As the name suggests, the software-defined data center is a data center that the entire infrastructure is virtualized. Using software-defined networking and other virtualization technologies, the computing, networking, and storage are all abstracted from hardware and implemented in software. This allows the entire resource collection to be bundled and sold as a service by vendors. In theory, this is a major upgrade over systems that need to be manually provisioned and deployed; however, is the SDDC really the future of the modern data center? The answer may not be a straightforward “yes”, so it is worth a closer look into SDDCs and how they work.
At minimum, there are three elements of the data center that must be virtualized to constitute an SDDC. These are the computing platform (e.g. a virtual machine), software-defined storage and software-defined networking. A system management software (or management controller) is then employed to direct these three virtualized elements. In fact, some in the industry believe it is the management software itself that is the key differentiator between SDDC solutions. Generally, the hardware underneath all this software is referred to “commodity hardware”, perhaps because there are so many vendors that can provide it. For example, the computing platform can be virtualized by a number of vendors – Citrix, Red Hat, VMware, OpenStack, KVM, and others. Of these companies, only VMware for now offers an explicitly labeled SDDC solution, but their competitors offer solutions that function almost identically.
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Why do SDDCs matter? After all, the concept of using software to manage virtualized hardware is not exactly breaking news in the IT industry. One obvious benefit of SDDCs is that, since much of the hardware is abstracted, hardware does not always have to be physically altered to make changes. Even the reallocation of storage units to a different client is achievable through software rather than pure hardware. But there are more benefits to SDDCs besides this standard benefit of virtualization. One is security – since there is centralized control in software over the data center, if security is properly handled, this centralization can be very helpful. Another is the reduced energy consumption due to the abstraction of hardware. Lastly, the virtualized setup is easier for vendors and consumers of SDDC products; as mentioned previously, the hardware underneath is “commoditized” and thus easier to interchange.
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So it’s clear there are a few benefits of the software-defined data center. The question remains, are they truly the way of the future for data centers? It is helpful to keep SDDCs in perspective and consider more than the hype surrounding the buzzword. For one thing, as one article notes, software-defined systems and technology are not particularly new. While the rise of SDN is a recent occurrence, software-defined storage dates back to 1993 with PVFS, and the idea of the SDDC dates back to 2002. Overall, the market for SDDCs seems promising but perhaps immature. While it is difficult to measure adoption rates of SDDCs due to the number of layers in the system, it is clear that the market is growing. Generally speaking, it appears to be the correct option for most firms – with two caveats. One is that some SDDC solutions are still vendor-specific, and existing solutions present their fair share of challenges. The other caveat is that SDDCs may not be the current best choice for every IT enterprise. Since the market for SDDC solutions is relatively new, many organizations may not be ready to deploy them unless the organization is particularly adept at infrastructure engineering and architecture.