The Third of an Eight-Part Series on the Future of Infrastructure in a Software-Defined World: All around us, software is running or automating more and more items and functions that once only had presence in the physical world. We describe this new reality as “SDx,” for software-defined everything. SDx requires next-generation, cloud-first infrastructure that can connect and manage the growing number of software-defined devices and applications. This is the third of an eight-part series that examines the new software-defined world and provides practical information to help you stay competitive and prepare for the future.
From the way we work to the way we play, software is shaping the way we live. Software-defined networking (SDN), cloud computing and networking, and network functions virtualization (NFV) are obvious examples from IT. Meanwhile, cloud-based services and software are changing how we engage with the physical world and experience everyday life. Cloud computing has blurred boundaries in workplaces so we have the ability to work from anywhere in the world, and apps on our mobile devices do everything from help us live a healthier lifestyle to track how long the ride lines are at Disneyland.
We call this transformation “SDx” for software-defined everything, and the shift to SDx is affecting business models in just about every industry. The amount of data required to run and connect all these software-defined applications and devices is mind-boggling. With SDx rapidly outgrowing the capability of traditional networking, a new infrastructure is needed to keep pace with these incredible changes and demands.
Software-defined infrastructure (SDxI) is the next generation of infrastructure required to connect software-defined devices and applications to their networks, each other, and ultimately to humans. In this third part of our series on the future of infrastructure in a software-defined world, we’ll help you understand how and why software has become so important now and outline what SDx needs from the infrastructure that supports it.
The Changing Role of Software in the Infrastructure
In infrastructure technology, many innovations that begin as differentiators eventually become commoditized. Higher levels of innovation access the services provided by previous developments. IT infrastructure – which encompasses storage, networking, security, and compute – already has evolved to meet macro needs, so the last few years have seen a move towards using software as an abstraction over commodity hardware, which in turn has spurred innovation in the software layer.
An SDx world places some of its greatest technology burdens on IT infrastructure, especially networking. The proliferating number of apps and services we use to improve our daily lives requires more powerful compute capabilities to work on ever-larger datasets, driving the need for more powerful networks to connect these vast amounts of compute power.
Together with growing demands from the cloud, the new workloads have placed unprecedented demand on underlying infrastructures and strained traditional architectures to their limits. In addition to the ever-increasing volume of data, the manual operation of traditional network architectures actually places roadblocks in front of IT organizations trying to deploy and scale SDx applications though automation.
What SDx Applications Need from the Infrastructure
To meet the ever-increasing expectations of today’s consumers, SDx applications need flexibility, personalization, security, and efficiency to scale – and they need the proper infrastructure support to do it. Traditional, hardware-centric infrastructures make meeting these requirements difficult if not altogether impossible.
For example, achieving an SDx-degree of flexibility requires the infrastructure to support rapid app development, as well as testing and deployment that automatically leverage “re-use” of configurations and templates in other parts of the infrastructure. This makes advanced software-centric solutions the only feasible approach to automation. Similarly, software-centric solutions generally enable other key SDx requirements such as:
- Personalization: analyze large data sets to drive automatic customization of offerings for users
- Security: built-in protection for user privacy; secure data in transit and at rest; and isolate network zones to provide security and compliance
- Efficiency: get more bandwidth, compute, and storage with fewer inputs (monetary or human); reduce average per-bit delivery cost
- Speed and agility: turn up and turn down on demand; manage and troubleshoot easily; scale to billions of end points
Traditional hardware-based infrastructures are too cumbersome and unwieldy to meet these SDx needs. Companies such as Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Microsoft and Amazon, which could be considered the forerunners for current SDx companies, built their own infrastructures for the cloud simply because they had no choice. The infrastructure they needed didn’t exist otherwise.
In many ways, SDN and NFV appeared to be the answer to meeting these new needs on the networking aspect of SDx infrastructure. Indeed, many early adopters have reaped the efficiency, agility, and flexibility that SDN and NFV promised. But we’re starting to understand that these technologies by themselves are not enough to support the SDx apps of the future.
Software-Defined Infrastructure: SDxI
If the answer to the infrastructure of the future lies in software – and by extension, virtualization – then the IT industry has certainly had a go at it these past few years. Just about every part of the infrastructure now has a software-based component: SDN, NFV, software-defined security, software-defined storage, software-defined data center, software-defined WAN…. the list goes on.
But despite the promise of SDN and NFV, both customers and infrastructure vendors are experiencing limited traction and seeking help to define use cases and product architectures. We’ve learned that SDx infrastructure needs to be more than just the sum of its software-defined compute, storage, networking, and security components. SDxI also has to be about the integration and orchestration between them and the supporting hardware platforms. That’s why the heart of SDxI is networking (and by extension, SDN): because in order for all these components to add value, they need to be connected to other components via the network.
SDxI use cases and products need to reflect this reality. SDxI products and services must be so seamlessly integrated that users and buyers don’t know and don’t care if the product or service is from compute, network, or storage. The IT infrastructure of the future must change from semi-independent and siloed, hardware-driven industries into a single converged and software-driven industry. To take hold and flourish, SDxI needs traditional infrastructure to evolve on all three fronts:
- Hardware: must evolve from custom ASICs and FPGAs silicon used to build vertically integrated, single-manufacturer products, toward merchant silicon used to build products with common parts across multiple manufacturers.
- Software: must transform from static software packages primarily designed to perform a single function to dynamic units of code that can be stitched together with other units of code to invent new software-based products and services.
- Services: must transform from somebody (literally some body) manually performing a function to software that is programmed to perform a unit of work and deliver that work “as-a-service.”
The compute, storage, and networking needs of SDx apps are much closer to Google’s and Facebook’s in terms of scale and personalization than they are to an enterprise app’s from 10 years ago. The integration and orchestration of SDxI is the future of IT infrastructure, and providers who want a place at the table need to adjust accordingly.
We hope our thoughts on SDxI and the infrastructure of the future inspire you to consider how new frameworks can help you keep your organization relevant and competitive. In our next post, we’ll talk about who the new SDxI customers are and how they differ from traditional networking customers.
As always, we encourage you to share your thoughts on some of the ideas we covered here, or general thoughts about the future of infrastructure in a software-defined world. Add your thoughts in the comment section below, or email us. We look forward to hearing your perspective!
Read parts of this series:
Read parts of this series: