Software-defined storage (SDS) is one of the hot button topics in storage today and Dell is an active player in that space. That should come as no surprise if one understands the nature of how the company is rapidly evolving.
Dell is often narrowly viewed as a server or personal computer company, but really it is a rapidly evolving broad-based information technology vendor. Disk storage systems is just one market where it is a major player along with the likes of EMC, Hewlett Packard, Hitachi Data Systems, IBM, and NetApp. To maintain or advance its position, Dell has to keep up with storage trends, such as SDS.
The most important role of SDS is that it moves storage management intelligence (i.e., software) from the traditional storage controller to somewhere else, typically a server. This means that storage software is decoupled (i.e., abstracted) from the physical storage array(s) that it manages. This can lead to numerous benefits, including flexibility to choose the hardware, scaling-out and pooling of resources without forklift hardware upgrades, establishing/maintaining a virtualized data path, and easing management and process automation.
Dell bases its software-defined storage approach upon three principles: data abstracted from hardware, integrated compute and storage, and software-defined orchestration.
Data abstracted from hardware allows Dell to use commodity x86 hardware with which it has a world of experience. It also allows Dell to focus on data mobility where data can be easily moved from array to array (say in a tiered fashion) for improving performance or cost efficiency.
Integrated compute and storage contributes to ease of scaling-out as well as improving overall performance since in these cases storage resides right next to compute (which, of course, plays upon Dell’s strength as a server vendor). Software-defined orchestration is all about integration with orchestration frameworks (Openstack, VMware, Microsoft, and Dell ASM (Active System Manager)) that improves service delivery with automated provisioning and templates.
Dell delivers its software-defined storage strategy via a build-approach -further enhancing its storage stack, and a partner-approach - partnering with leading hyperconverged, hypervisor and opensource vendors. Dell is targeting its SDS solutions at a wide spectrum of customers: small, medium/large and extra-large businesses. This seems extreme, but actually takes advantage of Dell's strength in being able to take a cost efficient basic solution and then enhancing it with extra offerings to meet larger, more demanding needs.
For example, at the small to medium deployment level, the company offers Microsoft Storage Spaces and VMware VSAN on its PowerEdge servers. For medium to large customers, the company offers solutions based on Nexenta and RedHat Inktank Ceph and is introducing Dell XC Series Web-scale converged appliances which combines its PowerEdge servers integrated with solutions from Nutanix, whose well-regarded software supports VDI solutions, as well as mid-market virtualization for departmental/branch offices.
Traditional medium/large customers are where orchestration frameworks come into play. Dell has designed its Active System Manager to deliver software-designed automated operations that lead to reducing costs. The extra large business space is what would be called the Web-scale world where open source solutions are critical. Dell has strategic partnerships with RedHat for OpenStack, Inktank/RedHat for CEPH, and Cloudera for Hadoop. The company would seem to be in a good position to support the open source economics that are a mainstay for this type of customer.
Now one thing to consider is that Dell SDS does not currently provision and orchestrate heterogeneous brands of storage (such as EMC, HDS, HP, and IBM), but plans to do so through ASM orchestration, Dell has an open strategy where it embraces storage stacks from Nutanix, Nexenta, VMware, Microsoft and RedHat Inktank.
In addition to delivering SDS via strategic partnerships, Dell is also enhancing its storage stack to offer enhanced flexibility, mobility and orchestration. Dell is not simply decoupling storage software from an array controller and providing common data services, but rather defining and developing a storage software management software architecture that meets new storage management requirements for customers from small to extra-large organizations. That is the way Dell sees the world of storage going and that is where it is taking its own software-defined storage strategy and solutions.
The relationship of software and hardware is intricate and complex. Software creates the intelligence that enables hardware to deliver to its full potential. Both are critical, but the focus in systems today tends to be on the software. Hence software-defined solutions are receiving a lot of attention and software-defined storage is part of that broader movement.
Dell is not only abstracting the traditional storage management software from the storage hardware, but is also magnifying the ability of software to perform with greater functionality at all levels. Thus, its SDS architecture is additive and can yield not only cost benefits, but also beneficial functionalities, such as automated provisioning to improve service to end users. Dell thus has a vision that spans the storage view from the small world where the company is very comfortable to the Web-scale world where economics with which Dell is very familiar play a key role. Dell uses SDS as an important thrust in maintaining a leadership position in the storage world and has thus used this strategy to achieve considerable success.
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