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Adopt an SDDC architecture with caution and proper planning

Software-defined components such as networking and storage help achieve data center flexibility, but organizations might come across product and security issues.

A software-defined data center delivers virtualized networking, storage, CPU and security as a service, and implements tasks such as deployment, operation, provisioning and configuration through software. But software-defined data center architecture has its own challenges that organizations should be aware of before implementation.

Software-defined data center (SDDC) architecture has three building blocks: network virtualization, storage virtualization pools and server virtualization. These building blocks help organizations manage their data centers as a unified system, which can lower costs and increase versatility.

SDDC architecture basics

SDDC architecture provides hardware provisioning and maintenance and enables organizations to use automation software and configurations to assemble specific services into applications. An SDDC contains crucial attributes, such as the ability to provision load balancers, databases and web servers, that help organizations manage their data centers.

An SDDC architecture mainly involves server virtualization, which consists of a hypervisor capable of automating VM and application deployment. But there are other components that organizations must have to facilitate an SDDC. For example, storage must be software defined and provisioned using APIs, and the APIs must provide a web portal that deploys services with wizards. SDDCs also require software-defined networking products to deploy network configurations across a data center's wide area network, and an API must be present to control the entire network.

One of the benefits of an SDDC is that it offers user-focused services. For example, IT operations teams aren't required to abstract and manage all layers of an SDDC infrastructure. Rather, the software provides automation and API capabilities to provision required services from the SDDC's resources.

Must-have skills for SDDC architecture

Organizations must ensure they master certain skills prior to SDDC architecture implementation. SDDC architecture provides organizations with programmatic control and eliminates routine manual IT tasks, and requires skills to automate deployments and user-support tasks.

A software-defined data center delivers virtualized networking, storage, CPU and security as a service to organizations.

To successfully implement SDDC architecture, staff should possess the following skills:

Data center automation. Automation tools such as VMware's vRealize Operations and OpenStack are critical to build, run and control SDDC technical components. Organizations should have an in-depth understanding of the tool they choose, because integration with other software-defined components is required for more efficient management.

Scripting capabilities. Some organizations might have to build integration between their core automation tool and any additional software-defined components, such as networking and storage. This is because one vendor won't build all the software that makes up an SDDC. This requires code writing skills to successfully integrate automation with those components.

Familiarity with APIs. An SDDC architecture can't function without the presence of APIs, and many scripting tasks require API integration with multiple products.

Ability to develop adjacent skills. SDDC architecture helps bolster virtualization's ability to eliminate complex IT tasks, such as IT silos, by self-managing several IT products. This removes the need for organizations to familiarize themselves with those products. But vendors won't automatically integrate these products with the software-defined components of an SDDC, so organizations must build skillsets beyond their base abilities to understand how different technologies interact.

Components in an SDDC
Components in an SDDC

Ask these questions before SDDC implementation

Software-driven IT operations might benefit from SDDC architecture, but some organizations don't require the agility and scalability that an SDDC offers. Organizations should plan carefully before they implement SDDC architecture.

Organizations, especially those that focus on healthcare, education and manufacturing, should ask themselves the following questions before committing to an SDDC:

Is an SDDC worth the cost? Organizations that aren't built around IT might find that an SDDC doesn't produce direct profit. Rather, it could increase everyday operational costs. In some cases, large-scale investments to modernize these organizations might cost more than the return on revenue.

Does an SDDC meet core needs? An SDDC architecture provides powerful capabilities such as automation and reduced downtime, but organizations should evaluate whether these capabilities align with their core needs. For example, if an educational organization doesn't require the scalability an SDDC offers, the short-term savings, such as reduced hardware maintenance contracts and fewer staff hours, might be detrimental to the operations of the organization.

Will new upgrades overlap existing ones? Organizations might find that switching from their traditional data centers to an SDDC results in overlapping updates and upgrades. If this is the case, organizations should take the time to align their existing data centers with an SDDC implementation. Otherwise, they risk overpaying for certain updates and upgrades they already have.

Is your organization ready for the shift from hardware to software? Migrating key tasks, such as provisioning and configuration, from hardware to software might require training. As a result, organizations should account for how long an SDDC implementation takes, and how to adjust their new infrastructure with the changing needs of their data centers. Organizations without a plan can consume excess resources and energy over an extended period, leading to increased costs.

Be aware of these SDDC security risks

Despite an SDDC's ability to help organizations better manage their data centers, the infrastructure can introduce new complications such as compatibility issues and security risks. Organizations that migrate from their traditional data centers to an SDDC too fast risk jeopardizing their workloads. Migration requires an extended process.

Organizations should address the following security risks before implementing an SDDC architecture:

Product security issues. When organizations implement SDDCs, they pair many different products, which can result in a lack of directory service. This can delay migration and expose products to security risks.

Authentication oversights. Some organizations might opt to skip authentication to get an application up and running quicker. But authentication ensures that applications are secure and trusted. Organizations can use signed certificates or Microsoft's Active Directory as a single source for authentication.

Automation challenges. Ensuring security policies and procedures are up to date is essential for successful automation. Organizations must adapt and change the way their IT department handles day-to-day operations. Otherwise, an SDDC's agility can be compromised.

Overcome SDDC challenges in Windows Server 2019

Vendors offer software platforms that promise to unify, scale and manage hardware effectively. But that doesn't mean these products and services are foolproof.

For example, Microsoft's updated SDDC technology in Windows Server 2019 introduced a set of new challenges for organizations. One of the main issues is pairing underlying hardware with the features and functionalities of the OS. Organizations might have trouble getting their devices, such as network interface cards, to align with Windows Server 2019 software-defined functionality. This can lead to an unoptimized or unmanaged SDDC.

To remediate this issue, organizations can request help from their hardware vendor, or they can use the hyper-converged abilities in Windows Server 2019 to resolve any problems. Purchasing hardware that supports Windows Server 2019 software-defined features can help mitigate integration issues, and hyper-converged infrastructure optimizes and pairs compute, storage and additional resources into modules that help organizations build the SDDC.

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