Today’s the day Dell closes the $65-billion EMC acquisition (and Apple releases the iPhone 7), but while the mega-deal has been inching through the regulatory and shareholder approval process, it’s been business as usual for the storage giant, and increasingly, the usual business has involved alternatives to its bread and butter, disk drives. The enterprise storage giant has been pushing flash, AKA solid state drives (SSDs), software-defined storage (SDS), and now, stealing a page from its virtualization business, VMware, software-defined everything (SDE).
Also referred to as SDX, SDI (software defined infrastructure) and software-defined environments (IBM’s nom de guerre), SDE is am umbrella term that describes how virtualization and abstracting workloads from the underlying hardware can be used to make IT infrastructures more flexible and agile. In a recent conversation with EMC’s Manuvir Das, SVP, Advanced Software Division, he told IT Trends & Analysis that the current evolution of IT is offering customers a couple of choices in pursuit of shrinking data centers, lower CAPEX and OPEX and the ability to leverage the cloud: some form of do it yourself versus an all-in-one solution, and hardware versus software lock-in (and that at the end of the day, there’s no getting away from software lock-in).
With 14 years at Microsoft, including the development of Azure, the company’s public cloud offering, he should know a lot about software lock-in. “The reality is there is nothing beyond software lock in… there is no way a customer can live in a world where there is no lock in somewhere in the stack.”
Lock-in is an ongoing concern. “We don’t want to trade a closed hardware world for a closed software world,” said Nick Lippis, ONUG co-founder and co-chairman, said in his opening presentation at the Open Networking User Group spring conference in May.
“All too often, the vendors have the upper hand,” stated IDC in a recent report. High switching costs or other “vendor control points,” such as proprietary technology integrations or overly customized applications, can make it too much trouble for enterprise customers to discontinue using one vendor and switch to another.
Das said the challenge with a DIY approach to a complete software-defined solution — “the holy grail of what a software defined data center would look like” — is that he sees “very few customers who have the remotest idea of how to do that.” This is not something you get just off the shelf, he added. Of those who have taken this approach, he has yet to meet anybody “with any degree of success.”
Lack of success doesn’t appear to be an inhibitor to SDE/SDDC. Vendors fighting for their slice of the growing pie, in addition to EMC/VMware, Dell and IBM, include: Avaya, Big Switch Networks, Brocade, Cisco Systems, Citrix, HP, Microsoft and NetApp.
There are two factors driving demand for software-defined everything, according to Gartner’s David Coyle, managing VP. “Software-defined allows for full utilization of resources, more automation and the ability to purchase lower-cost hardware.”
The second factor is that IT organizations want to increase agility. “Software-defined allows the faster re-provisioning of resources, and allows IT organizations and service providers to respond quicker to business demands,” he added.
One view of where IT is going is that we are approaching the “end of infrastructure“, moving to software — preferrably open-source software — with the rest so much technology “wrapped in sheet metal,” according to Martin Casado, founder of Nicira Networks, which was acquired by VMware in 2012 and whose technology became the NSX software virtualization platform (AKA SDN or software-defined networking). Now with venture firm Andreessen Horowitz, he said that open source is going to further shake the fabric of the industry by “massively disrupting traditional go-to-market engines.”
The software-defined data center is crucial to the long-term evolution of an agile digital business, according to Gartner: by 2020, the programmatic capabilities of an SDDC will be considered a requirement for 75% of Global 2000 enterprises that seek to implement a DevOps approach. The SDDC market is expected to reach $83.21 billion by 2021 (up from this year’s $25.61 billion), a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 26.57%, powered by the adoption of advanced data center management software, need for cost effective solutions, increased data center agility and scalability, and ability to centrally manage the entire data center.
SDN — comprising physical network infrastructure, virtualization/control software, SDN applications (including network and security services), and professional services — will have a CAGR of 53.9% from 2014 to 2020 and will be worth nearly $12.5 billion in 2020. The software-defined storage market is estimated to grow from $4.72 billion in 2016 to $22.56 billion by 2021, at a CAGR of 36.7%.
“Storage can be a compelling starting point as the capabilities often stack up favorably against traditional solutions,” said Dave Russell, VP and distinguished analyst at Gartner, although he cautions about the risks involved with vendor lock in, even with an open-source or cloud approach. “Recognize that adopting an SDDC means trading a hardware lock-in for a software lock-in,” he said. “Choose the most appropriate kind of lock-in consciously and with all the facts at hand.”
These market segments, and CAGRs, are significant, especially when contrasted with the projected growth of the overall IT market. The global market will grow at a 3.3% annual rate, from nearly $2.4 trillion in 2016 to more than $2.7 trillion in 2020, so SDX will be a key contributor to overall spending.
IBM is aggressively pushing an SDE agenda, said Rob Enderle, principal analyst of the Enderle Group. Big Blue’s recent announcement of its workload management software, Spectrum Computing, is intended to make the data center, both on premise and in the cloud, fully defined by software.
‘This isn’t just IBM’s goal, of course; it’s also the natural outcome of a variety of software-defined efforts from other vendors currently defined by software-defined storage, software-defined networking and software-defined infrastructure. IBM, arguably, is the most aggressive on the last component to date.’
That’s why SDE is so important, said Das. It may be software lock-in, but that enhances, not reduces customer choice because software is portable. “That’s the real benefit of software defined, it makes the thing portable.