Part I Software-Defined Data Center: Are you ready for the next Evolution?

When thinking about the huge technological shift that is in front of us I can only think of one word that sums it up nicely: Evolution.  At the very core definition, evolution is the gradual development or advancement of something from simple to more complex or better which hopefully, results in benefit(s).   Complexity, in our world, is taboo and usually sends people running for the hills, however, let’s point out something here. While evolution provides complexity, more-so it provides benefit and this has been and is seen in the Data Center over time.

Evolution in the technology industry is inevitable and much like biological evolution, it is a necessity for survival and the survival of our business. Entire species have evolved over time to adapt and overcome obstacles, technologists have to do the same.  The traditional ways of doing business have changed and, in that, so have traditional ways of delivering IT Infrastructure.  We too, need to adapt and change to overcome what has been placed in front of us through fierce competition, and customer expectations (customers: internal & external).

So what is the so called next “Evolution” in IT?  Well, we know it’s certainly focused on software. We hear the buzzword Software-Defined constantly even more-so than “Cloud” these days.  But what does it all mean, exactly and more importantly, what does that mean to your business?

In order to answer this question we have to ask ourselves why it is we do the things we do daily at our jobs.  Questions like why am I a Storage Administrator, or why am I a Virtualization Engineer or broadly why is it we are delivering IT Infrastructure and services in the first place?  The answer to these questions is more apparent now than it ever has been even though it has been the same answer from the very beginning and that is, Applications.  We simply do not design, implement, and support Infrastructure so it can run VM’s, or Operating Systems, we do so to support the delivery of Applications to end users or processes period.  Any attempt to justify what it is we do outside of this is, and i’ll use one of my favorite terms here is, simply, shenanigans. Applications of all kinds whether they are Infrastructure focused apps to deliver a service such as Web Filtering, COTS (Commercial off the Shelf) or custom in-house developed applications, it doesn’t matter.  Infrastructure Engineers provide the resources necessary to run and house applications. Let me let you in on a little secret as well, “Cloud” provides infrastructure for much of the same reasons, it’s just not located on premise in your data center.

Since Applications are key to Product/Service delivery and revenue, the development, delivery, and continuous improvement of these Applications is critical to your business.  The quicker you can develop, deliver, and improve on your Apps, will have a direct impact on business success in your market.  This idea of faster application delivery with continual improvement is not new by any means, however there are Industry Leaders out there that have taken this to the next level (Google, Amazon, Netflix).  Now, let’s not fool ourselves, these are giants in the business world, and while we strive to achieve that type of success, we should be learning from their model and implementing these ideas or subset of ideas, where it makes sense.  These organizations develop, deliver, and improve their applications several times, daily.  The standard IT organization may take several months to deliver version 1.0 or even a dot release of a custom application or an upgrade to a COTS application like Exchange or SharePoint.


Now we have to ask ourselves what Software-Defined delivers as it relates to Applications.  From an IT Infrastructure perspective, over the last decade, we have been focused on disparate infrastructure and bringing it together through Virtualization.  During that period of time we reaped the benefits that Virtualization brought us, consolidation of Applications, easier management and faster delivery of Infrastructure.  Phase one of the Software-Defined vision, which is what I’ll call it, was/is critical in providing IT a way of pooling these resources around compute.  I’ve outlined some of those benefits earlier.  We all know that Compute is just one part of the whole story within the Data Center, however.  We have Storage, Network, Security, Management, and Application Delivery that, while have gotten much better over time, are still separate management points with little to no integration,broadly, with the Virtualization Platform. Phase two builds on this new paradigm where Infrastructure is REQUIRED to be agile with a rapid delivery model in support of Applications for our business and customers. Virtualizing compute is only part of the bigger picture and we must address all core technologies and services in the Data Center to truly deliver on this vision and software is the only way to get there.

Stay tuned for Part II of this series when I break down Software-Defined Storage and Software-Defined Networking and what that means to applications running in your Data Center.