December 06, 2016. Technical NextGen Data Centre Author: Marcus Burrows

Software-Defined Storage

The IT industry has more buzzwords than most of us can keep up with, and sometimes it's difficult to see how a new buzzword or marketing term is relevant to me. In this case, Software-Defined Storage (SDS) is something which has a direct impact on IT Managers, Storage Architects and IT Support staff. It is describing something which some storage vendors have been doing for a while, although the technology is improving all the time.

Hardware Challenges

What actually is SDS? It's easiest to define when we look at the opposite: hardware-defined storage or traditional storage. Imagine as a storage architect you need to design a centralised system which provides data storage for applications and end users. You would consider capacity, performance, future growth, backups, disaster recovery and ease of management. The last point is the sticking point. What if you're running the new system quite nicely but the requirements change? There may have been an explosion in demand for the storage capacity, a serious performance issue, or maybe a company merger has changed the game plan completely and you now need to purchase your storage from a different vendor. In a traditional environment, making major changes can require new or changed hardware which can be expensive and difficult.

Data Storage


SDS means that the day-to-day management of provisioning and protecting data storage is done in software with less thought given to the underlying hardware. This software-based management includes policies and rules created using wizards, scripts or an automation tool. These policies could refer to different disk types, different storage arrays, different network protocols, and even use different hardware vendors.

As an example, perhaps you need to create two new virtual machines and have different pools of storage from different storage vendors to choose from. Virtual machine A requires fast storage and additional data protection because it has a critical application running on it. Fine, then choose PoolA from which to create its virtual disks. Virtual machine B is for testing only, so choose PoolB. It matters less what PoolA and PoolB actually refer to – you just need to know that PoolA provides high performance and protected storage, PoolB does not. In other words, the storage pools have been pre-defined according to what we need them for and what capabilities it has. You don’t need to know the difference between the underlying hardware arrays and their capabilities – you just choose from PoolA or PoolB which is much easier.

One Step Beyond – The Cloud

The notion of Software-Defined Storage is expanded even further where organisations use not just a mixture of hardware vendors and technologies but also a mixture of local and cloud based storage. We call this the “Data Fabric”. You might need to protect local data by backing it up to cloud storage. Or you might have a business need to move the data from the cloud to local storage. Managing this complex arrangement well means increased flexibility and business agility. 

Data Fabric

The end result of all this is that the ongoing management of storage is simplified and major changes can be accommodated more easily. The IT infrastructure is more agile and more responsive to business needs.


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