Changing the Software-Defined Conversation

NetApp & VMware integrationsLast year, I wrote a post titled “OK, Sure, We’ll Call It Software-Defined Storage,” citing the idea that NetApp has been doing this with Data ONTAP for years.  As the idea of Software-Defined has evolved and matured, I realized the conversations we (and other vendors) are having are unfortunately not maturing in the same way. They tend to go down the wrong path. This doesn’t seem to be something unique to storage either, but more industry-wide.

So if you’ll allow me, I’d like to offer some change to this conversation.

I had a bit of a revelation last week…. SDS is not about any particular product. I think I always knew this, but never properly communicated it.

EMC will tell you that ViPR is “SDS.”  No, it’s really not.
VMware will tell you that Virtual SAN is “SDS.” No, it’s really not.
And last year, I told you that Data ONTAP was “SDS.” Again, No, it’s really not.

So where do we begin?  Expectations.

When VMware coined the term Software-Defined, with regards to the datacenter, they weren’t referencing a single product or SKU, they were referencing an architecture built around an entire suite of products and technologies.

Hear it straight from one of the guys that coined it!



Many times, we find ourselves talking to customers that are so wrapped around the axle about a particular product that they cannot see the forest for the trees. And because customers see SDS/SDN/SDDC in this way, it begins to transcend to the various field representatives, warping their expectations, which ultimately ends up back in the hands of us TMEs trying to explain to them what is and is not Software-Defined.

“If the customers are demanding SDS, this must be some product I can sell them, right?”


SDS is only one cog or spoke in a wheel that is a way of life for an IT department.  Software-Defined is a mind set.  It’s a mentality that one has to be in where the focus shifts from product stacks and technologies and how they’re all bolted together, to one of IT as a Service, and how business value is delivered to their customers, be they internal or external.

As vendors, our job is to not only sell you products, but to be trusted advisors and “partners” in getting your from Point A to Point B with hardware and software that fits into the mold of your mind set.  You should understand one thing, if nothing else…

No single product available for purchase today will get you “SDS.”

The first thing I would challenge to ask is what it means to you.  I’ll go first…

Software-Defined Data Center to me is…

  • An ITaaS “Virtualize-All-The-Things” way-of-life that must come from the top down and have complete buy-in from the entire team
  • As a customer, I should be able to run any hypervisor
  • As a customer, I should be able to run any storage platform
  • As a customer, I should be able to run whatever orchestration engine I’m most comfortable with
  • As a partner/vendor, I should have access to the breadth of products and solutions required, and the ability to provide interop reference architectures based on which products the customer selects.

There’s a reason the big companies have so many products to choose from now.  And a lot of people leverage that as a knock. I know I have against EMC in certain situations. The reality is that we have to have that portfolio nowadays, because no two customers are going to want the same thing.

Some are going to require different NetApp controllers, some different disk types, some a mixture of both/all.

Some are going to require VMware, while some prefer to go with Hyper-V.

Some are going to require the continued use of legacy/3rd party equipment, with the expectation of being able to manage it inline with current gear.

Point is, each of these things on their own can easily be solved with products and software.  And have been.  We’ve been virtualizing 3rd party arrays for years with V-series.  We’ve had support for both VMware and Hyper-V, and even RHEV/KVM and Citrix, from Day 1. And Clustered ONTAP is truly commoditizing the storage controller by abstracting the controller software itself into Storage VM’s, hosting volumes that can move around between hardware nodes, much like VMware virtual machines vMotion’ing between ESXi hosts.

Of everything available of the market today, I still believe Clustered ONTAP is the closest to completing this SDS vision as a single product.  But it’s not the complete picture.  Neither is ViPR, and neither is Virtual SAN.  We all still need our auxiliary products to execute the vision.

We need our own Workflow Automation, Virtual Storage Console, VASA Provider.  We need VMware’s vSphere, vCenter, vCO, and vCAC (and so do they). We need Microsoft and Linux OS’s for guests, and internal in-guest tools to mount storage to those like VMware tools and SnapDrive. The list goes on and on.

Before this post gets too unwieldy, let me just wrap it up by saying it one more time…

Software-Defined is a mantra. A way of life. A religion. A modern architecture.  It is not a product.

And Storage is only one part of this larger belief system.  Expect to hear a lot more from me on this throughout the year.  It’s important to completely grasp as people begin to transition to and extend their private enterprises into hybrid and public cloud spaces.


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