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Software Defined Data Center: Marketing or Meaty?

The software-defined data center is the latest term being applied to the abstraction, orchestration and automation of hardware-based resources via layers of code. Is it just empty marketing, or is there something you can sink your teeth into?

It seems like all IT hardware is now being defined by software. In the network, software defined networking (SDN) is a daily topic of debate. On the storage side, discussions about abstraction and programmability are starting to be lumped into the category of software-defined storage (SDS). And now a term is emerging to denote the convergence of all these things into something much bigger: the software-defined data center (SDDC).

SDDC was coined by the former CTO of VMware, Dr. Steve Herrod. The first mention was at Interop 2012. Dr. Herrod was talking about the convergence of networking, storage and server virtualization, and how it would affect engineers and architects and change their vision of the data center.

The idea behind SDDC is fairly sound: Resources become abstracted to run in software to provide consistent, repeatable deployment models. Orchestration and manageability are key. For this idea to provide maximum value, software abstraction must touch everything, not just switches or a SAN or servers. The entire data center construct must be programmable.

While the idea might be sound, many were dismissive of the term because VMware started using SDDC as a marketing tool for its own products, including vCloud Director and its various components, and then Nicira/NSX.

While people may deride SDDC as "marketecture," I see it as something more. It's a push to converge the major components of the data center to reduce complexity and increase the capabilities of the professionals managing those systems.

SDDC doesn't have to be just a marketing term, nor does it only have to refer to VMware. We have numerous options for implementing software abstraction, programmability and orchestration, be it OpenStack with Neutron (nee Quantum) for server/network virtualization or Puppet to automate deployment.

[While technical debates over SDN rage, what will it mean for IT? Check out “Five SDN Benefits Enterprises Should Consider.”]

We also have to consider how SDDC concepts will affect business models. How will your business transform once you can rapidly deploy data center assets with complete visibility into the process? The Phoenix Project showed how devops changed one company's ability to deliver. What is the SDDC version going to look like? How will the organizational structure of a company change when networking, storage and server administration all live under the same roof? And what will it take for organizations to get to a highly automated environment?

Debate over SDDC and its meaning is normal and healthy. The IT industry has done it before with cloud computing and, more recently, SDN. When SDN was first being discussed, many people incorrectly assumed it was only about OpenFlow. Now the definition is evolving to encompass several different technological approaches that have the same general goal: to abstract network resources for faster, more automated deployment.

Skeptics are right to point out the marketing aspects of a term like SDDC, which can become abstract enough to include just about anything. Vendors get accused (often rightly so) of applying flavor-of-the month terms to whatever gear they have laying around.

But over time, industry definitions begin to shake out, and to actually stand for something. I think the same thing will occur with SDDC. I want people focused on solving the problems in the new data center rather than arguing about marketing. When we can have a discussion about the technology powering a software-defined data, then we can really own the term for ourselves.

For those that might be interested in discussing the concept of SDDC a bit further, SDN Central and Gestalt IT are putting on a Software Defined Data Center Symposium in Santa Clara, Calif., on Sept. 10. You can learn more here.

In the meantime, do you think there's value to the SDDC idea, or is it just another acronym that vendors can drape over the same old products? Share your feedback in the comments section below.

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epulier904
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epulier904,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/30/2013 | 5:35:04 PM
re: Software Defined Data Center: Marketing or Meaty?
We are in a phase of IT transformation where the enterprise is changing faster than the vendor community, demanding a new model to engage, and a next generation view on how they intend to run their business. The SDDC is here, itGs real and it matters. HoweverGand this is the important part G it only matters in so far as it provides faster delivery of new applications and services. Automation alone is not sufficient to move the needle in this time of massive transformation. For my most recent blog on the topic: http://www.servicemesh.com/res...

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Eric Pulier, CEO, ServiceMesh
@mbushong
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@mbushong,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/22/2013 | 1:49:19 PM
re: Software Defined Data Center: Marketing or Meaty?
There continues to be a lot of pressure from the blogosphere to define, ferret out the marketing offenders, and ultimately label solutions.

But aside from CTO organizations who have an explicit job to try out new technology, everyone else buys solutions to problems. The definitions, while interesting for discussion, mean less than what something actually does. Whether or not a datacenter solution is software-defined is less important than if it does something useful.

There is already a bit of a calming in the definition wars, which probably peaked during ONS. I suspect we will see companies getting back to talking about what their solutions do. This is ultimately what is behind the use case discussions, and even that will be replaced by customer references as this stuff finds its way into production networks.

Mike Bushong (@mbushong)
Plexxi
Tom Hollingsworth
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Tom Hollingsworth,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/20/2013 | 3:24:10 AM
re: Software Defined Data Center: Marketing or Meaty?
I think you're going to see a lot of discussion around the separation of the physical layer and the rest of the software defined stack in the coming weeks. I also believe that we're going to see a lot of complexity being added to the network for the sake of making things easier for everyone. Now is the time to be sure you can see what's being proposed. That will keep you working on the real networking pieces and not the physical layer "racking and stacking".
Tom Hollingsworth
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Tom Hollingsworth,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/20/2013 | 3:21:53 AM
re: Software Defined Data Center: Marketing or Meaty?
Teren, I think we need to be sure that we are doing our best to keep the discussion focused on technology. That will do what is needed to really drive home the real pieces behind SDDC.
Guest
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Guest,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/20/2013 | 2:44:40 AM
re: Software Defined Data Center: Marketing or Meaty?
Teren, I agree. I think we need to diefine
Drew Conry-Murray
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Drew Conry-Murray,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/20/2013 | 2:06:11 AM
re: Software Defined Data Center: Marketing or Meaty?
I agree that these terms can sometimes be meaningless, or at least that they mean different things to different people, but I do think they're useful at a certain level of discussion. It's easier to talk about "cloud" than it is to talk about "pooled compute, storage and network resources that can scale up or down on demand." I think they provide a general map, and then it's up to the people having the dicussion to explore the finer distinctions to get to a real destination.
XXnerd
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XXnerd,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/19/2013 | 11:25:10 PM
re: Software Defined Data Center: Marketing or Meaty?
Abstraction is all well and good, especially for the software developers, but at some point, it still comes down to cables connected to hardware.

With that said, I do think that SDN or SDDC, or whatever fancy name we want to give it, is indeed going to revolutionize networking. It's not just some new marketing terminology. It's going to add complexity, not reduce it, but we'll live with that complexity because it will make it easier to provide services to application developers and users.

It's going to be very interesting to see what happens! Network engineers and software engineers often distrust each other a bit. The networking people think the software people just know how to open a socket and send client/server data, without any clue what happens in between. The software developers think that the network engineers are just the people who plug in your computer. So, there are going to be issues from Layer 1 all the way through Layer 8.

Those of in the networking field will need to stay sharp and to learn new tools if we don't want to just end up as the grunts who rack and stack.
GGrGnG
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GGrGnG,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/19/2013 | 10:12:56 PM
re: Software Defined Data Center: Marketing or Meaty?
Tom--I think the general problem with terms like SDDC, SDN, DevOps, and Cloud (just to name the more recent offenders) is that they themselves are almost circular definitions; at best vague and hackneyed, at worst co-opted by manufacturers. It almost becomes a feedback loop between the manufacturers and VARs with terms like these, and the average business sits on the sidelines and either takes little notice or watches with amusement as the inevitable dustups and kerfuffles roll by.

I don't dispute the underlying value of all of these ideas, but the problem is that the ideas themselves are drowned out by the chorus of marketecture coming from everywhere. If I ask 3 different people in the industry to define any one of the terms above, I'll likely end up with at least 5 definitions. That's the point where it all jumps the shark as far as useful terminology to use in a conversation; when it ceases to have a valid, agreed-upon-by-all, actionable definition.
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