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It's the Software, Stupid

SDN is far from being just a buzzword, it’s the future for cloud service providers

Eighteen months ago I wrote a blog “Is the world ready for software-defined network architecture” where I discussed how software defined network (SDN) was starting to grab a lot of attention and discuss its potential. In this month’s blog, I’m going to take another look at this area and how Software Defined Infrastructure as a whole is really starting to take hold within service providers and clients alike and look at why and what to expect in the next eighteen months.

Let’s start with recapping what Software Defined Infrastructure is; it’s a software-based technology that allows the creation and operation of infrastructure through software, removing the need for vendor specific hardware products and skills. Eighteen months ago it was all about Software Defined Networking, since then we have seen the $1.2Bn acquisition of Nicira, the then leading SDN vendor, by VMware.

Recently, VMware launched NSX, where they have merged the Nicira products into the VMware Networking and Security product areas, and even networking giant Cisco has embraced it with the release of its Cisco Open Network Environment (ONE), designed to help networks become more open, programmable, and application-aware aka SDN.

We have also seen the growth of Software Defined techniques being used across all areas of infrastructure. Why? Because a Software Defined Datacentre (SDDC) delivers enormous benefits to organisations, especially ones, like cloud service providers, with large and complicated infrastructures. It provides an environment that is completely separated from the underlying hardware and, through the use of workflows and automation technologies and techniques, the potential is an unparalleled level of service delivery and massive reductions in operating costs.

All the various techniques allow the use of commodity-based servers, networking and a mixture of storage, all of which shifts the value into the software; the physical infrastructure truly becomes irrelevant and the end customer will never know nor should care about it and can focus on the service itself and what value its bring to the business.

When looking specifically at cloud service providers, Software Defined techniques allow them to build their core competencies around the software layer rather than having to skill up on a multitude of physical infrastructure technologies. This delivers a far more agile service covering the day-to-day operations of running infrastructure to the complexity of on-boarding, migrating and off-boarding data/clients. The processes become workflow instructions that are fully automated or can be initiated by a simple click of a mouse. The workflows can be aligned to the service providers’ ITIL and ISO 20000/27001/9001 processes and standards, with sign-off stages ensuring a level of compliance only previously achieved through costly and time consuming manual checks.

Eighteen months ago we were at the beginning of another rather large evolutionary step in the lifecycle of virtualisation and cloud computing. Today, while Software Defined technologies and techniques have become very pervasive with many organisation utilising it and maybe not even realising they are, it’s also enabling service providers to elevate their service offerings to deliver true IT as a Service, across all forms of cloud including hybrid based environments.

What next then? Well, as discussed last time, this isn’t the beginning of the end of the big vendors, many have already started to embrace the new software-centric infrastructure era with many of them joining standards bodies or helping to create them to ensure that their new product lines conform to the appropriate standards as well. This is a challenge for the established infrastructure vendors though, as the change involved cannot be underestimated, it will affect their long-term revenue streams so they will need to create new products, offerings and services that plug the gap and we are already starting to see this like Cisco’s Open Network Environment (ONE) mentioned earlier which is a direct response to SDN.

As with any new technology areas, the potential for new start-ups to innovate within the space is massive and it’s this that excites me the most because, as with other cloud technologies, companies that have started up to solve issues created by the cloud SDDC, won’t be any different. So what are we likely to see? I believe it will be a continued focus on software that can be configured to perform tasks that were either hardware based or people based.

If you haven’t already started to look at this area then my recommendation is to start now. This, for me, is Cloud v2, it’s what’s required to truly deliver the vision of cloud computing and utility based IT services.

By Julian Box, Posted 10th October 2013.

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