In a recent entry I brought up the idea of free data services. What if you could get features like snapshots, replication or thin provisioning for free or almost free? The reality is that except for a few lawsuits most vendors that offer complete hardware and software solutions aren't showing a lot of concern. What they are doing is raising the bar to make their offerings more attractive than the software only or free solutions.Better Data Services
Snapshots, replication, and thin provisioning should now be considered the very basic elements that a storage system should offer. Storage suppliers need to advance these capabilities to stay ahead of the free crowd. For example thin provisioning needs to evolve. As we discussed in our recent article "Keeping Thin Provisioning Thin", thin provisioned systems gain weight over time because files are deleted from the file system and the space they consume is not reclaimed and given back to the global storage pool. Several vendors are addressing this by delivering thin reclamation capabilities that will identify deleted data and return the free space back to the global pool. For vendors to differentiate themselves from the software only stack and free software they need to do things like this and keep enhancing what we consider core capabilities in a storage system.
The downside of this process is that the software only data services crowd is always filling in the holes. The complete solution storage vendors will to keep running ahead of the pack because any capability that is uniquely yours today will be everybody's in a few years. Take unified storage for example. The ability to have NAS and Block services delivered from a single storage system was unique to a couple of vendors a few years ago, now it seems like everyone has it.
One way to make it harder for the software only data services crowd to catch up is to do something unique in hardware. While many storage vendors brag how they run on off-the-shelf hardware (all though you must get the hardware from them) a few are doing something unique in the hardware. This can be custom ASICs to help the data services software, like making thin provisioning less burdensome. It can also be mapping the way the storage software writes data so it is optimized for a specific type of storage. For example writes and reads can be optimized for solid state disk to extend the life expectancy of solid state.
Another differentiator can be building unique storage hardware. As we discussed in our article "The Advantages to Alternative Tier One Storage Vendors" one trend that we like is what we call "scale in" storage. These are storage systems that can scale out but can also scale up within each storage node as well. This provides scalability without consuming racks and racks of data center space. We'll take a deeper dive into scale in storage in a future entry.
Unique hardware is not limited to the high end of the market. For example some companies are making hardware easier to deal with at the more entry level SMB market as well. For example, currently in the Storage Switzerland lab we are testing a solution that allows for insertion of off-the-shelf drives requiring no special mounting brackets.
The decision on whether you take a build your own approach by using generic hardware and data services software or a more integrated and customized solution is up to you. The customized solutions typically will offer some unique capabilities, for now, and may be easier to set up. The build your own approach should allow you to save money and maybe provide some unique flexibility to the organization.
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George Crump is lead analyst of Storage Switzerland, an IT analyst firm focused on the storage and virtualization segments. Find Storage Switzerland's disclosure statement here.