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How Software-Defined Storage Is Transforming Hybrid Cloud Architectures

With the advent of the cloud, traditional data centers and storage architectures have turned to software-defined storage architecture to provide features such as agility, reliability, security and scalability on demand.

In this article we’ll take a closer look at software-defined storage, what it is, and how it is helping companies combine their existing on-prem infrastructure with the limitless resources of the cloud into highly-flexible hybrid cloud storage environments.

What Is Software-Defined Storage?

Software-defined storage (SDS) is about freeing storage from its infrastructure. By networking resources virtually, storage resource management is possible from a single user interface without regard for the hardware underlying it. While virtualization provides enormous flexibility, it is a shift from how storage has traditionally worked in the past. SDS is acting as a real disrupter in this field.

As workloads move to the public cloud, enterprise IT decision makers have to look at ways that can bridge the gap between on-premises storage systems and the public cloud. Storage is still one of the costliest commodities to manage and maintain in an IT infrastructure even in the cloud era. Having said that, it is equally important to ensure that the cloud storage is compatible with your on-premises storage and that its implementation creates minimal disruption in terms of deployment processes and user training. SDS can help achieve that.

Use Cases for SDS in Hybrid Cloud Deployments

The use of SDS in hybrid cloud architectures is especially beneficial as it can provide centralized management of different types of data storage and resources, and extend on-premises storage features to the public cloud. Below are some of the major use cases where software-defined storage benefits hybrid environments.

Disaster Recovery and Cloud Backup

Disaster recovery (DR) and business continuity are some of the most pressing concerns of enterprises today. The ability to failover to a geographically-separated region when a disaster strikes can ensure that business runs as usual with minimal downtime and incurred cost if something goes wrong.

SDS solutions hosted in the cloud can aid in providing a separate DR region without having to invest in creation, installation, and maintenance of said DR regions. Data is replicated to the cloud from on-premises systems and resources can be automatically scaled up on demand.

Apart from DR, Cloud SDS solutions can also aid in off-site cloud backups and provide a cost-effective solution for cold storage which is kept off-site (and so safe from malfunction in on-premises systems) and automatically scale up without any investment in additional hardware. Also, the SDS management plane allows data management that enables an administrator to implement these important DR functions from a single interface.

Hybrid Data Management

Another important use case of cloud-based SDS solutions is the management of data both on-premises, public cloud, multi cloud, and hybrid cloud environments from a single pane of glass.

Imagine being able to present on-premises storage to cloud IaaS instances such as Amazon EC2 and Azure VMs via iSCSI protocol or presenting on-premises storage to outside hosts and clients via the NFS or CIFS protocol—that is what SDS is able to do. These hybrid SDS solutions also emulate enterprise storage features and thus act similar to the traditional on-premises solutions. It’s important though to make sure your SDS is capable of handling any latency issues that may occur using a hybrid architecture.

Cloud Dev/Test Environments

Another use for SDS is for deploying dev/test environments. An SDS can allow for multiple storage resources to be controlled from a single interface, which can help utilize the CI/CD pipeline. This also entails cloning of existing data sets, such as workload data and databases, and access to data residing in production environments which can be hosted on-premises.

The existing cloning and copying mechanisms built into the public cloud environments would take a long time and would also incur additional storage costs from storing them in Amazon storage or Azure storage accounts.

In addition to this time-consuming and costly process, implementing public cloud snapshot or cloning mechanisms means reworking your system’s processes to interact with the cloud provider APIs. That’s a process that requires more work and more risks.

Cloud-based SDS solutions help mitigate this problem by providing the same snapshot processes and APIs present in the on-premises solutions. This results in faster deployments and easier integration into the DevOps processes.

Storage Efficiency

Although storage costs have seen a downward trend with the advent of newer technologies, it still forms a major chunk of the constantly-growing OPEX costs borne by enterprises. In native on-premises solutions this can be offset by technologies such as thin provisioning, deduplication, and data compression.

SDS solutions help bring these enterprise-grade storage features to the cloud, thereby increasing the storage efficiency and reducing costs. SDS storage solutions also abstract the underlying storage in your cloud environments and thus allow you to provision cloud storage and infrastructure in the same way as your on-premises environments. This also comes in handy when you plan to take advantage of storage tiers in cloud environments, such as tiering between Amazon EBS and Amazon S3 storage in AWS and tiering between Azure disks and Azure Blob storage.

The cloud SDS solution automatically handles this tiering for you further reducing your storage costs and provides technical agility across cloud, mobile, social, and analytics infrastructures.

Data Replication and Migration

Another major use case of cloud-based SDS solutions is to enable the transfer of data to the cloud from on-premises systems and vice versa. This enables a lift-and-shift strategy for your applications and workloads. A “lift and shift” is a migration that moves existing on-premises data and workloads “as-is” to the cloud without modifying them for the new environment, which makes it the fastest and easiest option for cloud on-boarding.

SDS and Storage Virtualization with NetApp

Like you would expect from a company that has made its name synonymous with data management, NetApp has sophisticated technologies that can help with SDS and storage virtualization with Cloud Volumes ONTAP and OnCommand® Cloud Manager.

NetApp Cloud Volumes ONTAP is a software-defined storage solution that runs NetApp’s ONTAP data management software and extends ONTAP’s enterprise storage features to AWS and Azure, thus allowing seamless control over your data no matter where it resides, with multiple protocols, and for different types of data storage, such as block storage, object storage, file storage (NFS or SMB / CIFS), or SAN storage.

NetApp Cloud Volumes ONTAP makes use of cloud infrastructure to create a virtual NetApp appliance with all the features of an on-premises enterprise system. Cloud Volumes ONTAP uses the same WAFL® (Write Anywhere File Layout) filesystem as ONTAP data management software and these two systems integrate with each other seamlessly.

For example, SnapMirror® can be used to efficiently and incrementally replicate data from an on-premises system to Cloud Volumes ONTAP, which greatly simplifies the challenges of getting data into or out of the cloud and keeping it continuously synced. Essentially, the difference between the cloud and on-prem is deployment is overcome by this SDS solution.

Cloud Volumes ONTAP is deployed using the Cloud Manager. Cloud Manager provides a web-based GUI to manage both on-premises and Cloud Volumes ONTAP infrastructure, whether using AWS or Azure storage. This easy-to-use interface guides users in the provisioning of new Cloud Volumes ONTAP instances as well as allowing them to control all their cloud resources, system configurations, volume creation, and more, all in one place.

This streamlines the management of cloud resources and on-premises storage systems such as NetApp FAS and NetApp AFF storage systems. Cloud Manager also allows you to discover on-premises systems and setup SnapMirror replication from the on-premises appliances to the cloud via a simple drag-and-drop process; this interface makes the complex processes of cloud migration, disaster recovery, and synchronization easier, faster and more cost-efficient.

Cloud Manager is the definition of an SDS solution. It helps you focus on your application rather than the underlying storage infrastructure by abstracting the storage infrastructure into a volume view and deploying the required infrastructure when a volume is chosen.

Cloud Volumes ONTAP Features

Cloud Volumes ONTAP not only recreates the experience of ONTAP storage management in the cloud, it expands on it. Here are some of the notable features that make Cloud Volumes ONTAP an asset for software-defined storage users.

High Availability: Non-disruptive, two node high-availability (HA) support keeps your RPO at zero and your RTO under sixty seconds, which means you can stay in operation when you come up against any unplanned failures.

Storage Efficiencies: With support for thin provisioning, deduplication, data compression, and inline data compaction, Cloud Volumes ONTAP helps you consume a lot less storage capacity, thus saving you a great deal on your cloud storage spend.

NFS and SMB/CIFS Support: Cloud Volumes ONTAP supports all versions of NFS and SMB/CIFS, allowing you to manage file shares using whichever system best suits your operating environment. The SMB/CIFS implementation fully supports Active Directory authentication for users and groups, which is something you don’t get natively in the cloud.

Cost-Effective Snapshots: With Cloud Volumes ONTAP, every Snapshot copy only consumes space for data changes after the baseline copy. No extra capacity is required. ONTAP Snapshot copies also form the basis for more advanced features, such as FlexClone®, which allows you to instantly create writable clones of existing storage volumes, almost like a writable Snapshot copy that also consumes no extra storage capacity.

Storage Tiering:   Cloud Volumes ONTAP can reduce costs by using storage tiering. With this feature data is moved automatically between two tiers: a performance tier located on fast-but-expensive Amazon EBS or Azure Disks for hot data, and a capacity tier for cold data on the less-expensive Amazon S3 or Azure Blob. This can be used to automatically tier any kind of infrequently-used data or disaster recovery (DR) and backup copies.

Kubernetes Persistent Volumes: The huge popularity of Kubernetes can be attributed to its role as an open-source software-defined solution, allowing users to abstract their workloads into one controlling interface. Cloud Volumes ONTAP can be used to provision persistent volumes on AWS or Azure through the use of NetApp’s Trident provisioner.


As the SDS market becomes crowded with data storage technologies, it is important to ensure that on-premises storage systems can be easily expanded and made use of in the public cloud. Also, while making a decision on an SDS solution it’s important to make sure your solution meets the key pillars of security, ease of use, reliability, and enterprise-grade storage efficiency features.

To see how NetApp has provided an SDS solution for enterprise customers, check out these customer case studies of Cloud Manager and Cloud Volumes ONTAP deployments on both AWS and Azure.

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Yaron Haimsohn, Cloud Solutions Architect Team Lead

Cloud Solutions Architect Team Lead