Enterprise SOS (Savings On SAN): How Software-Defined Block Storage Rescues You From Costs of Traditional SAN

Navin Sharma
ScaleIO Product Manager, EMC

Your datacenter is becoming an ever more complex and expensive part of your enterprise organization. While the demand for data storage capacity is increasing fast, IT budgets are leveling out or shrinking. How can you do more with less?

Software-defined block storage (or Server SAN) is an important emerging enterprise datacenter storage model that organizations need to understand in order to exploit a range of new opportunities and run IT more efficiently—potentially reducing storage costs significantly, compared with traditional SAN.

Calling Out For Cost-Efficiency Help In The Datacenter

As with most other organizations, it’s likely that cost reduction is a key priority for your IT operations. Enterprise IT is under pressure to reduce costs and improve efficiency. The datacenter is also evolving in response to increasing costs and complexity, and changes in business needs.

For two decades, the established storage workhorse of the datacenter has been the storage area network (or SAN). While SAN brought the advantages of centralized sharable block storage to the datacenter, it is an undeniably complex and expensive solution. A typical high-end SAN requires a costly full-time storage management team and constant specialist support and maintenance. Today’s increasing data growth is also highlighting the scalability constraints of the traditional model. An expensive SAN bought today may not cope with the data growth of tomorrow—leading to an IT cost crisis.

As a result, organizations are calling out to storage technology providers with a cost-efficiency ‘SOS’—to get “Savings On SAN”. But is there a realistic enterprise alternative to these large and expensive traditional SAN block storage arrays? You may also be hearing more about the increased performance of ‘commodity’ IT infrastructure—standard x86 computer servers, IP networking switches and storage drives—but are perhaps uncertain about its enterprise-readiness. So how can you move confidently to the next phase of cost-efficient enterprise storage?

Challenges Facing the Enterprise Datacenter

Answering The Enterprise SOS With Software-Defined Storage

Enterprise organizations are discovering a new evolution of data storage, where advanced software can enable a flexible, scalable and enterprise-grade storage system based on commodity infrastructure.

This ‘software-defined storage’ approach evolved in the giant datacenters of web-scale businesses, like the big search engines and social networks. It is now also transforming datacenter storage for all kinds of enterprise organizations. These organizations are moving towards the power and flexibility of software defined block storage—or ‘Server SAN’.

As a next-generation solution for software-defined block storage, EMC ScaleIO makes it easy to implement a practical enterprise platform based on commodity infrastructure. ScaleIO’s Server SAN approach enables enterprise IT to apply cost-efficiency lessons learned from web-scale businesses—and to use lower-cost commodity infrastructure in an enterprise-grade storage platform.

Rather than using the single centralized array of traditional SAN, the Server SAN model uses a modern distributed storage approach. Multiple standard x86 servers, each with its own directly-attached commodity storage drives, are linked together with commodity networking. Intelligent storage management software on each server integrates everything to present a unified and shared pool of block storage to datacenter users and applications. This enables the overall storage resource to be extracted away from underlying storage hardware specifics and physical location—appearing as a kind of ‘virtual SAN’ that is simpler to use, easier to manage and far more scalable than traditional SAN.

Furthermore, with this approach, you can consolidate and simplify your datacenter infrastructure by running applications on the same x86 server that is providing the storage—referred to as hyper-converged or single-layer deployment.

Top 5 Ways Software-Defined Server SAN Can Save On Costs Versus Traditional SAN

With software-defined Server SAN you can achieve lower costs than conventional SAN through a range of advantages...

#1: Save costs by avoiding big up-front expenditure Server SAN provides a more cost-effective approach than the up-front investment of traditional SAN block storage, with an attractive ‘pay-as-you-grow’ cost structure. Rather than the large capex acquisition cost of a standard SAN array, you can start a Server SAN with just a few standard x86 servers—enough to meet your immediate short-term needs. Then, as your capacity or compute requirements increase, simply add more low-cost storage drives and standard x86 servers. This approach enables the organization to easily scale up its storage or CPU as needed, with no fuss and minimal cost. It simplifies and increases the long-term value of your IT spend.
#2: Save costs by using commodity infrastructure Server SAN enables you to utilize commodity storage hardware, servers and networking, so you avoid the expense and complexity of high-end SAN infrastructure. You also have the option to run ‘hyper-converged’, with both application and storage on the same hardware. Server SAN networking is low-cost standard Ethernet, rather than the complex and expensive Fibre Channel of traditional SAN—so application servers do not require costly HBA interface cards.
#3: Save costs by consolidating application and storage infrastructure A Server SAN solution like ScaleIO is flexible enough to optimize deployment around your specific use case. With flexible and hyper-converged deployment options, there’s no need to have separate dedicated servers for applications and for storage. The low memory requirement of ScaleIO software means applications and storage can be installed on the same servers in the cluster, while still delivering high application performance—creating a single-layer architecture that provides the lowest footprint and cost profile. This hyper-converged approach is efficient in reducing capex, as you require fewer servers. It also requires less power, cooling, and space—reducing the opex of managing and maintaining both server and storage farms.
#4: Save costs on maintenance and upgrading The intelligent distributed nature of Server SAN spreads and replicates data evenly over multiple servers, so there are no ‘hot spots’ of over-used storage—or ‘cold spots’ of under-utilization. If any hardware components fail, auto-failover features readjust your storage to keep everything working smoothly, with no need for human intervention. Maintenance is also simple and non-disruptive. Just swap out failed disks or outdated servers from the cluster, and slot in standardized commodity replacements—without storage or application downtime. As there are no large central storage arrays with Server SAN, there are no big upgrade costs for end-of-life hardware. You avoid the expensive data migrations or major tech refresh projects of traditional SAN environments.
#5: Save costs with efficiency and automation The software-defined nature of Server SAN makes it ideal for easier deployment and management automation within a modern enterprise DevOps IT environment. A solution like ScaleIO provides the ability to grow or shrink storage provision quickly and easily, as well as enabling end-to-end management using REST APIs. This means you can create an automated infrastructure layer that matches the flexibility required for IaaS or PaaS—but with lower cost and more simplicity compared to traditional SAN architecture. Costs can be further reduced by using QoS and tiering features—which enable higher infrastructure utilization and ensure that applications run on the most cost-effective hardware—while still guaranteeing application SLAs. For example, frequently-accessed data can be stored in a flash-only storage pool for the lowest latency, while less active data can be stored on lower-cost, high-capacity hard drives. Alternatively, the same physical hardware can be separated into multiple logical systems, hosting multiple different applications, while still providing the QoS levels required for each app.

For Server SAN Cost-Efficiency, ScaleIO Is The Answer

Enterprise organizations like Verizon, Deltares, Swisscom and Checkpoint are discovering increased agility, efficiency and cost savings with EMC ScaleIO.

How do you begin your journey to software-defined block storage and Server SAN? It’s easy to get started—and EMC is ready to help. Organizations that want the reassurance and confidence of a turnkey end-to-end solution can talk to EMC for advanced software, expert support and pre-configured commodity hardware.

Get your organization in position to seize the cost-savings, efficiencies opportunities enabled by Server SAN. It’s easy to start with a small deployment—and simple to scale up as your requirements increase.

EMC ScaleIO software download is available and try for free.

Learn more about block storage, Server SAN and EMC ScaleIO.