How IT Works: Software Defined Storage and Storage Virtualization


August 30, 2016

Ever since server virtualization rose to prominence in the early 2000s, there has been a trend in the industry to virtualize everything else in the data center. From a software defined network to a virtual desktop infrastructure, if it can be virtualized, it seems like one day we’ll have a polished solution to make it happen. Unsurprisingly, storage is not free from this trend, and software defined storage is an emerging field of technology likely to take root in data centers in the next few years. At the same time, there is another term floating around that seems to describe the same concept: storage virtualization.

Here, we’ll explain the differences between software defined storage and storage virtualization.


Blurry Definitions in the Technology Industry


Before we begin, there is one caveat. Whenever discussing emerging technological concepts, you have to recognize that terms will change and different sources may have very different views as to what a buzzword may actually mean.

One does not need to look further than software defined networking to see this conflict in action. Both Cisco and VMware claim their products, ACI and NSX respectively, are both the spitting image of software defined networking solutions. The problem is that each solution operates on entirely different principles to achieve different, but overlapping, results.

Learn more about the difference between Cisco ACI and VMware NSX in our blog post, “SDN, ACI, and Microsegmentation, Oh My!”

So, when discussing software defined storage and storage virtualization here, recognize that this is our understanding of the concept and that understanding may change.


Dueling Definitions: Software Defined Storage and Storage Virtualization


Software Defined Storage

At its most fundamental level, the definition of software defined storage should look familiar. A software defined storage solution takes the programming that controls storage related tasks and abstracts it from the physical hardware—much like server virtualization.

The differences lie in how it can better an organization. In server virtualization, it allowed data centers to use far fewer servers to accomplish the same tasks, but here the goal is to allow administrators greater flexibility in their management capabilities. This is accomplished through software.

Using software defined storage, an organization should be able to perform complex storage tasks with commodity hardware. The software will control everything, and the hardware you do own is simply a collection of terabytes.


Storage Virtualization

Storage virtualization involves pooling the storage resources from numerous network storage devices into a single storage ecosystem. The entire collection of storage equipment can then be managed from a central location. This provides an organization with a lot of options when managing their storage array. They can move data from an over-utilized device to balance out their spread of data. They can move data associated with tier 1 applications to a higher performing device, such as a flash array. They can even move data off a particular device, so the team can scrap and replace that portion of the storage ecosystem.


The Difference Between the Two

The differences between software defined storage and storage virtualization are not very well pronounced, because both terms describe abstracting something from your storage hardware. The key here is that storage virtualization involves separating capacity from your storage resources to create a pool. Conversely, software defined storage involves abstracting the storage services and capabilities from the hardware.

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