Just about every aspect of IT infrastructure can now be managed at a higher level of abstraction, thanks to the rise of software-defined architectures. In fact, a new report from 451 Research says 67 percent of enterprises will increase spending on software-defined infrastructure (SDI) in 2016, resulting in a 14.4 percent increase in overall spend.
The challenge and opportunity for IT service providers will be helping customers figure out which SDI technologies are actually a superset, not just a subset of another. For example, there are software-defined networks (SDNs) and software-defined storage systems (SDS), which can be discretely deployed in isolation or as part of a larger software-defined data center (SDDC). In all three cases, the control plane is distinctly separate from the underlying data plane in order to make managing and upgrading the overall platform much simpler.
According to the global survey of 900 IT professionals conducted by 451 Research, 65 percent of respondents cited improved agility and flexibility as the top benefit of SDI. Specifically, 37.4 percent of enterprises are increasing spending on SDNs, and 26.9 percent are increasing spending on SDS solutions. The leading SDI vendors were cited as VMware (66.3 percent), Cisco (39.2 percent) and Microsoft (28.1 percent).
Challenges with SDI adoption
The 451 Research report also notes that only 21 percent of the organizations surveyed have actually implemented SDI, which reflects both the lack of maturity of the technologies and the cultural issues associated with making the transition. Given those issues, chances are the depth of that adoption isn't very deep either.
In the case of SDNs, for example, many administrators are reluctant to give up working with the command line interfaces (CLIs) they are intensely familiar with, even though SDN interfaces make it easier to manage networks at scale.
At a higher level, a shift to an SDDC forces companies to reorganize IT staffs that are often built around compute, storage, and networking specializations. Arguably, the whole point of making the shift to SDDC is to make it possible for IT generalists to manage the entire IT environment. Instead of knowing one particular IT function deeply, going forward many IT professionals will need to know just enough about compute, storage, and networking to remain relevant.
Impact on IT service providers
Naturally, that also means that IT service providers will have to consider how their services align with the way IT is being consumed. They will still need specialists in given technology segments, but when they engage with the customer on any given project, the odds are good that a more holistic approach will be required.
Overall, the primary reason to make the shift to SDI is to lower the cost of IT labor. SDI technologies make it possible for an IT organization to manage much larger IT infrastructure deployments at scale. Vendors are interested in SDI because it allows IT organizations to consume more products and technologies without increasing their operational costs. The challenge now is to help those IT organizations not only master SDI technologies, but also absorb major changes to their IT culture that aren't always warmly embraced by everyone affected.