Software-defined data center explained

  • Learn what a software-defined data center (SDDC) is and what short- and long-term benefits it can deliver
  • Discover how a cloud-based SDDC can speed implementation 
  • Review key requirements for choosing a cloud provider

The drive to improve IT agility is spurring organizations to explore new data center architectures. Organizations need to accelerate delivery of technology services while retaining control over IT, minimizing complexity and reducing costs.

Simply put, the processes for procuring and deploying traditional infrastructure are too slow and cumbersome. Business groups and software developers can’t wait weeks or months for new physical infrastructure to be purchased and provisioned. To capitalize on changing marketplace conditions and meet customer expectations, teams need resources in hours or minutes.

A software-defined data center architecture can help significantly improve IT agility. By pooling infrastructure resources, standardizing management tools across infrastructure layers and enabling policy-driven provisioning, an SDDC can help IT groups respond more quickly to new requests for IT resources. At the same time, an SDDC enables IT groups to retain control over provisioning, reduce costs and establish a path to application modernization.

 

What is a software-defined data center?

Since the introduction of server virtualization years ago, organizations have recognized the value of pooling infrastructure resources. By abstracting compute resources from physical servers, server virtualization helps speed provisioning, improve system utilization and reduce hardware expenditures.

The SDDC results from years of evolution in server virtualization. It extends virtualization from compute to storage and networking resources, and it provides a single software toolset to manage those virtualized resources. Plus, the SDDC enables policy-driven automation of provisioning and management, which speeds delivery of resources and enhances efficiency.

 

Software-defined data center components

The SDDC combines virtualized compute, storage and networking resources with a standardized platform for managing the entire integrated environment.

Compute virtualization, or server virtualization, is well known to many organizations. Using a hypervisor, compute virtualization abstracts operating systems and applications from physical servers. As a result, administrators can use virtual machines (VMs) to run multiple, distinct applications and operating systems on a single server. For more than a decade, organizations have used compute virtualization to reduce server sprawl and improve resource utilization.

Storage virtualization, like server virtualization, pools resources, eliminating islands of disconnected storage systems. Virtualized storage improves flexibility and scalability because you can provision storage from the pool, often without having to purchase new capacity. With virtualized storage, you can also allocate storage dynamically, giving each application the capacity it needs on demand.

Network virtualization enables you to provision and manage networks independently of the physical hardware. That abstraction of resources decreases provisioning time and enhances flexibility, allowing you to more easily move workloads across data centers without physical constraints. The right network virtualization solution will also incorporate security capabilities to safeguard networks and isolate workloads.

The SDDC integrates these virtualization layers, creating a single, hyperconverged environment that facilitates the delivery of IT resources as a service — regardless of whether the SDDC is deployed in a private, public or hybrid cloud environment. A single management platform standardizes management across the virtualization layers and enables policy-based automation that simplifies operations.

 

The benefits of a software-defined data center 

Implementing an SDDC architecture can offer both short- and long-term benefits. The primary short-term benefit is agility. With an SDDC, you can dramatically reduce the time to provision new resources. It no longer takes days or weeks to set up a new physical server, provide more storage capacity to an application or modify physical networking. Policy-driven automation can further accelerate provisioning, enabling you to deploy resources in minutes.

An SDDC can also help improve infrastructure performance. You can optimize compute, storage and networking for each application and workload without having to undertake physical changes to the infrastructure.

In the long term, the SDDC helps control costs. Pooling resources improves utilization of infrastructure and enables you to avoid new infrastructure purchases. Better utilization also means that less infrastructure sits idle — consuming real estate, power and cooling. If you decide to implement an SDDC using hybrid or public cloud infrastructure, you could shift from a CAPEX to an OPEX model, avoiding large up-front capital expenditures.

Adopting an SDDC approach also helps establish a path toward infrastructure and application modernization. Standardizing on a single management platform enables you to more easily integrate new technologies and migrate workloads to cloud environments.

 

The challenges of building a software-defined data center 

Before you implement an SDDC, be sure you understand the potential challenges that could jeopardize your return on investment.

The primary hurdle is gaining cross-functional agreement. Standardization across teams is crucial to adopting SDDC, but many traditional IT organizations are bound by siloed processes and policies that make standardization difficult. Getting procurement teams, development teams, IT analysts, system administrators and others aligned on new tooling and processes can take time. Nonetheless, the payoff in efficiency, innovation and total cost of ownership can be immense when SDDC is fully adopted.

Once standardization has been accepted across your organization, there are technical challenges as well. For example, switching over to the new environment could result in some application downtime. Planning to implement components of the SDDC in phases could help minimize the risk of downtime. Using a cloud-based SDDC could also allow you to cost-effectively test new virtualization layers before bringing the entire environment into production.

Going forward, virtualizing new layers of your infrastructure, such as storage and networking, will likely require your operations team to change their existing processes and workflows. Your administrators might face a learning curve as they prepare to manage the new environment and use new tools. Adopting a cloud-based SDDC that employs familiar tools can help reduce the learning curve significantly.

 

Using the cloud to accelerate the move to a software-defined data center 

Cloud services can help address challenges and speed the move to an SDDC architecture. By implementing an SDDC on cloud-based infrastructure, you can reduce the time and risks involved with re-architecting your existing infrastructure.

Similarly, by adopting cloud-based management tools, you can eliminate the time for installing those tools on local infrastructure. If the cloud provider offers the tools and interfaces your administrators currently use, you can avoid the learning curve. Administrators can continue to use those tools to manage cloud-based resources just as they would manage on-premises resources. 

A cloud-based SDDC also helps control costs by avoiding the purchase of physical infrastructure. For example, you could establish an entirely new environment in the cloud and eliminate all capital expenditures. Or you could leverage your existing infrastructure in a hybrid environment, using the cloud to expand your resources without having to buy and deploy more physical systems.

By tapping into cloud-based infrastructure, you can scale up capacity and access the latest technologies without having to constantly upgrade your physical systems. Deploying an SDDC in the cloud helps you deliver exceptional application performance and sufficient capacity to support data growth while avoiding large capital expenditures.

You can also retain control over your environment. When business users and developers adopt public cloud services without IT oversight, they can create new security, governance and regulatory problems. With the right cloud-based SDDC, you can access cloud resources while making sure everyone complies with internal policies and external regulations.

 

Selecting a cloud provider for your software-defined data center

What should you look for in a cloud-based SDDC provider? The right provider will offer familiar management tools and interfaces, so your organization does not have to spend time and money learning new management software.

The right provider will also have the expertise you need for a seamless transition to the new environment. You can work with the provider to implement a hybrid environment quickly so you can start benefiting from the new architecture right away, while continuing to use your existing infrastructure.

The right provider will also have the flexibility to support a range of SDDC and hardware configurations. The provider should offer managed and unmanaged options, so you can choose whether to retain complete control of the environment or outsource administration. Ultimately, you should have the flexibility to implement an SDDC that meets your unique requirements.