7 software-defined trends you should expect to see

By Brian T. Horowitz, Editor and Contributing Writer

“Software-defined data center” (SDDC) has become a frequently used buzzword as companies embrace virtualization and cloud computing.

The term was coined by Steve Herrod, VMware’s former chief technology officer, in 2012 and describes a virtualized infrastructure delivered as a service and automated by software.

“In essence, SDDC envisions a future where all of the hardware, software and information, along with management tasks, can be centrally and seamlessly managed through a single interface,” Charles King, a principal analyst with Pund-IT, told Tech Page One.

Although SDDC may have had a slow start, shortening time to value and reducing complexity has given software-defined technology a better chance at adoption.

“We’ve taken a huge step forward with a set of offerings that combine compute, networking and storage resources into converged infrastructure implemented as a software appliance or hardware unit,” Gelsinger said.

As a software-defined platform and virtualization bring centralized control of servers, networking, storage and data centers, the term “software-defined everything” is coming into play.

Software-defined everything is “basically everything abstracted,” Jennifer Koppy, an IDC analyst, told Tech Page One. “You’re dependent on everything.”

Because data center managers are cautious about taking risk, SDDC may not gain widespread adoption until 2016, according to Koppy.

“It’s really a cultural shift; it’s a mindset shift and they take a long time to happen,” Koppy said.

Here are 7 software-defined trends to watch.

1. A move toward automation

At the heart of SDDC is automation, according to Pat Gelsinger, CEO of VMware.

“The software layer replaces management with automation to further increase operational simplicity,” Gelsinger told CIO.com. “This very high degree of automation is the only way that infrastructure can keep pace with the many and various and changing demands put upon it by the business.”

Although automation is a key component of SDDC, only 26 perent of enterprises have advanced from simple virtualization to automation, according to 451 Research’s TheInfoPro Server and Virtualization study.

2. Software-defined networking goes open source

Software-defined networking platforms are increasingly open source. Being open involves giving customers a choice so they’re not restricted to a proprietary solution, Tom Burns, vice president and general manager for Dell’s Networking & Peripherals division, told Tech Page One at Dell World 2014.

Software-defined networking (SDN), in which networking is controlled through software or virtualization, comprises three vectors: programmability, the OpenFlow protocol and virtualization, Burns said.

SDN is also multitenant, he said, while using the analogy of a multitenant apartment building. You want to use the same IT infrastructure for multiple tenants.

3. OpenStack gains momentum

OpenStack is a project in which developers and cloud computing providers come together to create an open platform for public and private clouds. It “brings standardization to the software defined data center,” said Gary Chen, IDC’s research manager for cloud and virtualization system software.

“I think OpenStack is very similar to what we saw with Linux in the ’90s and early 2000s. It’s along that same maturity curve. We’re seeing the same amount of participation,” Chen said.

Although the OpenStack environment is somewhat fragmented, that will be a key way that components will implement software-defined technology, according to Forrester Research analyst Rich Fichera.

“If you want a software-defined environment that’s enterprise-ready today, you either need to go with an augmented OpenStack with a lot of enhancements or VMware or [Windows] Azure,” Fichera said. “Of those, VMware is the heir apparent to the enterprise data center. Roughly 5,000 of the largest companies in the world have VMware.”

4. Pushing into software-defined storage

The software-defined storage market is expected to be worth $5.41 billion by 2018, according to research firm MarketsandMarkets.

“While storage vendors themselves are pushing the SDDC envelope, I believe some virtualization players can and will focus more and more energy on the storage side of SDDC,” Charles King, principal analyst with Pund-IT, told Tech Page One in an email.

The storage vendors that will succeed with a software-defined strategy will be those that embrace multiple platforms, King noted.

5. Emergence of container platforms

A type of software-defined technology gaining attention are containers, and open-source projects such as Docker will provide the automation to deploy applications within them.

Containers are similar to a hypervisor or virtual machine but more focused at the operating system level, Chen said.

“Instead of virtualizing the entire server hardware and providing a VM that has to have an OS on it, it’s basically a very lightweight virtualization technology that lets you virtualize the operating system,” Chen said. “And then you put your app on top of a virtualized OS in this container.”

6. SDDC will enable the hybrid cloud

Hybrid clouds combine elements of public and private clouds, and SDDC is the “architectural foundation” for this cloud model, according to VMware’s Gelsinger.

A hybrid cloud model “enables you to provision and run your apps seamlessly in your on-premises private cloud, a secure public cloud service like our vCloud Air service, or a combination of the two,” Gelsinger said.

7. Companies will gain more control over resources

Managing your IT infrastructure using software rather than hardware brings more flexibility and control over data, Gelsinger said.

A key feature of SDDC is to allow more governance and control for IT, Raghu Raghvram, executive vice president and general manager of VMware’s software-defined data center division, said at VMworld 2014.

With SDDC “you can become a systems integrator yourself,” Raghvram said.

SDCC platforms let IT managers develop a “map” into server resources and enable them to see how they’re connected with networking and storage equipment, according to Jennifer Koppy, an IDC analyst.

Virtualization from companies such as VMware will be a key component in the development of SDDC.

IT environments have the potential to be robust with platforms such as VMware’s vSphere 6, according to Fichera.

“We’ll see what people used to call the VMware cluster become increasingly all inclusive — including storage and more networking — and that’s the way in which the data center will be transformed into a software-defined environment,” Fichera said. “That’s the critical path.”

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