Software Defined “X”: Industry hype or major step forward?
As IT professionals working within Large Enterprise environments and Data Centres we are constantly bombarded with new industry terminology. This can sometimes be a way of grouping similar concepts and approaches but when terminology takes hold then we are often guilty of “washing” every approach with the same detergent (so to speak). “Cloud” has probably been the most recent prevalent example of this but now we are increasingly met with the world of “Software Defined”. Software Defined Data Centre, Software Defined Networks, Software Defined Storage and Software Defined WAN – essentially insert your own word and hey presto it’s now Software Defined.
Vendors are racing to define their technology in software as they previously wanted to define their proposition in the Cloud. It’s a marketing race that can sometimes make it harder to articulate the business value of a technology. In my experience, this “terminology washing” can lead to a lot of confusion as it crowd’s a concept and makes it harder for people to understand the underlying benefits of the approach.
Take Software Defined Networks for example – what is it? what are the benefits? why do I need it? and perhaps the most common, how the hell do I define a network in software anyway?
Try searching for the definition on the web – I dare you, I double dare you…………
You back with me yet? Do you feel informed? Confused? Bored? I know where my money is.
My own personal approach is to try and simplify things in a manner where value can easily be communicated:
Software Defined is a way of abstracting the function (or benefit) of a technology away from the underlying hardware (or commodity) it needs to function on.
If we think about this in terms of Server based computing, then this sort of approach has been around for the last 15 years or so – we just didn’t call it Software Defined – we called it Virtualisation. The concept is the same and the benefits remain consistent. We can drive more value from the hardware required to run our environments, we become location independent (to a certain extent), and we are more able to automate complex tasks.
Taking a look at how this applies to our example of Software Defined Networks we can see how this technology has the potential to add enormous value to an organisation. In complex enterprise environments, the network is often seen as the weakest link. Small changes have been driven by manual processes and it is easy to get to a position where the inflexibility of the network constrains the delivery of business innovation. Software Defined Networks address this challenge as the same small changes are now automated. Organisations bought expensive hardware appliances from the leading network vendors but in a Software Defined world choice and flexibility of hardware is increasing with the complexity and cost coming down. Networks are no longer location dependent either, driving huge advantages in service scaling, availability and reach. In large environments it could be argued that network security was a problem already beyond human scale but in the Software Defined world new approaches to this problem, such as micro-segmentation, provide increased peace of mind.
Being able to clearly recognise the value is key to effective technology adoption and strategy.
The benefits of a software defined strategy pay out in the operational environment and it can sometimes be difficult to justify when the commercial magnifying glass is solely focussed on the projected cost of initial delivery. Software Defined is something that I didn’t need 18 months ago so why do I need it today? It’s not replacing anything in the technology stack so why don’t you continue to deploy infrastructure in the way you always have? The answer to that is simple – the challenges we face today are not the same challenges we faced yesterday. Whether at work or in our personal lives every process, every task is increasingly supported by technology. Delivering the infrastructure to support this technological explosion is immense and if we can’t keep pace with the insatiable demand we quickly become irrelevant. Efficiency, agility, and the ability to scale quickly are the new driving forces and these cannot be achieved without a fundamental change in approach. The Software Defined approach provides just that.
The benefits of Software Defined can be recognised in all infrastructure areas – Storage, Networks, the entire Data Centre stack. In my opinion, Software Defined is here to stay, is definitely not just marketing hype, and is a major step forward for our industry.
Learn more about the power of software-defined solutions
Managing Director at Gyrocom - Helping customers build better networks.