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What Is Software Defined Storage?


What is software-defined storage (SDS)?  Software-defined storage is a computer application that allows for the easy management of data storage in virtualized environments.  Unlike more traditional data storage options, software-defined storage is independent of physical hardware.  Therefore, it provides many advantages over traditional storage solutions.

Traditional storage, such as network attached storage (NAS) or storage area networks (SAN), are bulky and expensive physical devices.  With traditional options, the software is bound to the hardware.  The physical hardware of these storage options will be subject to ongoing maintenance and regular replacement costs.  Further, adding additional storage capacity will require identical hardware.

Software-defined storage, however, is completely independent of the hardware on which it runs.  This independence enables it to run on any x86 Intel-based systems.  Consequently, savings on both hardware and administration are both advantages of SDS.

What Does Software-Defined Storage Do?

Software-defined storage allows for the easy management and administration of storage in virtualized environments.  Storage policies can be created and applied to different virtual machines.  Some of the policies that can be created are:

  • Deduplication
  • Replication
  • Backup
  • Snapshots
  • Allocation
  • Thin Provisioning

SDS often provides pooling capabilities, where the total storage space of a number of physical drives or servers is merged into a single data-pool.  Virtual machines can be provisioned with storage space on demand.

Your software-defined storage solution may have its own interface or might be integrated into your hypervisor.  An example of this is hyper-converged solutions that combine all administrative options into a single GUI.

Who Uses Software-defined Storage?

SDS makes storage management in virtualized environments easier and more cost effective.  Businesses with virtualized servers would benefit from the advantages it brings.  Also, businesses that are constantly finding they need to add more storage to their environment.  With physical severs this can be costly and time consuming.  Software-defined storage simplifies the act of adding more storage.  It’s as easy as plugging in more hard drives, or adding another server node.  In the end, data storage will continue to be an issue for most businesses.  Thinking about the options now is advisable for everyone.

Pros of Software-defined Storage

The main advantage of software-defined storage is its core functionality.  At the most basic level, it makes managing storage easier.  Options abound for the creative engineer, looking to create a custom, automated storage solution for his or her data center.

Beyond the administration options, the ability to choose your own software, hypervisor, or platform is a major advantage of traditional solutions.  This freedom allows the use of regular commodity hardware or existing machines as storage devices.  Since it doesn’t require any particular type of hardware, SDS is great for those who don’t want to lay out big bucks for a SAN or other storage device.  This allows the solution to scale much more quickly and easily, without the large cost of traditional storage.

Cons of Software-defined Storage

The main disadvantage to software-defined storage is that adaptation requires changes in administrative behavior.  Administrators working in traditional storage environments will have to learn a new system.  Policies relating to allocation, backup, restoration, hardware swaps, etc. will all have to be updated for the new solution.  Further, there will be an additional application to manage.  Employee buy-in is particularly important, as they will be the ones maintaining and managing the system.

Another disadvantage is that the systems become more complex and complicated as they scale.  Employees may require special training or outside consultants may be required.  The need for more administrators may also be necessary.  For these reasons, SDS tends to get more expensive at scale, as well as more complicated to manage.  This can be a deal breaker for smaller companies, regardless of their data needs.

Software-defined Storage Security Concerns

The security concerns with software-defined storage are not unlike those of traditional storage.  These include:

  • Backup your data
  • Control access to files and folders
  • Have a disaster recovery plan
  • Enforce a password policy
  • Enable logging
  • Encrypt your data


Software-defined storage can be very beneficial to many data centers.  When implemented, data storage becomes easier to manage and less expensive.  Hardware independence offers unparalleled options.  Increased productivity and decreased downtime will ultimately be the true, long-term benefit.  That’s good for business and the bottom line.

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