The Evolution of Software-Defined Storage and the Virtual SAN

Published On: 17th September 2020//5.2 min read//Tags: , , , , , //

Hyperconvergence and software-defined-storage (SDS) have come a long way in recent times and branched into areas that were thought impossible, just a few years ago.

IT has always been about eliminating single points of failure. Roll back to the 90s and early 00s when companies ran their applications and services on bare-metal servers; the idea was to have more than one of each critical component. Power supplies were doubled, network connections were made to redundant switches, and overall a lot of power and time were wasted in maintaining and running these systems, to prevent downtime.

With the advent of virtualization, the landscape completely changed. Those same physical servers were now capable of running multiple-core CPUs and huge amounts of RAM. A single server could replace an entire server room of legacy equipment, removing the need for some of this duplication. However, this just moved the single point of failure further up the chain.

What if the hypervisor system failed? Instead of running multiple virtual operating system environments (OSE’s) to create redundancy, organizations ran multiple hypervisors. Virtual OSE’s were able to migrate from one to the other, based on just a few basic requirements. These included the same hypervisor environment, some sort of orchestration tool (e.g. vCenter), a network connection, and the subject of our analysis, shared storage.

Enabling a single volume of data to be accessed by multiple hypervisors  meant an entire physical server could fail, and the OSE’s would then migrate to another, all because their location — the storage — remained the same. These advancements allowed organizations to  achieve an incredible increase in power and resource efficiency, significantly reduce their hardware footprints, and embrace the Storage Area Network (SAN) — the foundation that nearly all datacenters and distributed computing platforms are built on today.

However, despite these advancements the single point of failure was once again not eliminated, but just moved. A single physical storage array, accessed via iSCSI or fibre channel by a cluster of hypervisor servers, would have multiple inbound connections, multiple power supplies, and multiple disks in a redundant array (RAID). But there was still a single box controlling it all, and should that box fail, the entire system would go down with it.

Moving into the last decade, these systems became hugely reliable, but also incredibly expensive. In order to satisfy the business need for guaranteed uptime, IT departments employed multiple storage arrays with complicated replication strategies, often over two or more geographic locations. This ultimately ensured that those OSE’s were able to continue providing the infrastructure that was required, no matter what piece failed, or where.

This was all well and good if your company had the budget for these systems, the network infrastructure between sites was capable of supporting mass amounts of data, and your IT staff were clued up enough to think outside the box and embrace the changes as they came. For the rest, shared storage was just too high a price to jump into. Hypervisors were created for smaller companies to address efficiency and performance needs, but failed to ensure uptime. They required third-party imaging and backup solutions to “spin-up” these systems on secondary hardware in the event of a failure. Again, this was expensive, time-consuming, and ultimately took those businesses back to a model more akin to the standard bare-metal approach, versus the trend of convergence that’s swept through at the higher levels.

Enter, software-defined storage. Complicated as it may sound, SDS really just takes the initial cues of virtualizing the OSE to the next level — virtualizing the SAN itself.  No need for an expensive, physical storage appliance. A virtual SAN provides additional user benefits without the traditionally associated cost of entry.

There are vendors in the virtual SAN space that have tried to redefine the entire environment. They offer all-in-one solutions that have a small footprint and remove the single points of failure. However,  they are still largely expensive systems, designed as a replacement for the big datacenter. Small organizations with a single Windows Small Business Server (SBS) would remain on bare-metal servers for a while to come. Indeed, SBS was designed for exactly these scenarios. The next step up would be Nutanix, VxRail, or vSAN; just a few of the players in the hyperconvergence space. Yet all of these require a total commitment to that platform, both in basic hardware requirements and licensing, and are often an over-provisioned and over-priced solution to replace an SBS.

StorMagic takes a different approach and doesn’t aim to take over or force its users to be any particular type or size. We don’t provide an additional  hypervisor for your staff to learn, or require users to buy any specific type of storage or server hardware. We take the key problem of eliminating downtime, and extend that to within reach of those SBS enthusiasts, allowing shared storage, and utilizing hardware they can afford. While it may seem this is purely a low-cost, entry-level product, the flexibility it offers allows systems to be architected with less hardware, less running costs, and less licensing overhead. It is simple, enabling organization’s to do exactly what they need to:  keep their virtual OSE’s online, at all times, regardless of a component failure.

StorMagic SvSAN is a small, lightweight system, capable of running on incredibly low-cost commodity x86 servers, from any vendor. Customers can virtualize their OSEs in VMware, Hyper-V, or a multitude of KVM flavors — whatever they’re used to. The overhead required for mirroring storage across two servers is minimal, far lower than that of a full hyperconvergence platform, and with our proven multi-site, edge-focused approach to managing your estate as you always have, it allows progression with regression. Functionality is increased without the need to over-spec the hardware, and simplicity assists in deployment and management that is second to none, on any platform, at any time.

Put as simply as is possible, StorMagic gives you access to enterprise resiliency, without the enterprise price tag. For a demo, or for more information, click here to download StorMagic SvSAN now, and start thinking about how less can actually be more for your organization.

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