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Microsoft Aims To Commoditize Hardware with Software-Defined Storage

While Microsoft has extended the storage features in Windows Server and its Azure cloud service for years, the company is stepping up its ability to deliver software-defined storage (SDS). Experts and vendors have various opinions on what SDS is, but in effect it pools all hardware and cloud services and automates processes such as tiering, snapshotting and replication.

During a webinar yesterday presented by Gigaom Research, analyst Anil Vasudeva, president and founder of IMEX Research, compared SDS to server virtualization. "Software-defined storage is a hypervisor for storage," Vasudeva said. "What a hypervisor is to virtualization for servers, SDS is going to do it for storage. All the benefits of virtualization, the reason why it took off was basically to create the volume-driven economics of the different parts of storage, servers and networks under the control of the hypervisor."

Prominent storage expert Marc Staimer, president and chief dragon slayer of Dragon Slayer Consulting, disagreed with Vasudeva's assessment. "In general, server virtualization was a way to get higher utilization out of x86 hardware," he said. "The concept of a hypervisor, which originally came about with storage virtualization, didn't take off because what happened with storage virtualization [and] the wonderful storage systems that were being commoditized underneath a storage virtualization layer. What you're seeing today is your commoditizing the hardware with software-defined storage."

Organizations are in the early stages when it comes to SDS. A snap poll during the webinar found that 18 percent have on-premises SDS deployed, while 11 percent have a hybrid cloud/on-premises SDS in place and 32 percent said they are using it indirectly via a cloud provider. GigaOM research director Andrew Brust, who moderated the panel discussion, warned that the numbers are not scientific but participants agreed the findings are not out of line with what they're seeing.

Siddhartha Roy, principal group program manager for Microsoft (which sponsored the webinar), agreed it is the early days for SDS, especially among enterprises. "Enterprises will be a lot more cautious for the right reasons, for geopolitical or compliance reasons. It's a journey," Roy said. "For service providers who are looking at cutting costs, they will be more assertive and aggressive in adopting SDS. You'll see patterns vary in terms of percentages but the rough pattern kind of sticks."

SDS deployments may be in their early stages today but analyst Vasudeva said it's going to define how organizations evolve their storage infrastructure. "Software defined storage is a key turning point," he said. "It may not appear today but it's going to become a very massive change in our IT and datacenters and in embracing the cloud."

Both analysts agree that the earliest adopters of SDS in cloud environments, besides service providers, will be small and midsize businesses. For Microsoft, its Storage Space technology in Windows Server is a core component of its SDS architecture. Storage Space lets administrators virtualize storage by grouping commodity drives into standard Server Message Block 3.0 pools that become virtual disks exposed and remoted to an application cluster.

"That end to end gives you a complete software-defined stack, which really gives you the benefit of a SAN array," Roy said. "We were very intentional about the software-defined storage stack when we started designing this from the ground up."

Meanwhile, as reported last week, Microsoft released Azure Site Recovery preview, which lets organizations use the public cloud as an alternate to a secondary datacenter or hot site and it has introduced Azure Files for testing. Azure Files exposes file shares using SMB 2.1, making it possible for apps running in Azure to more easily share files between virtual machines using standard APIs, such as ReadFile and WriteFile, and can be accessed via the REST interface to enable hybrid implementations.

Is SDS in your organization's future?


Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 06/25/2014 at 12:49 PM


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