Why Software Must Eat the Enterprise Storage Industry

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Software is “eating the world,” as Marc Andreessen famously said in The Wall Street Journal. Companies such as Amazon, Netflix and Pandora have upended the retail, video, and music industries by operating, at their heart, as software-based companies. As cloud computing and the software-defined data center have become more prevalent in the enterprise, an enterprise’s ultimate goal is where all elements of IT infrastructure – networking, computing power and security – are virtualized and delivered as a service.

Within this context, a software-defined approach to enterprise storage has begun to infiltrate the enterprise data center as well.

While enterprises have typically been very conservative about how they architect, deploy, and manage enterprise storage, the technology is a natural extension for companies who are on the journey to the software-defined data center. In the last few decades we have seen enterprises move from Unix to Linux and enterprise applications from the data center to the cloud. Enterprise storage is one of the last pillars to transition to a software-defined strategy. 

While a software-defined approach may be new to some, the logic within enterprise storage devices has always been written in software. It’s only been in the last few years that hardware has progressed enough so that enterprise storage software and hardware can now be separated. Software-defined storage isn’t a new concept, but the ability to separate the storage software from the storage hardware is the new value proposition.

Historical innovations in storage have been driven by delivering new technology at a lower price point. Twenty-five years ago, computer system manufacturers monopolized enterprise storage until companies like EMC and NetApp broke the monopoly by providing equivalent enterprise storage technology at a lower price. This same thing is happening again, as open source and software-defined storage vendors provide similar services as those provided by existing proprietary enterprise storage at a lower cost.

Though this cycle of evolution is inevitable, CIOs and IT managers often feel powerless to move to a new storage technology as the integration and management complexity of their existing proprietary storage solution have locked them in. They are dependent upon proprietary storage manufacturers who determine product requirement, priorities, prices and timelines. The problem of being “locked in” is compounded even more because of ever-tightening IT budgets and unrelenting exponential data growth. Enterprises looking to achieve the software-defined data center need to consider the following points as a part of their software-defined strategy:

Leverage the Community

The engineering strength of an open source community is far larger and far more capable than any proprietary engineering organization. There are tens of thousands of developers contributing actively to open source software worldwide. Engineering strength of this magnitude generates technology more rapidly and with more functionality than any proprietary development organization. 

Storage Isn’t Set in Stone

The freedom of enterprise businesses to utilize storage software logic that historically only existed in a proprietary storage solution opens a whole new world of flexibility. The same storage software functionality can now be used on a multitude of different hardware platforms including commercial off-the-shelf hardware. This freedom enables enterprise business to deploy lower-cost storage architectures. These new storage architectures can scale without the requirement to refresh the entire platform or disrupt the current functioning environment.  This freedom also includes reduced dependency upon proprietary “locked” in storage hardware platforms.

Cost Savings

Traditional enterprise storage is under tremendous price pressure from cloud storage-as-a-service which use software-defined storage on a massive scale, and by commercial versions of the same storage solution.

In an environment where cost savings is critical, IT organizations looking to lower the cost of archived data should evaluate software-defined storage solutions. Based on easy-to-service x86 servers, the technology is proven by hyper-scale public cloud providers and can be deployed in private clouds for one quarter of the cost of branded storage and half the cost of cloud storage-as-a-service.

Embracing Software-Defined Everything

Enterprises are focused on how to provide the best experience for their customers in the most cost-efficient, functionally complete way. By being willing to adopt best practices, companies will find their answer. In order to compete in the long term, enterprises need to begin embracing software-defined “everything” as a part of their strategy. Companies like Amazon, Google, and Facebook are now known as hyper-scale providers demonstrating economies of scale and economies of compute that are needed within the enterprise data center.

The open source community is redefining how people think about, provision, secure, deploy and manage storage. This is a disruptive approach to what is traditionally being provided in enterprise storage industry, but disruption is what new technology is all about.