Abstraction is defined as the process of considering something independently of its associations, attributes, or concrete accompaniments. To put it another way, it is the process of stepping away from the trees so you can see the forest.
My introduction to virtualization came when working for a middleware startup. To demonstrate our product I traveled with three laptops. I was the one dragging three laptops and a suitcase through the airport, arriving home with bruises on my shoulders. If I lived in an infomercial I would have been the guy throwing down his gear and screaming “there has got to be a better way!”
There was. I walked into the office of one of our senior architects and he showed me VMware Workstation 1. The heavens opened, I saw light, heard otherworldly singing, then ran to my office to buy it online. Soon I was traveling with 1 laptop, 3 VMs, and a firm understanding of the value of abstraction. I didn’t need hardware, I needed software to better utilize something I already owned. I was determined to work for VMware, and not long afterwards I found myself selling the benefits of abstraction to enterprise customers.
VMware abstracted, or freed workloads from the traditional concrete accompaniments of hardware. This created a platform in which the bare metal was just plumbing. Hardware vendor no longer mattered. Admins could scale infrastructure in a few minutes by adding a VM rather than waiting on the long procurement process and custom configuration/sizing to acquire a new bare metal server. For the first time in the x86 world it just didn’t matter where the workload was running.
With software defined storage like Dell EMC’s ScaleIO, you can build a SAN in real time with software using the local storage attached to each server. This is identical to how VMware allowed us to create a new virtual datacenter with some really smart software. Mixed server vendor environment? No problem. Need more storage? Add a host to the pool. Abstraction means that the workload doesn’t care if the SAN is physical or virtual. You can ditch the physical SAN causing sleepless nights worrying about port saturation, controller performance, Fibre Channel upgrades, etc. The software provides the abstraction layer, giving you more control and more value from the storage attached to each host in your infrastructure. SAN vendor, controller architecture, media type, and fibre channel performance become irrelevant.
Some may immediately notice that traditional SANs provide abstraction. True, for a workload’s direct relationship to media there is abstraction. LUNs are fantastic. But physical controller architectures still matter – along with media type, port speeds, and supported host interfaces like SAS, SATA, and NVMe. There are many fixed components of a SAN, and decoupling the storage from underlying hardware in favor of a software defined SAN is a huge step forward to agility – which we will discuss later in the series.
For now, let’s talk about where the quick savings come in software defined storage – Consolidation.
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