When you think about storing and managing your company’s vital data, reliability and scalability rise to the top as the most important measures of a good investment. And the solution that delivers on these priorities the most efficiently and economically is software-defined storage (SDS). By going software-defined, organizations can avoid the pitfalls of vendor lock-in, while deploying data storage and recovery plans more easily across a range of hardware devices and platforms.
When choosing a best-of-breed SDS solution, it helps to first make a list of the features and capabilities that are most beneficial for a given use case. To get the conversation started, we’ve created a list of the five that we think have the greatest impact. Here’s a quick rundown of the “must-have” SDS features, what they do, and why they ought to be in your toolkit.
1. Multi-Protocol Capabilities
When it comes to how organizations manage application workflows and user data, one common thread we’re seeing is portability. Applications are often developed in one environment, tested in another, and deployed in yet a third location – and data is most powerful when it’s shared. In the storage world, one key to ensure portability is to select an SDS system with multi-protocol capabilities.
A multi-protocol storage solution makes it possible to store and access data using a variety of protocols, including Fibre Channel and ISCSI for blocks of data, as well as NFS or SMB file systems. With multi-protocol capabilities, you can create and scale unified storage pools that support a mix of data and applications efficiently. It can also enable organizations to combine high-performance caching and cost-effective spinning disk to boost performance without migrating to all-flash arrays right away.
In addition, using a single multi-protocol SDS system for all types of data can help enable new and efficient data workflows. For example, a sales manager may leverage file services to save the latest forecast before a business analyst accesses it in Hadoop to run a report in time for the weekly meeting. No data conversion required.
2. Public Cloud Integration
All data follows a life cycle, typically beginning as “hot,” business-critical data before it cools down and isn’t accessed as frequently. Left unmanaged, the life cycle often results in overcrowded high-performance arrays. The problem is not a new one, but the solution certainly is.
By looking for an SDS storage solution that integrates seamlessly with the cloud, storage professionals can implement strategies that move cold files between on-premises and public cloud storage, while continuing to manage the data under a unified strategy. This ability to “cloud out” helps ensure that only the most important data is taking up space on expensive arrays, while providing seamless scalability to meet expanding data requirements.
Cloud access is a great way to implement tiered storage strategies, but manually moving data to the cloud and other storage systems on a regular basis can be a challenge for any storage professional. Ideally, you want a solution that can automatically promote or demote data to the correct storage tier as its usage and value changes.
An SDS system that offers auto-tiering can save your IT staff the considerable time and effort it takes to manually manage this endless process. With auto-tiering, you can set up parameters that move data according to its importance — automatically clouding out data that has reached a certain age, or migrating data from high performance arrays to mid-tier storage when there’s a drop-off in usage.
When combined with multi-protocol capabilities, an SDS that supports auto-tiering can make it easy to move data from a high-performance, expensive disk to a more cost-effective storage tier. This helps ensure that your data remains aligned with the best storage for the job, without creating a burden on administrators.
While auto-tiering can help you improve performance and scalability over time, an effective SDS solution can also give you reliability and scalability over space. This is critical as business expansion often means managing data across multiple, geographically-dispersed locations. Geo-clustering allows the deployment of storage across different locations to offer regional level protection and disaster recovery.
Let’s say your company has branches in Atlanta, New York, and Los Angeles. Geo-clustering ensures that data is automatically written and simultaneously available across these locations. The beauty of this feature is how it mitigates risk; should a data loss occur at any one branch, the information remains available at all the others and can be restored once the problem has been identified and resolved. Geo-clustering relates more directly to object-based storage systems, but the protection it offers can apply to file storage as well.
5. Synchronous Replication
Most SDS solutions will offer either synchronous or asynchronous replication for copying data into storage. But when recovery point objectives (RPOs) need to be at their lowest, synchronous replication delivers a considerable benefit as far as primary storage systems are concerned.
For example, this feature allows you to write data on two systems or two locations at the same time. The two data instances remain consistent with each other and cannot be accessed or used until both are completely written, which helps ensure version integrity. The benefits of synchronous over asynchronous replication are significantly lower RPOs, RTOs, and disaster recovery strategies that are seamless to manage and transparent to end users.
When evaluating an SDS storage solution, it is important to begin with the features that are most relevant to your unique business priorities, application sets, and use cases. But don’t forget to look for a core set of features that are helpful across the board. These include the abilities to:
- Read and write data using multiple protocols to support a mix of workloads and workflows
- Integrate with the public cloud for the efficient storage of cold data
- Employ auto-tiering to streamline data management
- Accommodate geo-clustering to give you regional level data protection
- Provide replication options to significantly reduce recovery objectives and downtime
The right SDS solution can significantly improve storage efficiency, application performance, and business continuity, while all but eliminating the lock-in that comes with traditional storage hardware.