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Software-Defined Datecentres: Set to change the world of cloud?

The emergence of software-defined data centres could mean opportunities for a new breed of service provider.

A few months ago I wrote about the emergence of a new generation of cloud based infrastructure. Following the announcements at last month’s VMworld around software-defined datacentres, we ask outselves whether we\’re any closer to making this the future for cloud infrastructure and will service providers need to embrace it?

Before answering the main question, let’s look at what a software-defined datacentre (SDDC) is. According to VMware ”A software-defined datacentre is where all infrastructure is virtualised and delivered as a service, and the control of this datacentre is entirely automated by software”.

The key enabler of the software-defined datacentre is virtualisation. Due to recent innovations we can now virtualise and pool the three key components of computing: servers, storage, and networking. At the same time we have reached the critical point of capability in that we are able to create pooled virtual resources at a very granular level. The last of the technologies to enable the software-defined datacentre has been network virtualisation in the form of software defined networking.

So, is it the future of cloud based infrastructure and what’s changed? Firstly, up until now IaaS offerings have had to use technology never envisaged for use in a multi-tenanted cloud environment. This in turn has hampered a service provider’s ability to provide true on-demand services with enterprise class performance and SLAs.

The other problem is that the service provider does not want to lock clients into long-term contracts (thus defeating the point of cloud computing) while at the same time that service provider is trying to get its investment back.

Software-defined datacentres change all this. They enable this change through its ability to allow a true pay as you go model, which has the ability to guarantee the performance of the application(s) running within it, which in turn is being executed within a multitenanted infrastructure.

This is a change from what most providers offer today which is some level of guarantees normally around CPU & memory but they start to struggle with I/O bandwidth (network and storage) and disk I/O.

These are areas that have, until recently, been underpinned by technology not designed for cloud, especially high performance storage and networking. If you add in the need and ability to control I/O on a server by server basis on the fly across multi clients, and the traditional technologies and techniques struggle to deliver.

So for me the answer to the original question is yes. The software-defined datacentre is where the smart users and service providers will converge in the coming years.

To make this a reality though requires strong connectivity between the hardware and the software layers through high quality APIs. The new generation of hardware designed for cloud base use is being delivered with the quality required to meet the demands of a software-defined datacentre, but it is going to take the established providers some time to transform their current infrastructures, not least due to the levels of investment they have already made.

This does open up new opportunities for agile and vertically focused providers to gain a march on the big boys, as they either have no or very little investment in the older technologies. They also won’t need the same levels of investment in the new technologies either: the focus will be on programmable software skills, not on the expensive proprietary hardware-based technologies and skills. This in turn will be reflected in the price points, SLA’s and contract terms these new providers will be able to offer.

The changes offered by SDDCs are similar to the changes instigated when isolated networks became connected via the Internet. The delivery of business systems is about to make a similar change as the applications (and the datacentres they run in) abstract themselves from hardware. This pervasive abstraction will enable us to connect, aggregate, and configure the resources business systems require in unprecedented ways.

For me, the switch to a world of software-defined datacentres and service offerings is inevitable and it’s the service providers that embrace these new capabilities the fastest that will win out.

As I mentioned in my original post on this subject I believe we are at the beginning of a new wave of technology and service companies, some will no doubt be acquired by the existing goliaths but some I hope will stay independent, fresh, creative and ultimately innovate as its these types of companies that will continue to shape and drive the future of cloud and our use of it.

By Julian Box, Posted 25th October 2012.