Past the jargon: Defining software defined data center and its impact to cloud and DevOps

With the introduction of Software Defined Data Center into the pantheon of industry jargon, is the IT industry about to be assaulted by another round of confusion and hype and what does this mean to your Cloud and DevOps initiatives? It’s a question I recently explored during my regular client strategy reviews while I was fortunate enough to join Lenny Liebmann from Infoweek during a series of round table conversations across the United States. Here’s what I discovered and my thoughts on how you can prepare for the coming confusion.


The first observation that I will make, is that like Cloud Computing, there’s a “two speed economy” for familiarity with the Software Defined Data Center (SDDC). A number of large enterprises are already looking into the topic proactively. But there are vastly more who are only just starting to hear the term and are confused about what it means to them. I suspect this suits some vendors’ aims, as the majority of the confusion appears to be the result of vendors attempting to differentiate proprietary versions of “software defined” in order to create a lock-in for their products before buyers can figure out what’s really going on. 


So, what is it?

Like Cloud before it, the primary area of confusion is that many IT professionals are being led to believe that SDDC equals virtualisation - a conclusion I would argue is incorrect because it doesn’t address the core of what makes SDDC so different - and that’s the ability to program your infrastructure.


For me, the simplest way to describe a software defined data center is to substitute the term “infrastructure-as-code.” The term is not something that I came up with. In fact when I first heard it I have to admit I was confused by it. I thought it meant using “scripts” to manage infrastructure, something that we’ve not only been doing for decades, most of us would like to get away from! 


Instead, a software defined data center can be thought of as taking every aspect of your data center - servers, storage, networking and middleware and allowing them to be manipulated through a set of APIs that can modify the behavior of your infrastructure in a predictable way. While it requires resources to be abstracted from the underlying hardware, this is much more than virtualisation (which I think of as an operational enabler). A software defined data center can be seen as a developer enabler, allowing innovation to be accelerated by establishing standards to allow developers to directly design, program and control the infrastructure they need, enabling a speed and scale of “app” innovation not possible before.


“BUT WAIT!” I hear you cry. “If we give developers control of shared infrastructure, won’t they consume everything and bring the business down around our ears?!” And it’s a fair question, the relationship between developers and operations has been tense to say the least for many years. Which is why it’s important to set operational and behavioral standards before embarking on widespread adoption of a software defined approach. 


The good news is that we know what that approach might look like. Today developers allocate and manipulate a physical resource today using virtualised, abstracted interfaces - virtual memory by using standardised programming language APIs like malloc() in the C programming language. No one needs to call the operations department and ask for them to call the ITIL Change Advisory Board. No one asks the developer to wait until they’ve got a spare operations manager to go and plug in the memory, it all happens behind the scenes. Operations merely needs to know:


1). Was it tested?

2). Is the code under source control?

3). Is the configuration of the system under test controlled and replicable?

4). Are changes secure and traceable?


These are the same concepts that apply to treating infrastructure as code in a software defined data center and are enabled by DevOps principals and tools such as HP Continuous Delivery Automation, HP Fortify and HP Agile Manager and their equivalents.  The hard part as always is changing the people.


Are you ready for the Software Defined Data Center or are you still getting your head around virtualisation and cloud? 



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About the Author
Paul Muller leads the global IT management evangelist team within the Software business at HP. In this role, Muller heads the team responsib...

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