During my fifteen years in the IT business, I’ve heard more than my share of Chief Executive Officers complain about the high cost of IT.  It may be some new software initiative driven by the marketing department, security concerns over hackers or malicious malware, or efforts to streamline the operation through virtualization.  Eventually though, the conversation gets around to data centers.

Even the uninitiated (those that have a fear of big white rooms with lots of wires and blinking lights), know it’s the organization’s hub for networking, servers, and storage.  But for those signing the purchase orders, it can seem like a bottomless money pit, requiring endless sources of capital every time there’s a cry for more data storage or faster connectivity.  A relatively new approach to data center design may change that.

Software-Designed Data Centers or SDDC, represent a radical paradigm shift in the way an organization deals with networking, storage, CPU, and security.  By relying on software to define and direct data center resources, organizations can realize millions of dollars in hardware savings.

Most organizations have at least begun to “virtualize” their servers and desktops.  Software-Defined Data Centers take it to the next level by providing for direct virtualization of storage and networking assets in concert with your computing infrastructure.  SDDC eliminates existing SANs, network routers, and switches, replacing them with generic storage arrays and software to control storage, routing, and switching.

At its core, software-defined data centers let organizations control operations via software, rather than expensive, proprietary hardware.  Assuming dark fiber connectivity, disaster recovery times are dramatically improved as applications run across locations in real time.  Complex failover processes are eliminated and uptime increases as a result.    Scaling is nearly linear by simply snapping on additional drives, processors, and software elements to control them.  One of our clients reduced their new data center construction budget by 40%, saving $2 million dollars!

SDDC can be complicated and not easily explained so recently, the on line publication TechWeek Europe asked a number of equipment manufacturers to define it so that even a five year old could understand.  Farhad Ghoreshi, the marketing manager at HP Networking EMEA may have had the best description.

“Imagine a teacher instructing a group of pupils to go to a particular classroom in a single file. The pupils will do exactly as per their instructions without needing to interpret what the teacher has just said or work out themselves what they need to do – they will just do as their teacher instructed.  When the group of pupils need to do something different, e.g a fire drill, the teacher simply gives a different set of instructions, telling the pupils to go to the playground, find their own teacher there and wait with him. The instructions don’t need to be explained individually to each pupil; the pupils don’t have to puzzle over what the teacher wants them to do – it’s all straightforward. Once the drill is over, the children can go back to the classroom, ready to receive the next set of instructions.”

“Just as in the example with the pupils, decision-making is removed from the hardware switches in Software-Defined Networking, and is given to software which controls decisions centrally. Switches just do what they are told according to the rules given by the central controller at the time. This way, network administrators can shape network traffic more easily in order to respond to different business needs.”

In short, it saves time when it comes to changes in configuration, is much more efficient, and saves money by allowing the IT department to mix and match hardware solutions instead of relying on more expensive vendor-specific solutions.

SDDC is new but so was the concept of cloud computing just a few years ago.  Most big name hardware manufacturers like Cisco, IBM, Juniper Networks, and Citrix have begun changing their business models to adapt to this open-source model.   Pay attention.  Software-Defined Data Centers just may redefine the IT world.