Why you should replace your backup target with software-defined storage

Software-defined storage (SDS) has a number of definitions, but at the highest level it refers to de-coupling, or abstracting software and applications from the underlying hardware on which it’s running. SDS offers many advantages over traditional storage approaches, including:

  • improved agility and availability across on-premises and cloud environments
  • lower costs from the ability to leverage industry standard server hardware
  • better scalability using a scale-out design

As a result, the adoption of SDS is increasing. In fact, Gartner has predicted that by 2024, 50% of global storage capacity will be deployed as SDS on-premises or in the public cloud (up from less than 15% today).1 These benefits make SDS an ideal fit for multiple use cases, including backup storage. In this whitepaper, we’ll discuss why you should consider replacing your current backup storage target with software-defined storage.

How did we get here?

First, let’s take a closer look at what many customers have in their current backup environments. The average IT organization has at least three data protection tools with larger organizations having as many as eight or nine. How did this happen? Many started with a solution for backing up physical servers. As virtualization emerged, organizations adopted new technologies to protect their virtual-only environments. In parallel, as organizations sought to optimize their storage resources, many started deploying purpose-built backup appliances (PBBAs) to handle deduplication.

Before we even start talking about the cloud, disaster recovery, replication, or archiving, we’re already at three solutions and counting. The challenge is that each of these backup solutions requires its own backup storage pool and management interface, leading to mass fragmentation of secondary storage and data. Many customers aren’t even sure how much backup data they have or if they’re backing up all of it. This adds complexity, creates data silos and increases risk.

SDS provides consolidated secondary storage with no vendor lock-in

  • Manage multiple backup workloads using a single storage platform
  • Simplify backup offsite and improve disaster recovery with distributed platform capabilities
  • Support for Veritas, Veeam, IBM and Commvault

The problem(s) with traditional backup appliances

Looking specifically at traditional monolithic scale-up backup appliances, the story is even worse. For these appliances, you’re forced to estimate how much capacity you’ll need over time, so you must over buy capacity up front (i.e., you buy more disk space than you need initially to allow you to ‘scale-up’ with future growth).

As you add capacity, your performance starts to degrade because you’re using the same processing power and memory from the initial purchase. Then, once you fill up that appliance, you have to buy another one, and the new one is managed as a separate set of data than the first one.

This is how you wind up with storage silos throughout your environment, none of which can talk to each other, which is a management nightmare and adds complexity. On top of this, most of these appliances are typically purchased on three-year hardware refresh cycles, which means when your maintenance runs out, you typically buy brand new proprietary hardware that locks you in to a specific vendor’s technology, and then perform expensive forklift upgrades when it’s time to refresh. Purchase. Rinse. Repeat.

SDS: A better path forward

There is a better way to manage and consolidate your secondary storage that provides improved agility and scalability, lower costs, and simplifies management, while maintaining the high availability that you have come to expect from backup software solutions. A software-defined, scale-out architecture delivers on these promises.

With SDS, organizations can consolidate both the backup solutions and the secondary storage backup infrastructure for a more efficient, cost-effective and scalable solution that grows with your organization. Let’s break down what software-defined, scale-out architecture means in more detail.

Key challenges addressed

  • Eliminate downtime with non-disruptive upgrades and scalability
  • Reduce data fragmentation from multiple backup solutions or domains
  • Provide instant offsite access with distributed storage offering
  • Reduce backup storage silos

Software-defined

This means the backup software solution can be abstracted, or de-coupled, from the storage hardware that it’s writing to (i.e., the backup target), which provides a couple of benefits:

  • Flexibility on your choice of hardware infrastructure. In other words, instead of relying on expensive proprietary hardware, you can deploy software-defined storage on industry standard x86 servers, which gives you flexibility of choice and helps lower your storage costs.
  • Flexibility on your choice of backup software solution. In many environments, backup software and backup target hardware are sold together as an integrated solution. While this may be fine for some customers, others may find that they’re happy with their backup software solution but they don’t like the hardware solution for some of the reasons outlined previously.

For example, a customer may have purchased a Veritas backup appliance that includes Net Backup software and a Veritas hardware appliance. Or a customer may be deploying Veeam but using Dell EMC Data Domain for deduplication purposes. In both instances, the customer may be happy with the backup software for the given workloads, but they may not like being locked into the expensive refresh cycles of the hardware solutions. The benefit of software-defined storage is that you can keep your existing backup software solution but move to new hardware that better meets your needs.

Scale-out

This means you can ‘pay-as-you-grow’ (i.e., only pay for what you need initially and then buy additional capacity as needed). Each storage node (server) includes processing power, memory, and storage, so your performance doesn’t decrease as you add capacity. This provides linear scalability and allows you to manage all your secondary storage as a single storage pool – no more data silos! A scale-out solution delivers cloud-like agility on-premises with predictable performance vs. traditional scale-up architectures that add complexity and require expensive forklift upgrades.

SDS also improves resiliency through a distributed storage architecture that writes data to multiple locations simultaneously – across on-premises and the cloud. This provides an inherently highly available solution that accelerates disaster recovery by enabling rapid restores from secondary sites. In addition, the architecture eliminates downtime by enabling non-disruptive upgrades. In other words, you don’t have to take any systems offline temporarily to add capacity.

Finally, because you’re able to standardize on commodity servers across your backup storage environment, not only do you lower your costs, but you also reduce complexity and simplify the management of your backup infrastructure by providing a central repository for all your backup and archive data.

Traditional scale-up data protection vs. software-defined scale-out storage

Conclusion

Software-defined storage is coming. It’s not a matter of if, but when. Its benefits make it attractive for a variety of use cases, including backup storage. If you’re frustrated by hardware refresh cycles that lock you in to expensive solutions for years at a time, stop the madness and switch to software-defined storage that improves flexibility, lowers costs, and improves scalability, while giving you a more predictable, resilient, and simple solution to consolidate your backup storage environment.

Reference

1 The Future of Software-Defined Storage in Data Center, Edge and Hybrid Cloud, Gartner, ID: G00354830, © 2019

Software-defined storage

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