The Future of IT: How to Prepare for the Digital Data Center
The Software-Defined Data Center (SDDC) is widely tipped to become a de facto part of the mainstream IT set up. It presents not only a disruptive change to the technology used to provide the IT infrastructure but there are also organisational and personnel implications.
By virtualising all layers of the technology stack – computing, networking and storage – control is moved into the software layer allowing much higher degrees of automation of the technical resources to be deployed, generally without the need for human intervention. This means a move away from basic provisioning and maintenance tasks towards the more strategic activities of designing and applying the automation blueprints that will be used to manage the data center.
So far so good, but how can this really be achieved? What will the IT department of the future look like?
The traditional boundaries between the previously physical infrastructure domains are blurring. A service is no longer deployed as discrete server, storage, network and security elements but as an end-to-end set of software defined services required to deliver the necessary infrastructure for a given application. Organisations with separate teams for compute, networking/security, storage have always faced the challenge of being able to provide a seamless process for the provisioning of an end-to-end infrastructure, often operating independently and not always, some might argue “not ever”, with common objectives. The siloed approach promotes best practice and optimization within each domain but slows down end-to-end IT processes. SDDC challenges the rationale for an IT team to operate in those distinct silos, each performing its task independently – “the server is off the lorry and plugged in, call for the network guy and tell the storage gal we will need her next Tuesday” really no longer applies.
With SDDC, whilst the silos are removed, this does not mean specialist skills will no longer be required at all. While SDDC flattens the IT structure, in which all work to deliver a single goal, the data center will always need experts in the individual parts. The role may change but it will still exist with new challenges of developing the blueprints and frameworks that will enable a complete application infrastructure (server, network, storage, firewalls, load balancers …) to be instigated from a single request.
Organisations should therefore invest in a reorganized delivery groups, working as a single entity. Whilst SDDC will not wipe out specialism, multi domain skillsets will become more desirable and, crucially, the focus will shift towards provisioning and managing applications with the infrastructure required to run them being part of the automation layer for those applications. Specialists will be needed who understand how applications are delivered across the entirety of the infrastructure and consume the resources available. Designing application blueprints for specific data center setups with the ability to scale capacity up or down in line with demand and move seamlessly from test and dev into production environments will become a highly desirable skill.
Begin the Virtual Transition
By definition, SDDC does not support physical workloads. To realise the benefits, the application must be virtualised. New applications can be designed both for SDDC and broader “3rd platform” environments using Open Stack, containerization etc. Nevertheless, for many established organisations there remains legacy infrastructure which will require a longer, potentially more challenging transition including migrate or replace decisions. But, this is a challenge that is worth the effort. With SDDC, applications can be provisioned with a single click, allowing businesses to move more quickly and exploit new market opportunities as they present themselves.
As pressure grows on CIOs to drive revenues within the business, SDDC represents an opportunity to create a flexible and scalable environment that can deliver on the demands of the organisation. There is a shift in technology but also in mind-set that is far from simple, but it is valuable. Organisations that start the journey now will surely find themselves in a stronger position over the coming years.