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Will SAN Systems Become Outdated Technology?

Storage Area Network (SAN) systems are facing a competitor that has quickly gained market and mind share making it a serious contender in the ring – that is, Software-Defined-Storage (SDS). What was once a glimmer in the eye of a few tech startups eventually acquired by Vmware, Microsoft, and the like, is now poised to possibly knockout (or at least seriously bruise) major players in high-tech the last 25+ years. Additionally, the practices of SAN tech companies today might effectively be like punching their own faces. This short blog outlines three areas we’re seeing that are contributing to SDS’ gain in popularity and utility.

First, SAN companies price storage drives higher than the same drives placed in a server host. Our team performed a recent price study comparing the cost of drives placed in a SAN array versus the same drives in a server host. The study shows that the same drives on the server host are 18-37% lower in cost. What?!?! Why is the same drive more costly? We can only speculate that the reason might be same as why a piece of art would be priced higher at the museum than if it were hanging in a coffee shop. That is, the seller prices the item according to the perception of potential buyers. The end result is that SDS solutions are significantly lower in cost per capacity (i.e. $/GB) simply because SAN companies are punching themselves in the face.

NOTE: If you are interested in seeing the cost study, send me an email ( We’re happy to share the data.

Second, SAN performance continues to be impacted by the distance from the compute blocks making back-end IOPs (the IOPs the SAN is capable of internally) significantly higher than front-end IOPs (the IOPs actually experienced by the hosts). You may think that two-meter cables are not considered distant. Well, when you compare that to the short distance and latency of the storage on local hosts connected via the PCI bus or SAS channels, it’s like comparing a 20-minute drive to visit your girlfriend versus a 12-hour flight for a long distance relationship if she were French.

NOTE: If you are interested in knowing more about successful relationships with a French girlfriend, don’t email me. I’m not the one to ask.

Lastly, SAN systems don’t give customers the flexibility of choice when it comes to choosing drive manufacturers. This not only affects costs but also gives the perception of inflexibility which is not acceptable in today’s tech society that is conditioned to choose and change at will. As we consult CIOs and infrastructure architects to provide advice and also gain insight from their perspectives, it’s clear that loyalty to technology logos is diminishing and being supplanted by a greater desire to maximize their resources to provide their businesses with the best solution available.

In conclusion, it’s now a real fight in the ring between SAN and SDS not merely as a battle of ideas but actually for real customers. Vmware recently announced that they now have over 3,500 customers running VSAN. While that number is notable, it’s not yet significant. It’s still less than 1% of their advertised 500,000+ customers. Regardless, 3,500 customers have placed their bets on SDS in the fight. That number is sure to grow quickly.

[Bell Rings]… Round 2… Fight!

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