With all the changes taking place in the data center, there is some small comfort in knowing the general direction of emerging trends: Infrastructure will become a function of software rather than hardware, and IT will have much more leeway in tailoring the data environment to the needs of applications.
That’s pretty much where the clarity ends, however, because once you’ve lifted the data center onto a virtual platform, you open up a world of infinite possibilities in terms of design, architecture and resource manipulation.
It’s for this reason that many organizations are having trouble assessing the true benefits of software-defined infrastructure, say Deloitte Consulting’s Ranjit Bawa and Rick Clark. While most IT departments sell the idea to the front office in terms of ROI and TCO, the real benefits are more intangible. Improved productivity is most certainly welcome but is more difficult to calculate, and the competitive advantages of developing new products and tapping new market opportunity — perhaps even entirely new business models — are incalculable. A new infrastructure paradigm, therefore, requires new standards and metrics with which to measure it, as well as new ways to finance and value the investment.
A key capability of software definition is the idea of “composable infrastructure,” says the Register’s Simon Sharwood. Companies from Intel and IBM to HP and Cisco are talking about increasingly commoditized hardware supporting ever more versatile virtual environments. Cisco’s M-Series UCS blade, for example, can be outfitted with highly sophisticated APIs that allow for rapid configuration and reconfiguration on both the software and hardware levels when necessary. Already, this model is making its way beyond the data center and into areas like embedded applications.
As expected, the software control stack will emerge as a key asset going forward. Companies like Cirba are cutting deals with EMC and other infrastructure providers to ensure that the platforms of the future will enable advanced workload optimization and system visibility. Cirba analytics have been integrated into the EMC ViPR SRM platform where they will be used to identify optimal host environments according to data requirements, workload distribution and even software licensing considerations. The platform will also activate cloud resources when local infrastructure falls short and then consolidate loads on select hardware to improve utilization and lessen hosting costs.
Ultimately, the end game is the establishment of highly fluid, location-agnostic data infrastructure that incorporates a wide range of on-premises and cloud-based data centers and micro data centers, says Emerson Network Power’s Patrick Quirk. This will be just as difficult as it sounds since it will require real-time visibility across a range of systems and operating parameters, which can only come about through increased connectivity on the device level. The key roadblock at this point is the plethora of languages, protocols and other communications elements that exist between platforms, which can only be undone through the wholesale replacement of vast amounts of legacy infrastructure.
But as I mentioned, the advent of virtualization, cloud computing, open systems and, most importantly, the economic imperative to implement a software-defined paradigm, at least makes it possible for enterprise executives to envision a future IT that is markedly better than the one we have today.
Undoubtedly, there will be challenges with a software environment, but the speed at which new solutions can be designed, developed, implemented and then discarded if necessary will kick data operations into light speed compared to today. And ideas will no longer be constrained by resource limitations, location or anything else connected to the real world.
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.