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The Software-Defined-Data-Center (SDDC): Concept or Reality? [VMware]

Servers, Storage and Networking | Posted on December 10, 2012 by Emily A. Davidson

Besides being a mouthful to say, the concept of a Software Defined Data Center (SDDC) is based on abstracting hardware from the delivery of business applications. Forrester defines SDDC as “…an abstracted and pooled set of shared resources. But the secret sauce is in the automation that slices up and allocates those shared resources on-demand, without manual tinkering.” What does this mean? A Google search returns 242M results with many opinions of what an SDDC is and what it means.

To help you save time, I’ve aggregated information from posts featuring Forrester, Gartner, VMware’s CIO, Virtualization Review, InfoWorld and more so you can quickly discover what people are saying about SDDC and gather some insights about what this means for your business now and in the future.

In short, once you virtualize hardware into a pooled set of resources, software can automate many processes and allocate pooled resources on-demand as-a-service – kind of like a Netflix for business applications. You don’t need a DVD player or a CD. You need access to Netflix’s pooled library of movies, and Netflix needs to deliver high-quality movies on-demand, anytime, so users enjoy the experience and return often.

You might think: This isn’t a new technology! It’s just another new buzzword EMC and VMware coined at VMworld 2012 to talk about virtualization and building a private cloud. You’re right. However, in that mindset you miss the point: virtualization of compute and storage, paired with software-defined networking, can enable silky-smooth end-user experiences.

How it begins: addressing changing expectations for IT service delivery

How do you define sexy end-user experiences? You ogle Apple’s IT services first. In a recent blog, Gartner stated that, “Apple has shown that customers place a value on the seamless experience that is a synthesis of hardware, software and services. They value what this seamless experience enables them to do (and, likewise, what they don’t have to do, like the simplicity, automation and ease of purchasing music or backing up the device).” Gartner continues on to say that we need the equivalent of Apple for enterprise data centers – flexible, responsive and well-oiled – definitely unlike the state of many enterprise’s IT systems today.

The Software Defined Data Center: defined

Network Computing does a great job of breaking down exactly how the SDDC concept works. Basically, you start with virtualizing your resources:

  • Virtualization: A virtual server platform provides resource automation, high availability and mobility features. Viva hardware independence!
  • Resource pooling: Once you have pools of resources (and automatic tools to handle them), you can allocate storage, security, networking, and CPU very quickly for incoming requests. As requests are completed, it should return these resources back into the pool.
  • Security: Users should not be able to circumvent IT using a non-local data center (e.g. Dropbox instead of file servers). When user demands can be filled in faster, alternative ways, IT is left to clean up any sticky security messes left behind. Services delivery must compete with the most responsive solutions while remaining responsible to the security of the business.

As you can see, there aren’t any wild new frontiers (dare I say ‘game changers’) here, just the use of intelligent software to manage resource pools created by infrastructure virtualization.

Steve Harrod, CIO and Senior VP of Research and Development at VMware, sums it up nicely in an interview with ZDNet, stating “That’s a bit of a mouthful, but that’s how I see the expansion. It first goes from just compute into storage, networking, security, and the other parts of the datacenter. Then simultaneously, you’re abstracting each of these resources, pooling them, and then automating them.”

VMware CIO and InfoWorld weigh in on the opportunity for your business

Harrod might agree with me that the SDDC concept can address changing expectations for IT service delivery, he goes on to say, “All of the opportunities we have as consumers to work with cloud computing models have opened up our imagination as to what we should expect out of IT and computing datacenters, where we can sign up for things immediately, get things when we want them, and pay for what we use. All those great concepts have set our expectations differently. “ Harrod points to Google’s data center as a good example, “To run on the Google datacenter, you write your applications a very specific way, which is great for them. But when you go into the business world, they don’t have legions of people to run the infrastructure, and they also have a broad set of applications that they can’t possibly consider rewriting. So in many ways, I see what we’re doing [with the idea of a SDDC] is taking the lesson learned in those software-defined datacenters, but bringing it to the masses, and bringing it to companies to run all of their applications and without all of the people cost that they might need otherwise.”

Eric Knorr from InfoWorld imagines a sysadmin utopia,

“Imagine if, based on the requirements of key applications, you could wave a mouse and provision a data center to match, configuring pooled resources to meet those requirements point by point. Multiple software-defined data centers could use overlapping physical infrastructure so that each tenant could have its own virtual network with its own authentication and authorization scheme, without the availability and scalability limitations of conventional VLANs.”

When the configuration of hardware can be managed by upper-level software systems, the ability to support legacy applications, as well as new cloud-optimized services, becomes very attractive for cost-conscious organizations.

Does this make hardware a commodity?

All this talk of ‘hardware independence’ has some big thinkers pondering the future of selling stacks. In the same article, Forrester says that. “As HP, IBM, Dell, and Cisco battle each other to develop workload-centric infrastructures that tie hardware and software together, VMware continues to blaze the software-only path.” Forrester agrees, “Clearly, there’s a perception that hardware is commoditizing and that there’s little or no premium left in hardware. It’s a commodity. It’s just a provider of x86 compute cycles (servers). It’s just a provider of packet pumping (networking). It’s just a provider of bit persistence (storage). No differentiation, swappable, commoditized.”

I think it’s safe to say that if software-defined networking becomes more prevalent, hardware vendors may face a shift in how they market their products. The success of ‘all-in-one’ stacks may have to make room for software that is able to  manage both cloud-designed and legacy applications.

Start by marching towards where you will eventually end up

Tired of people telling you how to get started? I have aggregated a few opinions for you below. The consensus I see is to keep taking steps towards hardware independence and set up your infrastructure for future demands. Virtualization Review’s Elias Khnaeser (@ekhnaser) offers his advice,

“The software defined datacenter is not complete yet, but you can start automating and orchestrating the virtual level and start investigating the same for the physical hardware layer. Start deploying self-service portals, start implementing showback and learn how to price your resources. Definitely start monitoring your infrastructure properly and start understanding your metrics so you can figure out how to price resources. Start looking at your processes and breaking them down in order to build [the] automation and orchestration that will be required. Start building your catalogs and start discussing with your business units, establishing guidelines on how new applications are acquired and deployed.”

That sounds like a lot of work Elias. VMware CIO Harrod offers a more comforting opinion:

 “I think it can sound very, very disruptive to create a new software-defined datacenter, but one of the biggest things that I have been excited about in this technology versus others is that there are a set of steps that you go through, where you’re able to get some value along the way, but they are also marching you toward where you ultimately end up.”

Eric Knorr from InfoWorld adds that this is not another term for Cloud,

“Is ‘the software-defined data center’ just another way of saying ‘the cloud’? Not really. I think of the cloud as a marketing term for application, platform, or infrastructure services that internal or external customers procure on demand through Web forms. The software-defined data center is the mechanism through which those cloud services can be delivered most efficiently.

So it seems daunting, but it’s not a rip-and-replace solution for your infrastructure. It means taking steps over time to reach a much larger, organizational goal to provide the best IT services to end-users.

How does the SDDC concept possibly reduce complexity?

At this time, you cannot implement a SDDC completely. So in that sense it doesn’t really reduce complexity (sorry). The Software Defined Data Center is IT delivered as-a-service. It looks almost effortless on the outside, but inside, many parts must come together in order to make it a big success. Gartner puts it best for businesses, saying “IT systems management and security are far too complex today. Give me a seamless experience and I’ll pay a premium for the solution – and for the hardware that enables it.”

Secondly, remember that all the pieces required to make the SDDC vision a reality are not there yet. The vCloud suite goes a long way in delivering the functionality around compute, but there is still work to be done to include the Storage and Networking elements. If you buy into the vision today, vCloud Suite provides the framework that will allow you to plug in the other pieces and  complete the picture.

What you can do right now

Get practical advice and reccommendations. If SDDC is a direction you want go, make sure you talk to experts and fully understand the vision for your company and  the roadmaps you will need to follow to get there.

So, is SDDC another buzzword for ‘Cloud’ or an enviable data center model? Leave your take on SDDC in the comments below.

To learn more about the Software Defined Data Center check out Softchoice virtualization and Cloud solutions to help you march towards your goal. Got questions? Leave them in the comments below.

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