Software-defined storage is quickly catching on as a top technology trend in the storage industry, but the exact meaning of the term, and indeed whether it represents a new paradigm or just another marketing buzzword, is the subject of hot debate.
For smaller vendors looking to make their mark in the storage industry, the idea of defining storage services with software independent of the underlying hardware is appealing as it gives them an opportunity to even the playing field with their larger, more well-established competitors.
However, larger vendors, for whom the traditionally close tie between hardware and software lets them optimize storage services and performance, have to carefully tread into the concept of software-defined storage or risk cannibalizing their existing product lines.
There is no single industrywide definition of the term "software-defined storage." However, it can be thought of as a software layer that provides storage services, including such functions as deduplication, replication, snapshots and thin provisioning, using industry-standard server hardware.
Software-defined storage is not storage virtualization. Storage virtualization allows the capacity of multiple storage devices or arrays to be pooled so that it appears as if it is sitting on a single device. Software-defined storage is not about separating capacity from a storage device, but instead is about separating the storage features, or services, from the storage device.
The term is relatively new. Virtually unknown a year ago, it became one of the biggest IT industry buzzwords starting shortly after VMware's blockbuster $1.2 billion acquisition of Nicira, which was a large sum for a relatively unknown developer of another technology that was just starting to build momentum: software-defined networking.
That acquisition also gave VMware the base from which it could introduce the software-defined data center, or technology which allows all the functions of a data center to be defined by software instead of tied to hardware. And since VMware already had software-defined computing via its server virtualization technology, and software-defined networking via its Nicira acquisition, as well as a small organic project, the idea of software-defined storage seemed to be a natural fit.
For Keith Norbie, vice president of Nexus, the Minnetonka, Minn., office of Atlanta-based solution provider Stratos Management Systems, software-defined storage is a combination of trend and hype.
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