Software-Defined Storage Ready for Agency Primetime?

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Can software-defined storage help support the data center modernization efforts of Federal agencies and help them meet ambitious Data Center Optimization Initiative (DCOI) milestones?

Software-defined storage (SDS) addresses the explosive growth of data in many organizations, promising elasticity, scale, and simplicity with the added benefit of cost savings. Those would seem to be viable benefits as government and industry officials look for ways to clean up the data center glut. A recent Government Accountability Office report indicates that many agencies won’t meet the Office of Management and Budget data center closure goals by September 2018. Clearly, agencies need a diversity of technology and approaches to help them transition to more efficient infrastructure and leverage technology to optimize infrastructure–all goals of DCOI.

SDS is an approach to data storage in which software controls storage-related tasks and is decoupled from physical storage hardware, allowing for the use of commodity hardware.

The main reason organizations are deploying SDS is to help simplify the management of heterogeneous storage, said Henry Baltazar, research vice president of infrastructure with 451 Research. That comes from the fact that some of the early vendors in the SDS space–DataCore and FalconStor–have a storage virtualization capability that allows people to move data between storage systems.

Storage managers think that virtualization will help them better manage storage systems, Baltazar said. Organizations tend to create storage silos depending on how data is used or how workloads and requirements change.

“Multiple silos have become inefficient, so the top reason is people are thinking they can use SDS to help manage between the silos to optimize what is going on there,” Baltazar said. In fact, 43 percent of respondents to a 451 Research survey who are using SDS within their organizations cited simplified storage management as the top reason for deploying the technology. Two other top reasons included lower acquisition costs compared to appliances and scalability.

Yet, Baltazar doesn’t think SDS is quite ready for prime time because only 31 percent of the respondents overall (which include private companies and a mix of Federal, state, and local agencies) are leveraging SDS on commodity X86 hardware, which Baltazar thinks is a true implementation of the technology. Sixty-nine percent of the respondents are not leveraging SDS on commodity X86 hardware.

SDS is still relatively new, Baltazar explained, and the respondents who have not deployed SDS are concerned about maintenance and support, reliability, interoperability, and cost issues.

“In 2018, we expect to see a resurgence in SDS, though we are not predicting the extinction of storage appliances anytime in the near or even distant future,” Baltazar said.

SDS: For Federal Agencies It’s About Mission Agility

However, Cameron Chehreh, chief technology officer and vice president of presales engineering with Dell EMC Federal, has a different view about the adoption of SDS, especially within Federal data centers.

“We are seeing government in a variety of areas, adopting not only software-defined storage but software-defined data centers,” Chehreh said.

There are several key reasons, but “First and foremost, it is all about mission agility,” he said.  The government is realizing cloud is not a destination. Cloud and software-defined storage are closely related because cloud is an operating model. “When they realize that and embrace the software-defined data center, the biggest reason is mission agility,” Chehreh said.

Secondly, agency managers can transition workforce but get more scale out of the data center and information assets without adding a tremendous amount of workforce, because they are leveraging massive amounts of automation, Chehreh said. “So, leveraging the massive amount of automation is allowing mission agility and also economies of scale.”

He said it is a misconception that when government adopts a massive amount of automation, people lose their jobs. Rather, the opposite is happening. Employees become more valuable because they are running the massive amount of automation, and they become mission experts.

“When you have people in IT who know the mission and technological platform, and now extending the human capability using automation, the inverse is happening,” Chehreh said. They are becoming more valuable in their roles. Additionally, agencies are gaining significant amounts of capability and capacity, which lowers the total cost of ownership of infrastructure. Mission agility, massive automation, and cost savings are three primary reasons agencies are turning to SDS, he said.

Almost 64 percent of Federal IT leaders have deployed software-defined solutions, according to a survey commissioned by Dell EMC. This means agencies have gone through the acquisition process, installed the technology, and are going into operation and maintenance, Chehreh said. Eighty-five percent of those same leaders are in the process of adopting full software-defined data centers in support of all the primary missions of the Federal government in the IT space such as data center optimization and the Modernizing Government Technology Act (MGT), he noted.

“We have tangible metrics to show that the market is rapidly moving in that direction. We are not just seeing the perceived benefits, but those benefits are becoming actualized,” Chehreh said.

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