November 13, 2013

What’s All The Software Defined Fuss About? Busting Myths From VMworld

By Shmuel Kliger

Talking with people at VMworld in San Francisco and Barcelona, it was clear that software-defined networking (SDN) and software-defined data centers (SDDC) were a major area of focus for most businesses. These topics are vital to the evolution of virtualization and cloud infrastructure but media hype is already starting to distort the realities they present to the enterprise.

SDN is the hottest technology buzz term in the industry right now. Most enterprises have already migrated to cloud and/or virtualized infrastructure and SDN is positioned as the next logical step towards the Promised Land. The operational and management issues regarding network virtualization are a topic that has not been discussed in any depth, yet has the potential to dramatically affect the success of an SDN initiative.

Users will get stalled on the SDN adoption curve—just as they did with server virtualization—due to operational dynamics within the virtual environment. Businesses that put workloads on a platform that compete for the same resources will experience significant performance issues, the death knell for any IT initiative. This problem is compounded in highly regulated industries where technical constraints are imposed on specific applications and data sets. Visibility into the virtual environment is critical to ensure applications have the resources they need to operate reliably.

The SDDC vision is only partially realized by VMworld attendees —and the industry at large. The focus, based on standard adoption curves, is to deal with infrastructure first, operational and management issues second and optimization of everything third. While parts of the SDDC infrastructure are in place, the focus has not yet shifted to controlling the virtual data center in an automated way via software. The prevailing wisdom from most major vendors is to use tools that take a non-automated, “bottom up” Big Data approach. While dashboards and alerts for various data center components in IT operations are important for administrators, they do not focus on the applications’ performance and user experience. It’s the equivalent of a plumber installing a new sink for you and then leaving without testing it to see if water comes out. No matter the sophistication of the cloud or virtualized environment, if business workers cannot leverage the applications they need to complete their function, all of IT’s hard work is for naught.

What VMworld crystallized for me was that software-defined solutions – as they have been positioned by vendors and understood by IT personnel – are primarily about plumbing. Administrators are currently focused on how to create and configure their cloud and virtualized infrastructure. What is lost in all of this hype is resource management. Resource management is an afterthought for most IT administrators to be taken care of by “other management tools.” The folly in this philosophy is that it creates a huge operational efficiency problem when the initial constructs will not reflect the workload demand and will have to be adjusted later in a reactive, more costly, manner. Enterprises must ensure the availability and performance of the end-to-end IT infrastructure in order to support the service level requirements of the applications on which their businesses run.

VMworld demonstrated that today’s IT administrators are struggling to meet these challenges because their focus is partitioned by technology and function. They focus on data collection and threshold-based alerting, with little intelligence about automating decision-making. IT administrators have essentially been brainwashed to confuse visualization with control. Virtualization – and the agility it offers – introduces dramatic opportunities to manage differently and reduce labor-intensive management tasks. Now businesses must remove their focus from the plumbing of their cloud and virtualized infrastructure so they can fully realize the operational and financial benefits of their investments.

By Shmuel Kliger

Shmuel Kliger

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