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Taneja Blog / Cloud / Data Center Systems / Software Defined/Virtualized Infrastructure

Defining Software-defined…Storage

We've been doing quite a bit of work lately with software solutions in the virtual infrastructure.  VMware and some others have started an industry-wide shift in thinking toward the idea of software defined infrastructure services, including networking and storage - services that have traditionally been entirely dependent upon specialized hardware and control/operating systems.

The road to practicality here is meandering a bit.  There's a massive vision that is driving much innovation and evolution, but in reality, for the mainstream IT customer the vision is far from accessible.  The good news is that there's some evolution happening in every day real products that are in the market already, and these products are starting to deliver easily used and worthwhile functionality.  So if you feel software-defined "anything" tickling your tail feathers, it is well worth stepping back and taking a look at what is real today, and whether it can actually deliver the benefits you're pursuing better than a big nebulous thing that lots of the software defined and cloud conversation revolves around.

One of those software-defined things is certainly storage.  Software-defined storage seems particularly nebulous because storage has always had a physical dimension to it - digital bits that ultimately must reside somewhere - and therefore software defining it seems a bit impractical, when you're hooked to some physical thing at the end of the day.

As we talk to IT customers, the primary things that make this software-defined storage idea seem attractive are agility and lower periodic capital costs.  The reality is that a fairly well established technology is already doing loads to unlock those capabilities in the virtual infrastructure today - the virtual storage appliance (VSA).  VSAs have been around for about 4 or 5 years, and today are enabling a good amount of storage functionality through a purely software layer deployed in the virtual infrastructure.  Customers who are cleverly using these are tackling everything from branch office storage to scale-out service provider class storage layers across many distributed servers, without the complexities or inflexibility of physical storage.  Moreover, these software layers often allow customers to deploy storage where they need it, irrespective of whether that is on premises or off premises in some remote cloud.  Those storage instances then often give customers a leg up on moving data back and forth, and they can easily adapt (scale up or down) as storage demands change.  In my view, this goes pretty far in unlocking these capabilities that administrators in increasingly distributed and dynamic data centers are after.

While we've been looking at the landscape of VSA technologies lately, this particular blog post has been motivated by some hands-on time we've spent with HP's StoreVirtual VSA and an announcement that has just hit the wire today.  HP has given their StoreVirtual VSA a pretty good leap forward in functionality as it now includes auto-tiering of hot data onto SSD.  HP StoreVirtual VSA, via the new Adaptive Optimization feature, is powered by the proven HP LeftHand OS, and is the industry’s first scale-out software-defined storage solution that moves data blocks to high performance or cost optimized storage based on application needs.  There are certainly other vendors out there and they are too introducing compelling features - some already deliver the full breadth of their physical solutions in VSA form, others have specializations in specific application stacks, and some come with unusually close pairings with data protection technologies.  A few of the most popular solutions come from the likes of FalconStor, Nexenta, and StorMagic, but there are others too.  All are worth keeping an eye on.


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