To say that the data center is undergoing major change is putting it mildly. It’s more of a metamorphosis, with the modern data center looking little like its previous incarnations.
Just think about where we were 10 or even five years ago. Everything was “hardware-defined,” for lack of a better term. Or maybe that’s the very best term: Each core technology – compute, storage, networking, security and virtualization – was its own disintegrated silo with a specialized set of vendors, a dedicated team of operators, and its own cadence of innovation and development. To put it bluntly, it was a truly horrible era for IT and the business. Systems were slow, expensive, fragile, unreliable, and insecure. It was also a glorious time for vendors, consultants, and system integrators. They were able to lock us in and charge us handsomely for it in the meantime.
Fast forward to the “software-defined” era, a much more productive and cost-effective time for IT specifically and the business in general. Storage, networking, and security are delivered through an integrated software stack in and around the hypervisor running on virtualized compute. To be sure, there is still some discrete networking, storage, and security going on, but far less than we saw in the time when hardware ruled. In the software-defined era, an integrated team of admins can run the infrastructure, mainly using the centralized orchestration console, streamlining resources and costs.
But therein lies the rub with the software-defined model: We are still performing much of the management on-premises, using systems that are not as tightly integrated as they should be. Most companies are juggling dozens of these management systems, many of which started their lives as discrete technologies. This requires time-consuming patching and forced “big bang” upgrades – adding expense and sucking time from IT and dev resources that could be delegated to more strategic business tasks.
All the more reason – or reasons – not to stop at software definition.
In my opinion, the software-defined data center (SDDC) is an artificial and temporary stopgap toward the next architectural destination: the cloud-defined data center, or CDDC. The “cloud defined” pattern has proven itself in many areas of modern life. Air Force planes (a.k.a. drones) and cars are cloud-defined, as are most systems in our homes, including HVAC, security systems, and even kitchen appliances (I can personally attest to that vis-a-vis my shiny new, cloud-defined refrigerator). And many recent tech innovations and merger and acquisition activity have focused on cloud-defined products and services.
The benefits of a cloud-defined architectural approach to the enterprise data center is very compelling: Applications and data stay securely within our facilities, but there is no overhead in terms of management systems that we have to buy, deploy, configure, integrate, patch, operate, and upgrade. IT staff can then dedicate less of its time to mundane chores and more of its time and IQ to activities that directly impact the business – a competitive must in today’s dynamic, customer-driven environment.
It’s 2017. There has to be a better way to operate our enterprise data center infrastructure. Companies must look to move the data center needle once again.