The Software-Defined Revolution: Beyond The Hype

Should every technology be "software-defined?" How to choose SDX for your datacenter and cloud environment.

Bill Kleyman

March 5, 2014

4 Min Read
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The mist still settles from the burst of cloud computing. New marketing terms, new technologies, new infrastructure optimizations, and entirely new cloud delivery models could fill a dictionary with new acronyms. Infrastructure has evolved, giving us more physical resources to utilize, but a big part of advancements are due to breakthroughs at the logical, or virtual, layer. 

This has led to software-defined technologiesof every shape and form. Some deserve an acronym, and some are jumping on the bandwagon. The challenge is to understand the different components that make up the SDX revolution, and how they fit together. You'll also need to know how these technologies relate to the public and private cloud. Most of all, how do they affect your own datacenter environment, applications, and job?

Software-defined networking (SDN) is of course the most widespread of the SDX technologies, involving thecontrol of data flow over local and distributed nodes. The idea is to utilize the software layer to manipulate how and where traffic goes within a datacenter. This can be accomplished at the virtual layer (think VMware and Nicira) as well as at the physical layer (a la Cisco and its NX-OS platform). These powerful network control mechanisms can take your datacenter traffic control methodology to a new level.

Software-defined security (SDsec) has been springing up recently, as if information security has not always been based a great deal on software. This is also sometimes called "next-generation security." Take a look at what Palo Alto Networks and Check Point Security Technologies are doing for examples of how an enterprise can deploy intelligent, software-based, virtual security appliances throughout the entire network. 

However, just like the earlier networking example, software-defined security can happen on logical and physical platforms. In some cases, an entire virtual appliance -- such as an intrusion-protection system or data loss prevention platform -- is deployed for a specific purpose. In other cases, you might have a physical appliance serving up security technologies like application firewalls.

Software-defined storage (SDS) is one technology deserving of a new acronym. SDS allows the typical storage controller to return to being simply a storage controller, while a very powerful and intelligent data tier controls and manipulates data based on a number of variables. Now, you can have multiple storage options with one logical front-end.

The Atlantis ILIO SDS platform is a good example. This virtual appliance can tier data and push workloads based on access, reads, writes, importance, and a lot more to the appropriate disk. Basically, you present storage pools (performance for flash and standard disk for capacity/archival) and allow the virtual appliance to make intelligent decisions on your behalf. Furthermore, SDS helps with data distribution, redundancy, and -- of course -- disaster recovery options. 

Software-defined datacenter (SDDC) comes into play as the datacenters gain importance in general. Today, organizations are redefining how they utilize their datacenter infrastructures and plan around optimization and utilization. As the importance of the datacenter grows -- so do challenges around management.

[Who will control SDN-ified datacenters? The results of our SDN survey explore this question and more.]

The software-defined datacenter can mean many things, however. It can mean dynamic automation around workload and resource provisioning. It can mean that a datacenter provider has a complete logical management stack that spans entire regions, or the globe. IO Datacenters, for example, has a system known as the IOOS, or datacenter operating system. Basically, this type of logical datacenter abstraction is able to give customers complete control over virtual workloads and physical resources on a global level.

Software-defined convergence (SDC) is a newer term that is not widely adopted yet, but still an important concept. Converged infrastructure is building the physical framework around current and future IT platforms, combining network, storage, compute, and even data optimization into an integrated architecture.

Managing this integrated system as a cohesive whole is most likely the biggest challenge for any enterprise. Platforms such as Cisco's Unified Computing System (UCS) exist to help IT take control of their infrastructure. UCS integrates converged systems using the UCS Director Management environment. The environment allows administrators to create intelligent hardware and software profiles that enable datacenter and converged infrastructure automation, providing  "follow-the-sun" resource utilization on a global scale.

SDX technologies can help optimize your datacenter, cloud, and overall IT infrastructure -- and you may already be taking part in the SDX revolution without even realizing it. Examine your virtual and physical appliances to understand exactly what they're capable of. Then match that against the needs of your organization's critical data flows and how they can be secured. Software-defined technologies can directly optimize both your IT environment and overall business process if you work them into your datacenter and cloud platforms with realistic expectations.

About the Author(s)

Bill Kleyman

Bill Kleyman, Executive Vice President of Digital Solutions, Switch; Writer/Speaker

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