Software-Defined Storage — Opportunities for the Enterprise

  • Seventy-five percent of enterprises have deployed or are considering deploying some form of SDS in their environment.
  • IT infrastructure transformation is a crucial requirement for enterprises to successfully execute on their digital transformation strategy.
  • Vendors still have some ways to go in convincing their buyers to embrace SDS platforms.

IDC believes that software-defined storage (SDS) continues to transform IT deployment and consumption of storage resources. For enterprises, SDS is really an on-ramp to deploying a hybrid cloud — one that allows a metered on-demand consumption of private and public cloud resources. Deploying SDS therefore is not a question of “if” but a question of “when.”

IDC found that 61% of enterprises that deployed SDS have realized tangible benefits such as reduction in capex/opex costs, ease of management, reduction in provisioning time, and peace of mind knowing that they are no longer locked into a single vendor solution.

IDC’s August 2015 Software-Defined Infrastructure Survey found that 75% of enterprises have deployed or are considering deploying some form of SDS in their environment. For such enterprises, the question of “why” is adequately clarified.

In fact, IDC found that 61% of enterprises that deployed SDS have realized tangible benefits such as reduction in capex/opex costs, ease of management, reduction in provisioning time, and peace of mind knowing that they are no longer locked into a single vendor solution.

IDC believes that SDS is compelling enterprises to switch from a pattern of selecting systems based on their capacity, performance, reliability, and cost characteristics to a service-focused decoupled acquisition model in which hardware and software are acquired independent of each other. Furthermore, the software in question (i.e., SDS) is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. In fact, for enterprises and vendors to succeed with SDS, they have to take a use case–driven approach:

  • Block-based SDS platforms serve as persistent storage for virtual machines, containers, and physical servers used primarily for structured data sets and applications such as relational and nonrelational databases.
  • File-based SDS platforms, including distributed file systems that serve as repositories for unstructured data, are used primarily for user and application data via standard datacenterbased POSIX interfaces like NFS and SMB.
  • Object-based SDS platforms are used for large globally dispersed repositories and data with rich metadata requirements and are increasingly used for next-generation applications (NGAs) that access data storage via RESTful APIs like S3 and Swift.
  • Hyperconverged platforms are used in cases where compute and data layers need to be adjacent — in use cases such as virtual server and virtual desktop infrastructure.

IBM deserves the spotlight for assembling a full-service SDS portfolio under the Spectrum family of products. IBM’s vision demonstrates that an incumbent storage vendor can be a leader in the nascent SDS market. There is much work to be done by IBM and others to convince the rest of the market to embrace SDS.

IT infrastructure transformation is a crucial requirement for enterprises to successfully execute on their digital transformation strategy. For example, it requires enterprises to embrace develop and/or deploy next-generation applications; embrace newer methodologies such as DevOps; and prepare for hybrid cloud.

The infrastructure for this digital world has to be software defined and in lockstep with these newer applications and methodologies. In other words, it needs to be agile, scale on demand, and be operations friendly. Storage is a core component of software-defined infrastructure (SDI) and therefore deserves the same level of attention as other aspects of SDI, such as compute and networking.

IDC finds a generally positive awareness and acceptance of SDS among enterprises of all sizes. Buyers largely reckon that they can realize tangible benefits by adopting SDS in the datacenter:

Buyers have accepted that SDS forms the core of a building block strategy for next-generation IT infrastructure. SDS allows IT to “future proof” infrastructure — as next-generation applications come online, and the infrastructure can seamlessly adapt to the new workloads and enable to-the-cloud initiatives. As companies move strategically to hybrid cloud, data persistence will become more important.

Buyers are aware that SDS is an approach to deliver at-scale storage using industry-standard hardware. For most buyers, SDS offers two entry points for infrastructure acquisition: a traditional capex/opex mode for traditional (corporate) IT initiatives and an agile but flexible pay-as-you-go acquisition mode for line-of-business or project-driven IT initiatives.

SDS is not and cannot be a one-size-fits-all approach. The choice of file-, block-, and objectbased SDS is governed by workload dependency. To that effect, buyers look for vendors that can provide a full spectrum of SDS solutions that offer feature parity between standalone installations and as a part of cloud frameworks like OpenStack.

IBM Spectrum Storage: A Comprehensive SDS Portfolio for the Enterprise

In 2015, IBM launched the Spectrum family of software-defined storage products. This launch was key for IBM Storage for the following reasons:

  • It signaled a companywide shift from a legacy (hardware-defined) delivery model to a software-defined delivery model for all things storage — primary storage, data protection, data management, and next-generation storage technologies. Software-defined storage now serves as the conduit through which IBM invests in future storage technologies.
  • It unified all of the disparate software offerings under a single coherent product family called the Spectrum Storage and provides a framework under which these products can be tightly integrated. At the same time, it allows IBM to position each product for a specific use case, synonymized by a specific product name like the Spectrum Accelerate.
  • It reaffirmed IBM’s commitment to storage and, in the short term, the fact that IBM still views storage as a core and strategic focus area. IBM announced that it is planning to invest more than a billion dollars over the next five years in this area, underscoring its commitment.

IBM is approaching storage as a use case, not a product-by-product solution. A key attribute of IBM’s Spectrum Storage family is coherency. Unlike SDS-based offerings from other leading storage suppliers, IBM’s SDS portfolio (aka Spectrum Storage) is not a container of randomly acquired and/or organically developed products. It is a well-thought-out framework with solutions that solve a set of storage-related challenges in a consistent manner.

The value proposition of SDS platforms will become only more compelling as vendors focus on this software-based delivery, away from custom hardware and flexible delivery models.

CHALLENGES/OPPORTUNITIES

IDC’s Software-Defined Infrastructure Survey asked respondents their reasons for not deploying SDS or for getting rid of an installation. These responses illustrate that vendors still have some ways to go in convincing their buyers to embrace SDS platforms. IBM’s integrated solutions on the same SDS framework may alleviate some of these concerns. Vendors, like IBM, must do more to educate their customers on the benefits of SDS platforms in the areas of:

  • Cost savings: Regardless of the manner in which the SDS platform is procured, it can deliver substantial and measurable cost savings — both from initial acquisition savings and from operational efficiencies.
  • Ease of management: SDS platforms get a bad rap for being cumbersome to manage. Some of it is perception, and some of it may be a function of bad implementation practices. Vendors have to make their products easy to implement and easy to manage. More importantly, vendors have to function as advertised, which means ensuring that there are no ambiguities with respect to the selection of the platform for the workloads to be hosted on it.
  • Vendor support: Some buyers believe that SDS platforms do not work as advertised. These same buyers also think that SDS platforms do not receive the same level of support when issues do occur. Vendors should do their best to debunk these misperceptions and provide adequate assurances to such skeptical buyers.
  • Ecosystem and application support: Buyers often hesitate to embrace SDS when there is a lack of ecosystem and joint vendor certification from the application vendor. An ecosystem and joint vendor certification does a lot to ensure a consistent message across the board.

SDS is here to stay. Both incumbent and up-and-coming storage suppliers are making a big push into SDS. The value proposition of SDS platforms will become only more compelling as vendors focus on this software-based delivery, away from custom hardware and flexible delivery models.

Buyers should continue to keep an open mind. By adopting newer software platform models that break the traditional barriers between what are considered the compute, storage, and network components of the infrastructure, they will be better positioned to support their business’ digital transformation.

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