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Heard of the Software-Defined Data Center? Here’s the Software-Defined Blog Post.

By Brian Reagan, VP Product Strategy & Business Development  – Ah, 2013 is upon us and it’s clearly time for a new tech meme.  2011’s Cloud gave way to 2012’s Big Data.  And now, it seems, it’s time for 2013’s Software-Defined Data Center.

I’m not suggesting that these secular trends aren’t / weren’t valid.  Nor am I saying that these are not transformational forces that will radically alter the way we conceive, design, build, and run IT for the next several decades.   They’ve already started to have a significant impact in companies large and small.

My beef is that as each of these tech waves emerged, every tech company under the sun – and even some non-tech companies (try googling “Refrigerator Cloud” for some terrifying stories of home-tech gone bad)– felt compelled to hook their message wagons to the trend, valid or not.   Sorry, I’m not buying it when a 30+year software concern – born in the era of mid-range computers, COBOL, and loads and loads of tape – declares their solutions as cloud-ready.

For the industry gorillas, it’s an easy play as they create these message waves.   He who creates, must own.  And so it goes.   For the startups and emerging players, it can be perceived as a survival skill – adapt your product positioning to the latest industry message trend, or become irrelevant.

Software-Defined was picking up steam on its own, but truly broke through when the software-defined networking company Nicira was gobbled up by VMware.  I’m waiting for the first Software-Defined Software concern to enter the market.

So, now it’s the Software Defined Data Center.  All caps are required when we’re talking about Important Technology Ideas.  Messaging and hoopla aside, this is the nirvana that we’ve been talking about for the entire 23+ years I’ve been in this industry.  We’ve invented service management frameworks to automate, we’ve developed orchestration stacks, we’ve eliminated friction in the provisioning of resources, we’ve created open standards for system communications.  Cloud promised a lot of what we’re seeing in SDDC messaging, yet we’re still not there.

This is certainly a sophisticated topic that has far-reaching architectural implications. But, it does boil down to three simple ideas.

1. Application Centricity

Business Applications are the center of the IT universe.  The development and operation of these applications is the CIOs primary concern.   Boards of Directors don’t concern themselves with LPARs or LUNs.   They care about EPS and, by extension, the applications that drive revenue, manufacturing, customer satisfaction, etc.  Perhaps a more appropriate term, then, would be “Application-Defined Data Center”?

2. SLA-Based Automation

The IT resources required to support applications – compute, network, storage, management – must be aligned to the nature and criticality of the specific business application. SLAs create the common language between IT and the business / application-owner.   Of course, SLAs are not paper documents filed away for “checkbox” compliance.  Automation of these SLAs is critical, in order to orchestrate the necessary resources to deliver on the agreed-upon terms of performance, availability, protection, resilience, retention, etc.

3. Heterogeneous Support

There are many products in the market today who’ve built an entire value proposition on the premise that a data center runs 100% virtualized (typically on VMware).   Sure, there are some born-in-the-cloud businesses who have the luxury of a homogeneous infrastructure, but I’ve not met a single customer in the past several years who doesn’t have at least 25% of their applications running on physical systems.  And, these are not corner-case, bought-in-the-90s-and-can’t-end-of-life-yet applications.  These are bread-and-butter, mission-critical systems running state of the art versions of operating systems and databases.   So, any Software-Defined (or Application-Defined) Data Center must be able to comprehend the entire application portfolio, not pick-and-choose those that map to a limited interoperability matrix.

I’ve left off some old chestnuts like “scalability” and “manageability” as I believe we’ve reached a tipping point in IT – in the face of the data volumes common in even the smallest business, these are table stakes for ANY IT-oriented product.

I’m hopeful that we can move quickly past the Software-Defined hype, and to the more important discussions regarding the architectural inhibitors to progress – particularly those brittle, legacy approaches to core IT processes.  Until then, I’ll see you at Cloud-Based Coffee Machine.  Maybe we can talk some Big Data while we’re there.

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