Digital transformation needs an industrialized software-defined data center

evans data center 166508907
Credit: Image courtesy of Thinkstock

In today’s fast-paced environment, where digital transformation creates opportunities to literally re-wire how business gets done, the concept of a totally software-defined data center is vital to enable the speed of change required for organizations to stay competitive and react to ever-changing customer needs.

In my prior blog, “digital transformation needs a modern mission critical infrastructure”, we spoke about how, as the IT industry moves into the next wave of corporate IT, built upon the foundation of SMAC, the data center of the future needs to embrace this new paradigm for the digitization of business models and processes with the data center becoming the workhorse that hosts, manages and delivers this compelling new experience for end user computing.

At the same time as the data center needs to deliver this new generation of SMAC-enabled applications to the future workforce, it also needs to embrace the changes occurring within data center technologies themselves. So doing will help to maximize efficiencies and drive improvements in agility, flexibility, manageability and security.

It’s no longer just about a hybrid approach across public and private clouds (hybrid clouds) and across traditional and outsourced data centers, but it’s about taking advantage of the cost and agility benefits of emerging platform and infrastructural technologies such as converged infrastructures, fabrics, software-defined networks, and ultimately, software-defined data centers.

Emerging Requirements for the Data Center of the Future

To get to this vision of the data center of the future, where growth-oriented digital transformation initiatives are enabled by an innovative IT infrastructure that serves as a highly-agile foundational platform, CIOs are faced with four key emerging requirements:

  • Agile and cost-effective infrastructure to deliver increased mission critical service levels – Cost-effectively deliver increased mission critical service levels so that the enterprise can scale up to support an increasing number of mission critical applications and processes coming online
  • Flexible assembly and dynamic execution of digital services from multiple cloud providers – Support the flexible assembly and dynamic execution of digital services, often distributed across multiple cloud providers, to react rapidly to new digital initiatives and fast-changing business needs
  • Integrated, data-driven view of service management across the enterprise – Achieve an integrated view of service management across the enterprise, to deliver services more efficiently and effectively, and free up time and resources to focus on strategic initiatives
  • Mission critical security against today's emerging threats – Implement mission critical security against today’s emerging threats so that the business value of new digital initiatives can be quickly realized and not delayed

Enabling Technologies for the Industrialized Software-Defined Data Center

Meeting the emerging market requirements cost-effectively and with the requisite agility, flexibility, manageability and security required of today’s dynamically changing business processes requires new IT strategies and approaches that incorporate the latest platforms and emerging technologies, some of which are as follows:

  • x86 Environments – By adopting an “all-x86” data center approach, organizations can cost-effectively run mission critical workloads on industry-standard processors and move away from expensive UNIX and proprietary environments requiring specialized skill sets.
  • Fabric Computing Architectures – By adopting a fabric-based architecture, organizations can gain the agility and flexibility of shared resource pools such as compute, network and storage. This helps to avoid data center sprawl, where each mission critical application used to have its own dedicated physical server, and helps to speed deployments and reduce costs.
  • Software-Defined Principles – By adopting software-defined principles and applying them to the management of applications, infrastructure (such as networks and storage), and even security, organizations can implement a single, software-defined management approach across all environments and eliminate the need for many time-consuming, labor-based activities such as network and firewall configuration.
  • Cloud Management – By adopting advanced automation tools which extend across their hybrid cloud infrastructures, organizations can reduce their operational and infrastructure costs, and selectively run workloads in the infrastructure best suited to meet their financial, performance and security requirements.
  • Security – By adopting security technologies that focus on securing communities of interest as opposed to solely securing the traditional “perimeter”, organizations can change the security paradigm and take a more dynamic, software-defined approach that enhances overall manageability.

Together these technology enablers can be used to jump-start the journey to a modernized, cost-effective and industrialized software-defined data center that provides the new levels of agility, flexibility, scalability, manageability and security required of today’s new scope of mission critical computing.

Recommendations for the Industrialized Software-Defined Data Center

Overall, it’s important to look at the future data center through the lens of five key service layers which support modern mission critical computing (i.e. modern SMAC-enabled applications and compelling digital customer experiences combined with mission-critical service levels). The five service layers provide 1) user experience services, 2) application services, 3) fabric-based infrastructure services, 4) software-defined management services, and 5) security services. The general premise is shown in the figure below:

evans mmc service layers

Credit: Nicholas D. Evans

In a future blog, I’ll address each of these service layers and discuss how they all come together to provide an integrated architectural platform combining social, mobile, analytics and cloud as well as the requisite infrastructural, management and security elements we discussed here.

In summary, to support digital transformation initiatives for the business, it’s important to think about how you plan to digitally transform “IT” itself. Organizations should consider the emerging business requirements, the enabling technologies that can help transform present-day data center capabilities, and then develop an action plan and roadmap for implementation.

The enabling technologies you employ should not solely be restricted to the SMAC stack, but incorporate emerging practices such as Agile and DevOps, as well as some of the items we’ve discussed here such as fabric-based architectures and software-defined principles.

Each of these enablers will play a valuable role in addressing the speed of change required to stay competitive and react to ever-changing customer needs.

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