Guest Column | August 22, 2013

Are You Tired Of Reading About Software-Defined Storage?

By Momchil Michailov, CEO and co-founder of Sanbolic

You’ve probably been flooded with sales pitches and articles about software-defined storage. Some of your more tech-savvy customers may even have asked you about it. But what does it mean, is it worth making part of your solution offerings, and how do you profit from it as a reseller?

To answer these questions, look beyond the buzzwords to how software-defined storage claims to deliver cost savings, scalability, flexibility, reliability, and vendor-neutrality to you and your customers.

Software-defined storage combines intelligent software with commodity servers and storage hardware to provide more flexible, scalable, high-performing storage—at a fraction of the cost of legacy products.

The term emerged from VMware’s Software-Defined Data Center vision. It’s an outgrowth of VMware’s success in server virtualization, which uses software to abstract logical servers from the physical hardware on which they run. Server virtualization cuts hardware costs by letting companies run more applications on fewer physical servers, add or eliminate virtual servers as needed and shift workloads among servers to increase performance or availability.

“Software-defined storage” brings the same benefits to storage. It slashes the amount your customers need to spend up-front on storage hardware and eases current storage and data management challenges such as provisioning, storage tiering, meeting service level agreements, backup, and disaster recovery. Traditional storage management software makes it difficult and expensive, at best, to reassign arrays to different physical or virtual servers, to mix and match storage vendors and to provide clustering and failover for high reliability. All this raises the cost of business for your customers, and makes it harder for them to respond to changing business needs.

Public Cloud for the Rest of Us

Many of your customers know that public cloud providers like Google and Facebook have found a better way to meet their storage needs. Facebook, for example, replaced NetApp storage with commodity hardware and its own Haystack file system for its image library. This architecture also cuts costs by using flash storage to accelerate metadata reads and writes and low-cost SATA drives for longer-term storage.

Much of the intelligent storage software used by these cloud providers is available as low-cost, easily modifiable open source code. However, most customers lack the skills or time to evaluate, configure, modify, and maintain this software or integrate it with hardware. The same is true for most resellers; especially if your business is still mostly traditional “break/fix” projects or you’re just starting to explore whether to offer Storage as a Service (SaaS).

Seeing this vacuum in the market, a growing number of vendors are offering storage management software that claims to give resellers and your customers the benefits of software-defined storage in an easier-to-use form. To assure yourself these vendors can deliver the benefits of software-defined storage, here are five questions to ask:   

  • Is your solution available now? We see vendors jumping into the market with “announcements” of technology that (when you read to the end of the press release) admit their solution won’t ship for weeks, months or longer. Unless and until you can get a trial copy of the software and test it in your own environment, move on.
  • Is it enterprise proven? As a reseller, you have a pretty good idea of the relative performance, reliability and support available for various commodity hard drives, flash storage and servers. The same, however, isn’t true of the newer software that powers software-defined storage. Ask your vendor if they can provide reference customers who can describe how their software is currently working at enterprise levels of users, data, applications, and transactions.
  • How do you avoid single points of failure? These days, applications such as email, CRM and ERP are mission-critical for even your smallest customers. Especially when you’re using commodity hardware to save money, it’s only a matter of time before something fails. Well-engineered software-defined networking technology should be able to cope. For example, can it instantly rebalance loads among servers to maintain performance if one goes down? Can it instantly rebuild data if one or more arrays fail, without ruining performance during the rebuild?
  • Is the hardware truly commodity? Using commodity storage servers and arrays not only reduces costs, but gives you and your customers the flexibility to choose whichever vendor provides the best price/performance and support at any point in the future. Some vendors “bake” their software into their hardware in the form of custom chips. While they may claim this improves performance, it may also force you to buy their hardware (or that of their partners) whenever you need more capacity. It may also involve a “forklift” upgrade of all your gear if you decide to change vendors. Ask your vendor if their software can run on any server and storage hardware without sacrificing performance, scalability or redundancy.
  • Does it deliver lower total cost of ownership? Lower hardware and software costs won’t mean much if they’re eaten up by higher management and troubleshooting costs (much less unplanned downtime) later on. Ask reference customers how many hours it takes to manage and troubleshoot their software-defined storage vs. traditional approaches. Also ask how well, and quickly, the vendor can provide technical support to resolve problems.

Focus on the Bottom Line

Today’s customers are being bombarded with marketing about how much money they can save, and how much more flexible they can be, with software-defined storage. Whether you build it for them or offer it as a service, remember that software-defined storage is not an SKU you stock from a vendor, but a set of capabilities. Make sure the technology you choose truly delivers those capabilities.

Sanbolic provides a software-defined data acceleration platform that eliminates the "storage tax" on application performance, availability and scalability. The company’s Melio platform combines a massively scalable distributed clustered file system with other advanced technologies to optimize data management across any enterprise infrastructure. For more information, visit