Over the past decade, server and storage virtualization technologies have revolutionized the datacentre, bringing greater efficiency and flexibility to the provisioning of resources, and at the same time, drastically cutting costs. But what happens when every aspect of the datacentre is virtualized — not just compute and storage, but networking too? And what if these resources could work together in harmony, communicating autonomously among each other to request and provision resources? This is the vision of the software-defined datacentre (SDDC): a fully virtualized and automated datacentre, delivered as a service and not as infrastructure.
What are the advantages?
The benefits of SDDCs are similar to those of server and storage virtualization (including lower costs, and greater flexibility, efficiency and continuity), but with the added benefits of a converged architecture. Think of it as a layer on top of the entire cloud that automatically pools and provisions storage, server and networking resources in order to meet capacity, availability and response time requirements. For example, an SDDC could produce faster deployments since resources can be allocated almost instantly without the need of a technician.
What are the barriers?
While the benefits are compelling, barriers still stand in the way. Three core elements need to be in place before a true SDDC is realized: server, storage, and network virtualization. Server and storage virtualization are both already well-entrenched. Network virtualization, however, is still in its infancy due to the immaturity of software-defined networks (SDNs). SDNs are a critical component for a SDDC. Once SDN technology is fully developed, it will allow applications to communicate directly with the server and storage infrastructure, and enable them to make requests for resources autonomously. Currently, an IT specialist still needs to orchestrate the process that allows applications to talk to server and storage infrastructure. Luckily, new acquisitions by leading technology companies signal that SDNs may be closer than we think. Cisco, for example, acquired Insieme, a maker of SDN technology, whose technology was recently incorporated into their Nexus switches. VMWare acquired Nicira, another SDN company. Microsoft and Arista Networks are also forging ahead with SDN strategies.
What does this all mean?
Despite the fact that true SDDCs may still be a few years away, they have the potential to revolutionize the way infrastructure has traditionally been architected, deployed and managed. There are certainly measures that can be taken in the interim, while the technology is still being developed and tested. Shifting an IT department from a workload-defined architecture to a fully software-defined architecture will drastically reduce costs, and increase efficiency, flexibility and business continuity. However, the SDDC is a trend that is worth watching. I’ve certainly got my eye on it.