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Overcome the Challenges of Software Defined Storage

August 25, 2017

What are the challenges of software defined storage (SDS)? SDS means a new way of thinking about storage that will alleviate some network problems while creating others. SDS promises to make storing data and managing data flow easier and it breaks down data siloes. However, it’s still unclear what costs are associated with SDS and what types of administrative overhead might be required.

MarketsandMarkets predicts that the SDS market will reach $5.41 billion by 2018. The enthusiasm for SDS growth follows the ongoing acquisition of software defined storage startups by the big enterprise networking players. Enterprise storage array vendors such as EMC, Hewlett Packard, IBM, and NetApp are all taking advantage of the frenzy for software defined storage.

However, the challenges of software defined storage have still not been clearly laid out, although IT professionals are starting to take a hard look to see if SDS fits their needs.

What is Software Defined Storage?

SDN is part of the larger industry migration to software defined networking (SDN) and the software defined data center (SDDC). In brief, SDS is a means of virtualizing data storage so the data access controls are decoupled from the physical storage. SDN is basically storage as a service, managing both physcial and hosted storage resources.

Where SDS is really useful is in managing large amounts of data such as that generated by video and wireless devices. SDS allows for resource pooling so it can use available server resources as needed.

Virtualizing data storage offers a number of advantages over storage arrays.

  1. It eliminates data siloes by creating a central control that can access any storage resource;
  2. It eliminates data copy and migration issues between vendors and platforms so you can intermingle different storage media such as all-flash arrays; and
  3. SDS presents aggregated data for analytics without having to move the actual data around.  This means you can run active and static analytics in real time; think big data analytics.

The Challenges of Software Defined Data

Despite the advantages, it’s not expected that IT managers will abandon their storage arrays overnight in favor of software defined storage. There are a number of challenges to overcome:

  1. Legacy data storage – One of the biggest challenges of software defined storage is overcoming objections from data array customers who have invested time and money in their data storage systems. Existing storage arrays already have their own data and storage management software, and IT managers are already paying for some form of storage management services.
     
  2. Cost – Another unknown factor is cost. Since SDS is largely cloud based some vendors are charging by the amount of data stored.  However, customers really end up paying for the amount of data managed, since they have already paid for much of the storage devices already.

Other vendors claim a 70 to 75 percent savings on SDS. The savings are said to come from reduced maintenance costs, greater scalability, more flexibility, and greater overall performance.

In a report published in 2012, Garter noted that traditional storage solutions range in cost from $0.9/GB for a Tier 3 disc system to $5/GB for a Tier 1 system. By comparison, the average cost of a software defined storage platform is about $0.4/GB no matter what the storage environment. Whether these cost projections prove true is one of the challenges of software defined storage.

  1. Too many vendors – Since SDS is still a young technology there are at least 20 different SDS vendors vying for market share, and each with a different approach. One of the challenges of software defined storage is a lack of common understanding; everyone is talking about SDS but it means something slightly different for each vendor or analyst. (Remember the confusion when people first started talking about the cloud?)
     
  2. It’s not baked yet – And as with any new technology, vendors are still working the bugs out of the deployments. SDS is a concept that is still evolving. It is surely coming, but it’s not here just yet so vendors are still wooing early adopters willing to take the long view that the SDS market will mature.
     
  3. A new way of thinking – For those who believe in SDN and IT as a service, SDS is a next logical step. For those used to running conventional data centers, the idea of using software defined networking, let alone storage as a service, is still very foreign and it will take some time for them to embrace it.

These are just a few of the challenges of software defined storage. As with anything new, it will take some time to catch on. However, the promise of more cost-effective data storage, more storage scalability, and centralizing control of different storage devices will make software defined storage too promising to ignore.