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Software-Defined Data Centers: The Next Big Thing or All Hype?

What is all this “software defined” talk all about, and will it really provide an effective alternative for growing businesses? writes Matt Smith of Dell.

Matt Smith works for Dell and has a passion for learning and writing about technology. Outside of work he enjoys entrepreneurship, being with his family, and the outdoors.

Corporations love to get their hands on new technologies and proclaim them as the next big thing or the “saving grace” of their networks and data centers. One of the newer developments along those lines is a move towards virtualization, and a leading trend in that movement is the software defined data center (SDDC).

But what is all this “software defined” talk all about, and will it really provide an effective alternative for growing businesses?

In the most basic terms, SDDC and all the other “software-defined” services and concepts is a virtualization of the elements of its infrastructure and then increasing the accessibility of the datacenter through an API. The data center, specifically, includes all the concepts of software-defined networking, storage, automation, security and more. The goal, here, is to make it easier to provision, manage, and operate many of the low-level components, such as the CPU, networking and other storage solution.

That means that if there is ever an issue, the IT manager can now control, fix or respond to them without having to be in a certain place or have to deal with multiple hardware issues. Basically, the SDDC is driven by software, creating a more flexible and agile computer system to address the ever-growing needs of the modern business environment.

A Layer of Abstraction

A software-defined data center is designed to provide an additional layer of abstraction on top of the normal hardware infrastructure and public or private clouds. The idea of this kind of abstraction is to allow IT departments to define their own requirements and achieve the necessary levels of performance, security, and availability.

The notion that a data center could be abstracted into smaller units that could then be priced and sold as a utility has changed the way many companies are deal with their networking and storage concerns. By separating – or abstracting – the physical devices from the way the company actually needs or wants to use their resources, these systems suddenly become more agile and flexible. It means that it is possible to create a solution that is based on end-user requirements and more aligned along application and service demands.

Making the Transition

If your company is looking into, or are in the beginning stages of moving to, an SDDC, what do you need to know in order to make the transition easier? EMA analyst and blogger Torsten Volk outlines three major areas that will require some kind of investment in order to implement an SDDC:

  • Capacity Management: You can’t provision resources that don’t exist. Your company will need to have enough capacity for all the necessary applications and services. This means that your company or IT department will need to be more “application aware” and really understand the requirements of every application workload.
  • Multi Virtualization and/or Cloud Management Platform: Due to the many vendors and technologies your company’s data center uses, you may need to implement a multi-virtualization and multi-cloud management platform to oversee everything.

In order to provide the most reliable services, most data centers use a mix of technologies from multiple vendors. Add to that the tendency of many businesses to jump on new technologies and cloud resources, and things get even more complex. An effective management platform and process is critical to get the most out of these resources.

  • 3.      Configuration Management: Depending on what applications you need, you can be more efficient by having a “devops” mentality and implementing automatic provisioning.

Many companies are reaching for a more rapid and consistent deployment, which can add a lot of responsibilities on the IT team. By automatically allocating resources through the right configuration management processes, you can make the entire process much easier and minimize some of the troubleshooting activities that normally come later.



Be Aware of the Challenges

With any new technology, there are going to be some challenges that may catch a company unaware. There are not always insurmountable problems, but their perceived difficulty could cause a company to rethink the value of an SDDC.

There are four different areas that were presenting managers with the most difficulty:

Gaining visibility across technology boundaries – Virtualization allows companies to bring together network, storage, computing, and application components. However, when all these elements are in a single place, it can blur some of the traditional boundaries, creating some confusion for managers.

Managing workload mobility – Workloads no longer need to stay in a single physical location, which has led to a number of benefits for some companies. Dealing with these rapid changes, though, can be a challenge if the IT team isn’t fully prepared.

Making sure storage isn’t forgotten – Virtualization opens up a lot of new possibilities, but some companies are concerned that some of their storage could be left behind. Companies that have previously relied on disk-dependant storage may have to take special precautions to make sure nothing is lost when they switch to a software-defined environment.

Virtualizing applications and leveraging automation with stability – While virtualization can make a company’s system more agile and flexible, it must still balance that all with the stability of their other processes. Companies must reconsider the way they manage and provision their resources and application and make sure the switch does not lead to any unnecessary downtime.

A New Approach

All of these challenges mean that IT managers will need to rethink the way they approach their networking, storage, and security and tackle them as a whole. While many will hesitate to the initial move due to the more challenging aspects of the SDDC, in the end, it will help create a sleek, easier-to-manage automated network.

When it’s done right, the abstraction from the hardware level can lead to an environment in which we are no longer limited by the rigid limits of traditional data centers or the need for specialized knowledge in those hardware components. A software-defined data center creates a lot of new opportunities, if the company is ready to take advantage of them.

Industry Perspectives is a content channel at Data Center Knowledge highlighting thought leadership in the data center arena. See our guidelines and submission process for information on participating. View previously published Industry Perspectives in our Knowledge Library.

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