This Industry Viewpoint was authored by Stefan Bernbo, CEO and founder of Compuverde.
The demand for a newer, more flexible storage option has never been greater. Our world’s becoming increasingly virtual as we upload more data than ever before into the Cloud, the collection of servers that provides the bulk of today’s digital storage. According to Gartner, more than a third of all consumer content will be stored online by 2016, compared to just seven percent in 2011.
Skyrocketing consumer appetites for cloud content storage are changing the game for service providers. Recognizing these trends, many service providers are considering new options that permit greater adaptability and control over hardware in data center architecture. A new option for these needs comes in the form of software-defined storage. By moving storage features from hardware to software, a software-defined approach removes the dependency on inflexible server “appliances.”
Introducing Software-Defined Storage
While “software-defined” may appear to be a recent fad, many common technological devices have been driven by software for years. In PCs, for example, users can install whatever software they choose on any hardware platform, letting the user customize their setup as needed. The average PC can use an operating system like Linux if it’s a better fit, for example, allowing the user the flexibility to allocate his or her budget exactly as needed.
There is no denying the consumer shift toward ever-higher rates of online content storage, yet storage has been one of the last industries to embrace software-defined technology. The reluctance to adopt stems from outlay in new infrastructure costs; given the sheer size of service providers’ data centers, the setup costs needed to change systems can be intimidating.
Today’s Storage Environment
Current data center architecture consists of appliances: server hardware with preset software built-in. With an appliance, the software and hardware are designed for each other as a package. While this can be a boon for data centers without the specialized staff needed to deploy a custom server configuration in-house, it comes with an additional burden. Inevitably, all hardware will fail at some point, so appliances traditionally include expensive backup components to anticipate any possible failures. These extra layers of redundant hardware result in higher costs in energy usage and unnecessary complications. Compared with commodity servers, the real cost per appliance is too high for companies exploring options in scalability.
The high costs associated with appliances are causing data center administrators to take another look at software-defined storage approaches. Administrators who have built software-defined solutions into their data centers have enjoyed the following benefits:
- Reduced Expenses
Unfortunately, the convenience that appliances offer comes at a premium. Multiple layers of complicated software, tied in with expensive back-up hardware, can lead to significant costs when a data center needs to scale up. On the flipside, software-defined storage frees the software from hardware and permits the use of cheaper commodity servers. Efficient software solutions can make commodity servers just as effective as the more expensive appliances, and thus generate significant savings for service providers.
While appliances might be good enough for average storage needs, the benefits realized by untying the software from hardware can create substantial gains in economies of scale. Software-defined storage, like in the example of a PC, lets administrators customize data center infrastructures to meet the needs of the company. However, this approach does require a better-trained staff.
Software-defined storage is designed to handle future demands. The appetite for online storage is growing exponentially and if organizations continue to depend on pricey, rigid appliances, the costs of trying to scale storage capacity will grow too high to remain profitable.
The corporate environment and a business’s priorities all fluctuate with market demands. Having an inflexible network infrastructure, locked into configurations determined by a third party, severely inhibits an organization’s ability to react to market demands or anticipate them in a proactive manner.
Software-defined solutions offer an attractive alternative to companies looking to grow and scale rapidly. Separating the hardware from the software lets an organization swap out either to a better, or more appropriate, option as the market dictates.
Software-defined storage and globalization
Cloud services must be accessible from any location in the world with minimal delay. Knowing this, service providers have recently turned to worldwide data centers to minimize load time. However, there are significant hurdles to overcome when providing global availability. For one, load is always going to be active in the data center in a company’s region. This creates a problem, since data stored across locations must be in sync. While there are existing solutions to solve this problem, they do so at the application layer. Attempting to solve these issues high up in the hierarchy of data center infrastructure – instead of solving them at the storage level – presents significant cost and complexity disadvantages.
Instead, solving these issues directly at the storage level can reap dividends in efficiency, time and cost savings. For example, companies are often required to restrict global data storage from certain countries. In addition, global data centers must be resilient to localized disaster – such as a power outage – that puts a local server farm offline. Utilizing multiple data centers with software-defined solutions solves these issues. If a local data center or server goes down, global data centers can reroute data quickly to available servers and minimize downtime.
The future of storage is here. Realizing the potential of software-defined storage, many companies are investigating the next steps in their data center implementation. For data center administrators looking to solve problems of scalability and flexibility, a software-defined approach to storage is an option worth considering.
About the Author:
Stefan Bernbo is the founder and CEO of Compuverde. For 20 years, Stefan has designed and built numerous enterprise scale data storage solutions designed to be cost effective for storing huge data sets. From 2004 to 2010 Stefan worked within this field for Storegate, the wide-reaching Internet based storage solution for consumer and business markets, with the highest possible availability and scalability requirements. Previously, Stefan has worked with system and software architecture on several projects with Swedish giant Ericsson, the world-leading provider of telecommunications equipment and services to mobile and fixed network operators.