Everybody claims to be a software company these days. From the nearly decade old pronouncement by Marc Andressen that “Software Is Eating the World” to the push from Wall Street to produce recurring software revenue; the pressure is on to claim – at least – that you are a software company.

This is obviously problematic for appliance vendors. Try as they might, it does not take much inspection to determine which ones have become truly software defined, and which ones are hoping to use financial engineering to fake it until they get there.

Either way, the ongoing debate about which is better, software defined storage or hardware storage appliances. Is pretty much over.

Like Marc predicted, software won.

We need to start with a clear definition of software defined storage. First of all, it is software. It most likely started as software too – it wasn’t “extracted” from a proprietary hardware platform.

Software defined storage should run on multiple customer servers with direct access storage (DAS) SSDs or disk drives or JBoDs (just a bunch of disks) or JBoF (just a bunch of flash) shelves that are SAS/NVMe attached to the servers.

True software defined storage doesn’t run on a narrow list of pre-approved boxes – that is just hardware defined storage with choices. Software defined storage should run on almost anything. For example a Raspberry Pi. Or IBM Power9 infrastructure. Or anything in-between.

Hardware defined storage (appliances) combine server and storage hardware and software into one packaged solution that a customer buys whole from that vendor. Hardware defined storage is normally deployed by vendor personnel and can take the form of rackable hardware with vendor covers but underneath, is typically two or more servers with SAS or NVMe storage shelves attached. Hardware defined storage vendors provide the internal networking to connect the multiple servers and storage together. The appliance vendor personnel are responsible for servicing the appliance server and storage hardware as well as the storage software.

Let’s break it down further shall we?

SOFTWARE DEFINEDHARDWARE DEFINED/APPLIANCE
CostSuperior. The customer supplies
their own servers & storage
designed for the price/performance
configuration the deployment
calls for.
Worse. The storage vendor supplies
all of the hardware,
software and service for
the solution. Difficult to unbundle.
PerformanceDependent on what is provisioned.
True high performance SDS on
fast HW and a…

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