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What Is Software Defined Storage?

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What Is Software-Designed Storage?

Software-defined storage (SDS) is a data storage architecture in which the provisioning and management of storage resources is abstracted away from the underlying storage infrastructure.

But how does SDS differ from traditional storage, and what does that mean for your future projects? Let’s take a closer look.

How Does SDS Work? SDS vs. Traditional Storage

Traditional data storage infrastructure typically comprises disparate storage hardware coupled with proprietary management software. This type of storage results in a monolithic, inflexible architecture that binds storage operations to a specific device or manufacturer and makes data migration and hardware replacements challenging. 

When storage capacity runs low, physical hardware must be bought and added. Data siloed into multiple storage solutions leads to data fragmentation and a lack of holistic visibility across storage resources. As storage needs to scale up, managing storage resources across various technologies becomes more complex, requiring specialized skills and several tools.

Enter SDS—a layer of abstraction that sits on top of the on-premises, private, and public clouds that store your data to deliver a unified, flexible, hardware-independent storage pool for all your applications. Storage hardware can be easily upgraded and expanded with minimal disruption to operational procedures and reduced capital investment. 

With SDS, organisations are no longer forced to rely on proprietary infrastructure and can choose any vendor or hardware device that meets their needs, thus avoiding vendor lock-in. Organisations automate and orchestrate storage more easily for greater flexibility, increased efficiency, and faster scalability.

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Benefits of Software-defined Storage

SDS offers several advantages for organisations, including all of the following:


An SDS solution allows organisations to optimise spending and maximise the value of their storage resources. With SDS, you can use low-cost storage devices instead of more expensive proprietary solutions and incorporate existing hardware to optimise storage resources and reduce capital expenses. 

Hardware Independence

SDS solutions run on standard x86-based storage hardware, removing the dependence on vendor-specific storage solutions. Organisations gain greater flexibility and more options for building their data storage infrastructure, as they don’t have to commit to a single vendor but are instead free to use several vendors for capacity upgrades based on their current needs. 


SDS brings built-in automation capabilities that allow organisations to eliminate manual processes, manage storage resources, and reduce operational costs. Administrators can use an application programming interface (API) or command-line interface (CLI) to program storage to manage the entire storage environment and automation tasks such as provisioning storage, configuring policies, and tweaking performance.  

Greater Scalability

Traditional data solutions are limited by the physical capacity of the storage devices used. Because SDS can manage both physical and cloud storage, it’s easier to scale to increase storage capacity to handle the needs of a new application or enhance system performance. With SDS, it’s also easier to scale out by adding additional storage devices when existing storage devices have reached their maximum capacity.  

A Unified Data Source

With SDS, organisations can create a data storage solution using a variety of data sources, including internal flash or disk storage, cloud storage, external disk systems, virtual servers, and  object platforms. By networking all the organisation’s data storage resources, you can eliminate data silos, improve data access, and create a holistic view of the data across the organisation.


SDS enables organisations to move away from “one-size-fits-all” storage to a more flexible solution. The appropriate type of storage, whether hard disk, flash, or cloud, can be provisioned based on a specific workload or use case. SDS also gives organisations the flexibility to expand storage capacity quickly and easily in response to new business opportunities or challenges. 

Supports Innovation

An SDS solution makes it easier for organisations to future-proof their data storage solutions. As technology advances, you can keep pace with the latest innovations in storage architecture without having to replace your entire existing storage infrastructure because it has become obsolete.

Disadvantages of Software-defined Storage

With all of the advantages SDS offers, it also comes with a few challenges.

Hardware Limitations 

While SDS helps you to move away from proprietary storage devices, it's often challenging to find vendor-neutral hardware, especially for special use cases such as large storage capacity for data analytics. Some SDS systems may only support hardware models on the hardware compatibility list of specific vendors. 

Management Complexity 

As infrastructure scales, managing the different hardware running on an SDS system can become complex. Not only do you need to manage an additional layer of software, but you also have to stay on top of security patches and firmware updates for several storage types. 

While most hardware devices have similar functionality, manufacturers implement features differently, and it may be difficult to determine the source of bottlenecks and performance issues.

Lack of Vendor Support 

One benefit of vendor-specific storage solutions is the level of vendor support. While the ability to use cost-effective standard storage is a plus, the lack of enterprise-level support can be challenging when trying to determine whether the cause of an issue is originating with the SDS software or one of the underlying hardware devices.

How Is SDS Different?

With these advantages and disadvantages in mind, let’s look at how SDS compares with other types of data storage.

Software-defined Storage vs. Cloud Storage

SDS and cloud storage are similar in that they both use management and automation software to scale and provision data storage and require networked access. However, there is a difference between the two concepts. 

Cloud storage is a storage model that allows users to store and access data over the public internet or a dedicated private network. A cloud storage solution pools virtual storage resources that can be accessed on demand typically through a self-service portal using management and automation software.

SDS is not a cloud environment but can work within the cloud environment to provision storage. An SDS solution can manage, provision, and automate centralized storage that includes both physical storage and cloud storage.

Software-defined Storage vs. NAS and SAN

Network attached storage (NAS) is a file-level storage system comprising multiple storage devices connected to a local area network (LAN). A storage area network (SAN) uses a dedicated network of storage devices to create a pool of shared storage. Both storage systems allow multiple users and devices to access and share data from a centralized storage medium. 

SAN and NAS rely on physical storage volumes that need to be upgraded when they become obsolete and offer limited scalability. SDS separates the hardware’s physical storage volumes from the software control system allowing users to upgrade software separately from the hardware. Like the cloud, SDS can also scale to hundreds of thousands of nodes. Unlike both NAS and SAN, SDS solutions can comprise diverse hardware that can upgrade to meet changing capacity requirements easily.

Software-defined Storage vs. Software-defined Networking (SDN)

Software-defined networking (SDN) virtualises the network control logic from the devices, such as routers and switches, allowing software and hardware to operate separately from each other. It simplifies the management of network infrastructure by using controllers that overlay above the network hardware to manage, control, and view everything within the network. 

While SDS abstracts storage hardware from the software that controls it, SDN separates the network’s data and control planes. The data plane involves all activities concerning data packets sent by the end user and the control plane manages the functions necessary to perform the activities in the data plane.

Both SDS and SDN use a software layer that allows organisations to pool and manage storage and network resources for greater flexibility and efficiency.

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Data storage doesn’t have to be inflexible, inefficient, or expensive. With Pure Storage® Purity, your organisation can leverage the benefits of software-defined storage to streamline operations and modernise your data storage architecture. 

Purity combines on-premises efficiency and control with cloud economics to help you unify, protect, and intelligently manage your data.

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  • Intelligent management: Monitor and optimise storage from a single interface using Pure1® and deploy workloads seamlessly across cloud and on-premises storage.

Get unbelievable simplicity with Purity.

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