Is Your Network Ready for the Software-Defined Data Center?

Mike Spanbauer
Mike Spanbauer

Summary Bullets:

  • The software-defined data center is a concept that encapsulates networking, virtualization, storage, orchestration, and ultimately, a truly agile framework.
  • Orchestration and manageability must be designed into a solution, rather than being bolted on, to yield the best results.

It became evident during VMworld that the notion of a software-defined data center is central to VMware’s strategy.  However, when you pause a moment and reflect on where the tech industry has been heading for the last five to ten years, it is easy to see elements of this notion accelerating over time, really coming to dominate design principles across the disciplines that constitute the DC (storage, compute, network, and operations platforms) in the last few years.  Software-defined networking (SDN) is perhaps one of the most visible or actively marketed software-defined concepts, but when one realizes that virtualization is just another software-defined concept (compute/machines), it is easy to see the theme encompassing practically every element of DC technology, not to mention platforms and applications already being managed as software elements themselves.  The logical question here is: If all elements within a data center are software-controlled, then what about the technology characteristics of fabrics, SPB-M/Trill, FCoE, and more of the physical network elements?  The answer is that the technology differentiation of the devices which constitute the infrastructure does not go away or diminish with the SD DC, but rather becomes instrumental as the devices themselves must each integrate with upper-level orchestration platforms (i.e., VMware vCenter/vCloud Director). 

This journey to SD DC starts with the right questions to your technology partners.  What integrations exist with leading operations/management platforms for bi-directional messaging and fabric or switch control?  Which virtualization vendors are supported and how extensive is this support?  Will there be Ethernet roadmap and platform support for OpenFlow or other emerging SDN technologies (the key being platform extensibility/capability vs. current support for the protocol in shipping products)?

Ultimately, the awareness continues to grow around orchestration, becoming a more and more pervasive discussion within all disciplines of a data center.  It is difficult and costly to retool and implement management and control hooks as an afterthought.  This must be part of the RFP for all technology within the DC at the point of architecture and design, not post-acquisition.

What do you think?

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