Future of the data centre is software-defined, but not yet – Gartner

The software-defined data centre (SDDC) is crucial to the long-term evolution of an agile digital business but it’s not the right choice for all IT organisations currently, according to Gartner.

An SDDC is a data centre in which all the infrastructure is virtualised 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 organisations are not ready to begin adoption and should proceed with caution, said Gartner.

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

>See also: A conscious uncoupling: How software-defined infrastructure is transforming the storage industry

"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 organisations with advanced expertise in I&O engineering and architecture.

"I&O leaders can't just buy a ready-made SDDC from a vendor. 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 organisation 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.

Assessing skills and culture

Simply changing a legacy infrastructure for a set of software-defined products is unlikely to yield the desired benefits, according to Gartner.

Before an activity is automated and self-service is implemented, the process associated with the IT service needs to be completely rethought and optimised. This may require new skills and a different culture to what is currently available within certain IT organisations.

"A broken process is still a broken process no matter how well it is automated," said Russell. "Build the right skills in your organisation 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 organisations and visionaries in this field are doing."

The right time to move to an SDDC may be years away for most organisations, but for many it will come sooner than their preparations allow for.

The first step is understanding the core concepts of the SDDC, according to 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.

I&O leaders must also realise 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.

Gartner recommends implementing in phases, 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 favourably against traditional solutions," said Russell.

>See also: Is your data centre fit for the software-defined era?

Open-source standards or a cloud management platform may help IT organisations 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.

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

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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