The Economics of Software Defined Storage

I’ve written before about object storage and scale-out software-defined storage. These seem to be ideas whose time has come, but I have also learned that the economics of these solutions need to be examined closely.

If you look to buy high function storage software, with per TB licensing, and premium support, on premium Intel servers with premium support, then my experience is that you have just cornered yourself into old-school economics. I have made this mistake before. Great solution, lousy economics. This is not what Facebook or Google does, by the way.

If you’re going to insist on premium-on-premium then, unless you have very specific drivers for SDS, or extremely large scale, you might be better to go and buy an integrated storage-controller-plus-expansion-trays solution from a storage hardware vendor (and make sure it’s one that doesn’t charge per TB).

With workloads such as analytics and disk-to-disk backups, we are not dealing with transactional systems of record and we should not be applying old-school economics to the solutions. Well managed risk should be in proportion to the critical availability requirements of the data. Which brings me to Open Source.SED

Open Source software has sometimes meant complexity and poorly tested features and bugs that require workarounds but the variety, maturity and general usability of Open Source storage software has been steadily improving, and feature/bug risks can be managed. The pay-off is software at $0 per usable TB instead of US$1,500 or US$2,000 per usable TB (seriously folks, I’m not just making these vendor prices up).

It should be noted that open source software without vendor support is not the same as unsupported. Community support is at the heart of the Open Source movement. There are also some Open Source storage software solutions that offer an option for full support, so you have choice about how far you want to go.

It’s taken us a while to work out that we can and should be doing all of this, rather than always seeking the most elegant solution, or the one that comes most highly recommended by Gartner, or the one that has the largest market share, or the newest thing from our favorite big vendors.

It’s not always easy and a big part of the success is making sure we can contain the costs of the underlying hardware. Documentation and quoting and design are all considerably harder in this world, because you’re going to have to work out a bunch of this for yourself. Most integrators just don’t have the patience or skill to make it happen reliably, but those that do can deliver significant benefits to their customers.

Right now we’re working solutions based on S3 or iSCSI or NFS scale out storage with options for community or full support. Ideal use cases are analytics, backup target storage, migration off AWS S3 to on-premises to save cost, and test/dev environments for those who are deploying to Amazon S3, but I’m sure you can think of others.


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