Soon, just about every element of the data center will be programmatically invoked as code using application programming interfaces (APIs) rather than being managed using traditional command line interfaces (CLIs). But as that shift happens, the lines between servers, storage, and networking inside the data center are starting to blur in ways that create new opportunities and challenges for IT services providers.
In fact, much of the impetus driving Dell to plunk down $67 billion to acquire EMC can be traced back to this trend. As the data center becomes more defined by software, unifying the management of the data center as an instance of a private cloud becomes simpler. The challenge facing IT organizations right now is how to move past all the server, storage, and networking fiefdoms that comprise the data center today.
At the moment, many organizations are embracing this new software-defined era of the data center. Some companies are pursuing a more holistic approach as advocated by vendors such as VMware, which is a unit of EMC, and others favor the OpenStack cloud management framework. While the former may make more sense strategically, different constituencies inside the data center still often dominate individual server, storage, and networking purchasing decisions.
Managed service opportunities
For IT services providers, the fundamental opportunity this shift toward software-defined data centers provides is twofold. Most IT organizations don’t have much experience deploying next-generation management frameworks, so demand for outside expertise using software-defined frameworks is on the rise. At a higher level, software-defined IT infrastructure will make it easier to remotely manage data center environments because now there is a clear management plane separated from all the data flowing through each piece of infrastructure. As a result, it should get simpler in the years ahead to deliver a unified set of managed services across the data center.
Of course, it might eventually become simpler for internal IT organizations to manage the data center on their own. But for the immediate future, the complexity associated with setting up a truly software-defined data center environment is going to push more organizations to embrace managed services — especially at a time when many of them are becoming less interested in managing IT infrastructure themselves. Arguably, the biggest challenge to becoming a software-defined data center might have less to do with the technology than simply figuring out who inside the data center is empowered to make that decision.
Competition heats up
Naturally, every major IT vendor, ranging from Dell, IBM, Microsoft, and Cisco to Hewlett-Packard, Lenovo, and a host of startup vendors, wants to provide the foundation on which the software-defined data center will be deployed on premise and then eventually extended into the cloud.
What's less clear at the moment is which of these vendors will actually carry the day. Not too long ago, EMC would have been considered one of the vendors most likely to win that battle given its ownership of VMware and dominance in storage. But, now that EMC is most likely going to wind up becoming a part of Dell in 2016, chances are high that it’s only a matter of time before the rise of the software-defined data center drives additional mega mergers that previously would have been seen as being too big to contemplate, much less complete.