Software-defined storage is something that end users love, and the industry is going precisely in that direction. The only problem I have with it is that, as happens with other buzzwords, the term is being over-abused and generalization leads to confusion. I know that I’m not the first to raise this problem, but now that real software-define storage solutions are appearing in the market, the naming issue has become more apparent.

As always marketing is the first to be blamed, but finding someone who is not responsible for this situation becomes rather difficult.

Borrowing the concept from Networking:

“Software-defined networking (SDN) is an approach to computer networking that allows network administrators to manage network services through abstraction of higher-level functionality. This is done by decoupling the system that makes decisions about where traffic is sent (the control plane) from the underlying systems that forward traffic to the selected destination (the data plane). The inventors and vendors of these systems claim that this simplifies networking.


(IMHO, the last phrase is the best part! 🙂 )

In any case, to simplify, SDS means a separation between the control plane (where things are decided) and the data plane (where things happen).

Cinetica_4The only two examples of true software-defined storage that I’m aware of are EMC Vipr and Primary Data (but feel free to leave a comment if you think differently). The first one has miserably failed because it just wasn’t enough, I’d say rudimentary and incomplete… while the latter has all the potential to revolutionize the way large enterprises can do storage.

I’ve already talked about Primary Data in the past (comparing them to Nicira – now Vmware NSX) and given that I’ve met them twice in the last two months I can confirm that, on paper, the solution is really great. Now, that the product is finally available I think it’s up to them to demonstrate what they can really do. But, again, looking at the various demos already available and at the features they already have (and promising), I think they deserve a lot of attention.
BTW, if you look at Primary Data’s home page and collaterals, they are the first to be uncomfortable using the term “software-defined”! It’s never mentioned and, even though the wikipedia definition fits very well with what they describe on their home page, they don’t… I can understand why, I’m sure they don’t want to be associated with a meaningless word.

Server- and Software- Based storage

For the rest of the vendors playing in “software-defined storage”, I have to say that they are doing a different job. An amazing job most of the times but, again, it’s just a different job!

I like software installed on one or more servers to build storage infrastructures. It brings huge benefits to the end users (freedom, agility, lower costs and so on) but there is no real separation between the data plane and the control plane here, everything still happens in the same place and “in-band”. Yes, we can argue that some solutions are going towards the software-defined model, but they are not there yet.

To me, VSA and Hyper-converged players are all to be considered Server-based storage for example. And, it’s only a matter of defining their real positioning, nor about benefits they are bringing to end users. I’m not questioning the latter at all!

I’d also like to point out that almost every solution on the market is software-based today, even a EMC VNX or a NetApp FAS are software-based. Aren’t they?
But it is also true that they aren’t server-based (no off-the-shelf commodity servers are involved) nor software-defined.

Closing the circle

I know this rant won’t change anything. it’s disappointing , but at the same time I have to admit that I am willing to live with it.

Server-based and Sotware-defined storage are changing this industry and they are both well appreciated by end users. They are simply two different things and putting them together is totally wrong and confusing.

Back to Primary Data. I’ve expressed my admiration for their ideas and vision more than once. They got me from day one!
At the same time, their vision is so disruptive for the enterprise space that it’s hard for me to think that they’ll ever be able to succeed without some help.
As it happened to Nicira a few years back, I think that companies like CISCO or Vmware should consider acquiring them… Primary Data could be the perfect component to realize the end-to-end Software-defined Data Center Vision of these players. Especially for Cisco, which has no enterprise storage system at the moment, Primary Data could be the perfect component to become a primary storage player in the datacenter with a product that “rules them all”.

If you want to know more about this topic, I’ll be presenting at next TECHunplugged conference in Austin on 2/2/16. A one day event focused on cloud computing and IT infrastructure with an innovative formula combines a group of independent, insightful and well-recognized bloggers with disruptive technology vendors and end users who manage rich technology environments. Join us!