Rationalizing the Move Toward the Software-Defined Data Center to Achieve IT as a Service


Michael ElliottNetApp

Michael Elliott is Cloud Evangelist at NetApp.

Consumers today are moving toward an “Everything-as-a-Service” model. Businesses have the same expectations for their IT department. They want IT-as-a-Service (ITaaS).

With the shifts in the economic purchase cycle, organizations are embarking on digital transformation, the development of new competencies built around the capability to be more agile, consumer-oriented, innovative, connected, aligned and efficient. IT is expected to be agile, responding to reduced time to market pressure, all while managing cost and reducing complexity.
These business realities are universal and have always existed for the CXO. What has changed now is increased competition from new sources, and often from companies that are born in the cloud. Small startups can shake the industry, leaving traditional market leaders out of business rapidly.

At the core of all this transformation is the evolving data center trying to keep up with business objectives. For IT, the Software-Defined Data Center (SDDC) can provide a strategic approach to support the goals of the business and provide the agility and flexibility to thrive with digital transformation.

Traditional Data Center Design Silo Applications

Pictured below is what most recognize as the typical data center design. Every department, every application, has its own infrastructure. Most traditional Fortune 100 companies use a similar design principle for their data center. However, in today’s changing environment, this design architecture only limits IT’s ability to effectively and efficiently serve the business goals.

Diagram 1: Traditional data center design

The promise of the SDDC breaks this siloed approach. It goes beyond traditional abstraction and establishes a universal plane to serve the entire data center structure. SDDC elevates lower level IT functions such as provisioning storage, database, networking, hypervisors, into services that can be consumed by higher level functions. The SDDC is, in essence, an integrated abstraction layer that defines a complete data center by means of a software layer that connects the physical, virtual, security and management layers.

Diagram 2: Software Defined Data Center Design

Encapsulation the Data Center via Fabric Layers

In the new SDDC design architecture shown in diagram 2, each individual function is encapsulated via a fabric layer. The physical, virtual, management and security layers are all aligned into fabrics that represent a layer of abstraction to be presented to adjacent fabrics via APIs. These APIs act as the communication mechanism from which every physical and virtual component can be accessed and interfaced.

With SDDC, developers who have never formatted a hard drive will now be able to provision terabytes of data without knowing or caring about how to access the underlying infrastructure. APIs will be invoked to access storage, initiate a database, allocate bandwidth, or even move applications to another region. A web application developer will be able to set up complex load balancing environments without ever logging into a router. The Software Defined Data Center will be the core principle for enabling IT as a Service.

Benefits of the Software-Defined Data Center

SDDC is designed to support all workloads in a holistic approach and to do so in the most optimal way possible across the entire data center. To achieve this, a properly configured SDDC must exhibit the following three main principles:

  1. The SDDC must be dynamic and adaptive in its ability to respond to changes in the resource workload. This adaptability should be automated and built on defined configurations and according to the demands of the applications it runs.
  2. Automation is the hallmark of a well-defined SDDC. When using software to define and access the data center ecosystem, the framework must have built-in intelligence to eliminate complexity and create elastic computing without needing direct human guidance.
  3. Resiliency is key. SDDC must be able to compensate for hardware and software failure. Coupled with automation and adaptability, the SDDC should be automated in its approach to adapt to possible problems and continue with the highest level of availability.

Proposed Value of SDDC

With a properly configured SDDC, the agility, resiliency, efficiency and productivity of a data center can be improved significantly. A few of the main benefits that can be achieved include:

  • Unified IT service delivery
  • Improved IT staff productivity
  • Simplified administration / operations
  • Faster provisioning
  • Single point of support

This doesn’t mean you can go out and purchase a SDDC solution and have it up and running over-night. “One size fits all” options don’t exist when it comes to SDDC. The recommended course for every IT leader requires weighing various benefits and tradeoffs specific to their environment. To spur conversation, the chart below provides a suggestion for how to approach this process:

Option Approach Benefit Risk
Easy Button Implement Unified / Hyper Converged System Easier to implement, easier to run Vendor Lock-In, Scale
VMware Centric Adopt Cloud Foundation Leverage skill set you may already have Cost, cost, cost
Microsoft Centric Azure Pack Leverage existing investment in Microsoft Evolution is slower than other solutions
Open Standards OpenStack Goodness of Open Standards Waiting on Open Standards evolution to match existing solutions

Organizations that have standardized on Microsoft or VMware will probably find that growing within that environment makes practical sense. Both companies are pushing their version of the SDDC to enable data centers into the future. Other organizations might find that they want to begin the journey with a unified or hyper-converged architecture. Still others might look to open standards and adopt OpenStack as their SDDC of the future. There is no right or wrong answer, only what fits into their future data center evolution strategy.

Conclusion

Utilizing SDDC to create IT as a Service provides a strategic roadmap for IT leadership. It sets the founding principle on how a data center needs to and will evolve; it creates an evolutionary path for the data center. The Software Defined Data Center can be a strategic approach to ensure the data center can support the goals of the business and provide the agility and flexibility required to enable the business to embrace and thrive.

Opinions expressed in the article above do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Data Center Knowledge and Penton.

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