For federal agencies, the era of the software-defined data center (SDDC) is likely coming soon — how soon it arrives will depend on a number of factors, including how quickly agencies shift to virtualizing storage and networks and not just servers. It will also likely hinge on whether agencies embrace hardware or software-based solutions as they virtualize their networks.
Some, like the Environmental Protection Agency, have already moved toward the SDDC model by virtualizing their servers. Many more are likely to follow, thanks to the new Data Center Optimization Initiative, which mandates that agencies increase “the use of virtualization to enable pooling of storage, network and computer resources, and dynamic allocation on-demand.”
SDDCs will help agencies meet that mandate because, as IT consultant William Freedman notes in a column for FCW, they “virtualize storage, processing and network resources and package them into on-demand units that allow non-IT managers to provision only what they need through a self-service portal.”
The Benefits of Moving to an SDDC
Agencies can attain many of the same benefits businesses are achieving by embracing SDDCs, which give agencies flexibility to move workloads to public, private and hybrid clouds.
Research firm Gartner noted last year that an SDDC “is a data center in which all the infrastructure is virtualized and delivered ‘as-a-service.’ This enables increased levels of automation and flexibility that will underpin business agility through the increased adoption of cloud services and enable modern IT approaches such as DevOps.”
SDDCs let agencies and data center managers dial up or down the computing, storage and networking resources they need, given the workloads they need to handle.
That has multiple implications. First, agencies can save money by procuring less hardware for computing, storage and networking. Additionally, SDDCs save agencies money on power consumption by reducing the amount of cooling they need, and by letting them target their cooling to certain parts of their data centers.
Agencies Face Hurdles in Making the SDDC Shift
While there are many benefits for agencies, there are also reasons agencies should be methodical about how they approach SDDC implementations. Gartner cautions that “most organizations are not ready to begin adoption [of SDDCs] and should proceed with caution.”
Dave Russell, vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner, said that infrastructure and operations leaders “can’t just buy a ready-made SDDC from a vendor. First, they need to understand why they need it for the business. Second, they need to deploy, orchestrate and integrate numerous parts, probably from different vendors.”
Agencies also need to ensure that they have the right IT talent in place to implement an SDDC approach.
Freedman notes that federal agencies need to have security in place at every element of an SDDC. “As with anything else in this age of hacktivism and cyberwarfare, every effort must be made to avoid data breaches in an SDDC infrastructure,” he said. “IT departments must be able to verify that data is secure at rest, in transit and at any endpoint.”
Agencies have already started virtualizing servers and will soon move to doing so for storage. How agencies go about virtualizing network functions will likely be the key factor in determining how quickly they adopt SDDC architectures.
On the one hand, they can stick with hardware-based solutions from traditional networking vendors and avoid investments in new network gear. A downside, Freedman notes, is that agencies can get locked in with one vendor.
Or, agencies can go with a more software-focused approach, though there is risk of being locked in with software vendors as well.
“So the IT manager contemplating a move to SDDC, willingly or not, must understand that it is a long road,” Freedom said. “Virtualizing computing, storage and network resources will probably need to proceed sequentially rather than in parallel.”