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What is Software-Defined Storage (SDS)? Benefits, Solutions & More

How does software-defined storage (SDS) differ from traditional storage options like SAN or NAS? What can SDS do for your business?

With a clear focus on flexibility, software-defined storage (SDS) delivers a robust storage infrastructure that runs independently from the organization's hardware. Companies can create the ideal storage environment without getting caught up in the trappings of proprietary hardware. Here’s your complete guide to SDS, including software-defined storage benefits, solutions and more.

Understanding Software-Defined Storage

Software-defined storage allows for data storage management and policy-centric provisioning without regard for the related hardware. In fact, SDS systems operate fully independently from the hardware, allowing businesses to choose the equipment that makes the most sense for their needs. Businesses can upgrade or downgrade hardware or software at will.

Some of the software may focus on storage virtualization or resource management as well as automation, backups and recovery. It's important to note that software-defined storage is not the same as the cloud. On the contrary, software-defined storage functions as a layer leading into the cloud, handling data in an integrated storage setting.

Software-defined storage solutions may offer policy management for:

  • Backups
  • Snapshots
  • Data Deduplication
  • Thin Provisioning

These solutions typically feature storage virtualization with usage and access management across drives within set pools. Businesses can consider add-on options to handle access and usage from multiple arrays and server DAS storage.

Benefits of Software-Defined Storage

Impressive flexibility embodies the major, overarching theme of software-defined storage. The subsequent benefits run the gamut for organizations of all sizes.

  • Independent Choice of Hardware: Software and hardware coexist and function independently, allowing companies to choose, manage and upgrade or downgrade the hardware separately from the software.
  • Flexible Networking Potential: The versatility of software-defined storage solutions makes it easy to connect the dots between many different data sources. Your company's unified storage architecture may encompass virtual servers, external disk systems, disk or flash systems, network object platforms and resources in the cloud.
  • Cost-Effective Storage: What is software-defined storage's cost? The truth is that the solutions are priced efficiently to enable companies to fine-tune and scale the storage infrastructure as needed. Consider performance and volume or capacity as separate entities.
  • Autonomous Adaptability. When pulling data from designated storage volumes, the SDS can scale and adjust automatically and autonomously, without the help of human interactions.
  • Freedom in Scalability. There's virtually no end to the scaling possibilities for software-defined storage systems. Scale to meet your company's needs and then scale again if needed.
  • Quick Response to Business Needs. Because the software and hardware work independently, changes to the storage infrastructure can go into effect almost immediately. With software-defined storage solutions, there's no need to wait for lengthy configurations.

SDS Requirements

The good news is that there are no specific requirements for SDS. Software-defined storage can be used with virtually any servers. In fact, that’s one of the major benefits of SDS. The only real requirement is that you get the appropriate software for your systems. There are no major hardware concerns to be concerned about—and SDS can even run in a virtual machine.

Types of Software-Defined Storage Solutions

What is software-defined storage by way of example? Storage networks essentially become programmable when managed as a software-defined solution. Some key examples of software-defined storage solutions include:


Container-based SDS solutions offer server resource conservation and consistent management through the container orchestration tool.

Distributed File Systems

This type of SDS comprises multiple systems collaborating to share resources and maximize scalability and performance.

Hyperconverged Infrastructure

Hyperconverged Infrastructure (HCI) software offers a blend of networking, computing and virtualization software. 


Hypervisor-based SDS creates, runs and monitors virtual machines intuitively without business interruption.

Scaled-Out Storage for Scattered Data

This example offers modular options to match the scalable nature of the SDS.

SDS Examples

OpenStack is one example of a software-defined storage solution. This project combines the computing, storage and virtual disk image services in a scalable and versatile cloud environment. 

Another example of a storage-defined solution is EMC ViPR, which brings storage from different arrays into a common pool. ViPR empowers businesses to automate their own as well as competitors' data storage devices. Physical storage goes into virtual pools defined by categories, class or other parameters.

Software-Defined Storage vs. Legacy Storage Options

Traditional storage options like Storage Area Network (SAN) and Network-Attached Storage (NAS) are getting a run for their money at the mercy of software-defined storage solutions.

SDS vs Storage Area Networks (SAN)

Storage Network Area (SAN) delivers block-level storage access featuring switches, hosts, storage components and hardware that connect in different ways.

  • SANs can provide multiple data paths for improved availability.
  • SAN systems work to improve performance and reduce storage resources.
  • The SAN systems also protect company assets through business continuity management.
  • Compared to SAN, SDS offers a pay-as-you-grow model, deeper granularity of stored items and modularity with little to no downtime for upgrades. 
SDS vs. Network-Attached Storage (NAS)

Network-Attached Storage (NAS) operates at the file level as a computer-data storage server. The buildout features a RAID that attaches to other hardware over the ethernet.

  • NAS systems network storage drives into logical containers.
  • File serving from other network servers is no longer necessary.
  • NAS solutions make it easy to share files across different devices.
  • NAS systems offer simpler configurations and convenient administration.
  • SDS offers tremendous cost savings over NAS as well as better scalability.
SDS vs. Virtualization

SDS is sometimes confused with virtualization. While similar, these are actually two different technologies. Storage virtualization is designed to create multiple virtual machines from a single device, reducing hardware costs. Virtualization relies on that physical hardware, known as the host, to create the simulated virtual machines. SDS, however, completely abstracts the storage so it can be used separately from a device.

SDS vs. Cloud Storage

SDS is not cloud storage. While it works within the cloud, it is not itself a cloud environment. Instead, SDS can be used to provide data to a cloud environment.

Consolidate Your Infrastructure with SDDC

Consider fortifying your business with Software Defined Data Centers (SDDC). You can consolidate your IT infrastructure and simplify your network virtualization with significant cost savings. Software-defined solutions are also more manageable and offer better automation and agility than other more outdated systems. Browse through the different SDDC features to find the right fit for your business.

Looking for software-defined storage solutions? 

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