speed Silver Peak

The Software-Defined Data Center

speed Silver PeakVMware hosted its US-based user conference in San Francisco last week. Entitled VMworld, the conference had roughly 20,000 attendees and over 280 vendors set up booths in the exhibit hall, making it one of the largest vendor conferences in the IT industry. In addition to its sheer scale, the conference was interesting both in terms of what it did and didn’t focus on.

Given that VMware hosted the conference, it would have been reasonable to expect that there would have been a lot of discussion of VMs. There wasn’t. Certainly VMware pointed out that four years ago, 25 percent of workloads were running in a virtualized environment and that today it is roughly 60 percent. They also stated that when they look out four years in the future, they expect that almost all workloads will be running in a virtualized environment. VMware, however, didn’t dwell on VMs in part because VMs are a well-understood and well-accepted concept, and in part because VMs are just one component of a bigger, more important concept that is discussed below.

Given that VMware recently acquired Nicira for US $1.26 billion, it also would have been reasonable to expect a lot of the discussion at VMworld to focus on software-defined networking (SDN). While there was more discussion of SDN than there was of VMs, SDN was not a major focus of the conference. As one VMware speaker put it, “We just finished the acquisition of Nicira three days ago, so we haven’t yet finished the integration strategy.”

The major focus at the conference was on Software-Defined Data Centers (SDDCs).

According to VMware, a software-defined data center is where all infrastructure is virtualized and delivered as a service, and the control of this data center is entirely automated by software. As VMware explained both at the conference, in blogs and in interviews, their vision is that the data center will be built largely on commodity processors and that software will provide everything that’s needed to adapt the data center to new situations and new applications, and to manage everything from storage to switches to security. While SDDC is a relatively new buzz phrase, it’s not just VMware that is using the phrase. About 10 days before the VMworld conference, John Chambers announced that Cisco would lead the shift to SDDC.  Microsoft has also chimed into the discussion stating that their data center offerings are also software-defined.

So, while the competitive-collaborative nature of the relationships that exist amongst The Big Three (e.g., VMware, Cisco and Microsoft) is complex and volatile, there is strong agreement on the overall direction of the data center: virtualize everything that can be virtualized and automate as many processes as possible.

This shared vision sends a strong message to both vendors and IT organizations. To vendors the message is that if you want to be a partner to one or more of The Big Three, you better have an aggressive roadmap for how you will provide virtualized versions of your products. You also need to be able to execute on that roadmap and not be perceived as keeping one or more of The Big Three from reaching their revenue goals in this area.

To IT organizations it says that they need to recognize that there are very strong forces driving the adoption of software-based solutions. As a result, IT organizations need to re-examine how they are rolling out their infrastructure and place more emphasis on implementing software-based functionality to avoid being out of step with where the industry is going.

About the author
Jim Metzler
Jim has a broad background in the IT industry. This includes serving as a software engineer, an engineering manager for high-speed data services for a major network service provider, a product manager for network hardware, a network manager at two Fortune 500 companies, and the principal of a consulting organization. In addition, Jim has created software tools for designing customer networks for a major network service provider and directed and performed market research at a major industry analyst firm. Jim’s current interests include both cloud networking and application and service delivery. Jim has a Ph.D. in Mathematics from Boston University.