The ‘software defined data centre’ (SDDC), is the end result of a long process of virtualising computer, networking and storage systems. Unlike pure cloud you’re still deploying your own hardware but it gets configured automatically on the fly.
SDDC: mature or immature?
In theory, applications get the resources they need when they need them, and it’s possible to abstract the entire operations model away from a traditional physical data centre.
Look around and you’ll see plenty of arguments about SDDC being just the latest industry hype though. How fast are things really maturing? A recent Gartner report cited here predicts that by 2020, the programmatic capabilities of the SDDC will be thought of as a natural requirement for 75% of Global 2000 enterprises looking to implement a DevOps approach and a hybrid cloud model. But another Gartner report published in April 2017 says: “Switching to or deploying an SDDC is not recommended for all IT organisations. [Infrastructure and operations] leaders must understand the business value, best use cases and risks.
So what’s going on? Where are we really up to with data centre virtualisation, and is it a vision worth pursuing?
Do you even need SDDC?
As one author points out here, the reasoning behind SDDC is not that far removed from how cloud computing was first positioned. And, as with cloud, the results are somewhat mixed.
While SDDC offers businesses great potential for increased agility and scalability, do you actually need those things? Much attention is focused on creating IT environments that are agile and scalable (and some will argue that these attributes are essential to the survival of a business), but not all companies are focused around IT.
As the author says, “for many, IT is a business tool or driver -- and not a focal point. Understanding IT's role in your business is a critical starting point in your SDDC planning process… Another challenge for organisations that aren't built around IT is that technology infrastructure is typically a cost centre rather than a profit generator. For these sorts of businesses, large-scale investments in modernisation are rarely easy, and decision makers often struggle to see how the agility and scalability enabled by SDDC should be business priorities.”
Its not practical to cutover from a traditional data centre to the SDDC (“this is akin to replacing a jet engine while the plane is in the air”), so a key step in SDDC planning is to find areas where overlaps in updates and upgrades will occur and to capitalise on this. If you do decide that SDDC is appropriate for your business, you’re likely to need a long-term plan stretching over several years.
Any large-scale plan to migrate away from a traditional data centre should have ready-demonstrable short- and long-term cost savings. “The more immediate savings might come from a combination of reduced hardware maintenance contracts, fewer overall staff hours and less support of hardware resources and consumption. The long-term savings result from increased agility to meet needs and from future capital savings.”
The arguments for SDDC
Traditional data centres employ static hardware configurations managed by disconnected silos of specialists. This approach can complicate and slow provisioning, and introduces unforeseen consequences or errors requiring remediation before workloads can enter production. SDDC enthusiasts see software-defined technologies as a way to overcome these hurdles, thereby achieving the speed / flexibility that users require from IT as it increasingly takes on the internal role of service provider.
With SDDC, IT silos disappear and resources can be provisioned, changed and reused at will. Automation allows end users to request and provision resources without direct IT involvement, freeing up IT staff to concentrate on more strategic projects. The use of virtual appliances like firewalls and WAN accelerators that are cheap, easy and fast to deploy.
It is for these reasons that so many analysts see SDDC as the future; according to Wise Guy Reports, the SDDC market is projected to grow at a 22 percent compound annual rate between now and 2021.
Even if SDDC is not on the immediate to-do list, it can still influence decisions surrounding IT infrastructure and architectural development. Windows IT Pro’s Richard Hay notes that with Windows 10 approaching the end of its extended support lifecycle, many organisations might want to save some money on licensing costs by upgrading to Windows 2012, which Microsoft will support until October 2023, rather than the more expensive Windows 2016 which more extensively supports SDDC.
What are key vendors doing?
This is probably a good point to take a look at Microsoft’s vision for SDDC. Bear in mind that whether you choose Azure, SDDC, or a hybrid, Microsoft will automatically be onto a winner – your decision going forward depends on the circumstances of your business.
Azure itself is by definition software-defined, so Microsoft has a solid track record in this area. Building and running Azure, Office 365, and other cloud services gave Microsoft the insight to start building SDDC features into Windows Server, starting with Windows Server 2012. Windows Server 2012 and Server 2012 R2 changed in nature from typical data centre workloads to hosting and running virtual workloads.
Microsoft’s true SDDC vision is based around Azure Stack, launched in early 2016, which enables organisations to deploy entire data centres onto bare-metal servers from host OS to software networking to VMs. Add in the core functionality of Windows Server 2016, and Microsoft's on-premises ‘private cloud’ SDDCs form a natural extension of an Azure-focused hybrid deployment.
Other vendors, like VMware, have been busy too. In June 2017 it introduced major updates across its VMware vRealize® cloud management platform to improve SDDC and cloud operations, and accelerate application and infrastructure service delivery across hybrid clouds.
The new releases provide enterprise customers with advanced intelligent operations and automated IT capabilities to more easily stand up and operate a VMware-based cloud. Additionally, VMware is introducing increased support for containers and configuration management solutions to ease moving applications from dev-test to production.
The VMware vRealize Suite enables customers to manage and provision at scale across compute, network, storage and application services across hybrid cloud environments. The platform’s comprehensive management capabilities for the SDDC and across multiple clouds help customers to address three common use cases: intelligent operations; automated IT; and DevOps-ready IT.
At Vohkus we advise taking a good hard look at your options and working out a definitive and robust business case before jumping into any data centre virtualisation project. You may end up with an SDDC, you may instead go with cloud or managed cloud, or – and this is arguably the scenario for many – you will have some form of hybrid.
SDDC will conceivably make transferring resources easier between each of these models over time, but whether its advantages offer real benefits to your business only you can be the judge.