise capacity is a critical capability for software-defined storage,  and the firm predicts that within two years, all SDS solutions will need to manage both on-premise and cloud-based capacity as a unified data storage architecture.2 Storage vendors are advised to “consider ways of delivering storage solutions that are capable of helping end users to protect current investments and evolve to contemporary and next-generation technologies while providing a singular storage interface (i.e., APIs).”

Software-Defined Basics
The fundamental idea at the core of all “software-defined” technologies—including software-defined storage—is that a layer of abstraction makes an IT infrastructure more agile and better able to respond to business requirements.

Software-defined storage must be:

  • Provisioned based on service levels. Services are defined based on business priorities and must be able to quickly adapt to changing needs.
  • Deployable on the platform of your choice. You won’t get the full benefit from software-defined storage unless you can apply it to all of your storage.
  • Delivered to applications on-demand. Storage services should be automated, instantly available and delivered without interruption.

The NetApp Approach to SDS
NetApp delivers software-defined storage based on clustered Data ONTAP, a storage operating system designed for enterprise environments. Clustered Data ONTAP introduces the concept of storage virtual machines (SVMs)—virtual storage systems that are abstracted from the hardware and which can be deployed across a variety of physical infrastructures.

For example, FlexArray software can be enabled on a NetApp FAS system to create SVMs that reside on legacy enterprise storage systems, including those from EMC and HDS. This enables better utilization of assets, provides a single point of data management and adds the flexibility to move workloads between hardware platforms. It’s also possible to run clustered Data ONTAP as a virtual appliance in the cloud, which will enable hybrid cloud designs that take advantage of low-cost, hyperscale cloud storage.

There are multiple options for automating common storage operations for application administrators based on their service-level requirements. Open APIs and OnCommand Workflow Automation software can be used to integrate with popular cloud management software, such as Microsoft System Center, OpenStack and VMware vCloud Suite to meet this SDS requirement.

Learn how software-defined storage can improve IT economics.

What’s Your Software Defined Strategy?
For the foreseeable future, software-defined storage based on commodity hardware will address only a fraction of enterprise storage requirements. IT teams will need to incorporate traditional enterprise storage systems and cloud-based storage into their SDS strategies in order to deliver the agility promised by a software-defined data center.

For more information about the benefits of clustered Data ONTAP, best practices and in-depth interviews with storage experts, visit the NetApp Tech OnTap community.

1 Software-Defined Storage Will Sound the Death Knell For Traditional Storage Provisioning, Forrester Research, May 2013

2 Defining Software Defined Storage, Neuralytix, January 2014


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