State and local governments face relentless pressure to store and manage a rapidly increasing amount of digital information, fueled by the push to digitize decades of paper records, new encryption mandates, closed-circuit video, data analytics and more. With their data approaching petabyte proportions, IT departments now look beyond hardware solutions, often to technologies loosely categorized as software-defined storage (SDS).
Some SDS products are key components of software-defined infrastructure solutions that offer converged compute and storage services (hyperconvergence), while others use software to pool and manage existing storage resources, says Julia Palmer, research director with Gartner. As part of the trend to deliver infrastructure resources as services, all SDS products help to increase flexibility and reduce the management burden on IT departments.
“With the pressure on growing data volumes, we have no choice but to improve agility and break down silos in storage components and in the infrastructure as a whole,” Palmer says. “Software is the only way that’s going to be achieved, which is why we’re seeing more and more use of various SDS strategies.”
Mohave County, in northwest Arizona, simplified the management and administration of its storage area network (SAN) hardware environment four years ago by implementing SDS with the DataCore SANsymphony-V storage services platform. The initial driver of the county’s SANsymphony deployment was to reduce the downtime involved in migrating data from one physical storage appliance to another, says Nathan McDaniel, the county’s IT director.
“We needed DataCore because hardware storage solutions don’t play well together,” McDaniel says. “Once you choose a hardware platform, you’re essentially locked into that environment. But with SANsymphony in front acting as the controller of your physical storage, there is almost no migration downtime, and we can use any hardware we want.”
Regardless of the hardware, McDaniel says, SANsymphony-V provides central management along with features that include snapshots and backups, thin provisioning, continuous data protection, auto-tiering, deduplication and compression, analysis and reporting, as well as integration with cloud storage solutions.
“We save a lot in hardware costs because we now buy very simplistic physical storage — essentially just RAID — and DataCore does the rest,” he says. Support and maintenance costs for SANsymphony are low, yielding more savings for the county, he adds.
The success of the SDS deployment pushed Mohave County toward a highly virtualized data center, as the county has adopted VMware for most of its other services and the IT team eyes the possibility of a hyperconverged infrastructure, McDaniel explains.
“Our experience with DataCore has been amazing, and we’ve gone on to build a highly advanced data center,” he says.
Typically, data storage needs in Santa Clara County, Calif., increase 15 to 20 percent annually, says Ljubisa Matavulj, the county’s enterprise infrastructure manager. Beyond initiatives to go paperless, other efforts — for example, new encryption mandates, the county’s plunge into data analytics, and a stepped-up disaster recovery program — add to the data tidal wave. To meet the challenge, the county deploys VMware and its Dell EMC storage hardware.
“We have a storage profile, and when we generate data, VMware uses that profile to assign the data based on how we will use it,” says Matavulj. “If we need capacity, VMware will send the data to one store; if we need performance, the software will sent it to another.”
Santa Clara County’s VMware platform meshes with storage hardware arrays through EMC Virtual Storage Integrator. VMware provides unified, policy-based management for storage provisioning. Together with EMC VNX and XtremIO fully automated storage tiering, deduplication and compression capabilities, it makes storage more efficient and easier to manage, Matavulj says. The county hasn’t adopted an additional virtualization layer largely because it has standardized on EMC hardware, eliminating many of the integration issues found in more heterogeneous environments, he says.
“We studied it and found that virtualization’s costs exceed its benefits for our environment,” Matavulj says.
Performance is the most pressing storage issue, increasing the need for software-based solutions to automate functions and make them more agile and efficient, Matavulj adds.
Demand for storage capacity is not abating, however, as programs such as video surveillance and body-worn cameras for law enforcement create new data streams. The cloud can provide scalability, especially for static and archival data, but that option will require a major investment in the county’s networks and in SDS with auto-tiering and cloud integration, Matavulj says.
“You can’t just magically move to the cloud,” he says. “You need the bandwidth to move lots of data and the software to automate the process.”
With its existing SAN hardware reaching the end of its life, officials in Mecklenburg County, N.C., plan to escape from their reliance on dedicated storage hardware altogether, Technical Services Director Clifford Dupuy says.
“We want to be out of mechanical drive storage and into a hyperconverged infrastructure that includes storage,” Dupuy says.
Mecklenburg County will deploy Dell EMC’s VxRail hyperconverged appliance, which combines compute, networking and virtualization resources along with VMware vSAN storage software. The county already uses Microsoft Azure’s StorSimple 8000, a policy-based tiered solution that sends archival or infrequently used data to the Azure cloud.
The county’s initial investment in VxRail roughly equals the annual support and maintenance fees for the aging SAN, and its maintenance costs represent a fraction of that incurred by the old storage environment, Dupuy says. Yet, the promise of increased agility and security for storage resources impresses county teams at least as much as the cost savings.
“It’s a win for us in IT and a fiscal win for the county’s citizens,” Dupuy says. “They’re going to save money, and their data is going to be more secure in a system that’s more robust and dynamic.”