Software Defined Infrastructure: Beyond the Honeymoon Phase

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    Ready or not, technology is propelling us toward the fully virtualized data environment, in which end-to-end infrastructure will be created, manipulated and decommissioned at the whims of end users.

    But whether you call this the virtual data center, software-defined infrastructure (SDI) or just the cloud, the question is more than just whether the enterprise is ready for this. What about the vendor community? Both hardware and software? Have they really thought through all the implications here? Product lines? What about business models?

    If they have, few are expressing any hints of doubt just yet. Intel, for example, threw itself squarely in the software-defined arena this week with a plan intended to see the company safely through the transition to the next-generation data ecosystem. The package includes new chips, chipsets, SoCs and a series of broader architectural visions that encompass data center, cloud, hyperscale and other scenarios for which system integrators and OEMs are prepping. Underlying the whole approach is the desire to meet the enterprise’s twin goals of improving compute performance and flexibility while lowering the energy draw and operating costs of physical infrastructure.

    Those are certainly noble goals, but the software-defined universe won’t be built on silicon alone. Already, numerous orchestration tools are making their way to the channel with visions of end-to-end agility, scalability and flexibility, even as virtual systems routinely swap physical resources like chips at a poker table. For example, Puppet Labs recently launched the Puppet Enterprise 3.0 platform, which includes expanded platform support for Windows, AIX, Solaris and all major Linux distributions, as well as a new GUI that simplifies the browse and discovery process for available resources. The company has also established pre-built configurations for leading network platforms from Cisco, Juniper, NetApp and others.

    It all sounds too good to be true, but is it possible that this is just the same honeymoon phase that the IT industry has experienced with countless technology developments of the past? Right now, all we can see are the amazing possibilities that SDI has to offer. If history is any guide, the cold, hard reality will set in during and after implementation.

    Already, some voices are starting to call the software-defined movement into question. Just as we had cloud washing a few years ago, might there be just a little SDI washing out there? Enterprise Features’ Paul Rudo has taken VMware to task, accusing it of essentially transferring its all-VMware cloud pitch for an all-VMware SDI approach. Apparently, the cloud proved to be too unwieldy a concept to effectively link to the VMware label, so the company has shifted to the SD model as the natural extension of its existing server and storage virtualization platforms. To counter this, Rudo says enterprises should embrace non-VMware technologies like Hyper-V and OpenStack.

    But could SDI be facing even more serious headwinds–ones that might make the software community in particular think twice about supporting the technology? As New Zealand tech consultant Michael Webster points out, SDI has the potential to wreak havoc on current licensing programs as the relationships between applications and physical resources falls apart. This will not only force software developers to devise new virtual, cloud-friendly licensing models that maintain current revenue streams without saddling users with runaway software costs, but will also require new levels of tracking and automation on vCloud and other platforms to relieve human operators of a significant management burden. None of this is impossible, but is it likely that all these pieces will be in place in time for SDI to take on production environments within the next year or so, as planned?

    Many questions still surround SDI, meaning that the rosy scenarios being presented at technology conferences and trade shows are still highly suppositional. There is little doubt that SDI will become a reality in one form or another, but anyone who claims to know how it will all come together in the real world is likely jumping the gun.

    Arthur Cole
    Arthur Cole
    With more than 20 years of experience in technology journalism, Arthur has written on the rise of everything from the first digital video editing platforms to virtualization, advanced cloud architectures and the Internet of Things. He is a regular contributor to IT Business Edge and Enterprise Networking Planet and provides blog posts and other web content to numerous company web sites in the high-tech and data communications industries.

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