Part 2: Software-Defined Storage (SDS) is Here and Now

This is the second in a series of a three blog posts on Software-Defined Technologies, which include posts on: 1) Data Centers, 2) Storage, and 3) Networks.

Software-Defined Storage is a fundamental component of the Software-Defined Data Center.  Like SDDC, SDS abstracts storage resources to enable pooling, replication and on-demand distribution of data to multiple storage devices.  The benefits of SDS are across-the-board reduction in cost and a simplification of the storage process.

Software-Defined anything usually means that one person, the software user, is able to manipulate a process or several processes more efficiently than doing the same process manually. To illustrate this point, let’s use Microsoft Word as a simple example.  Say you were a newspaper reporter 40 years ago, and you were responsible for writing a story that had to be 500 words and two type written pages. Here is the process you would participate in to move that story from inception to a finished article in the newspaper.

You would start by typing up the story on a manual typewriter, perhaps an IBM Selectric®. The Selectic was state of the art ‘word processing’ back then. However, if you made a typo, you had to erase it with a special eraser or cover it up with White Out®. If you made many mistakes, this added a lot of extra time to the creative process. When the paper draft was finished, it had to be proofread and checked for content and copy errors. Once past the proofreader, the final draft went to typesetting, which could have been done using real metal type, or it could have been automated using a piece of technology called a Compugraphic. The finished typesetting piece was then proofread a second time for typos or layout mistakes. Whether your draft was typeset by hand or on a Compugraphic machine, another person had to recreate your draft into a form that a printing press would understand and be able to duplicate.

This is a bit oversimplified, but I’m sure you get the picture. All this effort for one 500-word article! This process may have taken 5 – 6 different people to accomplish and certainly close to 8 hours of combined labor. Incidentally, this is really how it was done…I did it!

What is Software Defined Storage?

Fast forward to 2013.  The same process using MS Word might take a couple of hours to write, but the proofreading is automated, the typesetting is automated and even the printing is automated. You could call this a Software-Defined Printing process. The capabilities and requirements of the each process (proofreading, typesetting and printing) were abstracted so that the user of MS Word could easily utilize them. Each of those capabilities had been digitally pooled so that they were available exactly when needed, and the processes automated to improve efficiency and minimize the number of people required to complete the task.

Software-Defined Storage is analogous to MS Word in that a complex and time-consuming storage process has been abstracted, pooled and automated. Add to this process the fact that SDS can be consumed through a public or private cloud environment, and you have a nearly seamless storage procedure that is cost-effective, flexible and extremely easy to use. There are also storage services for uncomplicated systems that allow the customer to specify the capacity they want, the performance needed, and the availability requirements for each application or virtual machine being used. This automates the entire end-to-end process. For more complex storage demands, it is common to utilize the services and expertise of the outsourcing provider.

Becoming Vendor-Independent

Virtualized and hardware-independent data storage services can free up users from the limiting proprietary requirements imposed by hardware vendors.  Data services such as snapshots, clones, and replication (all of which used to be hardware-dependent) can now be delivered through software-defined storage systems and can be provisioned and managed on a per-virtual machine basis, no matter what brand of physical hardware is used.

There is more to storage than ‘storage’…there is also retrieval.  Data persistence thorough virtualization of hard disks and solid state drives act as shared storage systems and enable both high-performance storage and retrieval, dynamic scalability, and up to 50% reduction in storage TCO.  Server capabilities are increasing and prices are dropping; this allows enterprises to double-dip on their investment by using software-defined solutions to control both storage and retrieval systems.

Software-Defined Storage infrastructure is managed by intelligent software rather than by the storage hardware itself.  In this way, the pooled storage infrastructure resources can be automatically and efficiently allocated by the software to match the specific and on-demand needs of an enterprise.

Outsourcing Options for Cloud Backup and Retrieval

Storage, which consists of backup and retrieval, can be outsourced.  Often outsourcing the storage function is better, faster and cheaper than supporting it internally. Software-Defined Storage capabilities are evolving, and outsourcing will become an even more attractive option as performance goes up and costs go down.  The overall value of an outsourced storage option can be measured in actual dollars saved, but it can also be measured by
re-positioning internal resources to tackle higher level business objectives.