The ‘Hard’ Truth About Software-Defined Data Centers

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Can you handle the truth? In many quarters, software-defined data centers are viewed as a panacea to the challenges of the modern data center in bringing together the convergence of important trends such as virtualization, cloud computing and big data.

The software-defined data center (SDDC) expands virtualization to the entire infrastructure, including servers, storage and networks, by abstracting and pooling these IT resources. The SDDC is meant to enable IT organizations to place resources where it makes the most financial sense and allows workloads to be moved where they best serve the needs of the business at any point in time.

All elements of the infrastructure are virtualized and delivered as a service, whereby functions such as deployment, provisioning, configuration and operation are abstracted from hardware and implemented through software.

The truth is that the SDDC does, indeed, offer organizations vast potential in making IT more agile, scalable and cost efficient. But SDDCs also come with challenges that will make them hard to successfully deploy without the right technologies and services in place.

What are some of the challenges that could make it hard to successfully deploy the SDDC? Here are several to consider:

The SDDC Can Create Increased Risk. 
Software-defined data centers are only as good as their underlying protection and performance solutions allow. This includes how the data, applications and infrastructure are protected while appropriate performance levels are maintained. As data centers become more highly virtualized, their vulnerabilities change, and organizations need to address these changing vulnerabilities with new means of protection and detection.

Furthermore, every organization’s security, data protection and business continuity challenges are exacerbated by corresponding increases in risks that emanate from outside the data center, including:

  • The constantly growing use of Web applications and social media;
  • New and ever-changing cybersecurity threats;
  • The changing nature of the network;
  • The increase in the volume of data and applications; and
  • The ever-present potential of man-made and natural disasters.

While the SDDC is a relatively new concept, there are critical solutions available that address the challenges of today’s environments, with feature sets designed specifically for a software-defined approach. An example would be a security virtual appliance that enables security and policy orchestration for the software-defined data center. Another example would be a storage management platform that orchestrates and manages storage performance and capacity across multiple operating systems, virtualization technologies and storage hardware, including the emerging category of solid-state drives.

The SDDC Requires Integration of Key Technologies.
The challenges of security, data protection, storage and business continuity can’t be approached in a vacuum if you are to achieve success with your SDDC. You not only need solutions that provide the features and functions to deal with the challenges of a highly virtualized environment and the physical elements of your data center, but you also have to look at these solutions as an integrated whole that can be purchased from a single vendor.

The idea of the SDDC is to bring everything together, simplifying management and orchestration with increased automation and abstraction of resources. Using separate vendors for functions that are highly interrelated—such as security, data protection, storage and business continuity—doesn’t make sense, particularly when a leading vendor such as Symantec can offer a highly integrated approach to all of these solutions. An integrated approach will not only reduce risk, but it will also be far more cost efficient and simple to manage—providing the characteristics of an agile data center.

The SDDC Must Support Seamless Interoperability and Collaboration Across Participating Ecosystem Vendor Services.
As more value-added services such as security leverage the unique contextual insights provided by the underlying platform, these services bring powerful controls and intelligence into the mix, allowing the SDDC to advance beyond simply pooling and allocating abstracted resources available for manipulation via software. These critical service layers, collaborating across the SDDC, ensure that ecosystem vendors can inject services into the logical infrastructure on demand, and that the right policies and actions are executed based on the right information and the right best practices.

With interoperability among ecosystem vendor services each integrated into the fabric of the SDDC, policies can be unified and actions such as incident response can be coordinated from a single point of management. From a security operations perspective, this accelerates corrective action and minimizes risk.

The SDDC Must Support Heterogeneous Environments.
In moving to the SDDC, very few companies are going to be in a position to rip and replace everything they have. To the contrary, where possible, organizations will attempt to deploy solutions that are open, vendor-agnostic and support a broad heterogeneous environment. This makes sense and is absolutely necessary as the management functions of infrastructure solutions become abstracted from the hardware itself.

In addition, support for open and heterogeneous vendor-agnostic solutions is necessary as agile data centers increasingly support cloud-computing models, whether private, hybrid or public. With the SDDC you want to be able to build in the capability and flexibility to move workloads anywhere within the data center to any platform, including out to the cloud or from one cloud vendor to another. The key is to be able to do this in a seamless manner without jeopardizing data availability, security, continuity or compliance.

Conclusion
The shift to a new type of agile data center characterized by a software-defined approach is happening rapidly. According to a survey by SearchVirtualization.com, more than 60% of server workloads are already virtualized, and nearly 45% of companies have already virtualized at least some of their storage pool of resources.

The simple truth about software-defined data centers is that they have the massive potential to redefine the data center of the future—if the IT organization puts the right foundation in place.

The hard truth is that successfully deploying the SDDC doesn’t have to be hard at all: But it does require an integrated and heterogeneous approach to the interrelated challenges and risks involved in security, data protection, storage, high availability and business continuity.