Complex, tiresome and expensive to manage – these are the common traits experienced by organizations utilizing traditional storage in data centers. It should therefore come as no surprise that technologies designed to help address challenges and demands of the modern era, namely Software-Defined Storage (SDS) and hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI), are forecast to see a big spike in investment this year.

The appeal of such technologies is that they enable organizations - especially those with a low or declining IT budget – to manage their rising storage and compute requirements more easily, at a fraction of the cost of traditional storage. A recent survey showed that 70 percent of enterprise organizations either are considering or already deploying SDS or HCI to improve the agility of their data centers, and this number is only expected to grow in the coming years. According to IDC, the hyper-converged market will pass the $2bn mark in 2016 and Gartner predicts it will be worth $5bn by 2019.

Many organizations are adding SDS tools to the capabilities of their existing storage devices to deliver modern data services such as deduplication, stretched clustering and replication. Meanwhile, HCI eliminates the array altogether. Both SDS and HCI enable administrators to scale out by adding more nodes to expand capacity and performance or scale up by attaching more storage to existing nodes.

As IT leaders consider opportunities to implement SDS and HCI solutions, three main use cases emerge: remote office and branch office environments (ROBO), introducing new architectures into an organization and virtual workspaces and desktops.

Remote Offices, one click away

ROBO environments face a number of challenges. One is configuration drift, where systems start to vary from the established baseline configuration for remote offices, leaving organizations struggling to support a variety of hardware and software configurations from site to site. In addition, costs and complexity associated with disaster recovery becomes an issue as ROBO locations are often located miles away from a central data center. They require a simple way to move and replicate data back to headquarters for business continuity. Coupled with the lack of IT personnel onsite, these challenges can cause strain on organizations.

HCI can help organizations with many ROBOs to deploy infrastructure in small, consistent blocks that can be easily and centrally managed. Some HCI appliances automatically and efficiently replicate copies of data to centrally located SDS devices, which avoids extra hardware and bandwidth costs while improving application uptime.

New architecture without the headaches

Hyper-converged appliances can also enable organizations to introduce new architecture and phase out older systems without disruption. For example, appliances can be used to save on costs and space in co-location scenarios while providing greater security, redundancy, reliability and savings. Enterprises have been able to double capacity for the same cost of adding disks to its legacy environment, boost performance, reduce its footprint and increase its compute power. These companies can also reuse their old equipment to create a disaster recovery site for data and virtual machines.

Taken a step further, HCI can enable organizations reluctant to offload workloads to the public cloud because of security and privacy concerns to benefit from some of the advantages of cloud technologies and new application models on-premises. For some, it can be a way to bridge the gap to the public cloud.

Go virtual, for concrete savings and benefits

In the case of virtualization and virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), SDS can deliver significant benefits compared to traditional storage. As well as reducing the amount of storage hardware, it is also capable of supporting larger numbers of users for less cost by using storage more effectively. Typically, SDS can be as much as 40-50 percent less expensive than traditional storage infrastructure, increase storage capacity by as much as 80 percent, drastically improve the scalability of the solution and, in the case of VDI, deliver very fast desktop login times.

SDS is also cheaper than using SAN and SSD to deliver VDI with better performance, more scalability, less rack space, less power and less technical support. If done effectively, organizations are able to deliver 200 IOPS per desktop on VDI, compared to 20 IOPS using SSD based SAN storage and 70-80 IOPS for a physical desktop. In addition to better IOPS, it can also deliver much improved latency compared to the other approaches.

SDS and HCI bring significant levels of simplicity while turning the data center economic model on its head. As they tend to be hybrid or all-flash, they significantly outperform traditional disk-based storage arrays. HCI appliances integrate compute and storage into server nodes so they take up less space than traditional devices and because they deploy less equipment, power and cooling costs are reduced.

The ability to scale easily has liberated data administrators from buying three to five years’ worth of storage in advance and enabled them to adopt a “just in time” approach. They enable organizations to scale storage in small modular units as they grow their compute resources, instead of forcing them down the traditional route of buying large and expensive storage arrays with limited performance. For the first time, the advantages of using them together are giving IT leaders more reasons to put SDS and HCI on their project short list.

Patrick Brennan is senior product marketing manager for Applications and Platforms at Atlantis Computing.