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March 20, 2015

Towards a software-defined everything?

How organisations can benefit from software-defined storage.

By Alexander Sword

The term ‘software-defined’ straddles a range of sectors in technology, so can cause confusion. When applied to storage, the term refers to separating storage hardware from the software that is used to manage the storage infrastructure.

Proponents argue that a software-defined approach allows organisations to combine a standardised quality of hardware with a greater degree of customisation. An EMC whitepaper identifies five key business benefits resulting from software-defined storage – a faster time to value, a lack of vendor lock-in, a better return on investment, more scope for innovation by IT staff and an increase in efficiencies.

In particular, software-defined storage minimises "repetitive, time-consuming provisioning tasks to prevent data storage quickly to get applications and new services up and running. In this way, organisations are more agile in responding to changing marketplace conditions."

The whitepaper concludes, "software-defined storage is innovation that can enable organisations to better leverage intellectual property contained in data through more efficient use and new applications such as data analytics for better business intelligence."

The increase in focus on storage options comes at a time when the data requirements of all businesses are soaring hugely.

"Every enterprise needs more storage," says Georg Müller, Senior Director of Development at Fujitsu, which recently showcased new storage solutions at CeBIT. "That is an experience that all of us are having. If you imagine that you can get, with Google Drive or Dropbox, one terabyte for very little money.

"If you take that to industry level, it’s multiple terabytes of storage for small applications, which is something that was not foreseeable."

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Surging data requirements are no respecter of enterprise size, according to Georg:

"So we have a non-linear increase in the amount of data, to store the data and move the data. That is a phenomenon that is the same for small or big enterprises, because everybody has the same desire and demand to access the data faster. This is independent of the size of the enterprise.

"So methodologies, architectures, that apply for big customers, big enterprises and big chunks of data, in parallel apply for small enterprises as well.

"Here, software-defined storage helps due to the nature of the architecture it scales out and scales up."

"Software-defined storage, first of all is based on standard platforms," says Georg. "There was an initiative coming out of the industry and customer base to say, ok, I don’t really want these specified, dedicated, unique designed hardware. Why don’t we take standard hardware blocks and put software layers on top of them?"

Georg adds: "So we use the already established standard platform, put standard hardware inside, use standard operating systems and then build a set of middleware layers on top of that that ensure the data security mechanism that might be enhanced by hardware, distributed file systems that are capable of doing snapshots.

"There are lots of initiatives going on in OpenStack, which is an open initiative where you can get building blocks of software that really tailor that vertical integration and provide a storage solution.

"The good for the customer is in having a standard platform, but not being limited to the hardware implementation of a single vendor. Even if it comes to open software, a customer can pick open software and is completely vendor-independent.

"You can add value if you give customers additional functionality in terms of security, data integrity levels or even management capabilities."

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