The past few years have seen an explosion of streaming, video on-demand, and over-the-top (OTT) services being offered by traditional telecommunications and cable companies. From DirecTV Now to Comcast’s XFINITY; from Verizon go90 to Charter’s Spectrum Stream; cable and telecommunications providers are stepping up their streaming games in the hopes of competing with established players like Netflix, Hulu, Google, Amazon, and others.

In order to compete with these organizations, broadband providers are offering unique services — such as cloud DVR and 72-hour playback — that provide consumers with features that mimic the traditional cable TV experience, while still catering to cord cutters.

Meanwhile, the demand for 4K Ultra High Definition (UHD) content continues to grow. Research from NPD, conducted during last year’s holiday season, indicated rapidly growing mass market interest in 4K UHD TVs and streaming media players. 4K file sizes are obviously much bigger than those housing 1080p content. Thus, as media content owners move to 4K, their content repositories continue to grow rapidly.

Both broadband providers and content owners — the companies that produce the UHD shows and films that consumers are watching — are in the same boat. Customers are migrating toward streaming OTT services and UHD, but companies are not necessarily equipped on the backend to successfully and cost-effectively provide them with the services they want.

Storage, in particular, presents a challenge. Put simply, providers and content owners are running out of it; and quickly. Many organizations are still using traditional legacy Network Attached Storage (NAS) systems, which tend to be rigid, costly, and difficult or even impossible to scale. These systems do not offer the flexibility and agility that companies need to address the explosive data growth and demands of today’s media content workflows, while delivering the types of services their customers expect.

Enter Software-Defined Storage

As a result of these challenges, telecommunications providers, multiple system operators (MSOs), cable companies, and entertainment organizations are beginning to explore the benefits of software-defined storage (SDS). Compared to traditional NAS, SDS offers a more cost-effective and far more scalable approach to storage.

With SDS, companies do not have to worry about maintaining or migrating to newer, more expensive hardware systems every 3-5 years; software upgrades are effortless and can be done much more efficiently. And because SDS runs on top of industry standard servers, migration to the latest hardware can be as simple as plugging in the new server and unplugging the old. This is obviously ideal for organizations that are attempting to meet the rising demand for streaming and UHD content, while still keeping costs under control.

SDS also provides virtually unlimited scalability. Deep content repositories need highly scalable content pools that allow them to scale up into the petabyte or even into multiple petabyte range, something that traditional NAS systems were never designed to handle at cost. Instead of having to buy an entirely new appliance, SDS systems can scale by adding more standard servers — making it more cost effective. SDS lets organizations scale up or down as necessary to accommodate peak usage.

For instance, cable and telecommunications companies need systems that can address usage spikes while being able to easily apply resources elsewhere once usage declines. Most content delivery networks (CDNs) have central content stores for media. Challenges arise when a particular event takes place where demand is expected to be higher than normal.

An operator getting ready to broadcast the World Series or Game of Thrones finale over their service will need to allocate more servers than normal to meet the demand during that peak period. However, many will try to overprovision in anticipation of maximum demand, and be unable to scale down those resources as demand recedes. SDS, in concert with other private cloud technologies like OpenStack, solves that issue by providing these companies with the means to quickly scale down and apply those resources to other pieces of their infrastructure.

Some SDS solutions even offer the option to scale up and down in smaller storage building blocks, as well as the ability to host multiple workloads in a single storage infrastructure. Throughput is optimized for streaming content, with better cost and capacity for active media asset archives. These factors make SDS an easier to manage, more cost-effective approach that is well suited for greater agility and optimized content-on-demand.

SDS also allows for higher availability of that content. An organization could lose entire server head-ends without losing pace. Workloads can be automatically rebalanced across the remaining servers in the entire cluster. This is far different from traditional NAS, which requires immediate manual labor to fix the issue. That could take days, during which streaming and content might become, at best, hindered; and at worst, unavailable.

Open Possibilities

Some flavors of SDS are based on open source software, and as such provides organizations with the opportunity to leverage the capabilities and expertise of a vast community of developers. The hundreds of thousands of individual developers that comprise the open source community are committed to tireless innovation, and are constantly pushing out new code that is pushing the boundaries of storage.

They are complemented by some of the world’s largest companies that have been key contributors to open source SDS.

Start Small

For those interested in dipping their toes in the SDS waters, now is as good a time as any. Although traditional NAS appliances will continue to function for the foreseeable future, some analysts predict they will eventually become obsolete. Most traditional NAS vendors are already offering software-defined versions of their products. SDS is far more powerful, agile, scalable, and cost-effective, with an estimated total cost of ownership savings of 40 to 60 percent over legacy storage systems.

It’s also proven by companies like KPN, Verizon, and other major organizations that have already begun to see the benefits that SDS provides. These enterprises are trailblazers that have made the decision to lay the groundwork for better content storage and delivery today, while creating a sound, scalable, and powerful storage infrastructure for tomorrow.

For those who feel it’s time to join them, it’s best to start small. Consider embarking on an SDS pilot program that allows for testing within portions of your media workflow. Ask questions; push the boundaries; check out the cost and scalability benefits; begin to integrate your system into the current storage infrastructure. It’s very likely that, once the test phase is complete, you will wish to continue moving toward a storage future that is open, software-defined, and built to handle growing online content demands.

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