Don't be conned over software-defined storage: how to spot the real deal

What is the real value of software-defined storage?

We are rapidly entering the era of the software-defined enterprise, where all IT resources will be managed, provisioned and stored virtually. In fact, Gartner has identified "software-defined anything" as one of its top ten strategic technologies, an accolade given to technologies the analyst house believes have "the potential to have a significant impact on the enterprise in the next three years".

As a key element of the software-defined category, software-defined storage is already seeing significant market traction. Many of our customers are already adopting the technology and enjoying business benefit as a result. Others are enquiring about how they can start to migrate towards it. Software-defined storage has therefore clearly moved from hype to business value, but why now?

Unending data growth and modern applications

The key drivers behind software-defined storage are massive data growth and the changing nature of applications. First, the exponential growth in unstructured content is prompting enterprises to seek lower cost alternatives to traditional storage systems. Secondly, businesses need to develop powerful new applications that exploit megatrends such as mobility and big data analytics.

Consequently, enterprises need a new approach to storage that can change the trajectory of their rising storage costs and facilitate the development and deployment of modern web, mobile and big data applications and services.

The public cloud seemed to be able to meet these requirements. Through platform-as-a-service (PaaS) offerings businesses have been able to develop the apps they want without having to invest in proprietary infrastructure. Concurrently, public cloud providers used software-defined storage and commodity infrastructure to cost effectively store petabytes of data in the cloud.

This approach is fine, and for many businesses, more than suitable. However, as is ever the case in IT, one size inevitably does not fit all. Some enterprises do not want to relinquish control of data and applications to public cloud providers. Yes, they may wish to use a cloud development platform, but why should it follow that the application is then automatically stored in the public cloud? What if the customer would prefer to host it on-premise?

The fact of the matter is in some cases businesses simply do not want to be tied in to a public cloud provider. For this reason a new generation of open-PaaS offerings, such as Cloud Foundry and OpenShift, have become increasingly popular. Services such as these provide enterprises with the cloud development tools they need, without tying them to a public cloud.

To complete the picture, however, enterprises need a storage infrastructure that can offer the scale and economics of public cloud providers, but within their own data centres.

The real value of software-defined storage

At present the majority of businesses use mixed, heterogeneous multi-vendor storage environments that were built for an older generation of applications. If they are to use the applications they want to use without relying on public cloud storage then businesses need a simple, low-cost, scale-out alternative – and one that does not require building a new purpose-built array for each new application (unconscionable both in terms of cost and work hours).

This is where software-defined storage really proves its value, by delivering scale-out storage based on whatever infrastructure the customer wants – including hugely cost-effective commoditised hardware. It allows business to build storage capabilities at the same economies and hyper-scale that previously was only available to the likes of Amazon and Google.

When it comes down to it, this is the reason why software-defined storage is proving so popular: it enables enterprises to build a modern, hyper-scale storage infrastructure that leverages commodity platforms. Moreover, with support for industry standard object storage APIs, it accelerates development of modern applications, allows businesses to build the applications they want and then run them where they want (i.e. in a private cloud if required) – and at a low cost, and with a simple management interface.