Software Defined Storage: Ready for Primetime

David J. Sampson, CTO & EVP, Itrica
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David J. Sampson, CTO & EVP, Itrica

David J. Sampson, CTO & EVP, Itrica

Over the years we have used a variety of storage platforms to meet user and application needs. Typically, each of these units was fit to purpose. We looked at capacity, IOPS, storage latency needs, network type, and planned for growth over the expected life of the asset. When the asset was depreciated we would migrate storage to the next platform and do it all over again. All of that is changing thanks to software defined storage (SDS). The capability and stability of current platforms have many assessing whether SDS is their future. Instead, they should be assessing which version of SDS they intend to embrace. 

SDS lets you choose your hardware, operating system, network, media type, levels of redundancy, and more 

SDS lets you choose your hardware, operating system, network, media type, levels of redundancy, and more. We have seen open source platforms like CEPH available for a number of years with technologies like EMC’s ScaleIO, VMware VSAN, and HP’s StoreVirtual meeting the needs of enterprises while providing stability, support, and the familiarity for some of our traditional storage vendors. Embracing SDS is a two phased challenge for the enterprise. It is both a technology challenge and an organizational challenge. 

Traditional enterprise storage teams size a platform, deploy it, manage it, replace it, and so on. As such, SDS is providing great advantages in this space. User can choose their brand of hardware and the network speed. Many platforms do not recommend less than 10Gbps but 40Gbps might be best depending on your storage requirements. Most SDS platforms also support Infiniband as well. From the hardware perspective leveraging commodity platforms like Supermicro or Ciara can help save costs while avoiding service contracts that kill your budget is advisable. If your enterprise standard is Cisco UCS, IBM, or HP,. they all work just as well. The same theory applies on the network side. Cisco, Brocade, Arista, pick your flavor. Hardware doesn’t matter anymore and it truly is a dream come true. 

When creating SDS architecture for your enterprise understanding the platform in use is critical. Each handles redundancy and performance differently and having solid knowledge about the platform will enable you to achieve success. Further, it will provide the opportunity for you to create a formula that scales your storage environment over time. SDS will empower you to use the same administrative interface to manage different types of storage. This is the result of the ability to meet the needs of a variety of storage tiers simply by changing the media type. 

 One of my favorite capabilities of SDS platforms is in place upgrades. Large scale planned storage migrations are a thing of the past when you can simply add physical nodes to an environment and phase out legacy nodes later. Perhaps those nodes start meeting the needs for a different use case but either way – the choice is yours. 

Embracing SDS does create an organizational challenge for your operations teams. Traditionally the server, network, storage, security, and other groups each performed their individually assigned roles maintaining their respective areas of responsibility and complementing each other. This is still possible but in an SDS world the stakes are much higher. Reliable hardware and networks are required for SDS success. Teams need the ability and skills to understand what is happening in complementary environments like never before. This will require new levels of collaboration and understanding. I am sure all of this has kept you wondering what the negative aspects of an SDS strategy might be. Honestly,

we don’t know. We do know that we have had no production outages or data impacting events. We also know that the flexibility of SDS means we can meet the needs of our customers and end users faster with the ability to easily change the roles of server hardware to meet customer demand. Our DevOps team has automated our SDS deployments to a point approaching “set it and forget it” rotisserie style cooking by taking racks of bare metal from out of the box to fully functional environments in minutes or hours instead of days, weeks, or months. 

The stability, performance, and hardware flexibility make SDS the most malleable platform we know for enterprise storage in the modern data center. It also comes in converged and hyper-converged flavors that allow you to control your adoption rate instead of a blackbox rip and replace solution. SDS has been used in Itrica’s environments to replace everything from traditional SAN storage to some of the fastest flash based systems. Each time SDS has met or exceeded expectations for our customers. 

As you make considerations for your next infrastructure deployment make sure SDS is part of your long term plan. Proprietary hardware is a thing of the past while commodity based, flexible solutions will allow you to meet the needs of your future.

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