In many large IT departments, the network administrators only talk to the data center operators when something goes wrong — and perhaps at the company holiday party, assuming there’s an open bar.
That divide will soon vanish, a growing number of industry observers predict. The buzzword for this trend is “silo busting” — an old bit of business jargon to be sure, but a phrase in high circulation this week at DCD Converged, a Manhattan event for enterprise data center managers.
Accelerating demands for speed and capacity will soon outstrip the capabilities of overly complex, manually operated IT infrastructure, the Silo Busters say. Instead, virtualization and disaggregation will bring software-defined compute, storage, network, and facilities under one roof, centrally controlled by a tightly integrated team of DevOps pros. They call it software-defined infrastructure.
SDI: Old Vision, New Potential
The term software-defined infrastructure (SDI) has been in circulation since at least the early 2000s. But without virtualization of the key IT building blocks of storage, compute, and networking, the concept was largely academic.
Now, with software-defined networking taking hold to complete the trifecta, SDI has the potential to drastically change the way IT departments operate. HP has taken up the charge, touting data center management and orchestration products like its OneView software.
“We are seeing an increasing number of inquiries at HP, in our briefing centers, that there is interest in software-defined infrastructure,” Mohammed Safder, HP’s global leader of IT strategic consulting services, said in remarks at DCD on Wednesday.
The next and final step toward SDI, said Safder, will be software-defined facilities tools — the ability to monitor and automate power consumption and cooling in the data center via software. “Facilities is becoming an integral part of the software-defined data center,” he said.
Of course, with any new concept in IT, there’s a certain amount of bandwagon-jumping and hype. SDI is an approach enabled by a set of technologies, rather than a single technology itself — an ambiguity that will likely generate a certain amount of dubious marketing claims.
The Biggest Challenge May Be You
A number of things need to happen for SDI to work, experts say. One is the spread and coherence of open standards at every level of the stack, allowing interconnect and software control.
But the biggest challenge may be people — IT pros with established fiefdoms fearful of reorganization and automation.
“It’s always difficult to make a change,” Goldman Sachs’ Donald J. Duet said at DCD on Wednesday. Duet is managing director of technology at the investment banking firm, which helped back the Open Compute Project as part of its transformation toward software-defined infrastructure.
“It’s really hard to do it in places like your data center or network. It takes a lot of work convincing people,” Duet said.
The first step, he said, was reorganizing cost structures to bring the whole data center infrastructure, including facilities, under IT. Sharing a budget and resources can help align disparate teams toward a common goal.
“This change is above and beyond the technology,” said HP’s Safder. “It’s got to be about people, process, and governance as well. Software-defined infrastructure is all about an architectural approach.”
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