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Software Defined Data Centers – Hype or Reality?

By Dave Cappuccio | July 01, 2013 | 0 Comments

Food for ThoughtData CentersData Center DesignSoftware Defined Data Center

Our industry just loves new catch phrases – and when a new one catches on the vendors and press can get amazingly creative is assigning that phrase roles and responsibilities that go far beyond its original concept.  In the recent past it was all about cloud computing.  Once the industry grokked the concept of “cloud” it became difficult to find any new product or release that was not either cloud enabled or defined “as a Service”.  I saw many “new” products announced that were essentially older products (some not so successful) that were being re-marketed as a cloud solution – even though it really had no defining function or service that was derived from the cloud concept. My favorite was DCaaS – “Data Center as a Service” – or what we used to call Hosting.   Call it marketing 201 – If its a new phrase and has cache – use it for all its worth, regardless of the reality of things.

Spin forward to today and the buzz word du jour is “Software Defined X”.   Leading the pack is Software Defined Networks and Software Defined Storage, which intuitively make sense, but lately the variation game has begun and I’ve heard about Software Defined Organizations, Software Defined Staffing, Software Defined Power, and Software Defined Radio Receivers (really).  The interesting one to come out of the pack though is Software Defined Data Centers.  While originally I was skeptical about any SDx assignation, the more I think about SDDC’s the more the concept resonates.

Lets start by doing some quick definitional work – at least from my perspective.  If software is being used to manage or automate a component or process lets call it software controlled x, because it’s not defining anything, but is controlling a specific action.  So if I’m controlling an HR process it’s software controlled, or if I’m monitoring power consumption and pricing, its software controlled.  However, if the layer of abstraction goes up a notch, and I need to manage/control many diverse components within an ecosystem, then the Software Defined terminology begins to make sense.  Software Defined Networking is all about controlling/automating many diverse elements within the network stack from a control plane rather than at the component level.  Software Defined Storage is about controlling discrete device types and varying file types as a single storage pool rather than individual elements.

Software Defined Data Centers, it could be argued, bring this discussion up one more layer.  In theory an SDDC is a layer of abstraction above multiple other SDx layers (network, virtualization, storage, etc), whereby the Data Centers, wherever they are located, are controlled/automated from a single control plane, using a common set of API’s.  Sometimes called the Virtual Data Center, the idea is that in a perfect world data center resources would be placed where it made the most economic sense, and then the allocation and use of those resources could be controlled by rules and analytics, allowing both workflows and workloads to be moved/directed where they best served the business at any particular point in time (e.g. year end processing, business continuity, disaster avoidance, time zones, etc).  And in a true SDDC environment the physical data center location (and ownership) become irrelevant, which means that true Hybrid Data Centers will emerge – allowing perhaps critical work on premises, non-critical off-premises, and load or time sensitive in the cloud.

This obviously is mostly conceptual right now, but it is the way the industry is heading, and astute IT managers today are thinking not necessarily about the bells and whistles vendors are promising – but about the organizational impact these environments are going to cause.  Think about a rules and automation based environment tied together with API’s;  the role of SysAdmin and NetAdmin and StorAdmin have just changed dramatically.  Programming, script and analytic skills will be the key enabler and the most valued skills within IT, while component based skills will become secondary.  And problem identification and resolution will become one of the most complex tasks IT will need to manage.

Software Defined Data Centers will be a brave new world – are you ready?


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