Nutanix Glossary

What is Software-Defined Storage (SDS)?

December 7, 2023 | min

What is software-defined storage?

Software-defined storage is a storage system that isn't dependent on the underlying hardware; instead, it utilizes software for data management. Unlike the majority of data storage products, which require both software and hardware to function—where the software functions as the management component to control and monitor the hardware and storage tasks—software-defined storage differs.

Software-defined storage describes products that operate on commodity server hardware without any specially built hardware components. In this way, software-defined storage solutions are better suited to cutting costs than traditional hardware-dependent storage products.

By abstracting resources from the hardware, businesses enjoy improved flexibility, performance efficiency, and easier scalability. Storage resources are more adaptable to programming in this manner, and they become key components of a software-driven datacentre. As a result, these resources are much easier to automate compared to those residing in siloed infrastructure.


2023 Gartner® Magic Quadrant™ for Distributed File Systems and Object Storage

How does software-defined storage work?

Storage virtualisation is a critical component for software-defined storage to work. It is used to separate storage hardware and storage management software, which often includes policy management for replication, snapshots, and backup purposes. As mentioned, software-defined storage creates a consolidated virtual pool for disk arrays. From there, virtual disks are formed and appear as local unit numbers (LUNs) in a host server.

What are the benefits of software-defined storage?

There are several advantages to adopting software-defined storage, prompting more businesses to opt for a hardware-neutral approach to storage. Due to its flexibility in delivering and managing various data storage options, businesses can utilize their data beyond mere storage, gaining better insights.

In addition, thanks to the automation capabilities of software-defined storage, organisations can experience:

  • More dynamic storage provisioning - Software-defined storage has the capability to adjust storage allocations and configurations dynamically based on changing demands, workloads, or other specified criteria.

  • Intelligent storage usage - Software-defined storage is a flexible solution capable of supporting both new and legacy IT consumption models. Whether applied to on-premises, cloud environments, virtual desktops, or mobile devices, it enables flexibility across various types of infrastructure. 

  • Better control - Business requirements evolve continuously, and software-defined storage provides businesses with the control they need to adapt to these changes. It has the ability to optimise infrastructure capabilities in alignment with storage standards.

  • Rapid scaling - As storage demands grow, businesses can leverage the tiered capacity offered by software-defined storage to provision storage on demand.

Types of software-defined storage

Given the broad nature of the term 'software-defined storage,' identifying types of software-defined storage products can be challenging. Yet, there are several generally accepted categories that fall within the scope of software-defined storage.

  • Block, file, and object storage - This category uses a distributed server cluster to support the three primary types of storage solutions—block, file, and object. Along with a unified management system, this storage method enables businesses to choose and implement their preferred method.

  • Scale-out object - This system creates and allocates a unique identifier to the object. 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 outcome is that businesses can benefit from coherent communication between nodes. 

  • Scale-out file - The earliest software-defined storage category, this creates highly available scale-out file shares to use with file-driven application storage.

  • Storage virtualisation - This system aggregates hardware-based storage solutions from 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 into a distributed cluster of compute and storage resources running on commodity servers, hyperconverged infrastructure provides businesses with a single, streamlined way to manage and scale storage needs.

What is the need for software-defined storage?

While software-defined storage prospects might recognize the value of adopting the solution, businesses must carefully weigh the benefits against the risks associated with adhering to a legacy, hardware-based storage strategy. It's crucial for businesses to understand that there is a breaking point with traditional storage solutions. The emergence of more complex applications with unique demands, a substantial increase in data volume putting pressure on traditional storage, and expectations of what a storage strategy can and should do are changing. 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 organisation proactively adds capacity before their storage needs arise, this approach is neither sustainable nor cost-effective in the long run.


IDC white paper on the business value of Nutanix Unified Storage

Why do businesses choose software-defined storage?

Businesses that have adopted software-defined storage enjoy much-needed advantages in everything from costs to scalability. Because software-defined storage can be used with an x86 server, businesses can achieve improved flexibility in selecting IT managers and eliminate challenges related to vendor lock-in. Undoubtedly, software-defined storage presents a cost-effective choice for businesses seeking to minimize their capital expenditures (CapEx). Since it operates on x86 servers, can avoid the expensive costs linked to proprietary SAN storage arrays. 

Moreover, opting for a software-defined storage solution is an excellent way to deliver centralised intelligence to the datacentre. Since software-defined storage separates software intelligence from devices, administrative tasks are reduced, and businesses can leverage automated policies in their storage plans, enabling them to respond quickly as storage requirements shift.

Software-defined storage use cases

Software-defined storage is quickly becoming a common choice for the majority of workloads, but here are some ways it is typically used.

  • Virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI). Because VDI gives users access to desktops and data as though those resources were local to their devices, VDI requires centralised data – making SDS a vital component in VDI deployments.

  • Remote office/branch office (ROBO). Software-defined storage enhances ROBO locations because the centralised nature of software-defined storage helps make ROBO data accessible to the entire organisation in real-time. Any user on the network can access that centralised data as needed, just as if it were stored on-site at their physical location.

  • Hybrid cloud implementations. With hybrid cloud, organisations typically have data running on-premises and in private and public clouds. Software-defined storage makes it simple to expand existing storage infrastructure to the cloud so that users can access data wherever it’s stored.

  • Internet of things (IoT) and other edge applications. IoT applications produce lots of data, which is collected from a wide range of sensors and other nodes. Edge computing also deals with large volumes of data at disparate touchpoints throughout a network. The cost-effectiveness of software-defined storage can be a plus when it comes to IoT and other edge applications. Software-defined storage allows organisations to store lots and lots of data using inexpensive commodity servers and disk drives instead of proprietary, pricey dedicated storage arrays.

  • Applications that require high availability. Centralised control and management of storage make it possible to use software-defined storage for applications that require high availability. Software-defined storage comes with some data protection features built into the software that hardware storage doesn’t have. This includes remote replication, mirroring, deduplication, and automatic failover between servers and clouds.

  • Archival storage. Thanks to its cost-effectiveness, software-defined storage gives organisations low-cost and amazingly reliable storage. By easily storing and managing data across hybrid multicloud infrastructure, organisations can rebound quickly from unexpected hardware failures and other unforeseen downtimes.

Nutanix software-defined storage solutions

As a global leader in cloud software and a pioneer in hyperconverged infrastructure solutions, Nutanix helps make computing invisible and simple. Our software-defined storage solutions deliver robust, highly scalable storage for all your private, hybrid, and multicloud environments. This includes: 

  • Nutanix Unified Storage – Built on clustered, shared-nothing nodes, this storage platform makes data management and scalability across environments simple.
  • Files Storage – From a single, scalable platform, Files Storage significantly reduces data fragmentation and storage sprawl.
  • Objects Storage – Get secure, S3-compatible object storage at a massive scale for big data, cloud-native applications, and deep archives.

Explore our top resources

Gartner®Magic Quadrant™ for Distributed File Systems and Object Storage

2023 Gartner® Magic Quadrant™ for Distributed File Systems and Object Storage


Consolidated Storage Services for Nutanix Private Cloud

Consolidated Storage Services for Nutanix Private Cloud

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