Who Will Control SDN-ified Datacenters? - InformationWeek
09:06 AM
Lori MacVittie
Lori MacVittie

Who Will Control SDN-ified Datacenters?

VMware may have an early advantage in the brewing battle for domination over the software-defined datacenter. But victory is far from assured.

What do OpenFlow and OpenStack have in common, besides the prefix? They're both essentially interfaces -- abstractions that enable control of elements within the datacenter. OpenFlow is focused on the network fabric, but OpenStack is intent on governing just about everything else, from compute to storage to the network, and it's gaining momentum as the abstraction through which the entire datacenter will be operationalized.

But the larger point is that both are also means to an end: control over the infrastructure. This is not the same thing as realizing a true software-defined datacenter. That will require another, more intelligent, layer that is more business focused, takes policies and processes, and turns them into the automated datacenter idealized as the ultimate goal of SDN.

And that layer is where the real fight will be waged among the likes of HP, IBM, and VMware.

VMware may be front and center on the battleground, but others are setting up strategic positions. HP, no stranger to datacenter management (you have heard of OpenView, right?), has invested heavily in developing a complete framework for datacenter management that includes HP Virtual Application Networks, HP Converged Cloud, and HP SDN. Dell acquired enStratius for its enterprise-class cloud management capabilities. IBM is not sitting idly by while the march to battle begins. It's pushing its SmartCloud line. CA, long a quiet force in the enterprise, has an offering (AppLogic), though you may not have heard about it over the din of rattling sabers.

[Need to sell the business on SDN? Check out 5 business benefits to highlight.]

A common refrain from all the players revolves around OpenStack and OpenFlow and open-whatever-the-next-big-thing-might-be. But don't be distracted. What's really important is control over these tools via hooks into Open[whatever]. Control translates into management of the entire datacenter, from the hardware front lines to the increasingly important processes that must be automated and orchestrated.

As discussed in depth in this report, there's a steady drumbeat urging adoption of OpenStack, but that's far from the end of the automation and orchestration wars -- it's just the start of the battle.

Whose flag do you line up behind? One thing's for certain: You'd better have a solid relationship with whichever vendor ultimately automates and orchestrates your datacenter. Do a reality check on your partnerships. Is [insert vendor] strategic and tactical, or did it get in the door only because a rep bought your CMO lunch? It it doing or just talking?

Inventory the technologies on which you've standardized, and then evaluate datacenter-wide systems based on their ability to integrate, automate, and orchestrate as many of those technologies as possible. Don't accept that you need to rip and replace. The benefits of not just SDN but also cloud and DevOps accrue primarily from operational efficiencies gained from that automation and orchestration. Having a trusted partner that supports as much of your gear as possible is half the battle.

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Susan Fogarty
Susan Fogarty,
User Rank: Author
11/26/2013 | 11:31:30 AM
Re: Open abstraction choice?
Lori, this is great advice for readers. I find it ironic that although customers are pushing for "open" options, they need the vendors to implement the standards so that they can then choose which one they will be stuck with for the forseeable future -- this time for software, rather than hardware. Unless you have a company full of tech geniuses and can figure it out for yourself.
User Rank: Apprentice
11/26/2013 | 11:12:05 AM
Re: Open abstraction choice?
Most of the open source activity right now centers on orchestration stacks like OpenStack, SaltStack, etc... A complete OSS management and orchestration system seems feasible built on these systems (and indeed they do have many of the components necessary today) but their focus is currently (and should continue to be for some time) stability in the stack itself (integration of data center components into the stack) rather than overall management. 
Lorna Garey
Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
11/26/2013 | 9:36:31 AM
Open abstraction choice?
Lori, is there any movement in the works for an open choice for the orchestration/abstraction layer, or is it a matter of having to throw your lot in with one vendor?
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