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Hardware-defined Storage is Dead

Enterprises, regardless of their size, largely agree they want any storage solutions they deploy to deliver flexibility. They may look for this flexibility in multiple ways to include its availability, performance, reliability, replication, scalability, self-healing or self-tuning capabilities, and more. However, as they choose storage solutions that deliver the flexibility they need and want, another truth quickly becomes evident. Hardware-defined storage is dead.

A Working Definition of Hardware-defined Storage

Simply speaking, hardware-defined storage arrays present a storage target to a physical or virtual machine. All hardware-defined storage arrays include some type of firmware on them that virtualizes its underlying HDDs or SDDs. That firmware then, in turn, presents this virtualized storage as a volume or a folder to one or more physical or virtual machines.
In this respect, most storage arrays fall under this working definition of hardware-defined storage. Most storage arrays deliver one or both these storage interfaces quite well. Further, almost any enterprise that acquires a storage array expects it to deliver block-based storage, file-based storage, or both.
DiskStorageHaving reached this level of maturity, it is time to declare hardware-defined storage as dead. Modern storage arrays and storage solutions offer so many more features. Block- and file-based storage should only serve as a starting point, not an end game. To only use block and/or file storage services on a storage array or solution enterprises do themselves a disservice.

Scenarios that Demand the Death of Hardware-defined Storage

Failing to declare the death of hardware-defined storage serves no good purpose. Enterprises need to wake up to the plethora of features that modern storage systems deliver that make so many of their current tasks obsolete. Consider the following scenarios and see if you answer “Yes” to any of them:

Are you still contacting support for break/fix issues?

My question to you is, “Why has your storage vendor not called you to tell you that the hardware problem was already diagnosed and fixed?” Multiple modern storage systems include features that diagnose the underlying issue and may resolve it before you even know about it.

Are you still manually troubleshooting performance issues?

Again, I ask, “Why are you not allowing the storage system to help diagnose and resolve performance issues?” Granted, you can throw more flash storage at the problem (and many do.) However, flash may only mask underlying issues. Using storage arrays that include artificial intelligence can equip enterprises to directly address the root causes behind these performance issues. In so doing, they can help prevent them from recurring.

Can your applications communicate directly with the storage array and request and return storage as needed?

This feature represents an entirely new generation of functionality where enterprises may bypass the needs for tasks such LUN masking, zoning, and setting security permissions. Where is the business value in any of these administrative tasks? (Dirty little secret – there is little or none!) Look for new storage systems that expose their APIs so applications can obtain and rescind storage according to their needs.

Are you still guessing at future capacity requirements and tying up capital by purchasing that capacity up front?

Multiple storage vendors now deliver their solutions “as a service”. The vendors offer flexible capacity that ties cost to actual usage, and they manage the underlying storage array for the enterprise. This frees IT staff to manage the data rather than the infrastructure.

Are you creating a new silo of storage and storage management headaches when migrating workloads to the cloud?

Look for storage vendors that offer their storage solutions as software-defined offerings in the cloud. This extends existing, familiar, data management and protection capabilities to workloads in the cloud.

A Wake-up Call

Do not think for one second that I think enterprises will stop using hardware-defined storage or vendors will stop shipping it tomorrow. Neither will occur. If anything, I expect both block-based and file-based storage to outlive and outlast me. Hardware-defined storage works and many applications and operating systems will need it for the foreseeable future.
That said, declaring the death of hardware-defined storage serves as a wake-up call to enterprises. DCIG just completed and released its 2020-21 Enterprise All-flash Array Buyer’s Guide. In evaluating these arrays, DCIG only refers to them as “storage arrays” in the very broadest sense of the term.
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These arrays do so much more than provide block- and/or file-based storage targets. Many offer powerful software features that revolutionize how enterprises allocate and manage storage.
By putting a stake in the ground and declaring hardware-defined storage as dead, DCIG is not trying to kill hardware-defined storage. Rather, DCIG desires that enterprises take a long, hard look at how the modern storage solutions found in this Guide can enable them to transform their business.
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