Software defined storage: the 'missing link'

"It was designed to be easy to setup, and if an SME required more IT infrastructure to support its business success after the initial deployment, it would then have an architecture that could do that," he says. "Equally, having a converged solution allows you to give as little of your real estate over to IT infrastructure, which reduces power consumption and physical footprint so that the business can use floor space for more customer-facing activities."

Open source has been put forward as a critical element of SDS by some vendors, including Red Hat, and US startup Nexenta, which maintains that it is required to end vendor lock-in by keeping storage systems open and flexible.

"Open source is one aspect of software-defined storage that we've highlighted as there certainly hasn't been an equivalent of Linux in the storage space, but there are some caveats," says 451's Robison.

Robinson explains that open source SDS platforms are currently having more traction with cloud service providers looking for a low-cost solution to compete with giants such as Amazon, as opposed to SMBs.

"In many cases, service providers just can't build profitable platforms on proprietary storage systems, so they're looking at the open source models," he says. "We may see open source trickle down to affect the wider enterprise, but I don't think smaller businesses should be concerned with it any time soon."

Better fit

For Robinson, SMBs may find a better fit in a traditional storage solution with the characteristics of 'software-defined' offerings.

"Smaller businesses may struggle with anything from setting up RAID levels and volumes to ensuring backups are completed and that a disaster recovery policy is in place," he says. "However, rather than software-defined storage, something of more relevance may be an appliance-based storage system that can still be 'defined' by software, where the value is still in providing a simple, easy to use mechanism in an off-the-shelf platform."

One such example of this can be found in Nimble Storage, he adds, which offers a data storage array that combines flash storage with a mechanical disk drive and uses software to intelligently serve applications based on their requirements.

"They've taken what is a complex and fragmented set of capabilities and boiled that down into one relatively simple architecture," he says. "Nimble don't describe what they do as software-defined storage, but it's certainly storage that's a system defined by the software that runs on it."

In terms of software-defined storage's future market direction, EMC's Horne believes it will ultimately take time before reaching speed.

"I don't think anything's going to dent the existing storage concepts for some time to come in a meaningful way," he says. "It's like moving workloads to the cloud. It's only accelerated in the last 18 months, which is evidenced by Amazon's growth in the amount of objects they're storing."

Horne adds: "Similarly. software-defined storage will bubble along before picking up and then it will go exponential."