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Software-Defined Storage: Chasm Crossing or Tipping Point?

Software-defined storage addresses the three biggest challenges facing enterprise administrators: the explosion of data, management costs, and capacity forecasting.

5 Min Read
Software-Defined Storage: Chasm Crossing or Tipping Point?

Jason Phippen is Head of Global Product and Solutions Marketing for SUSE.

For more than 20 years, Geoffrey Moore’s Crossing the Chasm: Marketing and Selling High-Tech Products to Mainstream Customers has been the de facto standard to describe technology adoption. Even those who haven’t read the book are familiar with his terms: innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority and laggards. A technology crosses the “chasm” when it achieves a sustainable level of demand and adoption, separating technology’s winners from its losers.

Moore’s description of technology adoption works perfectly in markets where there is little concrete differentiation. Nowhere is this more applicable than among the old giants of the enterprise storage market. Take a look at proprietary storage from any of the 20th Century’s household names – be they EMC, Dell, HP, IBM– it’s a struggle to find something that really makes a concrete, provable difference. They all have management software that can be broadly categorized as proprietary, compatible hardware, comparable prices and comparable performance. Choosing a storage vendor was historically akin to picking between a BMW, a Jag, or a Lexus: everyone has their preference, but much of that comes down to familiarity and preference. No model costs half as much as the other at retail, travels twice as fast, or costs half as much to run.

The Tipping Point?

But every so often, Moore’s take on the diffusion curve is wrong. Circumstances combine to create a situation where a technology doesn’t just cross the chasm, but factors combine to lead a sudden and dramatic rise in adoption and influence. It’s a similar effect to another bestselling book, Malcolm Gladwell’s 2000 work, The Tipping Point.

For a sudden shift to occur, two things need to happen:

  1. The technology needs to deliver a genuine change - real benefits and obvious advantages as opposed to marginal brand differences.

  2. The problem or advantage the technology delivers has to be big enough to offset the reservations customers on the early adoption side of the chasm feel. The “need’ of the buyer has to be genuine and pressing.

We are at this inflection point in the enterprise storage market – and accordingly the market is going to change quickly and permanently. The advantages of software-defined storage (SDS) are so great, they represent an end-of-an-era step change, leaving traditional enterprise storage vendors to change or perish accordingly.

Why SDS?

So what’s the step change advantage in software defined? First, the cost advantage of SDS is huge. By separating the physical storage plane from the data storage logic (or control plane), SDS eliminates the need for proprietary hardware. Freed from the need to buy proprietary appliances running proprietary software, IT teams can work on commodity x86 hardware and disks in cheap racks, generating as much as a 50 percent cost savings. This marks the first of our necessary market conditions for rapid adoption: real advantage in avoiding vendor lock-in coupled with huge cost savings.

So what about the second condition, the pressing problem or advantage? As a storage professional, I doubt you need to be informed what the key problems are, as you will be dealing with them day in day out: more and more data to store, bigger unstructured data, and indefinite storage duration. Here are your top seven storage pain points as measured by 451 Research:

The biggest of these problems is data growth, which is a major problem for more than half of all enterprises, large and small. The next problem is managing the cost – which harks back to my previous point – and the third is capacity forecasting. Put these three together and you are creating a serious budget and management headache. Storage is growing at a fierce rate, it’s difficult to predict how much you will need, and the costs are spiraling out of control.

How to Integrate SDS

The key argument around adopting SDS doesn’t pertain to its inevitability or its benefits; it’s how to make the right choice in technology to migrate your bulk, object, backup and email storage onto SDS storage. There are a number of key factors in this decision, including product maturity, financial stability, ecosystem integration, testing, and – of course – whether the technology is open source or proprietary.

In the open source community, it starts and ends with Ceph. The 2004 brainchild of Sage Weill, a college dissertation in support of his PhD in computer science at the University of California, Santa Cruz, set out to create his own storage platform, one with no single point of failure, self healing, with replication to make it highly fault tolerant, and scalable to the exabyte level.

At the heart of Ceph are CRUSH and RADOS.


Just as with any distributed file system, files placed into a Ceph cluster are “striped” so consecutive segments are stored on different physical storage nodes using CRUSH – Controlled Replication Under Scalable Hashing, a hash-based algorithm that calculates how and where to store and retrieve data. CRUSH allows clients to communicate directly with storage devices without a central dictionary or index server to manage object locations. It thus enables Ceph clusters to both store and retrieve data very quickly and access more data concurrently, thereby improving throughput.


The Reliable Autonomic Distributed Object Store provides applications with object, block and file system storage in a single, unified storage cluster. This makes Ceph flexible, highly reliable and easy to manage. RADOS enables vast scalability ― thousands of client hosts or KVMs accessing petabytes to exabytes of data. All applications can use the object, block or file system interfaces to the same RADOS cluster simultaneously, meaning Ceph storage systems can serve as a flexible foundation for all of your data storage needs.

Build Your Own

With Ceph, you use “white boxes”― whatever commodity x86 hardware you choose (or even your older end-of-life storage arrays). Because you are free to use commodity hardware and whatever you have on hand, you can avoid being locked into proprietary platforms and all the costs they entail. Choosing software-defined storage on Ceph can generate savings of up to 50 percent, and for today’s hard-pressed storage administrator, that’s something that has to be investigated.

There’s no question the storage market is on the precipice of an important change in technology. The question is how to make a change when necessary. Will your organization be ready?

Industry Perspectives is a content channel at Data Center Knowledge highlighting thought leadership in the data center arena. See our guidelines and submission process for information on participating. View previously published Industry Perspectives in our Knowledge Library.

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