What we mean by software-defined storage

It’s day two of EMC World 2013 in Las Vegas. […]

June 4, 2013

It’s day two of EMC World 2013 in Las Vegas. Everybody here is talking about or asking about software-defined storage. Let me give you a couple of analogies to help you understand what we mean by software-defined storage and what we at EMC are doing. There are two main components to keep in mind.

Virtualize Everything, Compromise Nothing

In my living room at home, I have a half-dozen control devices for my TV, my set top box for streaming Internet content to my TV, a DVR, a video game that my kids use more than I do, a DVD player, and an amplifier. There is nothing more annoying than not being able to watch a program because my kid has hidden the remote. I’d rather not have to search for it and fiddle with it. I’d rather just watch the program. It’s the same in the data center. You need dedicated operators for different infrastructures. And it’s a real pain.

To control the devices in your living room, or to control the different devices in your data center, you need a common way of doing it. It’s more efficient. The folks in the data center can be way more productive. And it’s more reliable, because you tend to do things in a standard way. So if the universal remote control is what controls your home entertainment devices in your living room, software-defined storage controls the physical arrays in your data center. That’s the first part of what we are doing with software-defined storage.

But that’s only half of it. In addition to providing a new model for storage management, software-defined storage also provides a new architecture for new kinds of workloads. And this is where the story really gets interesting.

To continue the home entertainment analogy, a lot of the programming that was created for your traditional television set really didn’t produce a lot of high demands. Not all that long ago, you could only view about 525 lines or so of TV picture if you were in the U.S., or 625 lines, I believe, if you were in Europe. But, either way, there really wasn’t any killer content to make TV come more alive.

Over time, the entertainment industry went a long way to make movies and programming look phenomenal. But the regular, traditional TV just wouldn’t do it justice. So, in order to view the new movies and programming in all its glory, we needed something to interpret that content type. Without an HDTV and an HD DVR, you just didn’t get the full experience. So, people went out and got the wide screen, HDTV to watch the Super Bowl. And they kept the smaller TV they had in the kitchen for convenience. Different devices for different types of content.

We see the same thing happening in data centers. A lot of new applications are being built in a different way, and we need new capabilities to interpret the new content types. So think of software-defined storage as enriching the underlying storage arrays to interpret these new content types that many of these new applications will be building.

Now, traditional applications are not going away. Industry analysts estimate that traditional workloads will expand by 70% between 2012-2016. These workloads are typically block and file workloads. They require a high degree of transactional consistency. And a lot of the resiliency is built into the hardware itself. But we think the real opportunity going forward is going to be in next-generation cloud applications. These are a relatively small number of apps today, but they are growing explosively — ten times faster than traditional workloads! Typically, they are not going to require a block or file storage infrastructure. Object storage is what they are going to demand.

We think we have solved many of these challenges with a product we call EMC ViPR. It is not just a point product. It is a platform for software-defined storage – both a new model for storage management, as well as the data services that provide a new architecture for new kinds of workloads. To learn more about it, see yesterday’s post, What is Software-Defined Storage?, by my colleague Amitabh Srivastava, head of EMC’s Advanced Storage Division.

By Jeremy Burton, Executive Vice President, Product Operations and Marketing
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