What is Software-Defined Storage?

Software-defined storage (SDS), like the name suggests, is a storage system that does not rely on underlying hardware. Instead, the software is used to manage data. While most data storage products do require both software and hardware to function—with the software serving as the management component to control and monitor the hardware and storage tasks—software-defined storage differs.

Software Defined Storage (SDS) explained
Software-defined data center

Software-defined storage describes products that run on Intel x86 processors and commodity server hardware. In this way, software-defined storage solutions are better suited to cut costs than a traditional software/hardware storage product. 

By abstracting resources from the hardware, businesses enjoy improved flexibility, performance efficiency, and easier scalability. Storage resources lend themselves better to programming in this way, and they become key components of a software-driven datacenter. As a result, these resources are much easier to automate compared to those living in siloed infrastructure. 

Types of software-defined storage

Software-defined storage is a rather general term, and because of that, identifying types of SDS products can be unclear. However, there are several generally recognized categories under the SDS umbrella.

Block, file, and object storage

This category uses a distributed server cluster to support the three main varieties of storage solutions—block, file, and object. Along with a unified management system, this storage method allows businesses to use whichever method they prefer. However, most will choose 1-2.

Scale-out object

This system creates and allocates a unique identifier to each file or data unit. Some object storage solutions can support file access as well, including NFS and SMB.

Scale-out block

Using x86 server nodes, block storage products cluster these nodes into a single system. The result is businesses can enjoy coherent communication between nodes.

Scale-out file

The earliest SDS category, this category can create highly available scale-out file shares to use with file-driven application storage.

Storage virtualization

This system takes hardware-based storage solutions across various locations and creates a single storage device that can be used and monitored through a single management platform. 

Hyperconverged infrastructure

By merging separate servers, storage networks, and storage arrays, hyperconverged infrastructure delivers businesses a single, streamlined way to manage and scale their storage needs.

How does software-defined storage work?

Storage virtualization is a critical component for SDS to work. Storage virtualization is used to separate storage hardware and storage management software, which often also includes some variety of policy management for replication, snapshot, and backup purposes. As mentioned, SDS creates a consolidated virtual “pool” for a business’s disk arrays. From there, virtual disks are formed and appear as LUNs in a host server. 

What is the “need” for software-defined storage? 

While SDS prospects may see the value of adopting the solution, businesses must consider not just the benefits of SDS, but also the risks associated with sticking to a legacy, hardware-based storage strategy. 

According to IBM, businesses need to be aware that there is a “breaking point” with a traditional storage solution. More complex applications are springing up with unique demands; a massive influx of data is putting pressure on traditional storage; and expectations of what a storage strategy can and should do are changing. And unfortunately, despite these rising demands, business budgets are tighter. 

Inevitably, a traditional storage approach will start to crumble under the pressure. Businesses need greater flexibility than legacy storage can provide. Even if an organization preemptively adds capacity before their storage needs arise, this approach is neither sustainable nor cost-effective in the long-run.

Why businesses choose software-defined storage

Businesses who have adopted SDS enjoy much-needed advantages in everything from costs to scalability. Because SDS can be used with an x86 server, businesses realize improved flexibility when it comes to selecting IT managers, eliminate vendor lock-in challenges, and far more.

Without question, SDS is an economic storage option for businesses hoping to reduce their CapEX expenditure. Since SDS exists on x86 servers, businesses do not have to fork out the costly expenses associated with proprietary SAN storage arrays. 

Furthermore, choosing for a software-defined solution is an excellent way to deliver centralized intelligence into the datacenter. Since SDS separates “intelligence”—i.e., software—from devices, administrative tasks are reduced, and businesses can leverage automated policies in their storage plan, letting them respond quickly as storage requirements shift. 

Benefits of software-defined storage

There are multiple benefits of adopting software-defined storage that are pushing more businesses to choose a hardware-neutral approach to storage. Because of its flexibility to deliver and digest various data storage options, businesses can leverage their data—not just sore it—and realize better insights. 

In addition, thanks to its automation capabilities, organizations can experience:

More dynamic storage provisioning. SDS enables workloads and storage to work cohesively, helping storage to scale as workload capacities change.

Intelligent storage usage. SDS is a flexible solution that supports both new IT consumption models and legacy ones. Regardless of the type of infrastructure an organization uses, SDS allows agility across the cloud, mobile devices, and more.

Better control. Businesses requirements change day-to-day, and SDS gives businesses the control they need to meet them. It can optimize infrastructure capabilities to meet storage standards.

Rapid scaling. As storage demands grow, businesses can leverage the tiered capacity of SDS to provision storage on demand. 

Companies that use software-defined storage

Edmonds Community College Nutanix

"Nutanix Support is the gold standard for any technology support that we use. They are head and shoulders above everyone else."

Automotive Data Solutions SDS Nutanix

"...It’s the most innovative, scale-out data fabric for storage, compute, and virtualization platform on the market today. "

Regina Catholic School Division 3-tier solution Nutanix

"With our 3-tier solution, it was less likely we would be able to afford all of the hardware needed to have off-site disk storage and compute at a second data center."

Pusateri’s Fine Foods new storage after fire

"...not only did it provide higher performance, the hyperconverged solution was 25-40% less expensive than the three-tier storage, server, and VMware vSphere solution."

Ontario Universities’ Application Centre Enterprise Cloud Nutanix

"We started our upgrade project as just a ‘storage replacement adventure’, but when we started looking at what Nutanix offered, the Enterprise Cloud platform made a lot of sense for our use case."

Canadian Solar Solutions storage and server solution

"If you’re looking for a simple, yet powerful storage and server solution — this is it.."

Related resources

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