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The Benefit of Software-Defined Storage for SMBs

Until about five years ago, SMBs were perpetually behind their larger enterprise peers technologically. Without multi-million-dollar IT budgets, they too often were unable to afford the latest and greatest IT products. Luckily, that financial barrier to entry was blown wide open thanks to the proliferation of virtualization technologies.

No matter which part of the IT infrastructure stack is virtualized—compute, network or storage—the same thing is essentially happening. The management layer is abstracted from the physical hardware, enabling IT organizations to seize the benefits of the most sophisticated orchestration platforms, while enjoying the cost savings of commodity storage hardware. Also, it allows workloads to easily migrate between computer hardware.

In the past, organizations had to purchase premium hardware, bundled together with software. Splitting up the bundles was non-negotiable and increasing the price. Now, storage hardware can be purchased at a more basic model as the performance is driven by the software that is behind it. By purchasing easily replaceable and interchangeable commodity technology, you remove the margin stacking on hardware that OEMs had baked into their inflated market-facing prices for decades.

The “Software-Defined Data Center” Era

The ability to bifurcate logical planes from underlying storage hardware has ushered in the era of the “software-defined data center”. Some see it as a widespread movement to virtualize everything in order to maximize mobility and scalability. Others see it as more flashy marketing speak. The jury is out… but the underlying concept does promote IT strategies that SMBs should implement, which strive to bridge the gap with enterprise operations while staying within budget. After all, SMB IT departments are no less important than their enterprise counterparts. Both are increasingly critical within their overarching organizations. Today, nearly all business units within a company, no matter the size, are putting more stringent demands on their IT departments, expecting seemingly infinite elasticity, on-demand fulfillment, and rigorous SLAs.

What is Software-Defined Storage?

“Software-defined storage” (SDS), which falls under the “software-defined data center” is one of the first virtualization technologies SMBs ought to consider, as data accumulation for organizations of all stripes are exploding. Its definition may be elusive, just like anything “software-defined”, but it’s most definitely not just a marketing buzzword.

With fuzzy parameters, software-only, hardware-only, and converged products all fall within the broadly generous criteria for SDS. SDS should include:

  • Automation – Simplified management that reduces the cost of maintaining the network-attached and direct-attached storage infrastructure.
  • Standard Interfaces – APIs for the management, provisioning and maintenance of storage devices and services.
  • Virtualized Data Path – Block, file and/or object interfaces that support applications written to these interfaces.
  • Scalability – Seamless ability to scale the storage infrastructure without disruption to the specified availability or performance.
  • Transparency – The ability for storage consumers to monitor and manage their own storage consumption against available resources and costs.

In a nutshell, and what SMBs should think of as software-defined storage for their purposes is highly scalable, automated storage systems that aggregate and streamline storage across their whole IT environment. Synology offers an array of converged SDS-powered Network Attached Storage (NAS) products that are ideal for SMB operations. Its Virtual Machine Manager (VMM) Pro allows users to seamlessly cluster storage between physical and virtual machines and is conveniently operating system-agnostic. This solution is available across Synology Plus, FS, and XS Series NAS systems, which fall within desired SMB cost profiles.

Specific features that are of critical importance to SMBs when employing SDS solutions are web-based user interfaces for easier management of systems. Other important attributes are:

  • Self-service interface – Allowing support for a chargeback.
  • Policy-based management — What the SNIA says is 'nearly always' a scale-out architecture.
  • Pooling of storage and other resources.
  • Using metadata in service-level management.

Such SDS platforms can provide numerous benefits for SMBs. First, without locking into a specific type of hardware, software, or operating system, IT organizations can always benefit from the latest developments in swappable commodity hardware. In comparison to traditional non-virtualized storage arrays, SDS-augmented storage delivers scalability, consistency, and agility. Also, this iteration of software-defined storage, allows SMBs to maintain the ability to run in cloud environments to facilitate native replication and without a need to refactor data.

SMBs should explore the benefits of virtualization across all components of the IT stack; however, SDS is a no brainer as a major first step toward digital transformation. The technology provides an opportunity to rapidly introduce liquidity to one of the most precious commercial assets – data. With SDS all departments with an SMB can get rapid access to all the information they need when they need it to drive business growth.

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