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What If Data Services Were Free?

Data services is my term for the storage software that most storage hardware vendors include to make their hardware a solution. The capabilities of these software applications include the basics like volume provisioning and advanced features like file services, snapshots, thin provisioning and replication. What if you could get these software functions for free and apply them to the hardware of your choice?
Data services is my term for the storage software that most storage hardware vendors include to make their hardware a solution. The capabilities of these software applications include the basics like volume provisioning and advanced features like file services, snapshots, thin provisioning and replication. What if you could get these software functions for free and apply them to the hardware of your choice?First the software would have to be abstracted from the hardware, it would need to run on just about any storage platform. For the most part many of the storage system suppliers are already there. Many will openly claim that their storage software uses off the shelf hardware, its just that you have to get the hardware from them.

There are companies that provide storage data services software that essentially embodies this concept of abstracting the storage software from the hardware, and of course today most of these companies charge for the software. There are also companies that are providing storage services and file systems as virtual machines as we discussed in our recent webinar "Adding NAS To Your Virtualized SAN By Leveraging Cloud Storage". In both cases after buying the software you just need to get the storage hardware from a vendor that is focused on making just hardware instead of providing a turnkey solution.

Oracle's ZFS may be the closest we have to a free set of data services and we have seen vendors take that existing code and either enhance or integrate it into existing hardware. This gives these vendors an advantage of not having to worry about developing the data services basics like snapshots and thin provisioning and focus their development effort on integrating to specific applications. They can also offer alternative capabilities for specific areas like improving ZFS's deduplication capability or improving its use in server virtualized environments. Finally they benefit from millions of willing testers of the software for a better chance at bringing forth stable code.

The real winner if data services becomes free or near free, is the hardware vendors that just make hardware or at least where storage software is not the key part of their business. These companies, traditionally OEM's, could be well positioned to offer the cost effective storage hardware that is needed to complete these solutions. The second winner will be the companies that integrate the two and then possibly enhance with software components of their own.

While this all sounds good and who wouldn't love to see storage costs decrease in price, there has been limited growth in the software only data services market compared to the fully integrated solutions. As end users become more comfortable of the idea of virtualization, as general purpose hardware becomes as powerful as custom hardware and as the companies that integrate these technologies become more prevalent, we may see a dramatic shift toward this software only approach. If IT budgets continue to remain tight it may speed that shift.

Of course all is not lost for the makers of turnkey storage solutions that leverage their own data services and integrate on to storage hardware. In a future entry we will explore what the current hardware vendors should do to combat almost free storage software if it continues to become popular.

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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.

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