The Year Software-Defined Storage Changes the Data Center

Flash technologies and virtualization of Tier 1 applications are shaking up the enterprise world.

By George Teixeira

The move from hardware- to a software-defined virtualization-based model supporting mission-critical business applications has changed the foundation of architectures at the computing, network, and storage levels from being “static” to “dynamic.” Software defines the basis for agility, user interactions, and for building a long-term virtual infrastructure that adapts to change.

During the past year, we have seen the first steps in a move to software-defined architectures. This has spurred a number of critical trends that are reshaping and having a major impact in the enterprise storage world, setting the stage for 2013 to become the year software-defined storage transforms the data center.

Trend #1: Tier 1 apps will go virtual and performance is critical

Efforts to virtualize more of the data center continue and we will see an even greater surge to move Tier1 applications (ERP, databases, mail systems, OLTP etc.) onto virtualization platforms. The main driver for this is better economics and greater productivity.

However, the major roadblocks to virtualizing Tier1 apps are largely storage related.

Moving storage-intensive workloads onto virtual machines (VMs) can greatly impact performance and availability. Therefore, storage has to be over-provisioned and oversized. Moreover, as businesses consolidate onto virtual platforms, they have to spend more to achieve the highest levels of redundancy to ensure no down time and business continuity in addition to worrying about performance bottlenecks.

The high costs and complexities of oversizing negate the bulk of the benefits. With this in mind, enterprises and IT departments are looking for a smarter, more cost-effective approach (i.e., smart software), realizing that the traditional “throw more hardware at the problem” tact is no longer practical.

Trend #2: SSD flash technologies will be used everywhere; storage is not just disk drives

Another major trend related to virtualizing Tier 1 applications is the proliferation of SSD flash-based technologies. The reason is simple. Disk drives are mechanical rotating devices and not as fast as those that are based on high-speed electronic memory technologies.

Flash memory has actually been around for years; it was previously way too expensive for broad adoption. Though still more costly than rotating hard drives, their use in tablets and cell phones are driving prices downward. Even so, flash wears out, and taxing applications that prompt many writes can impact their lifespan.

Yet, flash devices are an inevitable part of our future and need to be incorporated within our architectural thinking. The economics are already driving us to a world that requires different tiers of fast memory-based storage and less expensive, slower disk drives. This, in turn, increases the demand for enterprise-wide auto-tiering software able to optimize the performance and cost trade-offs by placing and moving data to the most cost-effective tier that can deliver acceptable performance.

Trend #3: More storage will require more automation

There is a constant and insatiable demand for more data storage; it continues to grow more than 50 percent per year. However, the need is not just for more hardware disks to meet raw capacity. Instead, users want automatic, self-managed storage, scalability, rapid provisioning, fast performance, and the highest levels of business continuity.

Again, it takes “smart software” to simplify and automate the management of storage.

Trend #4: Software-defined storage architecture will matter more than hardware

These trends -- and empowering IT users to make storage hardware interchangeable within virtual infrastructures -- will have a profound impact on how we think about, buy, and use storage. In 2013 and beyond, IT will need to embrace software-defined storage as an essential element to data centers.

As users deal with the new dynamics and faster pace of today’s business, they can’t be trapped within yesterday’s rigid and hard-wired architectures. Infrastructure is constructed on three pillars -- computing, networking, and storage -- and in each, hardware decisions will take a back seat to a world dictated by software and driven by applications.

Clearly, the great success of VMware and Microsoft Hyper-V demonstrates that there’s compelling value delivered by server virtualization. Likewise, the storage hypervisor, and virtualization at the storage level, are critical to unlocking hardware chains that have made storage an anchor to next-generation data centers.
Trend #5: Software-defined storage is creating the need for a storage hypervisor

The same thinking that changed our views about the server is needed to address storage, and smart software is the catalyst. In effect, a storage hypervisor’s main role is to virtualize storage resources to achieve the same benefits -- agility, efficiency, and flexibility -- that server hypervisor technology brought to processors and memory.

This year, software will take its rightful seat at the table and begin to transform the way we think about storage.

The Ultimate Goal: Better App Experience through Software-defined Storage

Virtualization has changed computing and the applications we depend upon to run our businesses. Still, enterprise and cloud storage are dominated by physical and hardware-defined mindsets. We need to change our thinking and consider how storage impacts the application experience and view storage as software-defined, with storage services and features available enterprise-wide and not just embedded to a proprietary hardware device.

Why would you buy specific hardware just to get a software feature? Why would you restrict a feature to a single platform versus using it across the enterprise? This is old thinking, and prior to virtualization, that’s how the server industry worked. Today, with VMware or Hyper-V, we think about how to deploy VMs versus “are they running on a Dell, HP, Intel, or IBM system?”

Storage is going through a similar transformation, and in the year ahead, it will be smart software that leads the industry into a better, software-defined world.

George Teixeira is CEO and president of DataCore Software. The company’s software-as-infrastructure platform solves the big problem stalling virtualization initiatives by eliminating storage-related barriers that make virtualization too difficult and too expensive. You can contact the author at George.Teixeira@DataCore.com.

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