SDS Buying Guide

Wednesday Jun 24th 2015 by Drew Robb
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Well-established tech companies and some newcomers are jumping into the software-defined storage business.

Earlier articles in this series have focused on the definition of Software-Defined Storage (SDS) as well as tips on how to implement it. Now we review some of the vendors involved, beginning with what the leading storage vendors are up to in this space. We're also covering some of the challengers and startups who aim to shake things up in SDS.

Dell

Through acquisition and internal development, Dell has assembled an impressive array of storage technology over the past decade. Its SDS strategy hews closely to its core hardware competency. As such, it is partnering with SDS specialists and putting the emphasis on the delivery of a strong hardware platform that integrates well with the overlying SDS virtualization layer.

Dell’s focus is on validating and hardening multiple SDS stacks on Dell hardware as the company has found that most new hardware doesn’t work automatically with SDS software. Problems can range from the software not recognizing the new hardware to intermittent disk failures. It can also lead to poor visibility into hardware issues.

“We have been working closely with our SDS partners to harden the software stack to run on Dell servers,” said Chandra Mukhyala, SDS Solutions Manager, Dell Storage. “In the process, we came up with Hardware Compatibility Lists (HCLs) and optimized reference architectures for various workloads.”

Dell’s Blue Thunder initiative involves partnerships with other vendors to bring together a software-defined storage portfolio. This includes integrating its hardware with open source software as well as hypervisor and SDS vendors. This includes cooperation with VMware, Microsoft, Nutanix, Nexenta and Red Hat. The Dell XC Series appliances, for example, are based on Dell PowerEdge servers combined with Nutanix software and Dell global services and support.

“The XC series offers customers a hyper-converged solution that integrates storage, hypervisor and compute into a single platform and, as a result, increases overall savings and decrease time-to-value,” said Mukhyala. “After announcing our OEM agreement with Nutanix last year and delivering our first appliances in November, we already began shipping the Dell XC Series Version 2.0 appliances this February with additional models and form factors.”

HP

HP Storage views software-defined storage as a hardware- and hypervisor-agnostic abstraction that provides both orchestration and data services. HP OneView provides a common orchestration layer between underlying storage and VMware, Microsoft, and Openstack environments. HP StoreVirtual VSA and HP StoreOnce VSA provide data services for primary storage and data protection.

As HP provides technology that embraces storage, networking and compute, it advocates hyper-convergence of all these elements. So it is looking well beyond SDS towards software-defined everything.

“Our customer base is rapidly embracing hyper-convergence with the HP ConvergedSystem 200-HC StoreVirtual as a simple building block for virtualized environments,” said Dale Degen, HP Worldwide Software-Defined Storage Category Manager.

IBM

IBM is another company that is making a big SDS play. But unlike Dell, it has internally created a plethora of SDS and software virtualization components that it has pieced together to provide a unified software-defined front.

IBM focuses on the management of storage hardware and encompasses virtual, physical or in the cloud, said David Hill, an analyst at Mesabi Group. Its Spectrum Storage Family includes too many elements to lay out fully. Underlying much of it is IBM Virtual Storage Center (VSC), and there are various Spectrum products dealing with storage management, data protection (based on Tivoli Storage Manager), archiving (LTFS tape), SAN virtualization (SAN Volume Controller), SDS (XIV software), and high performance NAS and object storage (GPFS file system). It’s a little complex but an impressive line-up of well-established components lies behind it. The goal is agility, control and efficiency.

“What IBM wants to convey is that a spectrum of complementary yet still separate products is needed in this increasingly diverse storage world,” said Hill. “An overlying theme that IBM weaves throughout the Spectrum Storage is the need for transformation of data economics including provisioning, utilization and management.”

EMC

EMC provides SDS solutions for scale-out SAN (ScaleIO), hyper-scale object, Hadoop HDFS analytics (Elastic Cloud Storage – ECS) and software defined management and automation solutions (< a href="http://www.emc.com/vipr">ViPR SRM, ViPR Controller). These tools can manage a multi-vendor storage environment from one screen and provide an open API cloud orchestration layer for virtualized data centers, including a conduit to private and hybrid clouds. The individual components can be deployed independently, while ViPR delivers storage automation and an API for cloud integration.

ScaleIO is a software-defined, server-based storage area network (SAN) that converges storage and compute resources, and it can grow from a few to thousands of servers. ECS is a software-defined cloud storage platform that combines commodity infrastructure with traditional arrays. ViPR SRM is software-defined management software that enables IT to visualize storage relationships, analyze configurations and capacity growth, and optimize resources. ViPR Controller is automation software that centralizes multivendor storage.

“SDS is about addressing needs around performance, data management, and the end user experience and aligning the right data to these needs for the right cost,” said Suresh Sathyamurthy, Senior Director of Product Marketing, Emerging Technology Division, EMC. “In the end, it’s about greater flexibility, agility and vendor choice.”

NetApp

NetApp has invested heavily in its DataOnTap storage operating system so it makes sense that it would build its SDS approach on this solid foundation. For example, it released NetApp StorageGrid Webscale for object storage and integration of cloud applications with Amazon S3. It is said to be able to store up to 100 billion objects in one container that can be distributed in data centers spread around the planet.

“Leveraging 10 years of enterprise object-storage experience, StorageGRID Webscale provides a foundation for software-defined, globally distributed object stores with policies that enable IT to govern data placement and protection worldwide,” said Dan Neault, senior vice president, Data Center Solutions Group, NetApp.

DataCore

DataCore has probably been doing SDS longer than anyone. And it is reaping the benefits of increased awareness of the value of SDS. George Teixeira, the company’s CEO and President, said the result of this raised awareness was the fact that his company has now shipped over 25,000 copies of its software. DataCore has been playing the software-based tune for quite some time, and now it appears that it has struck gold.

DataCore promotes its long experience with storage virtualization and features such as automation that supports auto-discovery, load balancing, auto-tiering and self-healing. Its software-defined platform comprises two products; one for managing SAN/NAS and cloud storage (SANsymphony-V) and the other for hyper-converged storage (Virtual SAN). Since they are built on the same platform, they are integrated such that capacity can be shared across them.

“The platform has been developed to provide the highest levels of storage availability, performance and efficiency from a utilization and a management perspective,” said Teixeira.

In addition, DataCore is working with Huawei on a line of jointly certified hyper-converged solutions. The first result of the partnership between the two companies combines Huawei’s FusionServer series with SANsymphony. You can also add Huawei’s Oceanstor SSD storage and existing storage systems via iSCSI or Fibre Channel connectivity.

Nexenta

NexentaConnect is a suite that combines SDS with cloud and desktop features to provide features such as performance acceleration, automation and analytics. NexantaStor is the storage component and it delivers unified file and block storage services that run on commodity hardware. It is said to simplify storage management and to scale from tens of TBs to PBs.

Michael Letschin, Director of Product Management Solutions, Nexenta, also talked about added elements of the suite. NexentaEdge (beta), he said, is object, file and block storage for OpenStack and big data applications. It delivers Cinder Block and Swift/S3 object storage services, and it integrates through a Horizon management plug-in to streamline storage management and capacity planning. This element will add storage defined networking capabilities to the SDS side. Finally, NexentaFusion (beta) adds more analytics as well as orchestration software.

“This automates arrangement, coordination and management of complex compute systems, data stores and services without the need for administrators to pre-define the nature and placement of data,” said Letschin.

Scality

Scality’s RING product is said to be designed for petabyte-scale storage environments at enterprises, governments and service providers. Leo Leung, vice president of corporate marketing at Scality, reported that the company is seeing serious adoption from the media and entertainment industry as they look to tackle the massive on-demand wave for their customers.

The RING addresses the limits of scaling traditional storage systems to petabytes of capacity. Traditional storage falls down at that scale, said Leung, exposing performance bottlenecks and inefficiencies in data protection, becoming increasingly unreliable as the system grows.

“Scality RING scales to hundreds of petabytes and billions of files, while improving performance linearly and maintaining 100% uptime and data durability with an average of only 50% overhead,” he said. “For the first time, storage and data center customers have complete choice of hardware, today and tomorrow, with no penalties for mixing and matching hardware generations, form factors, and densities.”

Tintri

Tintri touts its application-aware storage as providing VM-level visibility, control, insight and agility. The company is all about storage virtualization technology that is said to learn and adapt to existing environments by seeing how applications behave at the virtualization layer.

This is built on its FlashFirst architecture that understands and integrates with VMs and virtual disks. Tintri VMstore then uses flash along with deduplication, compression and data placement automation.

Most recently, it released Tintri OS 3.2 to enable administrators to allocate exact maximum and minimum IOPS to individual VMs. VM-level QoS is paired with visualization of resource contention to view the immediate impact of throttle changes on VM-level latency. In addition, Tintri SyncVM allows users to move between snapshots of a VM without losing other snapshots or performance history. Finally, Tintri Global Center 2.0 makes it possible to manage 100,000 VMs from one interface.

Microsoft

A little known company from Redmond, WA, is also making a push for market share in SDS. Microsoft’s Scale-Out File Server (SOFS) is a clustering initiative that makes file shares continuously available for server application storage. It makes it possible to share the same folder from multiple nodes of one cluster and is built around the Microsoft Hyper-V hypervisor.

Starwind

Starwind is another startup with a hypervisor-centric approach to SDS. The Starwind Virtual SAN provides a fault-tolerant storage pool that is said to be built for virtualization workloads from scratch. It mirrors inexpensive internal storage between hosts and eliminates any need for physical shared storage.

OpenStack

OpenStack certainly embraces SDS, but it goes beyond it into what it terms a cloud operating system that controls large pools of compute, storage and networking resources throughout a data center. Everything is managed through a dashboard that allows users to provision storage through a web interface.

Actifio

Actifio characterizes itself as the copy data virtualization company, but it very much operates in the SDS space. Actifio One is a cloud-based service built on its data virtualization technology to make applications easily available. It can run on various physical servers, as well as VMware, Windows, Hyper-v, Linux, Oracle and Microsoft SQL Server.

There are more companies, of course, operating in this space. But those covered in this series provide a good place to start for anyone investigating software-defined storage.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

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