The recent InformationWeek article, “Storage Hardware: Is the End Near?” details the premise that applications, operating systems and hypervisors increasingly offering functionality such as thin provisioning, snapshots, cloning and deduplication traditionally offered by storage hardware. From my experience, however, what we are seeing is a bend in the road, rather than the end.
Existing storage software is much slower and more costly to manage than storage hardware, but in the future it may overcome these limits via new technologies such as solid-state drives (SSDs). For storage hardware, this leaves only the ability to share and configure highly reliable systems that are easy to manage and scale.
I wholeheartedly agree that much of the functionality offered by traditional legacy storage hardware faces increasing competition from software. Furthermore, storage usually lags computing and networking in terms of innovation, making it an easy target for attack. The best way for storage hardware vendors to address this is by building “awareness” for major applications into their systems.
Tintri, for example, has built a VM-aware storage appliance designed and optimized for VMs from the ground up. This allows us to build in per-VM monitoring, control and quality-of-service that is impossible to obtain just by modifying higher layers of software. The key is to simultaneously optimize the use of hardware and software with an awareness of the needs of VMs. This cannot be achieved by optimizing just the hardware or the software, or trying to build VM-awareness into a separate layer of management software on top of the legacy storage that exists today.
The expansion of virtualization to new application areas and the increasing adoption of SSD technology is rapidly shifting the balance between software and hardware. Storage systems are currently the furthest behind in adapting to these changes, but products like Tintri VMstore show that storage systems are capable of innovating far beyond legacy storage, which is now being marginalized by storage software.