SoftNAS is a classic NAS company with a twist. They use old-school technology, like ZFS and classic file-based protocols to solve data inertia problems while moving to the cloud.

And sure, I get it. There’s a lot one could say about SoftNAS: they’re a legacy technology company trying to catch up. They are not cloud-native. It could even be argued that SoftNAS sees the cloud as yet another datacenter. They’re certainly not DevOps. The hipster developers that ride electric scooters haven’t heard of them, nor will they ever.

And that’s ok. Allow me to explain.

Not everyone is a cloud-native, born-in-the-cloud technology company

Instead of being a born-in-the cloud technology vendor, SoftNAS applies their current technology, which is built around OpenZFS and Apache NiFi, to issues current customers have around the cloud.

But these customers aren’t building custom applications using cloud platform services; they are trying to reduce cost around datacenter investments, optimizing for things that used to be expensive or complex, like secondary datacenters, DR strategies and off-premises backups.

The cloud changes many of those things, and naturally, organizations of all sizes, technology generations and operational dogmas try to make use of that. It’s just that some companies have bigger technical debt from longer ago. They are simply more behind than others and have a different pace in catching up.

And again, that’s ok. Everybody needs help with IT and the changing paradigms around infrastructure and cloud services.

Even SoftNAS is here to help

And while I first had a couple of negative thoughts after taking in SoftNAS’s story (ZFS in the Cloud, really?), I realized that SoftNAS actually helps companies take many small steps forward toward the cloud, reducing technical debt and making them (even if only slight) more nimble and flexible. SoftNAS won’t get customers there all the way, nor should they need to. They offer simple, to-the-point services to companies that have missed the boat once or twice in the past due to budget cuts, knowledge deficits and organizational complexities.

The long and short of their offerings is this: they offer data services helping customers lift ‘n’ shifting legacy applications to the cloud by leveraging technology current sysadmins know and understand.

Their audience has seen one or two previous big shifts in IT, most likely the shift to x86 Wintel client/server architectures and the physical to virtual transition. These companies don’t employ the kind of people that know Terraform and drink Philz Herbal Mint Tea. They employ people that know their way around vCenter and Windows. A typical IT environment might need to manage many locations, often with limited connectivity, requirements for on-site infrastructure, often integrating with industrial and factory systems.

For many organizations, the applications they run now are an unescapable reality. These apps have been around for a while, and will stick around for a while to come, too. There’s just no budget to mess around with them, and often physical things (like factory lines) depend on them. There is simply no wiggle room for these applications. There is however a push to reduce cost of running these apps, and moving from a capital intensive to operational cost model is very interesting for many. The cloud is a logical next step for many.

Companies call SoftNAS when migrating to the cloud is just too hard because of BYO-solutions, poor performance, high cost, limiting skills and integration issues.

The magic sauce

SoftNAS solves many of the issues usually seen with the inertia of legacy applications and data. The core of the underlying technology is their data mover and acceleration protocol, but they extend this into a couple of interesting use cases.

Automatic storage tiering

SmartTiers
SmartTiers

SmartTiers is their cloud storage tiering technology. A single traditional (on-prem) volume connected to a (virtual) machine is tiered across different cloud storage (block or object) tiers automatically. This optimizes performance and cost on a continuous, automated way.

This way, companies can use low-cost object storage for cold data without having to re-architect existing applications; the applications continue to use traditional file shares and block storage volumes.

Data Transfer Acceleration

UltraFast
UltraFast

UltraFast enables high speed global data transfers. SoftNAS claims a 20x to 100x improvement over TCP/IP by overcoming internet latency and congestion issues. Its primary use case is optimizing the use of slow and unreliable connectivity between satellite locations (like factories), the datacenter and the cloud.

ObjFast
ObjFast

objFast is a high-performance object storage for file systems giving block storage performance at object storage cost. This solves object storage back pressure which are common for relatively low performance object storage services.

This allows legacy applications without support for block storage to use block storage while attempting to optimize bucket performance.

Flexible File Replication

FlexFiles
FlexFiles

FlexFiles enables the automation of data flow between systems. IT is based on Apache NiFi, and they describe it as a solution to data logistics.

Basically, FlexFiles allows to automate the flow for data integration and movement in both common and custom situation. The Architect module allows complete customization, while the Wizard module uses pre-built and custom templates for automation and integration.NiFi uses a robust processor library for filtering and use.

NiFi supports all kinds of source, transformation and target scenarios, making it an ideal methodology for moving data from on-prem datacenter and remote factory locations to cloud storage services.The use cases are endless.

Is this the end-game?

SoftNAS doesn’t solve the legacy application and legacy data modernization problem. It does not refactor applications. It doesn’t remove technical debt. It does not teach an old dog new tricks. 

What SoftNAS does, however, is making clever use of existing technology, looking at how the average customer using that older-gen tech could use the cloud, and builds on that. This means that sysadmins ‘get’ it, though, and that is not to be underestimated. I bet SoftNAS has a great out of the box experience with their audience.

In a way, I think SoftNAS is taking a similar approach to Accelerite, who salvage good tech from bad execution.

SoftNAS doesn’t see the cloud as a collection of highly-integrated platform services, but simply as a datacenter as a service. Containers, microservices, serverless are terms that don’t mean much to SoftNAS and its customers.

And I think they know that they don’t know. They’re doing a solid job extending older technology into new paradigms, and their customers probably love them for it. I certainly do.

Want to know more? Watch the videos: Cloud Field Day 4 presentation by SoftNAS or visit their website.