Preparing for the Software Defined Datacenter

Posted on May 5, 2016

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In an article dated August 2, 2012, Forbes Magazine stated. “SDN holds the promise to impact the global economy to a greater degree than any other development including the browser.”1 It went on to say that “It is likely the most valuable IT development in the last generation.”

None of this is news to the leading cloud providers such as Microsoft, Amazon and VMware, all of whom are scurrying to position themselves as the leading Software Defined Everything provider. At a recent TechNet event in Atlanta, Georgia, Manual Garriga, an Azure Tech Solutions pro, put it best:

“IT should provide differentiating services to the organization. Racking equipment is not that. If you do tasks in which no one cares about unless you screw up, you probably shouldn’t be doing that task because it neither differentiates nor contributes anything to the company.”

The new software defined enterprise is about “right sizing” the infrastructure in real time and eliminating the wasteful spending of over-provisioning.   It is about eliminating the daily grind of updating firmware and individually managing devices through a command line interface. During the last ten years we have witnessed an exponential growth in the size of the data center while the size of IT staffs has remained dormant. As a result, IT staffs now spend as much as 80% of their time on maintenance rather than working on value added projects that will directly contributed to the profitability of the company.

No matter what your industry is, your company is competing in a “Race to Value.” The RtV is the measurement of responsiveness of a request for value measured from the point the request is made to the point at which value is realized. As a result, business is demanding faster service and delivery of innovative revenue-creating implementations from IT. If all of this wasn’t enough, users expect the performance and convenience they have come to expect as a result of the cloud and mobile apps. As Mike Webster, Senior Vice President of Oracle says, “the cloud’s biggest benefit is accelerating speed to value which is accomplished by delivering innovation faster.”

Economic Darwinism as it applies today doesn’t mean that the biggest will prevail. It means that the most innovative will prevail, and innovation is derived from being as agile and as flexible as possible in order to deliver value to your customers and grab new opportunities as quickly as possible. The endeavor to achieve this must be driven around the efforts and leadership of the IT department. This is why the traditional datacenter, that congregation of hardware stacked upon hardware, is no longer the value driving asset it once was. Business today is required to run at the speed of the app. The non-elastic traditional datacenter based on rigid hardware and constant overprovisioning just doesn’t cut it anymore. The datacenter must be based on a level of agility that only software can provide. This is the rational for Software Defined Networking, Software Defined Storage and Software Defined Security, all leading up to the Software Defined Datacenter. In the end, we are talking about Software Defined Everything.

The discussion about SDN is nothing new of course. The objective of obtaining the same levels of flexibility and automation that computer virtualization provides to the network, storage and security infrastructures is nothing new. The path of transformation is totally logical. The introduction of server virtualization a decade ago then led us to cloud computing years later, which is now leading us to software based networks.

When we talk about software defining our network infrastructure, we are focusing on two key principles:

  • The separation of the control plane from the data plane. Traditionally, both the Control Plane and the Data Plane resided at the physical level on the network devices themselves but SDN separates these into two distinct layers. It is the control plane where intelligence resides that governs the network, ensuring that the network responds to the continual fluctuating demands of users. The control plane communicates with a centralized orchestrator at the application layer that resides above it. It is here where centralized managed policies are issued to be delivered to the devices that reside below in the data plane.
  • The utilization of Commoditized hardware. The magnitude of hardware greatly diminishes in a software defined ecosystem to the point that the enterprise consists of commodity software, preventing vendor lock-in and expensive upgrades and migrations.

The Software Defined Datacenter is no longer just an interesting topic of discussion. It is a paradigm that is in delivery.

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