Three years ago, technology pioneer and venture capitalist Marc Andreesen famously proclaimed, “Software is eating the world,” and, more recently, industry research firm Gartner – in its top predictions for 2014 – declared, “The business is IT.” Combined, what do these statements mean for today’s enterprises? Simply put, with the continued migration toward a software-based world, a modernized IT infrastructure means the difference between business success and failure.
Over the past 10 years, technology companies have seized this opportunity, delivering massive innovation in IT to help organizations transform business models, processes and infrastructure to succeed in an increasingly online world. Key among them has been the use of software to break the 1:1 relationships between application architecture and physical hardware infrastructure, enabling major technology movements such as cloud, SaaS, and big data.
As each part of the infrastructure gains this abstraction process, commoditized, templatized services emerge, improving availability and performance, simplifying operations, and driving further innovation.
The Last Frontier Ahead
The data center is undergoing a revolution in migrating to a software-defined model. As a result, the move to the abstraction layer approach – the software-defined approach – is underway for all five fundamental infrastructure components of the data center:
Technology vendors have evolved most of these components to operate in this software-defined model. But data access has lagged – it’s the last frontier in successfully building the software-defined data center. Until the benefits of the abstraction approach extend to the data access layer, data center operations will remain compromised.
The Common Thread: Breaking the 1:1 Chain
The software-defined data center breaks the 1:1 relationship that has existed previously for IT functions. This approach holds true whether that 1:1 relationship tied hardware switches that provide the fabric to the vLAN domain or applications to database servers. By allowing the software to abstract the data from the physical device, and treat the device as just a resource rather than a physically bound container for the data itself, software creates high-performing services that can be infinitely scalable and infinitely available.
What innovation in each part of the software-defined data center enabled, and how can we achieve that benefit in the last frontier of data access? Here’s a look.
Making Computing Capacity Elastic – Virtual Compute
Compute resources were among the first to undergo the migration to virtualization. VM has enabled the fast and easy provisioning of compute resources. With the ability to easily add or remove virtual machines (VMs) based on load requirements, access to computing resources has become magnitudes more simplified. Running many VMs simultaneously, organizations benefit through improved system availability, performance and resource utilization.
Slashing Storage Costs, Automating Provisioning – Software-defined Storage (SDS)
Software-defined storage (SDS) decouples the programming requirements for storage-related tasks from the physical storage hardware. By managing and automating storage through software, SDS has allowed organizations to simplify storage functions, including configuration and provisioning, as administrators no longer have to consider hardware attributes. The end result is that storage resources can be more efficiently and easily allocated as needed within an enterprise.
Simplifying Network Operations – Software-defined Networking (SDN)
As VMs rapidly multiplied, they became deployed in large and disparate environments. With networks scaling across thousands of typical machines and hundreds of thousands of VMs, organizations needed a solution that wasn’t tied to the switch.
The OpenFlow protocol delivered an important stepping-stone in the development of software-defined networking (SDN). Separating the programming of routers and switches from the underlying hardware, OpenFlow lets switches and controllers talk with each other. Other technology vendors have also contributed with solutions to separate the control plane from the physical network, enabling VMs to easily move from one physical server to another without limitations.
With the ability to program the network free of hardware, SDN has simplified network operations and vastly improved the provisioning of large, complex networks.
Simplifying Data Asset Protection – Software-defined Security
Software-defined security abstracts security resources away from dedicated appliances, such as physical firewalls or wire sniffers. This model lets organizations establish security parameters without changing the physical hardware, so administrators can easily extend security policies across a cluster or data center as needed. Software-defined security can make it easier for administrators to spot susceptible behaviors, for example. Unlike traditional security, which depends heavily on manual detection and administration, software-defined security leverages automated processes to alert organizations to possible security breaches.
Delivering Continuous Application Availability – Software-defined Data Access
Companies are just now starting to address the data tier, the key communications layer between the database elements and applications through software-defined data access. Some larger companies, such as Google and Facebook, have built their own proprietary data abstraction layer, while other companies are bringing these capabilities to the mass market.
One growing approach is to leverage SQL load balancing software to create a transparent, intermediary layer between the applications and databases. With database load balancing software, organizations can separate the application from the database, removing application complexity by avoiding having to program database structure into the applications. This approach provides for flexibility in how the database components are deployed and scaled, enabling automatic failover and other load balancing functionality with no application engineering.
Without changing a single thing at the database or application layer, software-defined data access provides dramatic benefits. It enables zero downtime for applications, boosts application performance, and reduces both hardware and license costs.
Conquering the Last Frontier
A software-defined data center ushers in new growth opportunities. It eliminates the technical obstacles that can consume operational energies and streamlines IT to improve customer interactions, driving new revenue streams and innovative social opportunities.
With so much business value wrapped up in easily and always accessing data, getting to the software-defined data access layer is crucial to business agility and success.
About the Author/Michelle McLean
As Vice President of Marketing at ScaleArc (link), Michelle is responsible for overseeing all of the company’s marketing strategy and initiatives. She has more than 20 years of networking and market positioning experience. Prior to ScaleArc, she held director of product marketing positions at Silver Spring Networks, ConSentry Networks, Peribit Networks, and Trapeze Networks, and prior to that, she was director of strategic marketing at Pluris. She previously served as program director at the research firm META Group, providing technology and strategy direction to global 2000 enterprise clients. Before that, she tracked technical developments, networking trends, and vendor strategies as a journalist for two leading networking publications, LAN Times and LAN Magazine. Michelle earned her BA in English from the University of California at Berkeley. ScaleArc social links: Facebook, Linkedin McLean social links: Twitter