‘Software-defined everything’ is a marketing phrase that is gaining traction; it is regularly referenced in business and technology publications, with many thought leaders predicting it to be the next big IT disruptor. But what is this software-defined trend and is it something IT teams should be mindful of? Albie Attias, managing director of IT hardware supplier, King of Servers, explores the trend.
As with most buzzwords and terminology, there is no dictionary definition for ‘software-defined storage’ - this results in the term being interpreted differently as its usage spreads. In its simplest form, the architecture, which comprises of IT hardware for computing, networking and storage, is all controlled by common software.
The concept centres around decoupling the physical (IT hardware) from the intelligence (software). The end goal is that it will be easier for an organisation to switch up their hardware (eradicating vendor lock-in) and software will become more intelligent and capable - it is a more holistic approach to network management than that of a traditional network where the hardware is all siloed.
One of the main advantages of software-defined networking is that it provides the IT team with a centralised view of the entire network. This helps with enterprise management and provisioning.
Another huge advantage is centralised security. With the rise in popularity of virtualisation and bring your own device (BYOD) schemes in organisations, it has become increasingly challenging for IT teams to monitor the number of devices on the network at any given time as virtual and physical devices dip in and out. With a software-defined network, the IT team has clearer visibility of devices connected to the network.
Removing the intelligence from the individual pieces of hardware and standardising it allows IT teams to introduce new functionality more easily. Vendor lock-in has long been a problem for IT teams who want to make changes to their hardware inventory. Stripping the intelligence from the hardware and centralising it makes it much easier for IT departments to introduce new products by different brands and minimises compatibility issues.
Improved resource efficiency
Also, with a software-centric architecture, resource from different pieces of hardware is pooled together. This allows the IT team to manage resource more effectively, utilising the various pieces of hardware closer to their full potential.
Reduced expenditure on new hardware
Software-defined networks utilise commodity hardware, as they can be repurposed from the network controller, reducing the need for new hardware to be purchased. There are also savings to be had in buying new hardware - as the intelligence is centred in the controller, new devices are basically just ‘white box’ switches.
Unfortunately, the concept isn’t without its flaws and challenges. In larger organisations with lots of traffic, latency can often be an issue. If an organisation uses standard software-defined computing methods, high volumes of traffic will move between the physical and software layer. This will undoubtedly introduce latency and IT staff will be required to monitor and deal with peak times of activity.
Complications within teams
For some organisations, introducing SDx may impact more than just the IT department. Purchasing decisions, budgets and reporting structures may all have to be re-addressed. Some organisations have separate storage and networking teams; in a software-centric organisation, these teams will be required to work together and collaborate much closer on matters such as budgets and purchasing decisions.
Software-defined everything certainly has its advantages, and although it’s not for every organisation, many are enjoying the benefits it yields.