Software-Defined Everything

Page CloudI saw an article recently on ComputerWeekly.com that suggested that while “Software-Defined” is an exciting trend that is gaining momentum, 2015 will not be the year of software-defined everything. I certainly can’t read the minds of the powers that be, but if what I see is any indication of things to come, 2015 will be a heck of a year for software-defined everything regardless of how much marketshare is taken from the hardware folks.When I look at the players in the Software-Defined space you have some significant names (both companies and individuals) that make is clear…there is interest in this space, and the players that are being drafted for the teams are truly there to win. EMC, Hedvig, Red Hat / Ceph, Nexenta, HP…all very impressive players, have been busy positioning themselves for the kill. Two of these companies are, in my opinion, further ahead that the others, but like the start of a marathon, everyone starts at a different time, and everyone runs hard. The question will be who has the endurance and the product to win the race. Rather than focus on the “race”, I want to focus on the race course…or rather, the idea of software-defied everything, and why I believe that the days of appliances and dedicated “purpose-built” hardware as we know them, are numbered.

Let me be clear, I think there is still a great value to be had for many organizations in the appliance space, but in talking with my customers and seeing what is happening in the market, it is clear that more companies are looking for alternatives to the traditional approach to computing, storage and networking. When I was a part of the Dell Data Center Solutions (DCS) team where we did custom server builds for the world’s largest environments, we saw a big push by these organizations to build compute, analytics or storage engines. Commodity x86-64 hardware with software sitting on top to run the Enterprise. ALL of the Enterprise. I am talking about stripped-down servers that support a virtualization layer in which everything runs. The servers themselves are crammed full of media to support the storage requirement and behind it all is a robust 10GbE network. All of the DR functionality is handled at the software layer. It truly is just a massive compute engine that supports thousands or tens of thousands of virtual servers doing everything you can imagine. The only hardware (besides the Top-of-Rack or End-of-Rack switching) is the server platform or platforms decided upon to serve as the engine. As a previous posting mentioned, hyperconvergence is the future, and software is leading the way.

So I was mentioning my customer base. I don’t care what the vertical is, every customer that I speak to is looking at alternatives. They tell their storage vendor “I’m not going to buy <insert favorite monolithic storage platform here> in the future. We are taking our IT strategy in a new direction.” Good for them! It used to be that only the Web 2.0 companies were talking like that. Now, it’s all of them, and they are ALL saying the same thing. It is about delivering applications faster. It’s about scaling to massive, uncharted data sets. It’s about all the things you wanted and got inside of a storage system that sucked down electricity and took up floor space, but could never get in software…until now. I think it is because people have finally come to realize that spinning disk is spinning disk. Flash is flash and compute is compute. The secret sauce is in how it is put together…and then the software to make it all work. That software has come a long way, and it has gotten lighter and lighter, and now you don’t need hardware to have Enterprise-class storage. You need a commodity set of boxes and the right application to make it all work.

Clearly there are those customers that will want an appliance because there is some value in the “lego” approach, and to them I say “go for it” because they are getting the value of “Software-Defined Everything” in a server platform. I mean, really…we still need servers, and for some, that is the perfect approach. For those that have a significant investment in a server infrastructure today, or who happen to be very happy with their server provider(s) today, the software-only model makes sense. Same functionality.

Why do I think 2015 IS the year of Software-Defined Everything? Basically is comes down to the number of players in the field (including the new guys), the quality of product (from everyone) and the shift of the large players like EMC and HP into a software-defined product set to compliment their existing hardware, and meet the needs of their ever-evolving customer base. Every company might not do things the way Facebook, eBay and Google do things, but a lot of IT professionals are watching what they are doing, and when they can, they replicate it. Silicon Valley companies have figured out how to run lean, mean and efficient while sacrificing nothing, and the rest of the industry is staring to say “I think they are on to something there…” I believe they are too, and that is why I believe 2015 will be one of the most exciting years in IT in a long time.

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