3 things you need to know to save your IT job: #2 Software-defined data center

Data

Image: JD Hancock (cc:by)

Do you have an IT job involving enterprise data? More importantly, do you want to keep it?

If you answered “Yes” to both questions, you’ll want to make sure you’re fully prepared for three big shifts in technology that are reshaping today’s enterprise data center. In this three-part series of blog posts, I'm talking about these "mega-shifts."

In Part 1 of this series, I covered the mega-shift to cloud computing, which has begun to reshape IT. This first shift is well underway, with IT workloads moving increasingly outside the walls of the traditional data center. In Part 3, I’ll go on to discuss flash SSD storage.

While people often talk about cloud-computing, the second trend has received less media attention. But it's no less profound. This is the mega-shift from human management to software automation occurring within the walls of IT. This is the story of the software-defined data center (SDDC).

Mega-shift #2: Automation is taking center-stage in the data center

Let’s face it: Humans aren’t so good at repetitive tasks. We forget things. We make mistakes. We stop paying attention.

Software is much better at everyday or mundane tasks.

An SDDC uses automation to perform repetitive tasks and to immediately notify administrators if something’s not right—e.g., outside of a policy. In this way, automation can simplify complex data-center environments and reduce the time it takes to manage the infrastructure’s underlying resources.

There are three essential components in an SDDC: software-defined servers, software-defined networking and software-defined storage.

Software-defined servers

Automation comes in the form of server virtualization and virtual “guest” machines that are separated from their underlying physical server hardware. This is of course a key enabling technology for cloud computing (be it public, private, or hybrid).

Instead of spending time on constant upgrades and installations of physical server racks, server virtualization lets you simply turn off underutilized servers, by consolidating several tasks onto one physical machine. It also lets you remotely manage, clone, move or delete servers in a fraction of the time.

Software-defined networks (SDN)

Automation is made possible with emerging standards like the OpenFlow SDN protocol and its SDN manager. The SDN manager observes the characteristics of all network switch ports in an enterprise, adjusting switch traffic flow accordingly.

Through this type of automation, network traffic becomes more evenly balanced. It also means less time spent manually tuning and troubleshooting network issues.

(For more on SDN, see Jonathan Hassell’s excellent article.)

Software-defined storage (SDS)

Automation takes a similar form to virtual servers. Physical storage arrays are transformed into virtual storage pools, with no regard for physical boundaries.

A policy engine enables instant provisioning of the “virtual storage machines.” The policy engine also automatically determines capacity, performance, and data-protection criteria—among other things.

Storage workflow managers are an example of this type of SDS today. These use an operations portal and built-in APIs to automate complex tasks.

(For more on SDS, check out Vaughn Stewart’s blog post.)

D.I.Y. or automate?

The path to a software-defined data center starts by analyzing how much time you spend monitoring systems and performing rote tasks. The next step is to explore whether these tasks could be handled faster or better by the systems themselves.

Embracing the shift to automated SDDCs also requires an acknowledgment that traditional IT roles are changing. It may mean leaving your comfort zone and handing control over to software. It can also mean changing your focus from routine operations to areas of innovation.

What happens if you don’t move forward? You and your team risk being overwhelmed by the growing sea of IT complexity. You also risk frustrating your users so much that they begin looking for other options, such as unapproved, 3rd-party cloud services.

Automated SDDCs show great promise for helping put IT back on track. How well you embrace and incorporate this type of automation is critical to the future of your data center and your own role within the IT organization.

IT is changing. You need to change with it.

Next Up: Say Adios to the hard drive as we know it.

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