To hear the technology pundits tell it, the ideal data ecosystem is one in which virtually anyone can create the app of their dreams using intuitive development tools and then deploy it with complete disregard for server, storage, networking and other infrastructure concerns.
It’s a nice dream, but how realistic is it? In all honesty, it is not that far out there, at least not anymore. As virtual, software-defined infrastructure takes hold, and as mobile apps have already shown, we can at least envision how such a scenario may come to pass in the enterprise.
Last month, automation developer Chef debuted its new Habitat platform, an open source project that basically allows developers to package applications within a lightweight runtime environment so they can function on virtually any infrastructure. The company says the time has come to shift the focus of app development from what works for the enterprise to what works for the user, says TechCrunch’s Frederic Lardinois. So instead of defining the app for a specific infrastructure, Habitat seeks to define infrastructure for the app, giving it broad flexibility to integrate with legacy bare-metal environments, as well as emerging VM- and container-based constructs.
The more flexible the infrastructure, of course, the better it will support diverse application and data loads. To that end, says IBM’s Osai Osaigbovo, many organizations are turning to fully automated systems that can leverage emerging software-defined infrastructure. Once you get to the point at which you can provision and configure the entire application stack, including infrastructure, as code, then everything involved in creating the app, deploying it across distributed architectures and then supporting it over the entire lifecycle can be folded into a single DevOps process. So not only do you get a more streamlined, less expensive data environment, but productivity from the knowledge workforce jumps dramatically because it now has access to an endless supply of flexible, on-demand data resources.
This is similar to the direction that new “serverless computing” architectures are heading, according to InfoWorld’s Eric Knorr. The idea is not to do away with servers entirely but to place additional layers of abstraction on top of raw hardware, and even virtual machines, so developers don’t need to worry about them anymore. Platforms like Iron.io and AWS’s Lambda service are making this type of functionality available directly to business managers by taking care of the capacity, scaling, patching and overall administration of infrastructure in support of on-demand provisioning and auto-scaling for key business applications. This goes beyond simple orchestration, mind you, because it doesn’t just coordinate resources but provides an entirely new API-based operational layer in the cloud.
To the average data tech this may sound like a lot of coding, and it is. But not every application environment will be built from scratch – many will fit comfortably within predefined templates. Cisco and Nimble Storage have teamed up to provide a series of integrated infrastructure reference architectures under the SmartStack moniker. In this way, organizations can quickly deploy app-centric infrastructure using Cisco’s UCS portfolio and Nimble’s Predictive Flash platform, enabling faster deployment and more streamlined management while at the same time reducing infrastructure footprints as much as 10-fold.
This kind of data functionality has ramifications far beyond IT, of course. The entire organizational culture will require a complete makeover as responsibilities for the care and feeding of applications and data become shared between technicians, business people and even customers and partners.
Infrastructure will no longer be something that must be built and managed (at least, not by the enterprise); it will just be there for the taking. And success will not be determined by capacity, power or even network speed, but by how well the enterprise can match software-defined data resources to emerging strategic objectives.
Arthur Cole writes about infrastructure for IT Business Edge. Cole has been covering the high-tech media and computing industries for more than 20 years, having served as editor of TV Technology, Video Technology News, Internet News and Multimedia Weekly. His contributions have appeared in Communications Today and Enterprise Networking Planet and as web content for numerous high-tech clients like TwinStrata and Carpathia. Follow Art on Twitter @acole602.