Every now and again an IT Industry term seems to capture the direction of this slightly bizarre industry very well. It feels like ‘Software-Defined’ has been that term for the past 12 months*. VMware took the term from the emerging Software-Defined Networking (SDN) trend around the time of VMworld US & their Nicira (now VMware NSX) acquisition last year. And invented the term Software-Defined Data Centre (SDDC) as a way of defining their broader strategy. Last week was VMworld Europe and it certainly felt like there is no stopping the Software-Defined juggernaut as it continues to become an accepted industry term. See David Gingell’s review of the event.
Inevitably the term has moved to Storage, so we have ‘Software-Defined Storage’ or SDS. And a lot of noise and confusion in the industry as always. But what does it mean? And does it change everything you need to think about when you’re building your short, medium or long term storage strategy? As nearly always in IT, it depends……
I think it makes more sense to go back to the customer problem we’re all trying to deal with. There is no doubt the vast majority of IT is still trapped in inflexible, inefficient hardware silos. This ‘museum of past decisions’ means that 70% of IT resources tend to be spent on maintenance – i.e. stopping anything getting anywhere near a fan. Add in the promise of the economics and agility of the Hybrid Cloud and it’s clear that things have to change.
For me Software-Defined Storage means users provision storage services (NOT a storage admin) based on policies and service levels (set by the storage admin who has way more time to set them) from their choice of application. And there should be a choice of both hardware and cloud services that can be combined (i.e. in a hybrid fashion) to deliver those services in the most efficient and flexible way possible, at any given time - the right answer today might not be tomorrow.
To do this, storage resources must be defined and controlled in software that can run on a variety of hardware options – Disk, Flash, Integrated Appliances, Cloud, etc. And, perhaps the most important part of the jigsaw once this universal software platform has been built, is comprehensive integrations with applications and cloud automation software.
So, does this exist today? From a NetApp point of view, the answer is essentially yes. Of course there is more to do, but the vast majority of our efforts have gone into a single software platform – Data ONTAP – for many years. This is what you buy into when you choose NetApp. It's not an exaggeration to say that this approach it is the single thing that differentiates us most in the Storage industry (see here for Chris Mellor's view). The hardware is your choice – a NetApp appliance of varying sizes (FAS, with or without Flash), 3rd party hardware (V-series, ONTAP Edge) or, more recently, a cloud service (some examples being with Verizon & Amazon Web Services) . Application self-service through the widest ecosystem of application and infrastructure partners, both vendor specific and open source. And, we now have completely virtualised storage services - thanks to the Virtual Storage Machine (VSM), available since the advent of clustered Data ONTAP a few years ago and recently enhanced in ONTAP 8.2. This means far fewer hardware location barriers and boundaries for your data.
You might read lots about Data Planes, Control Planes, Supersonic Planes and Very Important Press Releases, but Data ONTAP is proven as the world’s best-selling storage OS today according to IDC. And as the world moves away from Hardware-Defined Storage (co-incidence that is HDS?) we expect more and more people will realise the true advantage of working with NetApp and Data ONTAP. The benefits in a nutshell? 1) Big efficiency gains, thanks to the economies of scale of a single storage OS platform, 2) Non-disruptive operations, data motion and portability as storage services are completely abstracted from hardware, and 3) Choice as NetApp is the only independent storage player left in the industry free to work with all the people you need us to.
*Smugness alert: as predicted at the start of the year.