The Software-Defined Data Center: Potential Game Changer

The SDDC is poised to bring revolutionary changes by providing flexibility to data center storage, switching, security and other infrastructure components.

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If I were to choose one technology breakthrough that completely revolutionized the way data centers are designed and managed, I’d choose server virtualization platforms like VMware, Hyper-V, Xen, and KVM. There are a number of reasons why server virtualization has been so beneficial, including hardware cost savings, decreased data center footprint, and eliminating vendor lock-in.

Beyond these benefits, most of us moved to server virtualization because of the flexibility one has when spinning up customized servers that meet specific application requirements. But for the most part, server virtualization technologies have plateaued. There simply aren’t very many new and groundbreaking features being released.

Because of this, virtualization software companies are looking to broaden their horizons by targeting the entire data center in what’s known as Software- Defined Data Center (SDDC) architectures. And according to many technology insiders, SSDCs could prove to have as much, if not more, impact on how we operate our data centers than server virtualization itself.

The concept of a SDDC is not brand new, but there still isn’t a killer platform. Part of this is due to the sheer scope that SDDC visionaries see as the future of the data center. Much like the flexibility provided by server virtualization, SDDC will do the same for data center storage, switching, security and other infrastructure components that are either handled by bare-metal components or utilize separate virtualization platforms.

The difference is that with SDDC, the entire data center will be controlled using a single virtualization layer. This means that all aspects of the infrastructure can be managed and controlled from one end to the other.

[Read Howard Marks' analysis of an emerging software-defined storage technology that's getting a lot of attention in "Are Server SANs The Future Or Just Hype?"]

Chris Wolf, VMware’s CTO, recently expressed very high hopes for SDDC. In fact, it seems to be one of the key reasons he left Gartner to join VMware in the fist place. Wolf’s blog post from earlier this year about his decision to join VMware paints his vision of SDDC: “With SDDC, we’re beyond servers -- we’re now talking data centers. At full maturity, the SDDC will do for data center consolidation what ESX did for server consolidation, and once again the ROI benefits will be obvious.”

While I’m still somewhat skeptical of most things marketed with the “software defined” marketing buzzword, I do believe that if any company can pull SDDC off successfully, it’s going to be VMware. VMware has had unarguable success in virtualization, so extending its technology into your data center operations seems like a fairly safe bet. Additionally, VMware is a software company and, because of this fact, it has no reason to steer or lock customers into specific hardware. That’s a distinct advantage over others like Cisco that want to sell you mostly proprietary systems.

For those of us who either operate our own data center or work with a cloud service provider, the concept of SDDC is incredibly appealing. The idea that a single virtualization platform could provide us with a complete view and configuration tools to manage an entire data center is a dream come true compared to the collection of point-based solutions we use today.

And while SDDC is still in its infancy, it looks like companies like VMware have shifted focus away from server virtualization and onto a system that can manage the entire data center. I tend to believe Chris Wolf when he says that the future is indeed in SDDC. It’s going to be a game changer for all of us.

About the Author(s)

Andrew Froehlich, President, West Gate Networks

President, West Gate Networks

As a highly experienced network architect and trusted IT consultant with worldwide contacts, particularly in the United States and Southeast Asia, Andrew Froehlich has nearly two decades of experience and possesses multiple industry certifications in the field of enterprise networking. Froehlich has participated in the design and maintenance of networks for State Farm Insurance, United Airlines, Chicago-area schools and the University of Chicago Medical Center. He is the founder and president of Loveland, Colo.-based West Gate Networks, which specializes in enterprise network architectures and data center build outs. The author of two Cisco certification study guides published by Sybex, he is a regular contributor to multiple enterprise IT related websites and trade journals with insights into rapidly changing developments in the IT industry.

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