The problem with Software-defined Data Center (SDDC) definitions

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According to Wikipedia, the “Software-defined data center (SDDC) is an architectural approach to IT infrastructure that extends virtualization concepts such as abstraction, pooling, and automation to all of the data center’s resources and services to achieve IT as a service. In a software-defined data center, ‘compute, storage, networking, security, and availability services are pooled, aggregated, and delivered as software, and managed by intelligent, policy-driven software.'”

While some people think that SDDC is just a bit of marketing hype, it was one of Computer Reseller News’ biggest stories in 2012, and many people believe that data centers of the future will indeed be software defined. That being the case, it’s pretty essential that we get the definition straight – so when I met with Soeren Schroeder at DatacenterDynamics London 2013, I asked him for his opinion of what’s currently being talked about. “If we take the raw definition that came out of VMWare last year, SDDC is all about extracting, pooling and automating the main IT resources – compute, storage, network and security. It provides great dynamics about the IT level – but what about the underlying infrastructure?”

I asked Soeren what sort of questions a more rounded definition would need to answer. He said “Can you run this very dynamic monster where nothing has to be turned on and off, nothing has to be plugged in or pulled out, can you really run that on top of something that is very static, which typically is what our (data center physical) infrastructure is. Unless we expand our definition a bit, and this is where we use DCIM to do that, so that you get the same level of extraction and pooling across your physical infrastructure, I don’t think the SDDC stands a chance without it really.”

I commented that this is another case of the industry reinforcing that IT and facilities divide where it could be an opportunity for longer integration. “Exactly,” said Soeren. “The SDDC is typically spoken about today is actually just contributing towards that gap between IT and facilities because it clearly is an IT game. It has a purpose, absolutely, it’s solving a lot of problems and it has a very clear value proposition for it. But, unless we bridge that gap between IT and facilities this is going to be another silo’d system of same old, same old. ”

The SDDC needs to be able to scale in both physical infrastructure and IT dimensions. Today’s modular and prefabricated data center technologies mean that we have the capability to let physical infrastructure scale up and down according to IT load – right-sizing. Soeren said, “Absolutely, when we look at it again today, we have a lot of the components we really need to make a truly  dynamic data center, where you take what is defined as the SDDC and pull that all the way down into the physical infrastructure, we have modular UPS’s, dynamic range cooling units and so on and so forth.”

“All these units are capable of operating at different capacities. We also have a load of monitoring going on, so all this data is really available for us, we now have this area where DCIM plays, we have this logic engine that understands and interprets this information and really puts it into the context of its operation. What we really need is to use that and try to take it to the next level of starting to scale up and scale down as your business or your business process scales up and down as well.”

I asked Soeren what was preventing this all happening right now. “I would say people or mindsets,” he responded. “If you want to go to the full extent and use all the capabilities, it’s going to require a certain mindset  to make that happen for you. One thing we do need to look at as an industry, is that if we keep organizing ourselves in the traditional IT and facilities silos, as we’ve done for the last 20 – 30 years, is that really the converged organization that can handle these capabilities? Do we really have an organizational structure and a set of KPI’s that type of thinking? Remember that IT moves very, very quickly whereas facilities moves very, very slowly. So how can we make the two move at a similar pace? Well, only human beings can make that happen for us.” 

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