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Data centres are changing, becoming software-defined data centres, with IT organisations at varying levels of maturity. How is your transformation going?
For many organisations, it’s early days, says Duncan Epping (@DuncanYB), chief technologist storage and availability at VMware.
“I believe it is fair to say that only a small number of businesses have achieved, or are close to achieving, the full transformation to an SDDC. However, many have taken the first step in the right direction, which is the introduction of a virtualised computer infrastructure.”
The first step is to transform either the storage or network infrastructure, and then to see how the IT organisation aligns with an SDDC from a people and process perspective, he says.
The sorts of questions to ask yourself, Epping advises, are: “Does your IT organisation still work in a siloed fashion? Do storage, network and virtualisation administrators share common goals and objectives? Is your IT organisation close to the business and app owners, and do your goals and objectives align with theirs?”
In order to fully benefit from the flexibility and agility the SDDC offers, businesses need to address these issues.
Tony Lock (@FreeformCentral), distinguished analyst at Freeform Dynamics, says the firm’s research has found that only a minority of organisations are proactively investing to build a fully software-defined IT infrastructure.
“Far more report that they are becoming more software-defined by default, as they acquire solutions that have the characteristics that move management control higher up the software stack and away from the underlying hardware.”
Many are sceptical about a fully integrated, software-defined infrastructure, says Lock. “IT professionals like the idea of building systems with great flexibility that can be managed with ever-higher degrees of automation, but many feel the technologies involved are still quite new. Many are yet to be convinced the solutions available are mature enough for broad use.”
However, Lock believes it is clear that the proportion of workloads running in SDDC environments will increase over time.
As this starts to happen, many different industry verticals stand to gain, argues Arpit Joshipura (@linuxfoundation), general manager, networking and orchestration at The Linux Foundation.
These include network service providers (cloud, operators, web/hosting, telecom/carriers), who are making available open-source building blocks, in a production-ready environment, for networking and orchestration.
“Tech and FinTech companies have also been aggressive in this journey to an open and software-defined world. There are several other verticals that have taken a leadership role in this journey, especially in the retail, healthcare, hospitality worlds.”
Joshipura adds, “We expect that as IT organisations understand the value of the transformation (for example agility and TCO) they also have to transform their skill-set within the organisations with more DevOps and software skills.”
This transformation journey is one of rewards but also risks, warns Aldo Ceccarelli (@aldoceccarelli), acclaimed CIO at Italian multinational Sedamyl.
“The data centre, as the beating heart of the application economy, must be automated, defined by applications and driven by policies. New digital services require IT infrastructures to be more flexible, scalable, programmable and configurable,” says Ceccarelli.
He adds that sensors and telemetry will enhance SDDC orchestration, helping to monitor, manage, control and secure IT systems and reduce their TCO. Meanwhile, SDDC brings faster, more flexible infrastructure reconfiguration from a single console, improving performance of workloads and network traffic management. “These are the main reasons why we are currently evaluating SDDC as a good opportunity for the future.”
However, with important benefits come real risks, says Ceccarelli. These include managing the complexities of internal and off-site data processing; implementing a comprehensive set of logic and rules across your infrastructure; and dealing with governance and security in the context of an SDDC.
As enterprises wrestle with the concept of the SDDC, the technology itself is maturing. “SDDC is going through a transformation right now, with DevOps and containers becoming more and more prevalent, meaning the definition of an SDDC is changing,” comments Chris Goettl (@ChrisGoettl), security product manager at IT management software firm Ivanti.
He continues, “Not only does an IT organisation need to decide what to virtualise and how to define the networking and storage for virtual machines, but now they need to decide whether they virtualise a server or containerise an application. Many companies are thinking about or starting down the path of DevOps and application containerisation today, which means that, whether they realise it or not, they are maturing their SDDC processes by doing so. I think that many companies are moving further along in the transformation process than they may realise.”
One area of data centre virtualisation that has matured over the past few years is software-defined networking (SDN), paving the way towards an SDDC.
Paul Gainham (@PaulGainham), head of marketing at Juniper Networks, observes the need for IT to match the speed at which modern businesses operate.
He says, “Organisations that are on a path to digitally transform themselves need an infrastructure that can flex literally in real time. To do that, the key data centre building blocks of compute, storage, network and security need to operate under a synchronised umbrella of automation.”
Gainham adds, “When SDN is done well, it speeds up workloads and cuts down timelines from weeks to minutes. True automated workload management becomes a reality. Furthermore, automation overall, and SDN as a subset layer, opens up the door to the deployment of new business models such as hybrid cloud, where that workload mobility becomes borderless.”
“The reality is that businesses vary hugely in their ability to achieve the transformation to the SDDC,” says Simon Robinson (@simonrob451), research vice president, 451 Research.
“Many businesses are not ready for it simply because they are locked into hardware refresh models – or a mentality that doesn’t permit the possibility of an alternative. That limits their ability to change. Others perceive it as too disruptive, or don’t think they have the necessary technical skills to make the change. These highlight that the move to SDDC are as much about people and process change as they are about pure technology/product change.”
Robinson concludes, “Those businesses that are ready for SDDC transformation are generally those who have grasped that their long-term future, or very survival, rests on their ability to differentiate through digital services. This, in turn, requires an underlying infrastructure that is both agile and efficient in meeting the needs – whatever they may be – of its consumers. At 451 Research, we call this requirement: ‘invisible infrastructure’.”
Tikiri Wanduragala, Lenovo’s EMEA x86 Server Systems Senior Consultant, says that in 2017: “I believe that we will see SDN really break through to become a mainstream enterprise option. That’s an important development because it helps propel the idea of a SDDC.”
He adds, “In terms of what this means for us at Lenovo, well I have to say that one of our best-kept secrets is our broad portfolio of networking products. We develop our own range of networking products including top of rack, software and embedded switches with 10G to 40G Ethernet and converged fibre channel over Ethernet with SDN support with OpenFlow, and Open Network Install Environment (ONIE). The products cover the full range of enterprise networking deployments.” Lenovo also offers a range of software-defined storage solutions within their StorSelect portfolio.