#Datacenters are becoming software defined

‘Data centers are becoming software defined’ 
Data centers around the world are increasingly being virtualized and organizations are restructuring business processes in line with infrastructure transformations. Raghu Raghuram, SVP & GM, Cloud Infrastructure and Management, VMware tells InformationWeek about the software defined data center, and how virtualized infrastructure will bring in more flexibility and efficiency

 By Brian Pereira, InformationWeek, May 18, 2012

What are the transformations that you observe in the data center? Can you update us on the state of virtualization?

Firstly, there is a transformation from physical to virtual, in all parts of the world. In terms of workloads in the data center, the percent (of workloads) running on virtualized infrastructure as against physical servers has crossed 50 percent. So, there are more applications running in the virtual environment, which means the operating system no longer sees the physical environment. This is a huge change in the data center. The virtual machine has not only become the unit of computing but also the unit of management.

Earlier, operational processes were built around a physical infrastructure but now these are built around virtualized infrastructure. The organization of the data center team is also changing. Earlier, you’d have an OS team, a server team, and teams for network, storage etc. Now virtualization forces all these things to come together. So, it is causing changes not only in the way hardware and software works, but also in the people and processes.

The second change is that data center architecture has gone from vertical to horizontal. You have the hardware and the virtualization layer with applications on top of it. Hence, you can manage the infrastructure separately from managing the applications. You can also take the application from your internal data center and put it on Amazon Web services or the external cloud. Thus, the nature of application management has changed.

How is the management of data center infrastructure changing?

The traditional and physical data center was built on the notions of vertical integration/silos. You’d put agents in the application and at the hardware and operating system levels. And then you’d pull all that information together (from the agents) and create a management console. And when the next application came into the data center you’d create another vertical stack for it, and so on. This led to the proliferation of management tools. And there was a manager of all the management tools. As a result, you were layered on more complexity instead of solving the management problem. The second problem was that operating systems did not have native manageability built into them. So, management was an afterthought. With virtualization, we were the first modern data center platform. We built manageability into the platform. For instance, the VMware distributed resource scheduler (DRS) automatically guarantees resources — you don’t need an external workload manager. We have built in high availability so you don’t need an external clustering manager. Our goal has been to eliminate management, and wherever possible turn it into automation.

We are going from a world of agents and reactive type of management to a world of statistical techniques for managing data. One of our customers has almost 100,000 virtual machines and they generate multiple million metrics every five minutes. There’s a flood of information, so you can’t use the conventional management way of solving a problem. You need to do real-time management and collect metrics all the time. We use statistical learning techniques to understand what’s going on. It is about proactive management and spotting problems before these occur. And this is a feature of VMware vCenter Operations.

What is the Software defined data center all about?

This is a bit forward looking. Increasingly, the data center is being standardized around x86 (architecture). And all the infrastructure functions that used to run on specialized ASICs (Application Specific Integrated Circuits) are now running on standard x86 hardware and being implemented via software as virtual machines. For instance, Cisco and CheckPoint are shipping virtual firewalls; HP is shipping virtual IDS devices; and RiverBed is shipping virtual WAN acceleration (optimization). All of it is becoming virtualized software; now the entire data center is becoming one form factor, on x86. As it is all software, they can be programmed more easily. And hence it can be automated. So, when an application comes into the data center, you automatically provision the infrastructure that it needs. You can grow/shrink that infrastructure. Scale it up or out. And configure policies or move them as the application moves.

All of this constitutes the software defined data center. It’s a new way of automating and providing the infrastructure needed for applications, as the applications themselves scale and react to end users. We see that rapidly emerging.

This is a concept in the large cloud data centers, but we want to bring it to mainstream enterprises and service providers.

VMware is a pioneer for virtualization of servers. But what are you offering for virtualized networking, security and storage?

There are smaller players such as Nicira Networks, which are actively pursuing network virtualization. Last year we announced (in collaboration with Cisco) a technology called VXLAN (Virtual eXtensible LAN). The difference between us and Nicira (network virtualization) is that we are doing it so that it works well with existing networking gear. We are creating a virtual network that is an overlay to the physical network. As the applications are set up, the networking can be done in a virtualized fashion. Load balancing and all the network services can happen in a virtualized fashion, without the need to reconfigure the physical network.

But you also need virtualized security services and virtualized network services for this. We have a line of products called vShield that offers this. It has a load balancer, NAT edge and stateful firewall; application firewall etc. Then, you have the management stack that ties it all together. We call this software defined networking and security. And we are doing the same thing with storage with Virtual Storage Appliance. We also offer storage provisioning automation with vSphere and vCloud Director.

What is the key focus for VMware this year?

Our slogan is business transformation through IT transformation. We want to enable businesses to transform themselves, by transforming IT. We talk about transformations with mobility, new application experiences, and modernizing infrastructure to make it more agile and cost-effective. These are the fundamental transformations that engage us with customers. So, it starts with virtualization but it doesn’t stop there. The faster customers progress through virtualization, the faster they can progress through the remaining stages of the transformation.

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