8 min read

Fact vs. Fiction: Debunking Software-Defined Storage Myths

Top 10 SDS myths and why you shouldn’t believe them. Learn what’s real about SDS.

Software-defined storage (SDS) has been a hot topic for almost a decade now. There are no prizes for guessing why it’s continually in the spotlight. Organizations of all types and sizes are facing a tsunami of data growth that makes the economics of traditional hardware-constrained storage unsustainable. It’s becoming impossible to scale monolithic legacy approaches to meet these new demands, especially with increasingly tight IT budgets. SDS changes this entire equation. It holds the promise of vast scalability, but with a dramatically lower-cost model.

It’s no wonder Gartner predicts that by 2024, 50% of global storage capacity will be deployed as SDS.

But what exactly is SDS? Simply put, it’s a form of software virtualization. A layer of intelligent software that makes it possible to manage pools of storage across multiple devices using a single interface. This extra tier of software handles all the policy-driven management and advanced functionality of the storage, instead of relying on proprietary (and often massively expensive) hardware-centric systems. The business benefits include more choice and flexibility; the ability to add functionality to dated storage platforms, making them smarter, more efficient and highly available; lower vendor lock-in risk; easy data movement; the removal of storage silos; massive scalability; and substantially lower costs by making it possible to utilize commodity flash, SSDs and hard drives in inexpensive x86 servers.

Having said all of that, there are still numerous misconceptions and myths that surround SDS.

Here are the top 10 myths, along with some background information to help separate fact from fiction.

  1. All storage arrays are really SDS

    This first misconception is perfectly understandable. It’s largely been caused by traditional storage vendors doing their best to rebrand existing products as SDS. This is a defensive strategy intended to protect their lucrative high-margin businesses. It’s a neat marketing trick based on a grain of truth. That’s because all legacy storage arrays or filers have some proprietary software or firmware at their core.That’s very different from genuine SDS platforms where all the automated management and advanced storage functionality is delivered entirely via the software without being tied to any specific proprietary hardware platform. Hence the choice and flexibility we mentioned earlier. Authentic SDS solutions can run on commodity hardware for vastly improved TCO/ROI benefits. It can also encompass existing storage assets, whether these are proprietary or commodity systems, to maximum investment protection.

  2. All SDS solutions are alike

    At a superficial level, this statement is true. All SDS options employ a software abstraction layer and much of the intelligence is delivered by the software.

    However, from that point onwards, this statement is clearly a myth. Not all SDS offerings are created equal. Some SDS vendors stand head-and-shoulders above the crowd. DataCore is a prime example, with its SANsymphony and vFilO platforms delivering industry-leading block, file and object SDS solutions. Other platforms simply aren’t as mature and don’t come with as many features.

    As with most things, it’s important to make balanced and informed buying decisions based on business benefits, proven capabilities, performance, TCO/ROI evaluations, and vendor confidence.

  3. SDS has made storage hardware irrelevant

    Well…yes, and no.

    It’s true that all the advanced SDS functionality is now provided by the software, rather than proprietary hardware. That means the hardware can be largely commodity-based and therefore less expensive. However, every software solution is only as good as the hardware it runs on. If you want a high-performance solution, it will need to run on the right hardware foundation. That much is obvious.

    There’s also another important factor. If you have existing storage hardware, then you’ll likely want it incorporated into your SDS solution. Hence, for investment protection reasons, storage hardware is important. DataCore SDS solutions integrate these existing, often isolated storage devices. Their collective resources are pooled and managed centrally to maximize their ongoing business value.

  4. SDS is simply too slow

    It’s certainly true that some SDS solutions might struggle to match the IOPS or latency performance of some traditional storage platforms. However, that’s not the case with every option. As an example, the Parallel I/O technology and self-tuning, adaptive caching utilized in DataCore’s SANsymphony SDS platform delivers outstanding performance.

    But all-out speed is not always the most important factor. Enterprises generally adopt a tiered storage strategy. Their fastest high-value storage is reserved for databases and high-performance applications. High capacity storage, with a lower performance and cost profile, is ideal for backup and archiving. A middle tier is generally used for everything else. SDS solutions with intelligent auto-tiering capabilities make sure that data is always moved to the most appropriate storage, constantly optimizing to balance the performance and economics equation. This is the approach DataCore takes with both SANsymphony and vFilO.

  5. It’s only for small and midsize organizations

    There’s no doubt that SDS perfectly matches the needs of most SMBs. But it would be a grave mistake to assume that it’s not also suitable for large corporations. You might be forgiven for assuming that this was another myth that got started by traditional storage companies trying to defend their high-end market share.

    SDS has matured to the point where it can provide everything that even the largest enterprises require. This includes massive scalability; advanced auto-tiering; non-disruptive data movement and migration abilities; central control and provisioning of capacity across diverse storage devices; high performance; as well as highest availability, reliability, and uptime.

  6. It doesn’t have the enterprise features I need

    We probably addressed this concern in myth #5. However, there are some extra nuances to address.Traditional storage systems will often tout advanced features such as deduplication, compression, encryption, load balancing, synchronous mirroring, asynchronous replication and recovery, snapshots, automated tiering and thin provisioning. With each of these options, it’s important for organizations to decide if they are genuine requirements and then to weigh up the pros and cons of implementation. For example, what is the performance impact and what are the additional costs involved? With traditional storage vendors, the answers may come as a shock.

    However, each of these features can be delivered with SDS and all of them are offered as part of the DataCore portfolio and apply to the less capable equipment in the pool as well.

  7. It’s too complicated

    Yes, this can be a genuine concern. Traditional storage has always had a reputation for being complex. That’s why many organizations relied on teams of trained specialists dedicated solely to deploying, managing and maintaining their storage platforms.

    However, with SDS that situation has changed. The goal of SDS is to deliver an easier experience for both administrators and users. For example, being able to oversee all your virtualized storage infrastructure from a single management console makes life far simpler. This is especially true when you’re dealing with a mixed environment with storage from a plethora of different vendors.

    Some SDS solutions, such as vFilO, can also create a single global namespace for all the files and unstructured data across your entire organization. This makes it fast and simple to find and access any information or data your users need, no matter where it’s stored. The productivity and collaboration improvements resulting from these capabilities are obvious.

  8. It lacks enterprise-grade reliability

    That may have been a reasonable concern in the early days of SDS. It is certainly not anymore.SDS solutions are now fully mature and offer all the robust reliability and high-availability needed for even the most demanding and mission-critical environments. Advanced features such as snapshots and backups, mirroring, replication, stretch clusters, continuous data protection (CDP), auto-failover and auto-recovery are normal SDS capabilities. Over 10,000 customers around the world trust and rely on DataCore enterprise-grade reliability.

  9. SDS is too expensive

    This statement is clearly a myth.

    The whole point of SDS is to deliver a more agile, efficient and cost-effective storage solution. It represents an entirely new economic approach that enables organizations to use lower-cost commodity hardware, instead of being locked into high-cost proprietary alternatives. And whether you are measuring CAPEX, OPEX, ROI or TCO, software-defined storage is always going to come out way ahead of a legacy alternative.

    What kind of cost reduction can you expect SDS to deliver? How does a real-world saving of 50% – 75% sound? That’s what we’ve heard from our customers.

  10. We can’t change now – we have investments to protect

    This is an understandable concern.

    We’ve already mentioned the importance of protecting existing investments and every organization will want to avoid unnecessary rip-and-replace changes. However, why not simply choose an SDS option that allows you to incorporate all your existing storage, extending its usable lifespan and making it more efficient and productive? That sounds like a total win-win scenario. Better still, it will make it easier to manage the lifecycle of these existing storage platforms, helping to avoid expensive forklift upgrades in the future.

My conclusion is that there are a whole host of myths surrounding SDS, but they simply don’t hold up to close scrutiny. Don’t be too quick to decide that SDS is not for you or your organization. Software-defined storage is now mature and enterprise-ready. It ticks all the boxes for even the most demanding and evolving environments.

If you’d like to know more, take a look at the top 10 reasons to adopt SDS.

Alternatively, why not give DataCore a call to discuss your specific requirements.

Want to learn more about DataCore software-defined storage solutions today?

Watch our technical product tour videos on SANsymphony and vFilO now.

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