Why a new era of computing has arrived with the software-defined data centre

Why a new era of computing has arrived with the software-defined data centre Martin Cooper is Director of Systems Engineering, International at NetApp SolidFire.


The delivery of IT services on-demand is becoming an increasingly common ambition for enterprises. As businesses are introduced to public cloud platforms such as Amazon Web Services, they are expecting the same flexibility, real-time delivery and cost savings from services across the entire IT landscape.

In turn, this is leading to a brand new world of computing, one in which old client-server models are being turned on their heads, replaced by mobile and cloud computing. By necessity, this is also leading to radical changes across the entire IT infrastructure layer in the data centre.

Let’s take storage as an example. For decades, storage has been defined by closed, proprietary and monolithic hardware-centric architectures, built for single applications and local network access, with limited redundancy and manual management. And in a traditional data centre, each component of the infrastructure has an independent set of management requirements. Trying to provide dynamic workload delivery is a complex and time-consuming process; manual infrastructure reconfiguration is required and new hardware is often essential. In practice, this places an onerous workload on IT staff who struggle with a lack of agility and leaves the data centre exposed to human error.

With these new requirements placed on IT infrastructure comes the development of the software-defined data centre, which is driving change across the entire industry. For example, all primary storage is moving to flash by necessity, with research firm IDC expecting all-flash arrays to dominate primary storage market spend by 2019.

The software-defined data centre

An essential characteristic of this new model is software that is decoupled from hardware. While its definition varies among vendors, essentially it allows data to be pooled and assigned to applications, making it more flexible to needs, and greatly increases the ability to scale-out depending on the architecture.

The decoupling of software and hardware has also introduced automation into the data centre. The ability to abstract service offerings from the underlying infrastructure paves the way for the delivery of new enterprise cloud consumption models based on the specific needs of the business, such as infrastructure as a service, a converged or hyper-converged infrastructure, or even software-based infrastructure on commodity hardware.

Ultimately, this storage model is defining the next-generation data centre.

From the static to the dynamic

The software-defined data centre is characterised by the ability to deploy, manage, consume and release resources, and monitor infrastructure, all with fine-tuned control. This approach eliminates IT silos and underpins a move from a static to an elastic model, enabling new levels of agility, which are essential to the successful delivery of enterprise services via the cloud.

For example, with software-defined storage that virtualises performance separate from capacity, IT managers gain unprecedented storage control, enabling them to dial up performance or dial it down as required, add either resource in small increments without disruption to scale-out easily and use data services for tasks such as deduplication, snapshots and replication, all in real-time.

Added to this is network functions virtualisation (NFV), which offers a new way to design, deploy and manage networking services. Similar to other next-generation data centre services, it decouples network functions from proprietary hardware appliances so they can run in software. Allied with software-defined networking (SDN), the result is a powerful architecture that is dynamic, manageable, cost-effective, and adaptable – making it ideal for the high-bandwidth and dynamic nature of cloud platforms.

Benefits you can’t ignore

Taken together, software-defined storage and automation, NFV, SDN and the software-defined data centre radically improve service delivery, dramatically reduce costs and enable levels of flexibility not previously seen.

As a result, we’re now seeing a reduction in the amount of time required to manage storage by dynamically classifying and moving data between storage tiers. By transferring infrequently accessed data to lower-cost drives, organisations save money and improve performance by lightening the load. Further, by reducing the number of active files, we’re seeing shorter daily backup times.

It’s hardly surprising then that the software-defined data centre is inevitable and many are already undertaking this journey. If you haven’t already set out on this road, developing this model depends on whether you are building out a new data centre, or updating an existing data centre.

However, wherever you are on the journey, in both cases it’s an investment in the business. If you’re struggling with the decision you need to think about whether or not you want an investment that will gain value over time and grow with the business, or an investment that you struggle with as you try to make the old hardware-centric IT model fit into a new era of computing.

Operational benefits aside, the cost drivers for software-defined data centres are certainly compelling. Take network virtualisation as an example. Instead of applications taking an average of 12 weeks to deploy in an enterprise, it can take minutes, with all of the required network capabilities and security policies attached to the application.

This should certainly impress business decision makers, as far less time and money is spent on implementation and the return on investment begins almost immediately.

Today, many companies are already exploring, planning or virtualising their networks as they move from the client-server era to the mobile-cloud era. They understand only too well that the software-defined data centre is more agile, secure, scalable, and cost-effective to run, than a traditional hardware-centric data centre.

If you’re struggling to convince senior executives to make the leap, speak to them in the language of business benefits to achieve buy-in; the long term cost savings and return on investment, greater flexibility to scale up and down as required, and to have IT services on demand and in real-time.

It is also worth spelling out that agile public cloud computing and on-demand IT is not a future abstract; it is already here and being used by an increasing number of organisations which are already reaping the benefits.

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