It appeared at the beginning of this year that the clamor around software defined storage (SDS) or software defined anything was waning. But we have recently seen another upsurge in software defined messaging. And far from lacking in substance, the recent 2015 Research and Markets report painted a very different picture. SDS just passed a major milestone – more than a billion in annual sales.

“The total software-defined storage market is expected to grow from $1,409.7 million in 2014 to $6,217.6 million by 2019, at an estimated compound annual growth rate of 34.6% from 2014 to 2019.”

This prediction is backed up by Ashish Nadkarni, an analyst at IDC who said that SDS platforms will continue to grow faster than any other segment within the file- and object-based storage segment. And the vendor community has followed suit. As well as a slew of SDS startups, the big boys such as EMC and IBM have jumped into the ring. IBM, for example, recently announced a $1b investment in SDS.

“During the economic recession, the rapid growth of storage as well as high costs forced companies to consider alternatives, fueling the larger storage vendors to jump on the SDS bandwagon” said George Teixeira, CEO and President, DataCore Software.

So SDS appears to be happening. That said, many users are still scratching their heads asking themselves what the real value is.

The Promise of SDS

Let’s see if we can provide some idea of where SDS is going.

“The real promise of software defined storage is the ability to decouple not only hardware from software, but the different rates of innovation that occur across different storage oriented technologies,” said Teixeira. “Flash, hyper-converged, cloud storage, and disk arrays are each innovating at different rates and each require a software layer that can absorb and utilize them to fulfill their promise.”

As another side to the storage defined surge, Texeira noted that we have been experiencing a move away from proprietary hardware towards commodity hardware as a means of reducing cost. This, in turn, has been eroding the distinctions between storage systems and server systems, causing new players like Lenovo and Huawei to enter the market successfully.

That’s all very well. But how about a tangible example of SDS value? Texiera mentioned a hospital that wanted to store patient data long-term as well as provide high-performance I/O for their Picture Archiving and Communication System. The options offered from the existing storage vendor proved too expensive. It turned to SDS to bring in storage products that fit the capacity, performance, reliability and costs for each project. This allowed them to aggregate and administer this storage environment through one management plane.

“In addition, SDS eliminated the time and expense of migrating data by pooling the storage systems so data could be moved seamlessly without disrupting operations,” said George Teixeira, CEO and President, DataCore Software. “SDS helped the hospital meet its IT objectives by providing better storage options, and drove down storage costs.”

Efficiency and Agility

Michael Letschin, Director of Product Management Solutions at Nexenta, said that as well as cost, SDS provides efficiency and agility. He noted emerging software-based alternatives such as array snapshots, replication and copy data management. He added that as the software defined push is moving rapidly toward software defined everything.

“The enterprise wants the IT stack to look and behave like a cloud,” said Letschin.

Greg Schulz, an analyst with Server and StorageIO Group, added that SDS also enables enough flexibility to deploy storage management when, where and how it is needed in a cost effective way that removes complexity.

“SDS is not just about defining the storage hardware, it should also unlock value and be able to define your storage software tools and cloud services,” said Schulz. “This is where we move from storage defined marketing to software defined storage management.”

Ian Hamilton, CTO of Signiant, explained the relationship between software defined networking (SDN) and SDS. SDN separates core routing and switch functionality from ancillary networking functionality and SDS separates core data storage from ancillary storage functionality.

Hamilton doesn’t see the end to proprietary hardware completely. Rather, he sees a balance being achieved between the SDS side and proprietary systems. But at the same time, such systems will only persist where really called for and commodity systems will dominate in the majority of cases.

“Creating a standardized interface between core functions that benefit from specialized hardware and non-core functions that don’t, provides better separation of concerns, and allows for simpler more targeted systems that eliminate bundled functionality,” said Hamilton. “This leads to more reliable systems.”

He gave the example of creating a well-defined interface between a file transfer control plane that manages the logistics of file transfer and a file transfer data plane that performs actual file transfer. By doing so, a number of software defined benefits can be achieved including greater storage freedom.

“Software defined solutions change the way that the enterprise constructs their data center,” said Letschin. “No longer is it a case of buying the largest box or most expensive system that comes with a technician to install every piece.”

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