Software Defined Everything (SDx) Series: Software Defined Everything Part 2: Cloud Infrastructure
For most of the networking world’s history, change came through hardware and software innovation as researchers developed faster and better ways to do what we’ve always done. Now, software is driving more of the “real” world, forcing dramatic changes in networking. Increasing chunks of our lives are going digital, people are more connected than ever, and societal and global trends are contributing to the formation of a new software-defined world. But how did we get here?
And what does all this have to do with networking?
In a nutshell: Everything. To prepare properly for the future, you need to understand the forces driving the rise of software-defined everything. In Software Defined Everything Part 2: Cloud Infrastructure we’ll look at how rising customer expectations and global and societal trends are forcing shifts in compute, storage, security, and networking. Then we’ll examine how the evolution of the cloud is fueling the software-defined revolution and propelling the need for next-gen, “cloud-first” infrastructures that we need to start laying the groundwork for today.
Today’s Tech Consumer: I Want What I Want, and I Want It Now!
When it comes to technology, customers today want anytime-anywhere-to-anything connectivity and personalized apps tailored to their most obscure interests. Cloud-based services and software are changing growing numbers of “real-world” items and functions. Cloud networking has blurred boundaries in workplaces so employees can work whenever from wherever, and apps on our mobile devices help manage everything from our social calendars to what we eat for dinner.
Consumers and businesses today not only would like, but are starting to assume the ability to access all their information from anywhere in the world, anytime, from any device. Music, videos, books, news, meetings – not to mention IT services – all can be consumed digitally now, often from our own phones. Users want technology to meet their own increasingly specific wants, and “Internet of Things” type devices are quick to fill that role. Nest thermostats keep our homes at optimal temperatures, FitBits literally track every step we take, and the soda machine at your local burger joint could very well be equipped with software that automatically lets the home office know when certain soda syrups are running low.
In the quest to provide people with products and services tailored specifically for customers at the moment they want it, businesses, individuals, systems, and devices generate a mind-bogglingly large amount of information. Collecting, archiving, and analyzing all this information – the purview of Big Data – is now critical to optimizing businesses. Smart businesses see this as a differentiator to serve their customers better, meaning the bar keeps rising with customer expectations, and the workload for the infrastructure keeps growing accordingly.
Globalization and Competition
Now take these rising consumer expectations and multiply them worldwide. Between globalization and social network communities, anyone can be digitally connected to just about anyone else all over the globe – and they expect to do so. Thanks to social media, one-to-one communication has scaled past one-to-few, to one-to-many, and even one-to-millions. In some countries, the wireless telecom infrastructure is even better developed than the physical one, increasing dependency on data networks.
This connectivity across worldwide elements allows collaboration between different service-oriented architectures, opening the door to new ways of working while increasing the demand for technology that supports it. People of a certain age (ahem) may remember the first time they placed a cross-country call on and the surprise they felt at how close the other person sounded. Today, a person in Austin, Texas expects to be able to share large files with her colleague in Mumbai, India as easily as she does her colleague two doors down.
Between the forces of globalization and the growing digitization of products and services, the dynamics of competition are changing. We believe competition dynamics will polarize enterprise into two main groups per category of products: blockbuster breakout products that are used by 80 percent of the world, and highly niche products that serve the remaining 20 percent.
Surges of popularity drive immediate network effects that cause quick, exponential growth in traffic. Businesses with any hope of falling into the blockbuster category must be prepared to scale and adapt quickly to capture fickle consumers and maintain momentum. The landscape is littered with examples of companies that had to scale quickly but collapsed just as quickly because they didn’t adapt. Or seemed poised to take over the world and then just – didn’t. Anyone remember when MySpace, Foursquare, or DrawSomething shined so bright?
Our reliance on technology only continues to grow – just imagine the last time you accidentally left home without your phone – which means the business and technical problems organizations face are inevitably changing as well. Many businesses are turning to cloud platforms to help them keep pace with the competition and to service a global market from day one.
The Evolution of the Cloud
The cloud is not just an architecture, but an evolving approach and mindset. Today’s cloud architectures reflect a new wave of thinking around IT infrastructure driven by the requirements of our social, mobile world where applications have to scale dramatically and succeed fast or fail faster.
According to a study from Verizon Enterprise Solutions, 65 percent of enterprises today use cloud computing, and more than 70 percent of businesses expect to have external-facing applications in the cloud within the next three years. And in the “real world,” cloud-based services and applications help run everything from data centers to the myriad of apps for our phones.
Familiar services like Google and Snapchat built their infrastructures around this “cloud-first” mindset. The most obvious example is Amazon, whose in-house cloud offering was so compelling they managed to spin it into an entirely new and lucrative business segment with Amazon Web Services. But even more traditional companies like Coca-Cola, GE, UBS, and Bank of America now have infrastructure architectures that look a lot more like a cloud service provider’s than they do traditional enterprise.
These companies didn’t create their own cloud infrastructure for the fun or the challenge of it. They did it to meet their customers’ needs and remain competitive – and because they would have been toast if they didn’t. Such big names may have been the first to adopt a cloud-first approach, but they certainly will not be the last. Even organizations that don’t think they need the cloud will eventually be dragged there by the ones they set out to serve: their customers.
Cloud architectures typically rely on software-centric approaches because the solutions have to favor self-service and be dynamic, fast to bring up, and fast to bring down. To help companies focus on their core value-add – usually applications – cloud architectures tend to leverage cookie-cutter designs and re-usable templates so users can outsource non-essential elements. And unlike traditional IT infrastructure, cloud architectures are designed to scale out horizontally across servers and racks, scale up and down in terms of CPU or resource consumption, and tolerate failure of specific components.