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.

Lori MacVittie, Principal Technical Evangelist, f5

November 26, 2013

2 Min Read

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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About the Author(s)

Lori MacVittie

Principal Technical Evangelist, f5

Lori MacVittie is the principal technical evangelist for cloud computing, cloud and application security, and application delivery and is responsible for education and evangelism across F5's entire product suite. MacVittie has extensive development and technical architecture experience in both high-tech and enterprise organizations. She holds a B.S. in Information and Computing Science from the University of Wisconsin at Green Bay, and an M.S. in Computer Science from Nova Southeastern University. She also serves on the Board of Regents for the DevOps Institute and CloudNOW, and has been named one of the top influential women in DevOps. 

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