What the software-defined data center really means

As network virtualization matures, the software-defined data center will establish an open-ended environment for innovation

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Although InfoWorld has covered OpenStack extensively, it's important to note that OpenStack alone cannot bring about the software-defined data center. It's a management framework into which various solutions plug in -- such as Red Hat's KVM for server virtualization or Nicira's NVP for network virtualization. Nonetheless, it's pretty clear OpenStack will play a key role in the evolution of the software-defined data center. The latest big vendor to offer support is none other than VMware, which said it was committed to "bringing additional value and choices" to OpenStack when it acquired Nicira, the startup that has led the development of both Quantum and Open vSwitch.

Software-defined everything
Is "the software-defined data center" just another way of saying "the cloud"? Not really. I think of the cloud as a marketing term for application, platform, or infrastructure services that internal or external customers procure on demand through Web forms. The software-defined data center is the mechanism through which those cloud services can be delivered most efficiently.

As network virtualization falls into place, the nearest-term benefit to enterprises will be the easing of the network bottleneck in virtualization. Spinning up and moving around virtual machines has become almost too easy, but the network provisioning to accommodate big changes in virtual server loads has been hard manual labor by comparison. That will change over the next few years.

But in the long run, who can say where the software-defined data center will lead? The fact is, the software-defined data center could only begin to happen now, because up until the present we have not had compute, storage, and networking hardware with the capacity to accommodate the overhead of virtualized everything.

Now we do. Soon we'll have the ability to experiment iteratively with all sorts of new data center architectures that cross public clouds and private infrastructure. Just as no one at ARPANET in the 1970s could have anticipated YouTube, no one can predict where the ability to freely provision and configure abundant virtual resources will take us.

This article, "What the software-defined data center really means," originally appeared at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Eric Knorr's Modernizing IT blog. And for the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld on Twitter.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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