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Joe Arnold, CEO of San Francisco-based startup software-defined storage developer SwiftStack, also said the term makes it easier to describe what companies like his are doing.
"A year ago, we had trouble describing what we do," Arnold said. "We said we were decoupling our controller from the underlying hardware. Then we heard the term, and it clicked."
Software-defined storage is a way of looking at storage not from the disk or flash perspective, but rather in terms of what storage services are offered separate from the hardware, said Steve Houck, COO of DataCore Software, a Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based developer of data management and protection software.
Storage used to be seen in terms of disk capacity, hardware and speeds, Houck said. "With software-defined storage, we look at it from the software layer and the value it presents on the hardware, he said. "It's very much about looking at storage from the device level or virtualization level."
Software-defined storage is causing a power shift in the storage industry from an innovation perspective away from larger, more established hardware-focused storage vendors, Houck said. "As companies get larger, organic innovation is a lot tougher," he said.
While startups and smaller software-focused vendors are quick to define software-defined storage as a way to replace legacy storage hardware with commodity servers, disk drives and flash storage, large storage vendors are not giving ground in terms of the value their hardware offers as storage functionality moves toward the software layer.
For storage giant EMC, the push is on to define its software-defined storage strategy while ensuring the company minimizes the potential impact on its existing storage technology business.
Amitabh Srivastava, president of advanced storage at EMC, said customers will be looking to cut management costs even as they look for increased storage automation, and will be looking for flexibility in vendor choice and how capacity is acquired.
"We have to pause and rethink how data is stored, and how it is managed," Srivastava said.
EMC's definition of software-defined storage includes capacity that is scalable across multiple geographies, and across commodity servers or on EMC or third-party arrays; the ability to virtualize all the underlying storage into pools; and open APIs so any vendor, partner or customer can build the controllers needed to access the underlying storage hardware, Srivastava said.
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