Gartner: Future of the Data Center is Software-Defined
September 30, 2015

The software-defined data center (SDDC) is crucial to the long-term evolution of an agile digital business according to Gartner, Inc. It is not, however, the right choice for all IT organizations currently.

"Infrastructure and operations (I&O) leaders need to understand the business case, best use cases and risks of an SDDC," said Dave Russell, VP and Distinguished Analyst at Gartner. "Due to its current immaturity, the SDDC is most appropriate for visionary organizations with advanced expertise in I&O engineering and architecture."

An SDDC is a data center in which all the infrastructure is virtualized and delivered "as-a-service." This enables increased levels of automation and flexibility that will underpin business agility through the increased adoption of cloud services and enable modern IT approaches such as DevOps. Today, most organizations are not ready to begin adoption and should proceed with caution.

By 2020, however, Gartner predicts the programmatic capabilities of an SDDC will be considered a requirement for 75 percent of Global 2000 enterprises that seek to implement a DevOps approach and a hybrid cloud model.

"I&O leaders can't just buy a ready-made SDDC from a vendor,” said Russell. “First, they need to understand why they need it for the business. Second, they need to deploy, orchestrate and integrate numerous parts, probably from different vendors." Moreover, aside from a lot of deployment work – new skills and a cultural shift in the IT organization are needed to ensure this approach delivers results for the business.

Gartner recommends that I&O leaders take a realistic view of the risks and benefits, and make plans to mitigate the top risks of an SDDC project failure:

Assess skills and culture

Simply changing a legacy infrastructure for a set of software-defined products is unlikely to yield the desired benefits. Before an activity is automated and self-service is implemented, the process associated with the IT service needs to be completely rethought and optimized. This may require new skills and a different culture to what is currently available within certain IT organizations. " A broken process is still a broken process no matter how well it is automated," said Mr. Russell. "Build the right skills in your organization by enabling top infrastructure architects to experiment with public cloud infrastructure in small projects, as well giving them the opportunity to get out and learn what their peers in other organizations and visionaries in this field are doing."

Know when the time is right

The right time to move to an SDDC may be years away for most organizations, but for many it will come sooner than their preparations allow for. "The first step is understanding the core concepts of the SDDC," said Mr. Russell. "Then, I&O leaders should examine the available solutions starting with one component, process or software-defined domain that can benefit. The final stage is to plan a roadmap to full deployment if and when SDDC solutions are appropriate."

Moreover, I&O leaders must realize that the technology is still nascent. Even the more established software-defined areas like networking and storage are still gelling and are experiencing early stage adoption levels. Implementing in phases is recommended, once it's been established that the solutions in the market deliver enough functionality, interoperability and production-proven deployment history to be viable. "Storage can be a compelling starting point as the capabilities often stack up favorably against traditional solutions," said Mr. Russell.

Beware of vendor lock-in

Open-source standards or a cloud management platform may help IT organizations to reduce vendor lock-in, but it cannot be eliminated altogether. There are also no universal standards in place for infrastructure APIs, so adopting and coding to a particular API results in a degree of lock-in. It's vital to understand the trade-offs at work and the costs of migration or exit when choosing vendors and technologies.

"Recognize that adopting an SDDC means trading a hardware lock-in for a software lock-in," Russell concluded. "Choose the most appropriate kind of lock-in consciously and with all the facts at hand."

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