October 26, 2016
Across the IT industry, virtualized and “software defined” solutions are rising in popularity. Whether the desktop or the network, new technologies are hitting the market to either virtualize or abstract the intelligence of the data center. Less discussed, but no less viable, of these technologies is known as software defined storage (SDS).
Software defined storage allows an organization to remove such features as deduplication, replication, and snapshots from the hardware and instead control these tools from a software application. Administrators can quickly and easily provision storage for new applications or apply modifications to the array across multiple storage devices all at once. Furthermore, SDS also allows the company to purchase commodity storage hardware and depend upon the SDS solution for management and intelligence.
On paper, SDS sounds like an intriguing emerging technology, but IT culture itself stands as a barrier to its adoption.
What is the Difference between Software Defined Storage and Storage Virtualization
Before we move any further, it’s important that we define our terms. The technology industry is notorious for using multiple definitions and multiple overlapping terms to describe technological concepts, and software defined storage is no different. Depending on who you talk to, software defined storage and storage virtualization will have the same, similar, or completely different definitions. At Mindsight, we draw this distinction:
Software defined storage adds an abstraction layer between the storage hardware and the storage intelligence. Conversely, storage virtualization simply merges the capacity of multiple storage devices into one seamless pool. Therefore, storage virtualization is certainly a component of software defined storage, but they are not the same thing.
A Culture Shift in IT:
Storage Administrators vs. Systems Administrators
Compared to some other disciplines in technology, the storage industry has not changed all that much in the last ten years. Flash and hybrid storage are certainly making their mark on the industry and shifting the platform away from hard disk drives, but IT departments still must manage their storage arrays in much the same manner as they have for years. IT departments of even moderate size must staff a storage administrator who has spent years specializing in the storage technology in general or even your particular vendor of storage technology. Today, if an IT department needs to make any modifications to their storage array or provision storage for a new application or initiative, the project must involve this specialist.
With IT costs rising and budgets shrinking, this dynamic has put pressure on technologists to find an easier way to manage and support storage equipment that doesn’t involve such intense specialization. Software defined storage is that solution. SDS would allow an IT department to shift their personnel away from designated storage administrators in favor of more generalized systems administrator positions.
This systems administrator would not need to have expansive experience with storage technology. Only minimal experience with the hardware and concepts would do. It can be a difficult challenge in many IT markets to staff a team with such specific and deep experience in a certain area. While SDS may not solve that problem per se, it does allow the IT department to circumvent it.
Yet, many companies are apprehensive to make that change. Storage hardware is finicky and vital to the success of the business. Putting trust in a software to do what has always required specialists is a difficult step to make.
Modernizing Environments and SDS Moving Forward
While company culture stands as a significant barrier, data centers themselves can also stand in the way. Technology adoption is never immediate and rarely even across all IT environments. There are some companies today who have the infrastructure and systems in place to adopt SDS, and there are others who aren’t. In some instances, SDS will have to wait until data centers catch up.
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