EMC's New Software-Defined Storage Play: Meet ViPR

EMC Monday introduced its ViPR software-defined storage platform, a technology the company said will improve the orchestration and automation of customers' existing storage infrastructures -- whether manufactured by EMC, its competitors or, in the future, based on generic server hardware.

ViPR abstracts the functionality and underlying capabilities of customers' storage infrastructure into a large pool of virtual storage, said Chris Ratcliffe, vice president of marketing for EMC's Advanced Software Division.

"This lets storage managers create virtual storage arrays, manage them with their company's policies, and configure them for specific workloads," Ratcliffe said. "This gives them centralized provisioning, automation and management of their storage."

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Jamie Shepard, regional vice president at Lumenate, a Dallas-based solution provider and EMC partner, said, "EMC is taking the lead 100 percent with its software-defined storage strategy."

EMC's introduction of ViPR, developed by a team led by Amitabh Srivastava, a former Microsoft Azure executive and current president of advanced storage at EMC, shows that EMC is taking advantage of some of the best talent in the storage industry, Shepard said.

"I applaud EMC," he said. "They're getting best-of-breed people. They're not buying technology. They're building it."

Customers are looking for better ways to enhance their data center infrastructures with software, Shepard said.

"They're already getting into software-defined networking, software-defined storage, and tying them to their virtualization layers," he said. "This is helping turn data centers from a hardware play to software."

There is no single industrywide definition of the term "software-defined storage."

At one level, software-defined storage uses the APIs of existing storage systems to understand the functionality of those systems and present it to applications in an open fashion, allowing the applications to take advantage of the functionality of multiple types of storage to automate their management, provisioning and other capabilities.

At a deeper level, it is a software layer that provides storage services, including such functions as deduplication, replication, snapshots and thin provisioning, using industry-standard server hardware.

NEXT: Prepping For The Storage Future With EMC ViPR

For EMC, the focus with ViPR is bringing customers' existing storage into a software-defined layer as a way of simplifying their infrastructures, EMC's Ratcliffe said.

"If you look at how storage is constructed today, it differs from platform to platform, and from vendor to vendor," he said. "ViPR makes it easier for managers to do their jobs of providing storage to customers."

Vikram Bhambri, senior director of product management for EMC's Advanced Storage Division, said software-defined storage should provide a significant degree of automation, policy-based management and end-to-end visibility on what's going on inside the storage systems.

ViPR, which is scheduled to be available sometime in the second half of 2013, at first will allow data to be stored as files and treated as objects, Ratcliffe said. EMC will gradually add other services as well, including replication, migration and data protection, he added.

ViPR initially will bring storage functionality from EMC and rival NetApp's intelligent storage arrays into a software-defined level, with arrays from other vendors scheduled to be added later. That includes EMC's VMAX, VNX, Atmos, Centerra and Isilon. Ratcliffe said ViPR takes advantage of APIs provided by other vendors to grab the functionality of their arrays.

Going forward, ViPR will work with commodity storage hardware as well, Bhambri said.