If its your actual interaction with the storage hardware that is difficult or if some specific capabilities are lacking then storage software is needed to make the actual interaction with the hardware simpler and add capabilities. Most people think to simplify interaction or to add capabilities you have to replace the whole storage system, hardware and all. Reality is that storage software can effectively give your storage a brain transplant that makes it easier to deal with and adds capabilities.
Most storage software for example brings some form of storage virtualization to the equation, allowing multiple systems from multiple manufacturers to be managed from a single interface. That alone can simplify things, plus provides flexibility when making future purchases. They also allow provisioning to be made without having to know the details of the underlying storage system, just size the volume and assign it to a host. Some of the storage as software providers can do this in a thinly provisioned fashion so you can over-allocate storage but only actually consume that storage as it is needed.
Most of the storage as software suppliers do not have the advanced thin provisioning capabilities that a few of the major manufacturers have that can perform. This includes functions like thin migration and thin reclamation. They do have most of the other storage software basics like snapshots, multiple protocols (fibre, iSCSI) and replication. There is also the issue of moving your current storage under the management of the new storage software. A few of the storage applications will allow you to manage existing volumes without converting them, but to take advantage of all the capabilities like thin provisioning and storage virtualization you need to give full control of the storage hardware to the storage application.
Simplifying storage does not always require a switch to new hardware. Management or direct functionality can be added to existing storage hardware. Both have their pros and cons. The latest and greatest may bring the absolute latest in ease of use and functionality, but storage applications may be a viable alternative if the budget does not allow for a total refresh.
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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.