EMC Outlines Software-Defined Storage Strategy, Plans Product Release This Year

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, outlined EMC's software-defined storage strategy of analysts at Wednesday's EMC and VMware 2013 Strategic Forum for institutional investors, noting that the storage industry will have to change in response to the vast amount of data stored and the ways customers are looking to access it.

The amount of data stored is expected to grow quickly to 40 zettabytes by 2020, Srivastava said. At the same time, customers increasingly will be demanding storage infrastructures that are always available, are available where the user needs it, and provide automated capacity growth.

[Related: EMC COO Outlines How EMC Will Be A $30B Business By 2016 ]

Sponsored post

"We have to pause and rethink how data is stored, and how it is managed," Srivastava 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, Srivastava said.

In addition, applications will increasingly require scale-out and geographically distributed storage infrastructures without the need for rewriting them, he said.

That means storage vendors will have to decouple storage policy management from the hardware, account for customers' desire for heterogeneous storage environments, provide the ability to add new storage capabilities across all platforms and not just to individual arrays, and ensure that the storage software understands and leverages the capabilities of all storage hardware, he said.

"This is what storage virtualization should have been in the first place," he 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.

Because of EMC's storage software capabilities and its commodity x86 server-based hardware, the company has the advantage over the multitude of software-defined storage startups that can provide only parts of the entire infrastructure, Srivastava said.

NEXT: A Gradual Approach

By making its APIs openly available, EMC can be at the center of the software-defined storage movement, he said. "Building a product is not enough," he said. "You need to build a community. ... We're opening up APIs so new services can be built by partners or customers."

When questioned about how EMC's software-defined storage strategy might impact the company's existing storage business, Srivastava said that EMC's approach will be a gradual one that works initially with customers' existing storage infrastructures.

Over time, Srivastava said, as customers adopt new storage technologies such as commodity storage hardware, EMC will be ready to work with them. "Because our approach is less rip-and-replace, and more gradual, we will be successful," he said.

Srivastava also said it is important to remember that different storage hardware offers different capabilities, making it possible to differentiate one vendor's hardware from another's even as software-defined storage is adopted.

For example, EMC's Isilon line is designed for scale-out storage applications, while EMC's VMAX line is designed for performance and high availability. "I don't know how the mix will change or not," he said. "We're going to provide value with the unique systems we are building."

How storage is managed in a software-defined storage world depends on customers' IT infrastructures, Srivastava said.

For instance, a customer with an IT environment virtualized using technology from VMware, which is 80 percent owned by EMC, the software-defined storage will be managed directly through VMware, he said. If the customer is using another management environment, EMC will provide APIs that will allow the software-defined storage to be managed by that environment. For other customers, the management will be handled by storage administrators.

"We're adding intelligence," he said. "We're not replacing intelligence."

Software-defined storage, because of its ability to pool storage resources across multiple arrays, will be useful to any customer with more than one storage array and who is looking to simplify their management, Srivastava said. Software-defined storage will be even more useful if those arrays are from multiple vendors, he said.

Srivastava said EMC is planning a second-half 2013 release of its first software-defined storage technology, which takes advantage of all the capabilities he outlined.