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The right hardware-software balance for SMB storage

April 30, 2020

The right hardware-software balance for SMB storage
What’s the difference between hardware and software storage? Well, let’s just say there will never be software storage without hardware, or vice versa. Software will always need some form of hardware to run on and hardware will always feature at the very least some minimal amount of software. Typically, it comes down to percentages, i.e., 50% hardware and 50% software, and where you feel you ought to invest more.
The question is, what percentage makes sense for each business’ storage needs, particularly for SMBs where investments in technology are so important. Let’s examine a few different hardware/software storage-use cases you might see today, as well as one future-use case on what the balance of tomorrow’s technology might look like.
Scenario 1: 90% hardware, 10% software
A good example of this balance would be a cheap hardware-based storage unit, like a NAS (network attached storage). It would probably have less than 10 users accessing it at any given time. The software is minimal, probably allowing you to select different RAID configurations, etc., but that’s about it. The redundancy level is somewhat low because all your data is still contained within the NAS and not backed up anywhere else.
Scenario 2: 70% hardware, 30% software
As you move toward greater software reliance, you get into hybridized storage. A subscription is typically included since you’re now partially relying on cloud services. This type of solution can generally serve an entire medium-sized office, allowing you to save and back up significant amounts of data. While the included software is robust, it will still require a lot of manual input and decision making from IT staff. Hybridized storage redundancy is high and able to sustain multiple drive failures since crucial data is now backed up in the cloud.
Scenario 3: 40% hardware, 60% software
Welcome to software-defined storage. The hardware almost doesn’t matter at this point. The software is the real star; you just need enough power to run it. Maintenance and decision making is largely automated after initial setup, and any type of file can be stored and backed up. Options to store data at multiple cloud locations are available, making redundancy a certainty.
Future scenario: 20% hardware, 80% software
In the near future, software will essentially run itself. All humans will need to do is assign levels of importance to the data, and that’s it. As data is created, it will instantly be routed across networks and permanently reside in the cloud. Stretch clustering—where storage software is installed across all or a majority of a company’s data centers—will rule the day, allowing for a seamless, global flow of data storage.