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What is the software-defined data center?

The software-defined data center (SDDC) takes a holistic approach to organizations’ IT infrastructure, abstracting every element of the data center into a unified cloud-native resource.

Migration to the cloud has delivered unprecedented flexibility and scalability to today’s enterprises — but as businesses leverage more and more of those advantages, they run the risk of introducing unintended fragmentation and complexity to the data center.

To solve this problem, the SDDC integrates virtualized infrastructure, streamlining the provisioning and management of resources. When implemented successfully, it is a unified architecture that accounts for and coordinates all of the essential components of the data center.

In order to understand the benefits and challenges surrounding the SDDC, we should consider how we got here.

Traditional Data Center vs Virtualization

Traditionally, data centers have been understood to consist of three pillars of IT infrastructure: compute resources, storage, and networking. Once, all three of these would have been physical resources, often co-located geographically — for some organizations, this is still the case.

The vast majority of enterprises, however, have shifted at least part of their infrastructure to the cloud, virtualizing one resource or another for the sake of scalability, flexibility, and cost-efficiency. Today, virtualized resources may take a number of different forms:

  • Compute: Any business relying on cloud compute resources like AWS or Azure has taken a step toward virtualization. That’s a large group, and it’s not hard to see why. Physical servers are slow to provision and resource-intensive to maintain — and that can turn scaling into a slow-moving guessing game. Virtualized compute resources may be spun up (or wound down) as needed.

  • Storage: Most of us use cloud storage in our personal lives these days, and we see many of the benefits there, such as ease of backup and increased availability. But enterprise data centers have their own set of concerns, such as adhering to security and regulatory requirements across their infrastructure. Virtualizing storage can streamline and standardize this process.

  • Networking: Here we begin to see the synergies that emerge from integrating cloud resources. Once an organization is using virtual machines, it can simplify networking between those and other machines with a virtualized network layer — so the provisioning of network resources can move as quickly as the provisioning of the machines themselves, all without worrying about proprietary hardware.

As cloud adoption has risen, it has become clear that the entire enterprise data center may be migrated to the cloud, conferring enormous benefits to businesses. But with those opportunities come challenges, and the SDDC provides a model for solving them.

Benefits of using a software-defined data center

In general, the benefits of using a software-defined data center look similar to the benefits of virtualizing a given resource, compounded and optimized through thoughtful coordination of resources.

  • Cost: At every layer of your data center, maintenance is streamlined and standardized, bringing down costs — and freeing Dev and Ops teams for more important tasks. For smaller organizations, the SDDC takes IT infrastructure that previously would have been out of reach and makes it affordable.

  • Energy: A virtualized data center uses only the energy required of it at any given time — standing in stark contrast to a physical data center with inflexible baselines and sub-optimal hardware utilization. By reducing the physical footprint of the data center, enterprises reduce financial and environmental costs simultaneously.

  • Space: As organizations across sectors work to understand which physical resources are truly necessary, the data center emerges as a key resource already suitable for a distributed and virtualized approach to work. All the complexities of physical property management are pared away, abstracting the data center to the functionality that really matters.

  • Security: Whether your enterprise is in a highly regulated sector or not, security is essential, and the SDDC can apply unified standards to every piece of your infrastructure — without requiring your Ops team to make constant updates. While maintaining a secure cloud infrastructure requires care in your decision-making and selection of service providers, it can ultimately harden security and simplify compliance.

Taken together, the benefits are compelling, but they don’t come without challenges. So how do these pieces fit together, and how can organizations create an SDDC effectively?

Challenges of using a software-defined data center

SDDC isn’t a magic wand; it’s an architectural model that needs to be implemented thoughtfully in order to achieve the desired benefits for your organization.

Because virtualized resources have emerged (and often been adopted) piecemeal, from a variety of different service providers, they often aren’t designed for straightforward integration and interoperability.

Many larger enterprises considering an SDDC are using a combination of public, private, and hybrid clouds — from customer-facing servers to dev environments for freewheeling innovation to platforms for legacy apps. That introduces complexity, but also opportunity; these are resources that you want to be able to coordinate smoothly, from a single management layer.

An effective SDDC — one that delivers on the promise of the concept — will abstract away the complexities while minimizing constraints, allowing your team’s choices to drive the shape of your IT operations. In practice, this should mean that you have remote management capabilities through APIs and easy-to-use software interfaces.

Migrating to a virtualized data center architecture

For those with large physical data center operations, the thought of migrating all of these resources to the cloud can be daunting. Where do you begin? And how do you make sure you implement your SDDC the right way, fully leveraging all the capabilities of the model?

A cloud-native data center service like Mirantis Flow provides a suite of tools to support you at every step of the process. At the heart of the Mirantis Flow portfolio is Mirantis Container Cloud, a secure container management platform that allows you to deploy and scale across your organization, coordinating across platforms such as AWS or Azure, freeing you from vendor lock-in.