VMware's 2012 acquisition of Nicira Networks for a whopping $1.26 billon put a bright spotlight on the emerging trend of software-defined networks (SDN), and more broadly on the software-defined datacenter.
Not wanting to miss out on the marketing buzz, storage vendors rushed in to talk about software-defined storage (SDS) and stake a claim on the term. Early attempts at describing SDS mirrored the definition of SDN by talking about separation of the control plane from the data plane.
However, this definition of SDS was too abstract to be of practical value to most IT operators. Seeing the category marketing opportunity, multiple vendors tried to shoehorn existing technology under the umbrella of SDS. Last year, the frenzy around SDS reached its peak and eventually died down as customers experienced marketing fatigue and pushed back.
As is the case with many disruptive technology shifts after initial marketing frenzy has waned, the real work on SDS now begins. It starts with focusing on the growing challenges that customers face, which in this case, is that storage has become the most complex and costly layer of the datacenter. Datacenter operators must contend with expanding infrastructure footprints and a rapidly expanding number of nodes to meet application demands. At the same time, the slower growth of budgets forces IT departments to find new ways to do more with less.
Manual deployment and configuration was the status quo for many years, but the sprawl of complex storage systems is now putting increasing pressure on IT administrators. Shared infrastructure models allow for more efficient use of available resources, but shared environments are inherently dynamic and chaotic. This makes it more difficult for customers to predict scaling needs, and to monitor and guarantee application performance across layers of infrastructure. Legacy storage architectures are not equipped to deal with this changing landscape in the modern datacenter.
SDS, particularly the policy-based management approach that is integrated with server virtualization and SDN, addresses these real-world customer challenges. Scale-out architectures based on commodity hardware make it possible to grow infrastructure more elastically and efficiently. A consolidated management interface for scale-out resources, combined with rich policy-based automation, simplifies the deployment, configuration and management of infrastructure.
A programmable interface for infrastructure will allow sophisticated IT operators to change the performance, resiliency and availability characteristics of storage on the fly depending on application needs. SDS, when working in conjunction with other layers of infrastructure, will truly enable datacenter evolution. Customers will be able to deploy and configure application stacks with a single click, monitor application performance end-to-end, and troubleshoot performance bottlenecks more accurately with faster remediation.
Software-defined datacenters offer an exciting new vision for infrastructure that is well-equipped to meet the challenges that datacenters face, especially the vanguard who are managing large distributed systems. In 2014, virtualization, networking, storage, and security vendors will take concrete steps toward delivering solutions that enable this vision. It's time to get past labels and buzzwords and focus on real innovation.