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INDUSTRY INSIGHT

Software-defined storage positions agencies for modernization

With the recent explosion in mobile-device use, government agencies are facing a deluge of data, primarily because they are putting more computing power in the hands of their employees. This is in equal parts a boon, as it reflects an increasingly mobile and decentralized workforce, and a challenge, because it requires agencies to rethink their data storage solutions and consider one that alleviates capacity concerns and centralizes storage management.

As capacity issues plague traditional storage-area networks, which are still widely used across the government, migrating to software-defined storage can give agencies a more modern and reliable storage infrastructure that offers greater visibility and control over their networks. SDS allows administrators to monitor network performance across numerous storage devices, providing a centralized dashboard view of IT assets. It  is also designed to deliver deeper insight into what types of data employees are storing on agency networks.

This is how it works: SDS abstracts storage resources to form resource pools, alleviating the capacity concerns on traditional storage architecture and simplifying management. This can help agencies increase scalability and simplify administration of the network environment. It also makes storage infrastructures hardware-independent, which can lead to more efficiency, greater security and increased agility.

Traditional storage typically relies on expensive, customized hardware, but SDS is hardware-agnostic, allowing data to be stored regardless of from where it emanates. In addition, SDS utilizes a very non-specific mechanism for data security and enables users to have multiple tiers of storage, which is managed from policy to automation. If it were necessary to make a security-relevant change on server message blocks, from version 2 to 3 for example, admins could make the adjustment at the software level without having to restructure and migrate government data.

One of the biggest benefits of SDS can be scalability. Legacy storage solutions are not scalable and require storage officials to migrate data between disparate systems. SDS can be configured based on an organization’s needs, improving flexibility. Switching to SDS can also reduce both provisioning time and human interaction with the system through the implementation of automated policy and program processes, empowering people to do more with the same resources.

Another advantage of SDS is that it reduces the number of management interfaces that users are required to use. While single-pane orchestration is not yet here, SDS can simplify storage administration significantly. Also, SDS can work in a multivendor environment.

Even with all of its benefits, innovation sometimes comes with certain drawbacks, and SDS is no different. It can require significant upfront investments of time and money to migrate data, particularly in an enterprise that operates at government scale.

However, it’s not a matter of if migration to SDS will occur, but rather when. There will likely remain holdouts on traditional storage infrastructures (tactical environments, small deployments), but look for more agencies to move toward SDS as their existing storage infrastructures age.

To begin realizing the efficiencies of SDS, IT managers must do some upfront planning. For starters, they should evaluate the kind of storage they currently have and perform a gap analysis between their starting point and their goal. It’s important to determine the types of data on the network, its criticality and the services accessing that data. Infrastructure services like virtual desktop environments or Exchange (as an example) have different performance requirements  and will need potentially different storage.

As government heads toward large, complex enterprises, legacy storage infrastructures must modernize to adequately handle agencies' data growth. Traditional architectures can be too costly to maintain and lack scalability, but fortunately SDS can help.

About the Author

Paul Parker is chief technologist – Federal and National Government, SolarWinds.

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