Welcome to the SDDC

The rise of the software-defined data center

Virtualizing everything, introducing automation and using IT as a service.

What a concept. Software for the modern data center.  Consider the situation even five years ago. Legacy data centers were hardware-centric. Storage companies created their own chips and boxes to ship to customers. Networking vendors took a similar approach, creating individual circuits and arrays for their products. Although this approach wasn’t necessarily bad, the resulting hardware products were relatively inflexible, and the flexible software layer played a supporting role.

In this article, I introduce the new data center standard: the software-defined data center (SDDC), in which software becomes the focus over hardware. Because SDDCs have several defining characteristics, including virtualization, automation, and the use of IT as a Service (ITaaS), I take a look at these characteristics in detail.

Virtualization

Every SDDC employs a high degree of virtualization, which goes beyond virtualizing servers. Everything is sucked up into the virtualization vacuum cleaner: storage, servers, and even supporting services such as load balancers, wide-area net- work (WAN) optimization devices, and deduplication engines. Nothing is spared. This eliminates the islands of CPU, memory, storage, and networking resources that are traditionally locked within a single-purpose device, such as a backup to disk device, and creates a single shared resource pool for both business and infrastructure applications.

Virtualization abstracts the hardware components of the data center and overlays them with a common software layer: the virtualization layer, which manages the underlying hardware. The hardware can be a mix-and-match mess, but it doesn’t matter anymore, thanks to the virtualization layer. All the data center administrator has to worry about is making sure that applications are running as expected. The virtualization layer handles the heavy lifting.

Automation

Many boardrooms today are asking companies to do more with less. One of the fastest ways to improve efficiency (and reduce costs) is to automate routine operations as much as possible.

Until now, many legacy IT architectures have been so varied and complex that automation has been a pipe dream only. SDDC brings the dream one step closer to reality.

Software-imposed normalization of the data center architecture permits higher degrees of automation. Moreover, the software layer itself is often chock-full of automation helpers, such as application programming interfaces (APIs). With this kind of assistance, automation becomes far easier to achieve.

IT as a Service

When resources are abstracted away from hardware and plenty of automation techniques are in place, companies often discover that they can treat many IT services as exactly that — services.

As they do with all other services, companies that use ITaaS have certain expectations:

  • Predictability: The service should operate in a predict- able way at a predictable cost. The SDDC can provide this conformity.
  • Scalability: Business needs today may be very different from tomorrow, and the data center can’t be a limiting factor when expansion becomes necessary. In fact, a data center should be an enabler of business expansion.
  • Improved utilization: Companies expect to get maximum benefit from the services they buy. Because a hyperconvergence-powered SDDC is built on common components that eliminate the islands of resources traditionally trapped within infrastructure appliances, high utilization rates are exceedingly easy to achieve.
  • Fewer personnel: With SDDC, a company can operate a data center with fewer people. The reason is simple: SDDC banishes traditional resource islands in favor of the new software-powered matrix.
  • Having fewer personnel translates directly to lower costs. In fact, research by Avaya suggests that an efficient SDDC can lower personnel costs from 40 percent of total cost of ownership to a mere 20 percent.
  • Reduced provisioning time: A company that invests in SDDC expects to receive business benefits. SDDC offers agility and flexibility, which reduce provisioning times for the new services that business units require.

Hardware in a software world

When people hear the phrase software-defined data center, their first question usually concerns where the software for the SDDC is supposed to run. The answer is simple: The software layer runs on hardware.

But if SDDC is software-centric, why is hardware still required? Again, the answer is simple: You can’t run a SDDC without hardware.

Most hardware in SDDCs looks quite different from hardware in traditional environments. Whereas legacy data centers have lots of proprietary hardware to manage myriad devices, a SDDC uses mostly commodity hardware.

If a SDDC contains any proprietary hardware, the software leverages it to carry out important functions. In the world of hyperconvergence, this kind of hardware essentially becomes part of the data center’s standard operations. Because it’s identical hardware (and not unique to each device), it scales well as new appliances are added to the data center. Software is still top dog in such an environment, but without the hardware, nothing would happen.

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