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VMware CTO: Software-Defined Data Centers Are Future

VMware CTO Steve Herrod predicts that all data center resources will be virtualized and governed by a unified console.

VMware CTO Steve Herrod sees a future filled with software-defined data centers, and he sees his company's virtualization products playing a major role in managing those data centers.

In an interview before his keynote address at the Interop show in Las Vegas on Wednesday, Herrod said he was using the term software-defined data center for the first time to express VMware's point of view on where it believes data center management and organization is headed. VMware has already proposed that the virtualization administrator and virtualization management console serve as the configuration, capacity management, and deployment point for applications. That approach has begun to spill over into managing physical resources and systems management as a whole. A software-defined data center would be subject to the VMware approach to systems management.

"We're playing off all the excitement around software-defined networking. We want to apply the same flexibility that surrounds it to all of the data center's compute, storage, and networking," he said.

HP on Tuesday announced at Interop that it was supporting the more flexible OpenFlow networking protocol throughout its product line. When OpenFlow is used in place of the spanning tree protocol, network routes don't get permanently wired into the network's hardware. Instead, a central network controller dynamically assigns routes and network resources as applications needs change.

[ To learn more about how the OpenFlow protocol differs from traditional networking, see OpenFlow Will Change Network Architecture. ]

IT departments have built enterprise data centers by combining specialized software with best of breed hardware. Virtualization frees up an application--whether it's designed to run on storage, networking, or a computer--from being tied to hardware devices, Herrod said. It allows software to treat a collection of devices as a pooled resource. That in turn opens the possibility of managing the pooled resource through rules and policies enforced by software. "Specialized software will replace specialized hardware," he added.

The other approach, specialized hardware-based systems, "leads to silo-ed systems and silo-ed people. We at last have a chance to build a data center that can collapse silos," he noted.

But software-defined data centers will need to do more than just start up hypervisors and virtual machines. They will need to know how to apply security and high-availability policies, how to do backup and recovery of data, and execute disaster recovery plans. "You want to be able to get the benefit of full automation in that world," he said.

VMware will expand this approach from a point of view to an emerging product set by the time VMware World in San Francisco arrives at the end of August, Herrod predicted. He doesn't anticipate that VMware will invoke the term "cloud computing" in connection with its discussion of software-defined data centers but in fact it anticipates the operation of private clouds inside enterprises, he conceded.

A software defined data center will be a place where it's easier to run a variety of mobile applications or big data analysis systems based on Hadoop. Such a data center is likely to use multiple hypervisors, not just VMware's ESX Server, he acknowledged.

Today, the teams governing storage, networking, Unix servers, and Windows Servers don't need to collaborate, which contributes to the silo effect. In the future, "virtualized resource teams will work more closely together. They won't worry about my network or my storage but about my cloud's operation," Herrod said.

Software-defined data centers can help to change the way IT budgets are allocated. Today, around 80% of resources are devoted to keeping the lights on and systems running. With a new approach, more capital and human resources will be available for new business logic and adapting to the needs of the business, he added.

"It's a way to remove a lot of constraints that have kept the data center from being all it can be," he said.

Find out how to move beyond server virtualization to build a more flexible, efficient data center in the new Private Cloud Blueprint issue of Network Computing. (Free registration required.)

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