The rise of the agile, software-defined data centre

The software defined data centre enables organisations to regain control of their cloud infrastructure.


The software-defined data centre is the bridge to the cloud. It offers the chance to create order from the potential sprawl of hybrid cloud and it offers enterprises an alternative to multi-cloud strategies that can run the risk of leaving enterprise systems trapped in silos.

Of course, cloud is ubiquitous. It is the key technology enabling digital transformation and it has changed forever the way organisations of all sizes consume technology.

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Global cloud providers are innovating at an unprecedented speed and CIOs and business technology professionals are constantly being bombarded with messages about new developments. Cloud-based analytics and machine learning products, IoT services, container-based development platforms, innovative database services and new SaaS apps are all on offer, with the promise that all of this innovation is easier to buy and integrate than ever before.

Except, actual take up of cloud lags way behind the hype. Analyst group Forrester, in its predictions for 2018, suggests we will pass a ‘magic threshold’ where ‘more than 50% of global enterprises will rely on at least one public cloud platform to drive digital transformation’.

Elsewhere, the analyst house says 31% of its survey respondents say public cloud is their primary cloud platform, up from 25% in 2015, with filesharing, collaboration and storage the most commonly used.

In other words, the majority of computing is still going to be done in wholly owned or co-located enterprise data centres. While many organisations are keen to close or offload their traditional data centres, progressive business technology leaders know that this isn’t always possible, necessary or desirable.

Although traditional enterprise data centre practices may be dead, some of the most exciting innovation today is around private cloud technology stacks. Innovation here offers the prospect of an organisation delivering the agility and power of elastic, on-demand cloud services from its own enterprise data centre and also provide a seamless link to services run by hyperscale providers.

The software defined data centre is at the heart of this innovation. “Better automation tools, container abstractions, software-defined networks (SDNs), and composable infrastructure have ushered in unprecedented abstraction,” says Forrester.

In the software-defined data centre, compute power, configuration, deployment, storage and security are virtualised and deployed as required. According to the analyst group, this offers ‘an opportunity to integrate legacy architectures, cloud, and workload-centric architectures into a single automation domain.’

This is genuine hybrid cloud and it is something that HPE believes it is delivering with its Synergy platform. Synergy is a ‘composable’ infrastructure platform that brings compute, network and storage infrastructures together as a single platform with integrated management to give a single API. When used with HPE’s OneView converged management tool, this allows organisations to use the API to run their whole infrastructure in a highly automated manner.

A partnership with Microsoft offers organisations the chance to run Azure-consistent services in their data centre and offer simplified development, management, and security experience with Azure public cloud services.

Early adopters of Synergy include Saxo Bank, Ericsson and several health care systems providers, including Hudson Alpha, Cerner and Emis Health.

EMIS is using Synergy to give developers faster access to infrastructure needed to create new products and services. EMIS Health technical solutions manager David Gee says Synergy enables software to be pushed from test to deployment on the same platform by allocating more storage or compute resources where necessary and underpins a new DevOps approach.

Telecoms and TV giant Liberty Global, which owns Virgin Media, is also using Synergy, according to its data centre technology VP EMEA, Colin Miles, to support different workloads on one infrastructure platform.

“We had individual architectures designed for each workload and that creates a real challenge in managing and being able to deploy services,” he said. “With Synergy, we can use a single platform to deliver across those multiple workloads.”

Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, says the shift to a software-defined composable infrastructure will require a multi-year transition by enterprises noting that, “During this transition, IT will be managing a mix of environments that range from traditional rack or blade servers, converged/hyperconverged products and composable infrastructure solutions.”

For CIOS and business technology leaders trying to deliver digital transformation while maintaining the efficiency of existing business systems and sweating existing assets, creating a genuinely software defined datacentre, can be a significant enabler of fundamental change.

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