Posts Tagged ‘SDS’

Is VSA the future of Software Defined Storage? (In reply to DuncanYB)

April 25, 2013 Leave a comment

I was reading a blog post by Duncan Epping here around VSA’s and software defined storage, and put in one of my usually overly long replies when I thought it might make a reasonable blog post here, because it outlines a number of my key thoughts on this which I was planning on writing about later on. If you get the chance, read Duncan’s post as theres some good stuff in the main blog as well as some interesting comments.

The following was my reply with some typo cleanup …

IMHO VSA’s will be an important part of the software defined storage (SDS) landscape but by no means are they the complete story. What is lacking in SDS is the equivalent of flow-tables in switches. If you go with the whole “separate the control plane from the data plane” definition of software defined anything, then you could reasonably argue that this is exactly what things like the VERITAS volume manager and file system did way back in the 80’s. For a whole stack of good reasons people chose to bifurcate that responsibility of managing that functionality increasingly into the storage and application layers, leaving those product with increasingly niche roles. The advent of SDS might change swing that pendulum back towards 80’s style architecture for a while, but people tend towards vertically integrated solutions when the complexities of managing and integrating solutions themselves becomes economically unviable, and designing a reliable storage solution with high performance at large scale that caters for a large variety or workload types is very very hard to do well.

Going back to the lack of a storage equivalent of flow-tables, the trouble with SDS is that storage requirements are much less homogenous than switching requirements and much harder to bring down to a small number of discrete functions that can be acclerated in hardware. I think that over time these will become more obvious, the first and most obvious of which is copy offload/management, but these requirements will probably evolve over time.

Rather than focus on building an industry/standards defined theoretical model, and trying to wedge/judge all the designs by that model, I think we’d be better served by loosening up the vertical integration of storage systems and then finding a variety of creative ways of leveraging large amounts of cheap CPU/Memory/Cache/Disk sitting in the virtualisation layer. VSA’s are a fairly coarse grained way of achieving this, but many of them don’t elegantly leverage tightly/vertically integrated infrastructure to accelerate or drive efficiencies where that is appropriate.

For example, there are ways of using the hypervisor resources as a “data plane” and leaving the control plane in the centralised array, such as NetApp FlashAccel . This is kind of counter-intuitive to the existing “control-plane lives in the hypervisor” model as the cache is seen as an extension of the hardware array rather than the array being seen as an extension of the hypervisor. To be fair the model isn’t that pure, as control portions are distributed between the array and they hypervisor. My point is that the boundaries become a lot fuzzier, and will be functionality will be divided and combined in a variety of interesting ways,  and so long as storage is asked to perform so many different tasks, I think that’s a good thing.

While I love VSAs as a conceptually neat little package of functionality with tightly defined boundaries, (The DataONTAP VSA’s in particular, especially if you’re aware of their roadmap)  I think that data and storage management will for the foreseeable future be a shared responsibility between applications, hypervisors, operating systems and arrays. The biggest challenge we face is co-ordinating these responsibilities and choosing the most efficient and automatable ways of combining them to give customers what they need without needlessly locking them into inflexible architecture choices.


John Martin

Software Defined Networking – The Next Frontier

April 16, 2013 1 comment

The following part of the post came from content I wrote for Evolve a newsletter we publish out of ANZ. It’s a a little long and technical for an executive focused newsletter, which is partly why  it gets a little bit rushed in the end. What I’d like to do is to expand a little more on what I believe are the choices that can be made when separating the control and data planes in a software defined storage architecture, where the industry, and in-particular NetApp is today, where things are likely to go, and most importantly how to get value from this architectural shift.


CIOs face the constant challenge of turning rapid technological developments into business advantage. If this was not difficult enough, there are often times when multiple technologies are simultaneously released into the market, changing the IT landscape. The datacentre is currently on the cusp of such a revolution.

As it was for workforce mobility and cloud computing, it is the network that will be at the centre of these transformations. A network connects resources to intelligence and allows us to redefine what a datacenter is, and how we consume its properties.

It isn’t just incredible speed and massive bandwidth that is causing this transformation, but the fruition of an idea that’s been in development for the last decade, and that idea is Software-Defined Networking or SDN.

Software Defined Networking

This disruptive trend in the networking industry rediscovers the old idea of separating the control and data planes in network equipment. In other words, SDN liberates the higher-level network management functions from their ties to individual boxes and instead offers the vision of a “network operating system”. This allows networked applications to provision and control their networking needs using high-level open programming interfaces provided by an SDN “network controller”. The promise of this approach has meant that in a few short years, Software-Defined Networking has turned from a simple idea meant to enable new academic networking research into a potentially industry-changing technology trend.

The reason for this is that the network virtualization technology that is part of SDN is the missing piece that completes the vision of a software-defined datacenter, where compute, network and storage resources are elastic and dynamically adaptable. This network virtualization not only completes this vision, it raises the bar on how the different virtualized components integrate and interact in new, direct and more dynamic ways. This changes what IT will expect from their storage infrastructure.

SDN and the implications for Storage

Infrastructure managers who see the promise of a software defined datacentre are beginning to see storage as an important part of the infrastructure they desire to manage within the context of an SDN. However, this is only possible if the storage infrastructure itself can be separated between software that controls and manages data, and the infrastructure that stores, copies and retrieves that data. In short, storage needs to have its own control and data planes, working seamlessly as an extension of the SDN infrastructure that will be the core of the next generation datacentre.

Part of the reason for wanting to separate the control plane and liberate the storage control software from the hardware is that software defined storage allows offloading the computationally heavy aspects of storage management related functions like RDMA protocol handling, advanced data lifecycle management, caching and compression. The availability of large amounts of CPU power within private and public clouds opens all kinds of possibilities to both network and storage management that were simply not feasible before.

With more intelligence built into the Control-Plane, storage architects are now able to take full advantage of the other two major changes in the Data-Plane. The first, and perhaps the most interesting is the increasing affordability of solid state memory such as Flash and post-Flash technology such as PCM and STT-RAM.

Optimising Performance

Phase Change Memory (PCM) and Spin-transfer torque random-access memory (STT-RAM), have the access speeds and byte addressable characteristics of the Dynamic RAM (DRAM) used in servers today, with the added and transformational benefit of the solid state persistence of Flash. These technologies are significantly more expensive than Flash is today, but the predictions are these technologies will surpass even the cheapest forms of Flash memory within five or six years. Regardless of which technology wins, the trends are clear; within a few years the majority of a server’s storage performance requirements will be served from some form of solid state storage within the server itself. When this is combined with new network technology and software like SAP HANA, it has major implications for storage design and implementation. Imagine how your infrastructure would change if every server had terabytes of super-fast solid state memory connected together via ultra-low latency intelligent networking. The fact is that many of the reasons we implement shared storage for mission critical applications today, would simply disappear.

Optimising Capacity

The second major change is the demand to store and process massive amounts of data that increases as we are able extract more value from that data through Big Data analysis. This coincides with a dramatic reduction in the cost of storing that data. Very high density SATA drives with capacities in excess of 10TB per disk are coming, but in order to surpass some hard quantum-physics level limitations they will use new storage techniques such as shingled writes and will be built optimally to store, but never overwrite or erase data. This means the storage characteristics at the Data-Plane will be fundamentally different from those we are familiar with today. Furthermore, even with these improvements in the costs and density of magnetic disk, the economics of power consumption and datacentre real-estate means that tape is becoming attractive again for long term archival storage. Finally, the economies of scale that large cloud providers have and the availability of massive computing power they are able to place in close proximity to that data means that those cloud providers will have a compelling value proposition for storing a large proportion of an organisation’s cold data.

Regardless of where and how this data is stored, the challenges of securing and finding that data, and managing the lifecycles of this massive amount of information means traditional methods of using files, folders and directories simply won’t be viable in the long term. New access and management techniques built on-top of object based access to data such as Amazon’s S3 and the open standards based CDMI interfaces will be the management and data access protocols of choice.


In the end the only way to effectively combine the speed and performance of solid-state storage with the scale and price advantages of capacity optimised storage is by using a software defined storage infrastructure. It is the intelligence of the separated Control-Plane powered by commodity CPU that allows infrastructure managers and datacentre architects to take advantage of these two massive trends.

While this all talks about what will happen in the future, unlike other vendors who are only just beginning to talk about building a software defined storage infrastructure, NetApp has been planning for this future for many years now.

  • Clustered Data-ONTAP was built on the principal of separating the Data-Plane and the Control-Plane and is ready to take advantage of the trends in software defined networking as they evolve and are deployed into datacentres over the next few years
  • NetApp’s fully supported ONTAP-Edge software runs in a virtual machine, allowing the full power of ONTAP’s advanced data management functionality on commodity DAS, and NetApp’s V-Series controllers performs the same function at extreme scale for the largest and most mission critical environments
  • NetApp has released at no cost to the customer Flash-Accel technology that allows commodity SSD’s and 3rd Party PCI based Flash cards to act as an extension of our storage cache for virtualized environments. This extends the work we have done in our separation of control and data-planes for our existing customers who have not yet moved to Clustered Data ONTAP
  • NetApp has partnered with Amazon to provide private storage for AWS which allows the massive on-demand compute power to be coupled with NetApp’s storage in Amazon’s datacenters
  • NetApp already provides open standards based advanced programming and automation interfaces through offerings such as NetApp Workflow Automater, the Cloud Data Management Interface, SMI-S, and continues to lead the industry in providing programmable software defined storage. These aren’t just technology tick box items, but technology that drives significant competitive advantages such to companies like ING DIRECT’s “Bank in a Box”.

These are just a few of the things we’ve already done, the foundations have already been set and what NetApp will be building and bringing to the market over the next few years will truly redefine what storage is inside the datacenter, and the value it can bring to IT and the organisations it serves

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