It’s clear that virtualization is taking over every function of the technology infrastructure: Compute, storage, and networking are being converted to software-defined anything (SDx) platforms to implement private, public, and hybrid clouds. This trend has been confirmed in yet another one of our reports, “Future of Converged Data Center,” which was published this month.
The marketing folks have a quiver of catch-phrases for virtualization and SDx: “Reduce cost and drive down capex!” “Improve business agility!” Sometimes, these repetitive slogans seem hackneyed, even though there is some truth in the belief that a commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) platform can make stuff cheap. But there’s something even more important than being cheap – and that’s being ease of use virtualization. The power of SDx is having a strategic IT platform that can help managers automate and deploy new services with software.
In a series of monthly surveys we conduct with users, the themes of automation, flexibility, scalability, and management repeatedly emerge when we ask about the benefits of virtualization and SDx technology. While hardware costs are still a concern, they take a back seat to improved management functions.
I think about it in terms of a car. When you shop for a car, is cost the first thing on your mind? Automobile technology is very competitive these days, and there’s a lot of vehicles competing at the same price points. Chances are you are thinking about other things: gas mileage, performance, or reliability. According to a 2014 Consumer Reports survey, the top factors in buying a car were quality, safety, and performance. Value ran a distant fourth.
Technology isn’t that different from cars. It’s not always about cost. It’s more about how the equipment will improve your life. Enterprises and service providers are moving to software-defined cloud architectures and virtualization because they see the upside in how they do their jobs – things will get easier.
These needs have driven three waves of virtualization. First there was server virtualization. Then we moved to the next wave of virtualization: network virtualization (NV). And the third wave: software-defined storage (SDS).
These three waves – server virtualization, NV, and SDS – are converging and will eventually lead us to the vaunted hyper converged infrastructure (HCI). The goal is to virtualize the entire IT infrastructure, so that a modular, scalable, interoperable COTS-based hardware foundation can provide the launch-pad for powerful new software applications.
Traditional IT technology vendors are scrambling to come up with adaptable, commodity hardware infrastructure that can deliver a wide range of software-defined services, including hyper-scalable storage, cloud services, and big data analytics. These include SDS platforms that can control and scale flash storage arrays, SDN “white boxes” that can be used as both switching and compute platforms, and powerful new SDN-based switching platforms
Feedback from users indicates there is high demand for converged data center solutions to solve basic problems. Seventy percent of respondents to the SDxCentral Survey on Converged Data Center Infrastructure ranked the importance of finding a converged data center solution in the next two to five years as “Important” or “Mission Critical (Need a Solution ASAP).”
The top drivers that are cited for converged systems include:
- Optimizing resource utilization (49%)
- Accelerating the rollout of new functionality (48%)
- Improving operational efficiencies (42%)
- Reducing costs (42%)
As you can see, while costs are important, it’s rarely at the top of the list. When asked what the most important attributes organizations were looking for in their converged data center solutions (they could pick two), a majority of respondents – 55 percent – replied “Automation and Orchestration.” A solution that could “Lower Capital Costs” was chosen by 35 percent of survey participants, while “Interoperability With Other Virtualized Systems” was cited by 30 percent as a critical attribute.
We saw similar trends in our “2015 Data Center Network Virtualization Report.” When asked to choose all the benefits that apply to NV, an overwhelming 77 percent picked flexibility. In the most recent survey (2015), scalability (68%) overtook operational cost savings (52%), which was the distant runner up in the 2014 survey. Interestingly, cost savings came in fourth at 31 percent.
It’s clear that the end user base hopes that virtualization across all SDx platforms will result in more open, flexible, cost-effective and scalable environments. They don’t just want something that’s cheaper – they want stuff that makes their jobs easier to perform.
One reason for this emphasis on management features of flexibility and scaleability may be that the cost savings of installing commodity platforms are more elusive than we thought. But another reason is that the daily operations of these networks demand a more manageable platform. It’s clear from user feedback that the market sees the broad trends in virtualization as a way to deliver a far more flexible and adaptable platform for the cloud.