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Software-defined data centers pique IT’s interest

IT pros’ interest in software-defined data centers continues to grow as tools, such as VMware’s EVO:RAIL, offers IT an effective small business option.

SAN FRANCISCO - Interest among IT pros for building software-defined data centers is rising, with many enterprise users disclosing plans to start weaving pieces of these technologies into existing platforms and infrastructure.

At VMworld here this week, VMware technologies positioned the data center ops team as the lead stakeholder as barriers between storage, networking and computing tasks begin to fall. Not that specialists will disappear, but rather, hardware management will be substituted with role-based access control that can be distributed, according to each enterprise’s own functional roles.

One expert attributed the increased interest in development of a software-defined data center (SDDC) to maturing tools. Some, such as VMware’s recently introduced hyperconverged infrastructure, EVO:RAIL, offer options to small and medium sized companies, a market previously underserved by VMware.

“The Evo interface is simple and a huge step for the SMBs – it was well thought out,” said Brian Kirsch, a Milwaukee-based virtualization and cloud expert. “It will let businesses be businesses, and not IT shops.”

For some, EVO:RAIL will be a possibility once the current hardware life cycle has run its course.

“I like the idea of the pre-packaged integration over what we do today, which is a lot of research, then mix and match,” said Bill Shaw, a critical systems analyst at Marathon Petroleum Corp., based in Findlay, Ohio. “[The product] makes it too easy not to use it. It’s a high upfront cost but over time it would pay for itself – even in manpower.”

Shaw said his company will eventually move to SDDC, though it is currently highly controlled by its Honeywell automation process software.

Not everyone at Covance Inc., a Princeton, N.J.-based pharmaceutical company is convinced that using a VMware tool will be an improvement over managing the actual hardware.

Covance’s IT manager, however is interested in using NSX to abstract security, load balancing and switching functions. He said he believes the technology has too much potential to ignore.

“We’re definitely going SDDC,” said Jean Remy, IT manager at Covance.

SDDC enterprise interest grows

Interest among users in SDCC is reflected in the rosy forecasts by some market researchers that said they believe there is more than a little pocket change to be made in the SDDC market. IDC pegs the total market value at $12.3 billion in 2013 growing to $22.2 billion in 2017. Private cloud infrastructure hardware will experience a 13.4% increase from 2012 to 2017, reaching $12.0 billion in 2017. Private cloud infrastructure software will grow 24.3% from 2012 to 2017 totaling $10.2 billion in 2017.

“I am seeing more interest out there, but adoption will likely be steady over time, rather than a sudden explosion,” said Gary Chen, research manager, cloud and virtualization system software with IDC in Framingham, Mass.

In an SDDC, vulnerability management looks more like this. In a virtual world with NSX, one might use policies to stop a hacker. This means shutting down a port through automation and notifying the application owner.

Network [admin] don’t think managing through a VMware tool is as safe as managing the actual hardware device, Remy said.

“But the device is obsolete and if you are managing and maintaining it, your business will be less agile. You can’t be agile if your internal IT department is fighting.”

Remy said the NSX technology will gain power when it can scale up. The product is currently only able to manage one VMware vCenter at a time.

Naturally, it’s easier to architect SDDC with no legacy technology to displace. One multi-billion dollar hotelier reversed its course in using the public cloud and brought its applications back in house. Three years ago the company transitioned to the cloud but costs spiraled upward because there was no way to control over provisioning.

The company determined that for the price of two or three outages with a major service provider it could build two brand new data centers and avoid losing revenues to lost reservations.

The plan is to use VMware’s vSphere and NSX at the server edges where remote clients access data center applications, said Steven Stubbe, an IT architect at Madtech Inc., a Chicago integrator.

Stubbe said his client, whom he declined to identify, is 90% virtualized, though its installations are relatively simple without many advanced features. The hotelier uses a lot of old applications and the infrastructure needs revising, so it’s a good time to take on NSX.

Senior Executive Editor Ed Scannell also contributed to this story.

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